< Back

Weizmann: A New Type of Leadership in the Zionist Movement

Chimen Abramsky

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Weizmann: A new type of leadership in the Zionist movement* Professor CHIMEN ABRAMSKY For Miri Con Amore I am deeply touched and greatly honoured by the invitation of the Jewish Historical Society to deliver an address on the centenary of Weizmann's birth, although it is a slightly belated anniversary. Many illustrious people, far more competent and knowledgeable than I?Sir Isaiah Berlin,1 the late Leonard Stein,2 Sir Charles Webster,3 and Abba Eban4?to name but a few, have written, and spoken, on different aspects of Weizmann's extraordinarily rich life and career. Weizmann himself wrote a brilliant auto? biography, Trial and Error, a quite out of the ordinary 'apologia pro vita sua', which in itself provoked a minor and significant controversy.5 The late Richard Crossman was engaged, during the last years of his life, in writing a definitive life of Weizmann, of which, alas, he was able to publish only a fragment of one chapter.6 I am sure many historians, Jews and non-Jews, will turn their attention to this enormously important subject, because his biography forms a glorious, and perhaps unique, chapter in the history of modern Jewry. I am fully conscious of my enormous limitations in venturing to speak on aspects of Weizmann's leadership and attempting to see him as a new type of leader in the Zionist move? ment. One has a feeling like the cantor on the Day of Atonement, who has to recite an intro? ductory prayer in a half-muted voice, in a kind of 'semi-tone': 'Hinenni he'ani mi'ma'as nirash ve'nif khad.' T, one poor in deed, feel frightened and overawed.' The aim of this paper is strictly limited. It will omit all biographical details and the his? torical events which led to the Balfour Dec? laration, but it will try to analyse certain characteristics of Weizmartn's ideas, as ex? pressed primarily in some of his important speeches and articles, in the light of modern Jewish history, with special reference to the history of the Jews in the Russian Empire, including Poland, from 1874 to 1917, and how this history shaped and moulded a figure of such enormous proportions as Weizmann undoubtedly was; to see what new features he brought to the leadership of the Jews; how certain important people assessed his dominant personality, and finally what conclusions one can draw in the light of past events and world shaking ideas. The Russian Jewish community, and this necessarily includes Poland, during the last three decades of the nineteenth century was the largest Jewish coherent group in the world, and numbered about six million people, the vast * Paper delivered to the Jewish Historical Society of England on 9 April 1975. 1 Sir Isaiah Berlin, Chaim Weizmann, Herbert Samuel Memorial Lecture, London 1957; ditto: 'Purely Biographical', in Chaim Weizmann, A Biography by Several Hands, edited by Meyer Weisgal and Joel Carmichael (London, 1962), pp. 17-56; Weizmann as Exilarch, in Weizmann Memorial Lecture (Rehovoth, 1972), pp. 13-21. 2 Sir Charles Webster, The Founder of the National Home, Chaim Weizmann Memorial Lecture (Rehovoth, 1955), p. 38. 3 Leonard Stein, The Balfour Declaration (London, 1961); ditto: Weizmann and England (London, the Jewish Historical Society of England, 1964), p. 32. 4 See the brilliant article by Abba Eban, 'Tragedy and Triumph', in Weizmann, by Several Hands, pp. 249-313; ditto: 'Leadership Without Precedent', in Chaim Weizmann?Statesman of the Jewish Renaissance (Jerusalem, the Zionist Library, 1974), pp. 21-31. 5 See, among others, Oskar Rabinowicz, Fifty Years of Political Zionism (London, 1952). 6 Richard Crossman, 'The Prisoner of Rehovoth', in Weizmann, by Several Hands, pp. 325-356; Article in Encounter, 1974. 137</page><page sequence="2">138 Professor Chimen Abramsky majority of whom lived in the congested, densely populated areas of the Ukraine, Lithuania, Byelo-Russia, Latvia, and Poland, the whole area designated the Pale of Settle? ment. The majority lived in dire poverty, only a few privileged, wealthy Jews were allowed to live in Russia proper. In the Pale the Jews con? stituted a majority in a large number of cities, and sometimes formed between 12 and 15% of the total population.7 The greater number were engaged in petty trade, a diversity of handi? crafts, innkeeping; and very many of them had hardly any occupations at all, who lived from hand to mouth, and became known in litera? ture as 'luftmenschen', whom Scholem Alei khem immortalised in his classic description of 'Menakhem Mendel'. After 1860, when people pinned their hopes on Alexander II as a Tsar reformer, a minority of young Jews tried to enter universities, but were soon to find a numerus clausus, numerical restrictions on them. Others attempted to study of their own accord: these became known as 'autodidacts', and some tried to emigrate abroad to