US Jews Oppose a Jewish State in 1919

A Statement to the Peace Conference by prominent US Jews

The following statement was handed to President Wilson on behalf of the signers by Congressman Julius Kahn on March 4th, 1919, for transmission to the Peace Conference at Paris. The Statement was prepared conjointly by the Rev. Dr. Henry Berkowitz, of Philadelphia, Mr. Max Senior, of Cincinatti, and Professor Morris Jastrow, Jr., of the University of Pennsylvania

As a future form of government for Palestine will undoubtedly be considered by the approaching Peace Conference, we, the undersigned citizens of the United States, unite in this statement, setting forth our objections to the organization of a Jewish State in Palestine as proposed by the Zionist Societies in this country and Europe and to the segregation of the Jews as a nationalistic unit in any country.

We feel that in so doing we are voicing the opinion of the majority of American Jews born in this country and of those foreign born who have lived here long enough to thoroughly assimilate American political and social conditions. The American Zionists represent, according to the most recent statistics available, only a small proportion of the Jews living in this country, about 150,000 out of 3,500,000. (American Jewish Year Book, 1918, Philadelphia).

At the outset we wish to indicate our entire sympathy with the efforts of Zionists which aim to secure for Jews at present living in lands of oppression a refuge in Palestine or elsewhere, where they may freely develop their capabilities and carry on their activities as free citizens.

But we raise our voices in warning and protest against the demand of the Zionists for the reorganisation of the Jews as a national unit, to whom, now or in the future, territorial sovereignty in Palestine shall be committed. This demand not only misrepresents the trend of the history of the Jews, who ceased to be a nation 2000 years ago, but involves the limitation and possible annulment of the larger claims of Jews for full citizenship and human rights in all lands in which those rights are not yet secure. For the very reason that the new era upon which the world is entering aims to establish government everywhere on principles of true democracy, we reject the Zionistic project of a "national home for the Jewish people in Palestine".

Zionism arose as a result of the intolerable conditions under which Jews have been forced to live in Russia and Roumania. But it is evident that for the Jewish population of these countries, variously estimated at from six to ten millions, Palestine can become no homeland. Even with the improvement of the neglected condition of this country, its limited area can offer no solution. The Jewish question in Russia and Roumania can be settled only within those countries by the grant of full rights of citizenship to Jews.

We are all the more opposed to the Zionists, because they, themselves, distinctly repudiate the solely ameliorative program. They demand and hail with delight the "Balfour Declaration" to establish "a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine", i.e., a home not merely for Jews living in countries in which they are oppressed, but for Jews universally. No Jew, wherever he may live, can consider himself free from the implications of such a grant.

The willingness of Jews interested in the welfare of their brethren to aid in redeeming Palestine from the blight of centuries of Turkish misrule, is no acceptance of the Zionist project to segregate Jews as a political unit and to re-institute a section of such a political unit in Palestine or elsewhere.

At the present juncture in the world's affairs when lands that have hitherto been subjected to foreign domination are to be recognized as free and independent states, we rejoice in the avowed proposal of the Peace Congress to put into practical application the fundamental principles of democracy. That principle, which asserts equal rights for all citizens of a state, irrespective of creed or ethnic descent, should be applied in such a manner as to exclude segregation of any kind, be it nationalistic or other. Such segregation must inevitably create differences among the sections of the population of a country. Any such plan of segregation is necessarily reactionary in its tendency, undemocratic in spirit and totally contrary to the practices of free government, especially as these are exemplified by our own country. We therefore strongly urge the abandonment of such a basis for the reorganization of any state.

Objections to segregation of Jews as a political unit

Against such a political segregation of the Jews in Palestine or elsewhere we object:

1. Because the Jews are dedicated heart and soul to the welfare of the countries in which they dwell under free conditions. All Jews repudiate every suspicion of a double allegiance, but to our minds it is necessarily implied in and cannot by any logic be eliminated from the establishment of a sovereign State for the Jews in Palestine.

By the large part taken by them in the great war, the Jews have once and for all shattered the base aspersions of the Anti-Semites which charged them with being aliens in every land, incapable of true patriotism and prompted only by sinister and self-seeking motives. Moreover, it is safe to assume that the overwhelming bulk of the Jews of America, England, France, Italy, Holland, Switzerland and the other lands of freedom, have no thought whatever of surrendering their citizenship in these lands in order to resort to a "Jewish homeland in Palestine". As a rule those who favor such a restoration advocate it not for themselves but for others. Those who act thus, and yet insist on their patriotic attachment to the countries of which they are citizens, are self-deceived in their profession of Zionism and under the spell of an emotional romanticism or of a religious sentiment fostered through centuries of gloom.

