It is almost sixteen years since— at the first preparatory Conference for the World Jewish Congress, held in the summer of 1932 in Geneva— it fell to me to make one of a series of speeches dealing with the general situation of the Jewish people in the world. . . . These few short years have witnessed the greatest tragedy in Jewish history— the annihilation of more than one-third of our people by the Nazi barbarians and their allies. It has also seen the realization of the most cherished dream of many generations of Jews: the proclamation and establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine—the State of Israel.
These are two revolutionary events: the one marking the climax of our galuth [exile] tragedy, and the other the beginning of the realization of the most sacred ideal of our people. They are naturally the two governing facts in determining the position of the Jews in the world today. Both events are of such far-reaching importance and significance that it must take years, perhaps generations, to evaluate their full meaning and take stock of the tremendous consequences which they involve for our people, both as regards our internal structure and in our external relations. We who are still close to these events can only begin to realize their implications: we can try to find out their historical meaning for our own and future generations of Jews, to estimate their effect, and to make a beginning with the readjustment of Jewish life and Jewish policies to these two governing factors. There is no problem of Jewish life today which will not be influenced, directly or indirectly, by them in the most radical and far-reaching way. There is hardly a problem that is not already feeling their influence. . . .
I think no one here needs to be reminded that these two events—on the one hand the annihilation of six million Jews and on the other, the establishment of the State of Israel— provide the fullest confirmation of the analysis of the Jewish situation developed by the founders of modern Zionism—an analysis, which is today accepted not only by Zionist thinkers and speakers, but by the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people. This analysis is based on the assumption that the Jewish situation in the world must remain abnormal and tragic: so long as it is determined solely by the fact of Jewish dispersion, so long as there is no real center for our national existence, so long as we have no place in the world to call our own— where we can live our own lives fully, after our own fashion, “like unto the nations,” so long, in fact, as we are not recognized as an independent, sovereign state on a footing of equality with other sovereign states.
The terrible tragedy of the Hitler decade threw a ghastly but searching light on this abnormality of Jewish life: not even the most pessimistic analyst of the galuth situation could have seen so clearly in the years before Hitler as we all do today. Had the Jewish people had the courage and imagination ever to envisage—as the remotest of possibilities—the massacre of six million Jews, it might have taken some precautions in time; it might have heeded the warning the more clear-sighted of its leaders were already giving; it might have organized its fight against Hitlerism before it was too late and while the hydra head was still weak enough to be crushed without the catastrophe of a world war. Yet perhaps one had to be something of a Nazi oneself to envisage the possibility of gas chambers and concentration camps before they happened. Perhaps it was not only a lack of courage and imagination but also innate decency and a deep faith in human nature— what a German philosopher has called “the cursed optimism of the Jewish people”— which prevented the Jewish masses, and many Jewish leaders, from admitting even to themselves that such catastrophes might happen.
This is not the place for recriminations; nor have I any wish to make them. It is easy to say now that we should have reacted more vigorously in the early stages of Hitlerism. The Secretary-General’s report will tell you much about these “sins of omission”— some of them dating from a time when the process of annihilation was well under way, but when, with a little more civic courage and daring in our policies, very large numbers of Jews might still have been saved.
To a greater or lesser degree, we are all responsible for these things: it was the tragic shortsightedness of a people which had got used to its abnormal situation, and which, confronted with a danger of unprecedented character and dimensions, could react only by the usual routine methods. More important than any admission of our past failures, is to apply to our future the tremendous results of the greatest tragedy in Jewish history. . . .
If there is one ray of consolation in all this ghastly story of the decade of Hitler, it is the magnificent evidence it offers of Jewish vitality, and of our determination to survive all attempts to destroy us. If Jews in the United States and many other countries are today much more fully conscious of their Jewish identity and their Jewish responsibilities than they used to be, it is to a large degree due to the lessons forced upon them by the horrible tragedy enacted before their very eyes, and which they were powerless to prevent. Another striking proof of our will to live is provided to anyone who visits the DP camps. Hitler annihilated millions of individual Jews; he did not succeed in annihilating the Jewish people. He neither broke our will to live, nor delivered any mortal blow to the soul or spirit of Jewry. From the larger, historical viewpoint, he failed. Am Yisra’el hai. . . .