complete their studies in Germany or Switzerland. The development of industrialisation and the expansion of railways were eroding slowly, painfully, but surely many of the old traditional forms of Jewish life. Over a period of centuries, first in Poland, then in Russia, the Jews developed many self-governing institutions embracing the many needs of the community, from an educational to a social and philan? thropic character. They too experienced a pro? found crisis. The Hebrew and Yiddish litera? ture reflected fully the growing tension within the Pale?the polarisations of old and new.8 The younger generation was going over to rebellion. Quite a number of them were drawn into the revolutionary secret, conspiratorial societies, others inclined to liberal assimilation ?an early rehearsal of Russification, who believed that within a short time Jews would be accepted in Russian society and that the restrictions and disabilities would disappear as if by a magic wand. Still others carried on the fight of the Jewish Enlightenment?the Has kalah?and demanded European education for the Jewish children. Another group wanted to reform Jewish life, to break with the old, rich traditions, who felt the stifling atmosphere in the 'ghetto' of the Pale. All were conscious that the surrounding environment remained hostile to the Jews, though some preferred, for a time, to believe that this would remain a temporary phenomenon. All shared with pride their Jewish origins, and many were rapidly becom? ing national-conscious. A major change occurred with the assas? sination of Alexander II on 1 March 1881.9 As is well known, the Government replied to the revolutionary terror with a wave of pogroms in the Ukraine; this was the starting point of the largset wave of emigration to the West, and particularly to America. Within three decades this exodus changed the character of the Western Jewish communities. To a very large degree they were to become extensions of East European Jewry adapted to the tolerant, democratic conditions of the West.10 As a result of the pogroms there was, in addition to the swelling numbers of migration westwards, a major awakening of a desire to go to build up Palestine. This is the beginning of the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement. Young Jews, the majority of whom were erstwhile radicals, and even revolutionaries, were stunned by the 7 The literature on the Jews in Russia is voluminous. The best study remains: Louis Green berg, The Jews in Russia. The Struggle for Emancipa? tion (Yale University Press, 1965); for the demo? graphic figures, cf. Ezra Mendelssohn, Class Struggle in the Pale (Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 4-7. A good, popular introduction to this is Salo W. Baron, The Russian Jew under Tsar and Soviets (New York, 1964). For important historical problems raised in the study of the Jews in Russia cf. Ben Zion Dinur, 'The Historical Face of Russian Jewry and Problems connected with its Study', Zion (Hebrew), Vol. XXII (Jerusalem, 1957), pp. 93-118. Chimen Abramsky: 'The Jewish Labour Movement: Some historiographical prob? lems', in Soviet Jewish Affairs, No. I, June, 1971. 8 There is a great literature on the history of modern Hebrew literature, mostly in Hebrew; there are a few books in English. Two good intro? ductions are: Shalom Spiegel, Hebrew Reborn (1931); and David Patterson, The Hebrew Novel in Czarist Russia (Edinburgh University Press, 1964). 9 Cf. Franco Venturi, Roots of Revolution, with a Preface by Sir Isaiah Berlin (London, 1960). 10 On the whole wave of emigration, cf M. Wischnitzer, To Dwell in Safety. (Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1944).</page><page sequence="3">Weizmann: A New Type of Leadership in the Zionist Movement 139 brutal violence of the Ukrainian people against the Jews, but were doubly shocked at the total silence of Russian liberal society. Not one of the prominent Russian intellectuals protested at the killing of innocent Jews, the looting of their property, and the raping of their women. These young people overnight became deeply disillusioned with Russian society and began to establish societies advocating the return of the Jews to Palestine.11 A few examples will suffice to show how their ideas developed, and we can see then how these pioneers lead us straight to the world of Chaim Weizmann. The students who founded the Akhavat Zion society in St. Petersburg in 1881 formu? lated their goal thus: 'There is no salvation for the Jews except establishing for themselves a State of their own and in Palestine.' Another society, the 'Bilu', stated its case in the following manner: 'The aim of the Society is the regeneration politically, economically, culturally of the Jewish people in Palestine.' The Kibbutz Nidchei Israel society of Minsk went even farther in the clarity of their political aims: 'It is necessary to search and find a special place for the wanderers, where the members