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Arthur Ruppin and the Production of Pre-Israeli Culture by Etan Bloom (review)
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Arthur Ruppin was the founder of modern academic Jewish demography and a prominent Zionist leader. In his new book, Arthur Ruppin and the Production of Pre-Israeli Culture, Etan Bloom argues that Ruppin promoted discriminatory social ideas and practices against non-European Jews, primarily through the Palestine Office, which he established and headed. Bloom further contends that these structures remained a stable and integral part of Israeli society and culture long after Ruppin’s death in 1943. According to Bloom, Ruppin embraced Zionism in the wake of an early identity crisis, “a move that was paralleled by the reversal of the set of racial hierarchies and stereotypes that he had internalized in his initiation process into German culture” (68). Once in Palestine, Bloom explains, Ruppin’s policy making was inspired by the theory of eugenics that he had absorbed in antisemitic form in Germany, and which he now adapted and used against non-European Jews.

The book’s methodology is deserving of criticism, as the author fails to support his examination of Ruppin in several ways. The author neglects to clarify his ideas, situate them in relation to opposing ideas, and marshal evidence in their support. The book lacks both internal consistency and an embedment into a wider scholarly context. Further, Bloom’s use of footnotes leaves much to be desired in providing the reader with the evidentiary framework (primary and secondary) on which his claims are based. Many of Bloom’s footnotes do not actually substantiate the claim made in the main text: upon closer examination, claims that appear to be substantiated turn out to be non sequiturs.

Let me give some examples of the discrepancy between allegation and evidential support, on several levels, chosen almost at random: sometimes, no footnotes are provided. For instance, Bloom asserts of Ruppin that “’Orientals’ were always marked by him as unintelligent, non-modern, bestial and immoral” (170, emphasis added). No footnote is provided and the claim, as a matter of fact, does not stand up to an encounter with Ruppin’s writings.

On other occasions Bloom’s footnotes exacerbate statements made in the text rather than providing supporting evidence. Fairly typical here is the contentious statement that, for Ruppin, the “Jews could indeed change but only through a deep revitalization of their social structure as first expressed in their biology” (78), a statement accompanied by a footnote that informs us that “Ruppin accepts Chamberlain’s premise that the inferiority of the Jews is partly connected to their adherence to ‘religious’ doctrines and not to an outcome of their racial essence. It must be remembered that for both of them, the religious inclination of the Jews was considered a kind of ‘disease of the will,’ i.e., as a biological flaw and not an outcome of the free will.” The footnote, then, rather than supporting the claim made in the body of the text by providing the reader with evidence, in fact, adds an additional claim, for which, too, no evidence is brought forward. (see also 83n173, 89n195).

Of course, form and content cannot be so easily separated. This point is particularly evident in Bloom’s declaration that Ruppin practiced a “strategy of concealment” (159) that led him to make “deliberate false declarations” (160). If this really was correct, there might be some justification for ignoring what Ruppin actually wrote. But Bloom does not give us any reason to believe that Ruppin did so conceal and fabricate his claims. Further, a principle of charity surely dictates that, until faced with insurmountable evidence to the contrary, we impute sanity and reasonable veracity to other human beings.

Bloom does not only tend to dismiss what Ruppin wrote, but also tends to ignore the scholarly work of others or cavalierly dismiss it en masse. This is especially visible when Bloom touches on questions that have already been subject of recent scholarship. In a book centering on the relocation of German ethnic ideas to Palestine and their subsequent reapplication, it is surprising that Yfaat Weiss’s important article on Ruppin and Hans Kohn, “Central European Ethnonationalism and Zionist Binationalism,” in Jewish Social Studies (2004) is ignored. Nor is there any reference to Dafna Hirsh’s article on...

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