Dangers in an Unstable World
The Hitler decade, with its annihilation of six million of our small people, is a grave threat to our existence, a threat to our ability to maintain our identity as a people. In the Diaspora, the permanent danger to Jewish life has always been the fact of our dispersion and disintegration. The more dispersed and disintegrated we are, the more difficult it becomes for us to maintain our solidarity as Jews, our unity as a collective entity. Five small communities can do far less than one large one. So the destruction of powerful and distinguished Jewish communities like the Polish, Hungarian, Rumanian, Lithuanian, and German, intensified this threat to our existence. Fortunately, Jewish history has provided us with one great new Jewish community—that built up in the last few generations in America. Seen as a whole, however, the safeguarding of our national identity is a much more difficult task today than it was before the Hitler decade.
There is another element in the present world situation which further increases this danger. We live in revolutionary times; new ideas are everywhere fighting to find concrete expression. Without expressing any opinion here on the merits of the various contending theories and systems, it must be clear to every thoughtful observer that we are headed towards a period of widespread ideological and political conflict and upheaval, even though—as we hope and pray—everything possible will be done to prevent it from degenerating into a shooting war. Whatever our opinions as to the various ideologies, it must be clear to everyone that we are not living, and for some time cannot hope to live, in a stable world. Perhaps the two great world wars were only the expression of revolutionary changes in the world. The next period will be one of instability, dissensions, new ideas of all kinds— political, economic, social, cultural, religious— which will make it impossible to maintain the status quo and to prevent great developments and changes.
As human beings and citizens of the world, we may welcome such developments or fear them; but however we feel about them, we have to realize the dangers inherent in them for the Jews as a people. If I here point out three such inherent dangers, it is not in order to advise the Jews to hold aloof from the current of world affairs; as heirs of an ancient civilization—grandsons of the prophets—we have to play our part and make our contribution with the other peoples of the world. I point them out in order that we may be fully aware of them, and may take what precautions we can to reduce their gravity and if possible counteract their effect upon our future as a people.
One danger flows from the fact that, whenever the world is in a state of instability and flux, of dissension, conflict and chaos, minorities are bound to be the first to suffer—and none is so vulnerable as the Jews. In the fight against new ideas, reactionaries—defenders of the past—must always seek a scapegoat and who more likely than the Jewish people—the classic scapegoat and object of attack from time immemorial for every reactionary movement in the world? In a world so unstable as ours is today . . . anti-Semitism is almost bound to become a permanent feature. You will hear during the present Session reports of anti-Semitic movements, of the revival of anti-Semitism in many countries, among them lands where anti-Semitism was formerly almost an unknown phenomenon— for instance Great Britain. In the United States, anti-Semitism is stronger today than maybe at any other period of its history; and though it is certainly not an immediate danger to the great and strong Jewish community there, it is still strong enough to constitute a serious problem and to do away with any facile notion that the democratic constitution and traditions of the American people are in themselves a permanent guarantee for Jewish life and equality of citizenship in that country You will hear, too, about anti-Semitism in Latin-American countries, where new Jewish communities are beginning to make a notable contribution to Jewish life as a whole. I do not have to speak in detail about the grave situation of the Jews in Moslem countries, in some of which they have long lived under discriminatory regimes, and where the Palestine issue is now creating new dangers to their existence. You will also hear about the undiminished persistence of Nazi anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, which may overnight grow into a serious danger—especially in view of certain tendencies to permit the reemergence of a strong Germany.
I hope the Jewish people has learned from the last fifteen years not to deal lightly with anti-Semitism, not to regard it as an isolated local phenomenon, for which antiquated and piecemeal methods are still adequate. Anti-Semitism always was, and today is more than ever, a general political phenomenon. It is one of the most popular disguises of reactionaries, Nazis and Fascists everywhere, one of the most formidable weapons for all aggressive movements. It has therefore to be dealt with by political methods: first by united action, by coordination of all efforts to fight it, and secondly by seeking the help of all progressive elements in the struggle. Anti-Semitism can never be dealt with adequately if it is regarded as a purely Jewish problem. It is much more a problem of world politics than a specifically Jewish one, and it is only with the help of all democratic, liberal, and progressive forces in the world that there is any chance of striking at it effectively, and preventing in the future catastrophes such as the one through which we have passed in the last decade or so.