will gather, till one day all the affairs of the State, its laws and rules, will be in the hands of the Jews alone, and only through them will these things be decided . . . only then will the rule of the State be in the hands of the Jews, if they become at least the majority in that country.' The Nikolayev society, Am Olam, demanded the setting-up of cooperative settlements in Palestine and the nationalisation of the land.12 One has to bear in mind that some of these political affirmations were formulated by unknown Jewish students before Pinsker had written his Auto-Emancipation, and many years before the appearance of Herzl. Weizmann was only seven years old when the pogroms broke out, but his father became an early adherent of the Hovevei Zion, and he imbibed warm feelings towards Palestine from childhood on. He himself, as is well known, could not enter a university in Russia, and proceeded, with thousands of others, to study in Germany. There he joined an early Zionist society and became friends with a whole group of Jewish students, who subsequently became leading figures in the Zionist Movement and remained his lifelong friends. It was there that he absorbed the ideas of Pinsker, Lilienblum, and particularly those of Ahad Ha'am, and these ideas were to recur time and again in Weizmann's activities.13 For example, in 1901, when he and his friends Motzkin, Feiwel, Buber, and a few others established the Demo? cratic Fraction, he stated his case briefly and very lucidly, that the aim of the new Fraction was to attract to Zionism the productive forces in Judaism who were not yet part of the Zionist Movement, because of its lack of democracy, and that the new organ should be permeated with democratic principles and should work under the scrutiny of Jewish public opinion.14 In the same year he proposed the epoch-making demand for Jews, namely, of establishing a school of higher learning?a Hebrew University in Palestine with Hebrew as the principal teaching language.15 This plan must have looked to Herzl and his associates as sheer lunacy by Russian Jews, but in the end it is this suggestion that is a major part of the great legacy of Weizmann. The formation of the Democratic Fraction was the first major 11 On the 'Hovevei Zion' a good study is still a desideratum, but Ben Zion Dinaburg's (Dinur) book Hibbat Z*on, 2 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1932-1934), remains by far the best. On the reaction of the Russian Jewish Society to the antisemitic out? breaks, cf. S. Ettinger, 'The Ideological Back? ground of the Emergence of Modern Antisemitic Literature in Russia', ?ion (Hebrew), Vol. XXXV (Jerusalem, 1970), pp. 193-225. 12 Cf. Ketavim Le'toldot Hibbat Zion, edited by A. Druyanov, Vol. I (Odessa, 1919), pp. 6-7, 19-20, 36-37, 808-809. 13 Cf. Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error (New York, 1949), pp. 29^2; Berlin, in Weizmann, by Several Hands, pp. 18-23. 14 Cf. Yitzchak Ma'or, Ha'tenuah Ha'Zionit Be'Russia (Jerusalem, 1974), pp. 182-183. is Ibid., p. 191.</page><page sequence="4">140 Professor Chimen Abramsky clash between Russian and Western, or rather German, in the cultural sense, Zionism. Weiz? mann himself saw Herzlian Zionism as a mechanical object, a sociological concept based on an abstract idea, without roots in the tradi? tions and sentiments of the Jewish people. The period between 1899 and 1914 can be described as the preparatory ground for his work during the war, which was to culminate in the Balfour Declaration.16 In the course of this he became a close friend of Ahad Ha'am and found a number of English Jews who helped and encouraged him enormously, covering nearly half a century, namely, Simon Marks, Israel Sieff, Harry Sacher, Leon Simon, and a few others.17 One must constantly bear in mind that between 1901 and 1917 he hardly occupied any official position in the Zionist Movement, remaining only a member of the 'Large Action Committee', a committee which numbered over fifty members and was not the leading body in the Zionist Movement. The events of 1917 pushed him forward, catapulted him into the leadership, recognised by British statesmen, and not yet fully acknowledged by his own Zionist colleagues.18 In September 1917 he experienced sharp criticisms of his views from some of the English Zionists; he was very sensitive to criticism (and this was to be seen many times after), and he threatened to resign. Ahad Ha'am, on hearing of this threat, wrote him a memorable letter, of which a rough summary can be given here. 