Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
Tension existed, and still exists today, over the twentieth century creation of a new Jewish nation. The Jewish people longed for the homeland of their ancestors, though many did not care where the nation was created as long as there was a place for any Jew to call home without persecution. Through primary sources beginning in the late 1800s, the desire and need of a safe Jewish haven was at the forefront of many displaced Jewish nations thoughts.
The issue of Jewish displacement is not a new issue. For thousands of years, the Jews have been without a homeland and moved throughout the world seeking a peaceful life. Theodor Herzl acknowledges the problem of finding that peace by pointing out that “the Jewish question persists” whenever a large number of Jews find a home. A few Jews living in communities historically was ignored. Very few times were such small numbers persecuted. Persecution arose as the numbers grew and the surrounding community began to fear them. Ironically, it was the areas of peace for the Jews that would become the areas of hell for them. It did not take specific actions for persecution to be called on against the Jews. It only needed their “appearance” to bring it on. Herzl points out how this is not limited to the ‘uncivilized’ world. Even the most civilized cultures would eventually turn against the Jews present in their society and the issue of their presence was rarely resolved “on the political level”.
Anti-Semitism became a disease that plowed through all levels of every society. It attacked through political, religious, and societal areas of life. The disease permeated even the more open-minded nations of England and America making this a “national question” and ultimately an “international political problem.” Herzl states with intensity how this disease “increases day by day and hour by hour among the nations” and will become “ineradicable.”
In Herzl’s own writings in the late 1800s, he saw the past and the future of Jews that was dark and bleak. Without establishing a safe homeland for them, there would only be disaster and continued persecution. He saw the land of Palestine as their “unforgettable historic homeland” that all Jews looked at as their home.
Herzl’s words were driven home as World War II closed and the truth of the Nazi plan of Jewish extermination came to light. One could originally dismiss Herzl’s writings as completely biased and without merit until the account of Dr. Wilhelm Hoettl’s conversation with Nazi leader, Adolf Eichmann. Only then can a researcher see how valuable Herzl’s words are.
Eichmann admitted that he was responsible for “millions of Jewish lives” he took during the intentional persecution and extermination of all Jews. He could easily have lied at this point as he was facing war criminal charges, but he took it upon himself to confess that the concentration camps established by the Nazi regime killed four million Jews with another two million killed outside the camps. Eichmann’s words give extreme credibility to Herzl’s which might have been easily dismissed in 1896 but could no longer be ignored in the 1940s.
The need for a Jewish homeland was now more of an international crisis than ever before, and the depth of Anti-Semitism was revealed to the horror of the world. Yet the establishment of the nation of Israel was only the beginning of more problems as the new nation was carved out of the Middle East to the resentment of Arabs who had called Palestine their home for many years.
Israel had to struggle to maintain the integrity of a nation while battling the deep seeded resentment and hatred in its neighboring countries. Golda Meir brought to the United Nations’ attention in 1957 how it had to battle to travel in international waters where other nations, such as Egypt, would block the use from the nation of Israel. Her speech stated how unjust it was to have the Gulf of Aqaba as international waters restricted. She proclaimed that no nation on earth had “the right to prevent free and innocent passage” through international waters. Israel was still struggling to be seen as a valid nation.
Due to the high level of contention with neighboring Middle Eastern nations, Israel stated to the United Nations that they were would not be adverse to military action to push their rights to travel where all nations should. Ms. Meir announced that Israel would not take it lying down and would “take all such measures as are necessary” to use the right of international water use. Her words show how even after having a homeland, the Jews were still fighting for the rights of everyone else in the world.
Though each of these sources came from the 1890s, 1940s, and the 1950s, they all have a common thread of Jewish displacement and struggle to find a place they belong in the world they live in. They moved from country to country trying to find a peaceful home to call their own. Persecution followed them everywhere emphasizing to them the need for a homeland. It took extreme actions of one political party to shake the world’s foundations and bring to mind Theodor Herzl’s warning how Anti-Semitism would not end but would follow the Jews wherever they went and would only increase since “its causes for its growth continue to exist.”
Herzl, Theodor. “The Jewish State.” in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010.
Hoettl, Wilhelm, “The ‘Final Solution’: Nazi Extermination of European Jewry.” in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010.
Meir, Golda. “Speech to the United Nations General Assembly.” in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010.