Another consequence of the general world situation and its impact on our people is that revolutionary tendencies, and great political and moral movements in the world, are always apt to attract Jewish youth and Jewish intelligence: they draw the devotion and sympathy of large numbers of our people. We are not ashamed of it; on the contrary, as a people we have always been proud of our contribution to the life and thought of the civilized world. If there is something unique, something singular, about the life of the Jewish people, if there is a Jewish problem not comparable to the problem of any other people in the world, it is partly just because of the role we have played in all kinds of historical movements and causes—a role much greater than our numbers or political strength would suggest. The Jewish people has no intention of retreating to a self-imposed ghetto in the countries of the Diaspora, or of renouncing its ability or eagerness to play its part in the great movements which strive today to build a better world, a safer world, a happier world, based on a greater degree of social and political equality than the past centuries have shown. But the fact that those tendencies have so great an attraction for many of the best elements of our people should not distract our attention from the difficulty which this creates in the maintenance of our identity as people.
Most of our contributions to such world developments—except the contribution yet to be made in our own State of Israel (and one important raison d’être for a Jewish state is precisely this unique opportunity it would provide for us)— are made not simply as Jews, but as members of general or group movements. The stronger the attraction, the greater the strength and élan of such ideas, the firmer their hold on the devotion and imagination of sections of our people, the easier does it become for these sections to become submerged in the larger stream, losing their connection with the Jewish people and even their identity as Jews. How to strengthen this identity without abandoning our justifiable desire to participate in all forces engaged in the building of a better world, is one of the great problems of Jewish life in the galuth; and as long as the greater part of our people still live in the Diaspora (and this means certainly for us and our children), this problem will remain one of the great spiritual and moral problems of our life. There is no easy solution, and certainly no wholesale formula for solving it; but it has to be constantly borne in mind so that we recognize the dangers inherent in it and the difficulties it must create for us. . . .
The Jewish State Normalizes Jewish Existence
Now I come to the other great fact of the last period— no less important in its positive aspect than the Hitler decade in its negative aspect—a fact hoped for and dreamed of from time immemorial, but realized with dramatic speed. It is still so close to us that it is not easy to speak of it without emotion, still less to try and estimate the force of its impact, its meaning, and its consequences for Jewish life. The establishment of the State of Israel means the beginning of the normalization of our existence as a people; it does not mean the immediate end of the Jewish problem. There are no miracles in history; there is no historical process which does not require its proper time. The proclamation of our State does not mean the end of the Diaspora, and I could wish that in a time like ours, when we face great developments and great changes, we might be able to reduce the ideological debates and discussions of which we are masters. To overdo such discussions is one of the characteristics of the galuth.
Living for centuries the life of the ghetto, unable to establish their own realities for themselves, the Jews have been the objects of history rather than its subjects. They have depended for their lives, for the form of their existence, on the good or ill-will of their neighbors and protectors, of the nations among whom they lived. So far as our own life was concerned, we have been reduced to the world of thought and dialectic, of poetry and dreams, and have therefore over-developed the art of ideological discussion and purely logical, abstract argumentation. How often do we split on purely theoretical definitions? How often do we discover that, once we leave the field of such abstract ideology, and approach a problem from its practical angle, we are able to unite, despite all theoretical differences? I am not of those who have no respect for ideological differences. I know that ideologies are among the main instruments given us to shape realities. But what we are here for is to do actual work in shaping realities for the Jewish people. Therefore I plead for a minimum of ideological discussions and a maximum of realistic and practical approaches to the problems we have to face.
I say this as the first of my observations on the problems involved in the establishment of the State of Israel, in order to warn this Session not to indulge in unnecessary discussions between Zionists and non-Zionists; between those who have a positive relation to the golah [Diaspora] and those who reject it. The fact is that for a long time to come, the majority
of our people will live in the golah. The fact is also that those Jews living outside the State of Israel will continue to owe their allegiance to the states whose loyal citizens they are, and I think it is both in the interests of our people, and of the State of Israel, to make as clear as possible what has always been said in unmistakable terms before the State was established: that this state will be composed of citizens like every other normal state, and that Jews outside of the State, not being its citizens, will owe no political allegiance to it.