'Weizmann', he wrote, 'did not owe leader? ship to formal election by a body of men; so there was therefore no one to whom he could properly resign'; events, his own genius, but above all the historic goals and claims of the Jewish nation laid upon him a task and an obligation given to no other man in modern times; it was morally inconceivable that he should seek to evade it. Resignation would be betrayal to the Jewish people: Weizmann stayed.19 A few months after the publication of the Balfour Declaration, Weizmann himself sur? veyed the history of the Jews. Primarily he concentrated on the history of the Jews in Russia and Poland, since they formed, for him, the backbone of the Jews in the world, and it is they who revived Jewish nationalism and were responsible for the outcome of the negotiations with the British Government. His review has not lost its value to the present day. He began his lecture: Tn Poland there grew up a vast Jewish community, homogeneous in its character and type of life, and differing in fundamentals from the surrounding non-Jewish communities. . . . This homogeneous Jewish group survived the partition of Poland.' After this introductory remark he proceeded to outline the significance of the Russian Jewish community and the importance for Western Jews of the Russian Jewish emigration. Tt was from this group, as from a great reservoir, that Jews streamed out in ever increasing numbers during the nineteenth century into the countries of the West, there to enjoy the political freedom and economic opportunities which were persistently denied to the parent group. With relatively few excep? tions, there is not a Jew today in Western Europe or America whose ancestors immediate, or somewhat remote, were not born and bred in one of the thousands of Jewish communities which in their totality make up the homogeneous, Yiddish-speaking subnational group of Jews in Eastern Europe'. He stressed in particular that: '// is therefore no exaggeration to say that Eastern European Jewry has been for some centuries the real centre of Jewish life, and that its disruption, not accom? panied by the establishment of another centre, would threaten the very existence of the Jews as a people.,'20 This idea he repeated many times, and it 16 This was correctly seen by Professor Joseph Klausner. See his tribute, 'Chaim Weizmann: Early Memories', in Chaim Weizmann?A Tribute on his Seventieth Birthday, edited by Paul Goodman (London, 1944), pp. 36-41. 17 See Trial and Error in many references; Israel Sieff, in Weizmann, by Several Hands, pp. 87-104. Leon Simon and Joseph Heller, Ahad Ha'am (London, 1955). 18 Cf. Israel Kolatt, Chaim Weizmann's Rise to Leadership, Weizmann Memorial Lecture (Reho? voth, 1972), pp. 22-47. 19 Cf. Ahad Ha'am, Iggaroth, Vol. 5 (Jerusalem, 1924), pp. 315-317; part of the paraphrase from Berlin in Weizmann, by Several Hands, p. 35. 20 Cf. Chaim Weizmann, What is ^ionism ? (London, 1918), pp. 5-6 (my italics, C.A.).</page><page sequence="5">Weizmann: A New Type of Leadership in the Zionist Movement 141 served him as a guiding line in many an en? counter he had with Jews and non-Jews. It was abundantly clear to him that Western Jewry on its own could not have rendered such service to the survival of Jews as did the East European Jews, and this 'despite their marked superiority in political freedom, in economic stability, in adjustment to the demands of modern culture'. He drew the right conclusion, from this: 'For one effect of political and social emancipation on the Jews of the West has been to break up their solidarity. They have gained the right to participate in the lives of modern nations, not as a national or subnational group, but as individual s.'2 [ He reiterated this idea as late as 1946 when he testified to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine.22 Later on, he pointed out that the existence of such a 'vast reservoir' as the Jewish community in Russia had alone prevented many Jews from being attracted by the blandishments of the Tsarist Government and Russian clergy to convert them to Christianity, by which they would have rid themselves of all restrictions and disabilities.23 It was quite natural for the Russian Jews to produce new types of leaders, who would be, on the one hand, deeply rooted in Jewish life, fully aware of their traditions, and yet, on the other hand, would not be, many of them, reli? giously observant. The Russian Jews and their leaders, particularly those engaged in political work among Western Jewish communities, had to overcome many difficulties and prejudices from their Western brethren, who considered themselves far above the poor immigrants.24 In 1919 Weizmann delivered a speech, on the history of the recently issued Balfour Declara? tion and on the reasons for the earlier failures of Herzl's negotiations with the Sultan of Turkey, as well as his efforts with British statesmen. In the course of it he said: '/ shall try and prove to you that these politically not educated Jews of Russia, those people who did not know anything about high politics, who did not know how to talk to Cabinet Ministers and Kings, had the right political instinct and the present state of the world has proved conclusively that their policy was the right policy.'25 He proceeded to tell what difficulties he and his like-minded group of Zionists met from official and non-official bodies; how they were opposed by the very influential and rich Anglicised Jews, who could, and did, try to harm their efforts and prevent the issuance of the Balfour Declaration. This is a document of first historical importance: 'And here were we ... a small band of workers, not official, not recognised, out of contact with Jewry at large, set about to create a political position for the movement'. 