Did Zionism Want Oriental Jews?
There has been some discussion over the years as to whether the Zionist movement wanted Oriental [Mizrahi] Jews to take part in the Zionist enterprise. Much is written about Zionism based on ignorance. So we will quote from the writings of two of the theoreticians of Zionism, Leon Pinsker and Theodor Herzl, both of whom wrote their main Zionist works in the 19th century. Whereas Pinsker was more of a theoretician, Herzl actually founded the Zionist Organization in 1897.
Writing in 1882, Pinsker was under the impact of the widespread pogroms/massacres of Jews in 1881in the southwest of the Russian Empire, Ukraine, after the assassination of the Tsar Alexander II by a so-called "radical revolutionary" group. That same year saw formation of the Lovers of Zion (Hibbat Tsiyon [Zion] or Hovevey Tsiyon [Zion]) groups in that area. 1882 saw formation of the BILU group also in the Ukraine. The BILU actually came to the Land of Israel and settled there, albeit meeting many difficulties. Pinsker was concerned about the welfare of Jews throughout the world, not only in the Russian Empire. He thought that non-Jewish societies could tolerate Jews only in small numbers. In his book of that same year, he wrote:
But there exists, as we have said already, a point of saturation that the Jews must not go beyond under the penalty of finding themselves exposed to the danger of anti-Jewish persecutions, as in Russia, Rumania, Morocco, etc. . . . It is now high time to create a place of refuge . . . [translated from Autoemancipation! Avertissement d'un Juif Russe a Ses Freres (Paris: Mille et Une Nuits 2006), p 63 (emph. added)]So Pinsker wrote of Morocco as one of the principal places where Jews were threatened with or suffered from persecutions, like Russia and Rumania. And that Moroccan Jews needed and deserved a refuge as the Russian and Rumanian Jews did. Georges Bensoussan, the editor of a French edition of Pinsker's book, Autoemancipation! A Warning from a Russian Jews to His Brothers (first ed. 1882) that I have quoted, remarks in a footnote (p 63) that Pinsker should have added the Persian Jews to his list of most threatened Jewish communities. He goes on to point out that two of these countries, Morocco and Persia, "belong to the Muslim sphere," which, he adds, ought to "defang the legend of an Islamic world tolerant overall towards its minorities." The two countries, at opposite ends of the Islamic world, had never been under Ottoman rule, he points out, which was more tolerant, at least towards the Jews. I add that at that time neither country was under European rule and had not been since the Arab conquest of the two countries in the 7th century [Morocco became a French Protectorate in 1912]. Rumania, by the way, a Christian country, had been under Ottoman control until 1878, just four years before Pinsker wrote his book.
The facts about oppression of Jews in Persia and Morocco ought to have, but have not, "defanged" the legend of Muslim benevolence toward non-Muslim minorities. Why not? That is an important question in itself.
Now back to our subject with Herzl. He himself was of part Ashkenazic and part Sefardic family background, his father coming from a town near Belgrade, Zemun, that had long been under the Ottoman Empire but was no longer when he was born, although the Ottoman border was close by. Rabbi Alkalai who officiated at a synagogue in that town had lived for several years in his childhood around 1800 in Jerusalem and had some ideas which later turned up in Herzl's own book, The Jewish State. Herzl was born in 1860, so we can assume that his father and grandfather were living in that town, Zemun, before he was born and knew of Rabbi Alkalai's ideas. Below is a description of Herzl with mention of his intent to negotiate the orderly departure of Jews from various Diaspora countries, including Algeria, then part of France, since 1830, where the persecution of Jews was acute, especially during the Dreyfus Case which was taking place around the time that he wrote The Jewish State. In Algeria, Jews were persecuted both by Arab Muslims and by French and other European settlers. Today's currently fashionable ideology of Third Worldism sees European Settlers and Arab "natives" in Algeria as irremediably opposed. But they could and did find common cause against the Jews, as much (or more) native to the country as the Arabs (the Arab conquest took place in the 7th century. Jews were there long before.):
Herzl was primarily a man of action who wished to translate his ideas into reality. His basic premise, that Zionism constituted an effective antidote to antisemitism, led him to the conviction that the countries most plagued by this problem were his potential allies. As early as June 9, 1895, he jotted down in his diary, "First I shall negotiate with the Czar regarding permission for the Russian Jews to leave the country … Then I shall negotiate with the German kaiser, then with Austria, then with France regarding the Algerian Jews, then as need dictates." [see here]That was Herzl's diary, Here is a passage from his book, The Jewish State. He mentions the dangers to Algerian Jews near the beginning of Chapter 2:
Attacks [on Jews- note by Eliyahu] in Parliaments, in assemblies, in the press, in the pulpit, in the street, on journeys—for example, their exclusion from certain hotels—even in places of recreation, become daily more numerous. The forms of persecutions varying according to the countries and social circles in which they occur. In Russia, imposts are levied on Jewish villages; in Rumania, a few persons are put to death; in Germany, they get a good beating occasionally; in Austria, Anti-Semites exercise terrorism over all public life; in Algeria, there are travelling agitators; in Paris, the Jews are shut out of the so-called best social circles and excluded from clubs. Shades of anti-Jewish feeling are innumerable.Obviously, the claim is false that Zionism was founded with the intention of excluding Jews from Oriental countries.
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Added 6 October 2015-- Shmuel Trigano discusses why Jews left the Arab countries. [here]