The bogey of dual loyalty, which some reactionary non-Zionists— learning nothing and forgetting nothing— are trying to raise in some countries, should thus be disposed of from the very first moment. There are many similar and parallel cases to this of the Jews abroad in their reaction to the State of Israel: there are millions of Irishmen in America, millions of Poles, millions of Italians. For them there is no problem of dual loyalty; and there is none for us. But at the same time, it is natural—and every decent non-Jew will understand—that Jews all over the world will have a special sentimental and spiritual relationship to the State of Israel; will help it financially and morally; will do everything to further its development; will help to train such Jews as desire to go to Palestine, and to prepare them for their life there. The Jewish people everywhere will also, quite naturally, regard Israel as a spiritual and cultural center for Jewish life, and be largely influenced by its spiritual achievements. . . .
The main significance of the creation of the State of Israel is not that it will solve the Jewish problem overnight; so long as Jewish minorities remain in many countries of the world, the problems of anti-Semitism, of discrimination, of securing their position, will remain as actual [sic] as ever before. There is no contradiction between the Jewish state on the one hand, and the safeguarding of Jewish rights and positions, and the strengthening of Jewish life in the Diaspora on the other. The theory of anti-Zionists that Zionism aims at the annihilation of the Diaspora was always sheer nonsense—a silly or malicious misconception.
Israel Needs a Strong Jewish Diaspora
The State of Israel requires a strong Jewish Diaspora, just as the Jewish golah requires the State of Israel. The greatest reserve line in support of this Jewish state, which will have in its early years tremendous difficulties to overcome, will for years to come be a strong and united Jewish people in the Diaspora, ready to support it morally, spiritually, and practically. The existence of the State of Israel, on the other hand, will immediately relieve us of many galuth problems, and in the long run provide a solution of such problems as Jewish migration, persecution, and so on. Above all, it will give the Jewish people a voice among the nations of the world, and put an end to the anonymity of Jewish existence. But it would be naïve to believe that the creation of the state will resolve all the detailed problems of Jewish life overnight. It is quite enough if it does what it is doing for the solution of the essential Jewish problem.
This problem was the lack of a normal center for our existence as a people; the lack of a home where a Jew could go if he wished or was obliged; the lack of the possibility of appearing as a nation recognized by other nations of the world; the anonymity of our existence— what Pinsker called “the ghost-like existence of our people.”1 All these fundamental aspects of what was the Jewish problem are being removed by the creation of the state. It normalizes our existence. It makes us fundamentally a people like any other. The world now sees for the first time (to mention only one expression of this fact) Jews fighting as Jews, and I venture to say—and in this I am sure I do not speak only as a Zionist in the narrow sense of the word— that nothing has so increased Jewish prestige and respect for our people for the last two thousand years as the phenomenon of a Jewish fighting army defending Jewish soil and Jewish honor, identified under their own flag as Jews. . .
We hope that at the next Assembly, the State of Israel will be admitted to the United Nations, so that when in the future Jewish problems requiring United Nations action arise, there will be at least one official representative of the State of Israel at the Council table, ready to speak out and take care of them. But again, we should not regard the State of Israel, eo ipso, as the formal representative and spokesman of Jewish communities in the Diaspora, which it cannot be—in its own interests as well as in those of the communities themselves. Just as Jews in the Diaspora, without any political tie-up with the state, will be entitled and able to look to the state for moral support, in the same way the state will have the right to give the moral support of its authority and presence in the United Nations to the justified complaints and claims of Jewish communities in the Diaspora, or to general Jewish demands of the Jewish people; but directly the Jews of the Diaspora are admitted— as they must be— to have no political ties with Israel, it becomes clearly impossible for the State of Israel to act in their behalf.
From this it follows that there can be no contradiction between the State of Israel (and our natural obligations to support it) and the need for an organization of world Jewry to act for Jewish communities whenever necessary, and for the Jewish people when desired. The future of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, and the future of the State of Israel alike require close relations of trust, of mutual help, of interest, of cooperation, in many cases; but at the same time they will be distinct and different entities: the state representing its citizens and speaking for them, the World Jewish Congress representing the Jewish people and speaking for them— so far as authorized to do so.