'We, a small band of foreign Jews, were faced by all the might and all the prestige and all the bank accounts of those established leaders of the British Jewish community.' He and his friends could overcome this powerful opposition by convincing British statesmen that their analysis was politically more convincing, and they were sure that Turkey, as an imperial Power, would dis? appear as a result of the war, and 'then England would become the Mistress of the East', and it was vital to 'get England to understand Zionism, to understand Palestine'. They had to present a case which would show that the political and imperial interests of Great Britain at the time coincided with the interests of the Zionists, who had to get 'England to support' Zionism for reasons of her own, 'then half the battle would be won'. Weizmann conceded that this policy was risky: 'It was a gamble because we did not know that England would win.' What would Weizmann and his associates have to offer to such 'sober statesmen like Mr. Balfour, Mr. Lloyd George or Sir Edward Grey' ? They did not offer bases, ammunition, loans, or armies, but, and this is quite exceptional and remarkable in diplomatic history, perhaps unique, this is what he and his friends stated: 'We said repeatedly to the British statesmen: 21 Ibid., pp. 8-9 (my italics, CA.). 22 Cf. Chaim Weizmann, The Right to Survive (London, 1946), p. 3. 23 Ibid., p. 6. 24 All the prominent Russian Jews who lived in the West and wrote memoirs stressed this point. This recurs time and again in the reminiscences of Vladimir Jabotinski, Shmarya Levin, and others. 25 Chaim Weizmann, ^ionist Policy, An Address (London, 1919), p. 7.</page><page sequence="6">142 Professor Chimen Abramsky "if you give us a declaration in favour of Zion? ism, this declaration will make the Jews of the world understand that you are really friendly, and the friendship of the Jews of the world is not a thing to be blown upon: it is a thing that matters a great deal, even for a mighty empire like that of the British"' It was during these fateful discus? sions that Weizmann formulated his classic statement of what should be understood by the words 'a Jewish National Home': 'We were asked to formulate our wishes. We said we desired to create in Palestine such conditions, political, economic, and administrative that in a given time, as short as possible, Palestine should become as Jewish as England is English or America is Ameri? can'.2* Leaving aside that many issues have not been clarified between 'Home' and 'Nationality', all the same such words could only have been spoken by a person who was steeped in Jewish life, deeply rooted among his people, though living a long distance from them, where strong, invisible threads linked him to the most vital parts of the Jews everywhere, and he could proudly proclaim with the Biblical passage: 'Betokh ami anochi yoshev.' T dwell among my people.'27 No Western Jew, not even a Herzl, could have uttered such sentiments. No wonder Ahad Ha'am wrote to him that: T shall only say this, that during two thou? sand years of our exile, it seems to me that this is the first time that a Jew has written in such a "tone" to a Foreign Minister of a very power? ful State on national matters concerning Jews.'28 Weizmann never entertained any doubt that the commitment by Britain during the war to help build up a Jewish National Home was a binding commitment, like a treaty signed between States; it was for him 'a definite act of the British Cabinet. President Wilson was consulted on the text of the Declaration, before the Declaration was issued'. He repeated many times that 'it was a well-considered political act'.29 This immense belief in the trusted word of Britain sustained him, more or less, till 1939, until the publication of the ignominious White Paper on restricting immigration; though it was partly Weizmann's tragedy that he never fully gave up that belief and relied far too much on the British Government eventually changing its mind and returning to the ideals which inspired the Balfour Declaration. More about it later. What really mattered to him was and con? tinued to be the work by Jews themselves in building up Palestine. Diplomatic activity, however important, was a mere reflection of the hard, slogging work of the colonists them? selves. It was their successes that would finally be decisive in turning Palestine into a 'National Home'. 