2. We also object to political segregation of Jews for those who take their Zionistic professions seriously as referring not to 'others' but to themselves. Granted that the establishment of a sovereign Jewish State in Palestine would lead many to emigrate to that land, the political conditions of the millions who would be unable to migrate for generations to come, if ever, would be made far more precarious. Roumania - despite the pledges of the Berlin Treaty - has legally branded her Jews as aliens, though many are descended from families settled in that country longer than the present Roumanian government has existed. The establishment of a Jewish State will manifestly serve the malevolent rulers of that and other lands as a new justification for additional repressive legislation. The multitudes who remain would be subject to worse perils, if possible, even though the few who escape might prosper in Palestine.

3. We object to the political segregation also of those who might succeed in establishing themselves in Palestine. The proposition involves dangers which it is manifest, have not had the serious consideration of those who are so zealous in its advocacy. These dangers are adverted to in a most kindly spirit as warning by Sir George Adam Smith, who is generally acknowledged to be the greatest authority in this world on everything connected with Palestine, either past or present. In a recent publication, Syria and the Holy Land, he points out that there is absolutely no fixity to the boundaries of Palestine. These have varied greatly in the course of the centuries. The claims to various sections of this undefined territory would unquestionably evoke bitter controversies. "It is not true", says Sir George, "that Palestine is the national home of the Jewish people and of no other people". It is not correct to call its non-Jewish inhabitants 'Arabs', or to say that they have left no image of their spirit and made no history except in the great Mosque". "Nor can we evade the fact that Christian communities have been as long as ever the Jews were". "These are legitimate questions", he says, "stirred up by the claims of Zionism, but the Zionists have not yet fully faced them".

To subject the Jews to the possible recurrence of such bitter and sanguinary conflicts which would be inevitable, would be a crime against the triumphs of their whole past history and against the lofty and world-embracing visions of their great prophets and leaders.

4. Though these grave difficulties be met, still we protest against the political segregation of the Jews and the re-establishment in Palestine of a distinctively Jewish State as utterly opposed to the principles of democracy which it is the avowed purpose of the World's Peace Conference to establish.

Whether the Jews be regarded as a 'race' or as a 'religion', it is contrary to the democratic principles for which the world war was waged to found a nation on either or both of these bases. America, England, France, Italy, Switzerland and all the most advanced nations of the world are composed of representatives of many races and religions. Their glory lies in the freedom of conscience and worship, in the liberty of thought and custom which binds the followers of many faiths and varied civilizations in the common bonds of political union. A Jewish State involves fundamental limitations as to race and religion, else the term 'Jewish' means nothing. To unite Church and State, in any form, as under the old Jewish hierarchy, would be a leap backward of two thousand years.

"The rights of other creeds and races will be respected under Jewish dominance", is the assurance of Zionism. But the keynotes of democracy are neither condescension nor tolerance, but justice and equality. All this applies with special force to a country like Palestine. That land is filled with associations sacred to the followers of three great religions, and as a result of migrating movements of many centuries contains an extraordinary number of different ethnic groups, far out of proportion to the small extent of the country itself. Such a condition points clearly to a reorganization of Palestine on the broadest possible basis.

5. We object to the political segregation of the Jews because it is an error to assume that the bond uniting them is of a national character. They are bound by two factors: First, the bond of common religious beliefs and aspirations and, secondly, the bond of common traditions, customs, and experiences, largely, alas, of common trials and sufferings. Nothing in their present status suggests that they form in any real sense a separate nationalistic unit.

The reorganization of Palestine as far as it affects the Jews is but part of a far larger issue, namely, the constructive endeavor to secure the emancipation of the Jews in all the lands in which they dwell. This movement, inaugurated in the eighteenth century and advancing with steady progress through the western lands, was checked by such reactionary tendencies as caused by the expulsion of the Poles from Eastern Prussia and the massacre of Armenians in Turkey. As directed against Jews these tendencies crystallised into a political movement called Anti-Semitism, which had its rise in Germany. Its virulence spread (especially) throughout eastern Europe and led to cruel outbreaks in Roumania and elsewhere, and to the pogroms of Russia with their dire consequences.

To guard against such evils in the future we urge that the great constructive movement, so sadly interrupted, be reinstituted and that efficient measures be taken to insure the protection of the law and the full fights of citizenship to Jews in every land. If the basis of the reorganisation of governments is henceforth to be democratic, it cannot be contemplated to exclude any group of people from the enjoyment of full rights.

As to the future of Palestine, it is our fervent hope that what was once a "promised land" for the Jews may become a "land of promise" for all races and creeds, safeguarded by the League of Nations which, it is expected, will be one of the fruits of the Peace Conference to whose deliberations the world now looks forward so anxiously and so full of hope. We ask that Palestine be constituted as a free and independent state, to be governed under a democratic form of government recognizing no distinctions of creed or race or ethnic descent, and with adequate power to protect the country against oppression of any kind. We do not wish to see Palestine, either now or at any time in the future, organized as a Jewish State.

(printed as Annex in Anti-Zionism - Analytical Reflections, by Roselle Tekiner, Samir Abed-Rabbo and Norton Mezvinsky, editors, Amana Books, New York, 1988. Distributed by American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism, Inc., New York)