Jewish Unity in the World Jewish Congress
All this leads me to the conclusion of my remarks. Both the analysis of the tragedy of Jewish life in the last fifteen years, and this preliminary evaluation of the greatest creative achievement in Jewish life—the establishment of the state—lead to the same conclusion: the necessity of maintaining and strengthening an organism which will express the unity of the Jewish people and which can speak and act on its behalf. I wish that this problem, too, may be dealt with in a practical way. Certain critics in American Jewry have developed a new bogey: galuth nationalism. They are ready to acquiesce in, or even welcome, the existence of the Jewish state, but maintain their stubborn opposition to an organization like ours, basing themselves on the dislike of what they call “galuth nationalism.” It is yet another of those bogeys which confuse Jewish life, and I regret that distinguished leaders of American Jewry like the President of the American Jewish Committee, who have taken up the right attitude with regards to the Jewish state, still seem to remain imbued with this confusing and nonsensical idea of “galuth nationalism.”
The World Jewish Congress does not intend to represent, still less to create, a Jewish political nation in the Diaspora. So far as the Jews are a nation, in the legal and political meaning of this term, the Jewish nation is represented by the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel. As I said before, the definition of what constitutes a Jew is unimportant for the problem of the World Jewish Congress. Whatever we are by theoretical definition (I personally believe, and have long believed, that there is no non-Hebrew term defining properly the collective entity called the Jewish people), what is essential is to recognize that this entity has the right and duty to organize itself for common activity and to do it in an open, public, and organized manner.
Where is it laid down that only “nations” have international organizations? Are there no international organizations representing churches, social groups, trade unions, writers, and all kinds of collective conglomerations of individuals, based on professional, social, and other common interests? If we recognize that there are problems common to Jews all over the world, which are best dealt with by common approach, by cooperation, and coordination, the existence of the World Jewish Congress is fully justified, and is indeed essential. . .
A Voluntary Association for Political Action
This does not mean galuth nationalism; it does not mean the existence of a political Jewish nation in the Diaspora; it does not mean, either, any abolition of the full autonomy of individual Jewish communities. The World Jewish Congress has never tried to interfere with such autonomy. It is an organization of voluntary affiliation, of autonomous Jewish communities and organizations, freely joined in one world organization to deal with common problems. It is obvious that no internal Jewish problem, or political problem of a Jewish community in any country of the world, is within the jurisdiction of the World Jewish Congress. There is not one case in all the twelve years of its existence where Congress has made the slightest attempt to interfere with the internal problems of any of its constituent Jewish communities— not to speak of trying to interfere in the political problems of Jewish communities—their allegiance to various political parties, and so on.
The World Jewish Congress does not even act internationally, or with regard to various governments, on behalf of any community unless asked by that community to do so. The Congress is an organ of the Jewish people and its parts; it acts when asked by those parts to do so. At the same time, respect for the autonomy and identity of individual Jewish communities and their organizations cannot go so far as to deny and destroy the principle of common action. If certain Jewish bodies refuse to join the Congress because they would lose their identity, and desire to insist on a form of cooperation in which every action has first to be discussed by all the cooperating bodies, every document submitted has to be signed by all these bodies, then the principle of common action becomes ludicrous and impossible, because such procedure presumes that what is valid for one Jewish community must be valid for them all. The only way to efficient
action is for us all to join in one organization, maintaining the identity of the national Jewish organizations within the jurisdiction of their national activities, but at the same time regarding them as parts of the larger body for whatever action may need to be taken on an international scale. . . .
Two Major Problems Facing the World Jewish Congress
I do not want in this opening address to enter into any discussion of the concrete program and detailed tasks which await the World Jewish Congress. I am sure that this Session will discuss these matters fully, and that differences of opinion will develop— especially with regard to questions of relief and the concrete work of reconstruction. But I am sure that anyone will agree that the World Jewish Congress must concentrate on two major problems: political work to safeguard Jewish positions and secure the status of Jewish communities all over the world, especially in view of the grave dangers which menace us; and secondly, cultural work. More than ever, today it is necessary to initiate and coordinate a program of constructive activities, to rebuild Jewish cultural institutions, to bring up Jewish boys and girls in knowledge of and respect for the Jewish past, and for the great treasures of Jewish history and cultural achievements. . . .
