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  • Central European Ethnonationalism and Zionist Binationalism
  • Yfaat Weiss (bio)

We regard nothing as more abominable than a policy based upon a double-entry bookkeeping.

—Robert Weltsch, as quoted in Hans Kohn,
Living in a World Revolution

In all matters relating to our shared homeland, we are first of all Palestinians, and then Arabs or Jews. Even in the Diaspora we would have found such an attitude to one's homeland perfectly natural....Homeland takes precedence over nation in the countries of the Diaspora, and even more so in Eretz Israel-Palestine, the country in which we wish to become a body politic.

—Samuel Hugo Bergman,
"Towards an Understanding"

Will Zionism really deteriorate into a meaningless form of chauvinism? Is there really no way to set aside an area in Palestine where an increasing number of Jews can operate without exploiting the Arabs? I see the limited geographical territory as a particular problem. The day is undoubtedly not far off when no more land will be available, and settling a Jew will necessarily cause the removal of a fellah....And what will happen then?

—Arthur Ruppin, Briefe,
Tagebuecher, Erinnerungen
[End Page 93]

In a recent essay, historian Tony Judt has blamed Zionism for its anachronism:

The problem with not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European "enclave" in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a "Jewish state"—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.1

As an alternative to the concept of nation-state, Judt offers a binational solution as a desirable outcome of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. However, binationalism has a history of its own, and it is a rather involved concept that Judt fails to elaborate more concretely and leaves somewhat abstract.

The idea of binationalism is, within Zionist discourse, almost as old as the idea of the nation-state itself; it can be traced to the early 1920s. The task of this article is to historicize the concept of binationalism in Zionism and locate its heritage and tradition within Central European perceptions of space. I will look at the Brit Shalom organization, which was an advocate of binationalism in Palestine at the time.

Brit Shalom was a small group that, in 1925-1933, believed in a binational solution as an option that could prevent protracted national conflict. It can reasonably be stated that Brit Shalom's 60 members in Mandatory Palestine—most of them residents of Jerusalem—as well as the organization's 13 overseas members and its 80 sympathizers in Mandatory Palestine and abroad have been the subject of extensive historiographic coverage out of all proportion to the organization's small numbers. Hagit Lavsky has argued that this in-depth treatment is because Brit Shalom, notwithstanding its small numbers, offered a fundamental alternative to all Zionist programs. Accordingly, in Zionist historiography Brit Shalom is presented as the conciliatory symbol at one end of the spectrum, confronting the other alternative—the iron wall of Revisionism.2 In addition, Lavsky points out, the very brevity of Brit Shalom's lifespan has assisted Zionist historiography in its desire to promote an image of the Zionist movement as seeking peace.

But beyond this, Brit Shalom basked in its individual members' reflected aggregate prestige, which disguised their tiny numbers and [End Page 94] helped to make them a topic of historical research. Whereas the names Gershom Scholem and, later, Hans Kohn, the scholar of nationalism, were destined to become renowned in the wider world, a large number of the group's total membership were well-known figures during the period that Brit Shalom was active. They included such individuals as Robert Weltsch, editor of the most important Zionist newspaper of the time, Jüdische Rundschau; philosopher Samuel Hugo Bergman; medieval scholar Yitzhak Baer; and Arthur Ruppin, the former head of the Palestine Office and one of the...


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