In this world of great ideological conflicts, with the strong appeals made by many new movements to our young people, it is more than ever essential to strengthen their Jewish consciousness— not only politically and sentimentally, but also culturally and spiritually. We can do this by giving them a chance to know what the Jewish people has created and achieved in its long history—by giving new meaning to their Jewish consciousness. It has always been our pride that to be a Jew meant much more than just having some vague sentiment about it; that it meant to know, to learn, to study. Without Jewish learning—in all its forms—the Jewish people would have disintegrated long since, and perished from the earth. And although facilities for Jewish learning are today very different from what they were some centuries ago, we still have to do everything we can to inspire our people—and especially our young people—not only with emotions of pride and devotion, but also with knowledge, without which those sentiments cannot be firmly rooted. . . .
A People’s Fight for Survival
Our fight for survival is a political fight. It is the fight of a people. It has to be directed, coordinated, and organized by political methods; and the fear that some Jewish groups show of all political work really needs to be overcome once and for all. It is perfectly legitimate for the Jewish people as such to take common action in defense of its main interests; no decent Gentile and fair-minded government will misunderstand or resent it— nor have they misunderstood or resented it in all the history of the twelve years’ work of the World Jewish Congress, or the history of the Committee of Jewish Delegations before that. We have no need to be ashamed of organizing ourselves politically, as long as there is a danger to our position, and as long as anti-Semitism and other kinds of discrimination prevail in all parts of the world.
And just as the world has learned to admire and honor the Jews in Palestine who have established their state and are fighting to maintain it, the world at large will respect a Jewish people, which is ready to fight for its position wherever they live and have a right to live. Nothing has done more harm to our prestige, to our position in the world, than the weak reaction of the Jewish people to the massive assault of Nazism. If not for the revival of Jewish consciousness and the heroic achievements of mod- ern Zionism which have led to the establishment of the State of Israel, Jewish prestige after the Hitler decade would have sunk to its lowest ebb. Something of the spirit which has brought about the establishment of the state must now imbue the Jews of the Diaspora in their fight for survival. So long as a people is prepared to fight for its future, no enemy can destroy it. The murder of a people is not recorded in history. Whenever a people was destroyed, it was through its own fault—because it had lost faith and courage, had given up the struggle in face of superior forces; in fact, had committed suicide.
More important than all our organizational arrangements, more important than all financial means, more important than all political action as such, is the revival of the fighting spirit of our people. We have gone through the greatest tragedy in our history; we have come out weakened, but not broken. We have mobilized our resources and our will to live, and have realized the ideal of our ancestors in the establishment of the State of Israel. It is on similar lines that we have to proceed, spiritually, with regard to the large majority of our people who for the time being remain in the Diaspora. We are one people, with one spirit and one policy. If we are resolved to secure and strengthen Jewish positions where they are, not to yield one of them, if we are ready to fight together for our survival, with all progressive and decent elements in the world, then we shall succeed in normalizing our own existence. That means having the State of Israel at the center and a strong and creative Jewish Diaspora at the periphery. In doing this, our generation, which has witnessed the greatest tragedy in Jewish life, without being able to prevent it, will also witness the laying of solid foundations for a new and better future for the Jewish people in a world which, if full of dangers, is also full of opportunities.
In the long run the fate of a people is determined by itself. That is why peoples and nations exist. In the end it will depend on our own determination— both in Palestine and in the Diaspora— whether we are weakened and destroyed by the great changes now in process or impending, or whether we are able to use the opportunities they offer to become one of the recognized and respected peoples of the world— a people with a secure home, a life, a future—making its own distinctive contribution to the progress and future of humanity.
1. Leon (Lev) Pinsker (1821– 1891) was an early pre-Herzl Zionist whose 1882 pamphlet, Autoemancipation: Mahnruf an seine Stammesgenossen von eimem russischen Juden (Auto- emancipation: An appeal to his people by a Russian Jew) called for Jews to identify as a separate entity and for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.