'The colonists', he declared in 1919, 'went there, and it was they, the Jewish workers, that staked out our political claim for Palestine. They are the political leaders of the Zionist organisation, and we are only supple? menting their work.'30 This view sums up his philosophy, which he outlined long before the First World War and became known by the name of 'Synthetic Zionism'. At the Eighth Zionist Congress, held at The Hague in August 1907, he had this to say: T see the connection between political work and practical work in Eretz Israel as a relation between the diggers of a tunnel, who must work from both sides of the mountain till they meet.'31 That is, Zionism meant for him a combination of intensive emigration to Palestine, or Eretz Israel, developing agriculture and industry, building up important educational bodies of schools and a University, highly accomplished political work among Jews themselves, and 26 Ibid., pp. 9-11; for the last formula there are a number of versions; a slightly different one was used by Weizmann in his Address to the Peel Commission; cf. The Jewish People and Palestine (Jerusalem, 1936), p. 19, and see article by Pro? fessor N. Feinberg in J?ion (Hebrew), Vol. XXXVII (Jerusalem, 1972), Nos. 1-2, pp. 111-116. 27 Kings ii, 4, 13. 28 Letter to Vera Weizmann, 25 July, 1918, in Iggarot Ahad Ha'am, Vol. 6 (Jerusalem, 1924), p. 15. 29 See Weizmann, ^on^st Policy, p. 10; but see Stein, The Balfour Declaration, pp. 197, 503, 529 532, and 595-601. 30 Ibid., Weizmann, Z^on^st Policy, pp. 12-13. 31 Speech quoted in Yitzchak Ma'or, Ha'tenuah ha'Zionit Be'Russia (Jerusalem, 1974), p. 324.</page><page sequence="7">Weizmann: A New Type of Leadership in the Zionist Movement 143 negotiations on a high level with different Governments and States. This was in total opposition to the Herzlian view of relying on political action by the 'leader' alone. At the same Congress he stated in categorical terms that the Zionists should aim to obtain a Charter, but this must be only as a consequence of the practical work of the Jews in Palestine itself. 'The Charter then will be signed and sealed with blood and sweat.' He attached the utmost importance to the steady, gradual acquisition of land, the settling of immigrants, and the building of a healthy society. This is the running thread of a vital idea which he used regularly, on many occa? sions, whether he was addressing a Jewish meeting in Whitechapel or a distinguished gathering of politicians or a Zionist Congress. In this he did not expect miracles, he was too scientifically trained for that. In 1931 he reformulated, in a nutshell, the old ideas of the famous Hovev Zion, Moshe Leib Lilienblum,32 who was an ardent believer in gradualness (of course, without mentioning his name). Some Zionists were critical of the slow methods in building up the Yishuv, to which Weizmann retorted: 'If there is any other way of building up a country, save acre by acre, and man by man, and farmstead by farmstead ... I do not know it. The Walls of Jericho fell to the sound of shouts and trumpets; I never heard of any walls being raised by such means'.33 He retained an absolute belief, almost in an uncritical fashion, in the toil of the Jewish workers in Eretz Israel. In his political thinking he was a populist rather than a socialist, and again in this he followed not only a tradition of Jews from Eastern Europe but also the tradi? tion of the Russian Populist democrats, of people like the famous writer and thinker Alexander Herzen, rather than the revolution ary Narodniks.34 At the height of Churchill's intervention against the young Soviet State, when the word 'Bolshevik' was seen in the eyes of the Government as a term of abuse, he had this to say: 'Eighty-six per cent of these people [of the Jews who went to Palestine] were fit for the best, for the hardest possible work, and they did it with joy. They loved to worship the god of construction after living in countries where the god of destruction had been reigning. . . . He [Weizmann?C.A.] could understand why they were called Bolshevists. A navvy was a navvy but a navvy with a university degree, a navvy who spoke two or three languages, could not be a navvy. He did not fit in with the description and as he must be labelled, the most convenient label was Bolshevik.'*5 Many years later, after Hitler and the Nazis came to power, the Arabs mounted their rebellion of 1936, the British Government sent the Peel Commission to Palestine, and the Jewish Agency was fighting desperately for more immigration, for 'certificates', in the language of the time; the Zionists were accused by some English papers and officials from the Colonial Office of bringing undesirable elements into Palestine, they 'have brought the scum of Europe to Palestine', Weizmann, testifying before the Commission, returned to a similar idea he had propounded so powerfully in the speech he delivered fourteen years before, and to this charge he retorted sharply: 'If they deserve the definition of scum of Europe, I should like to be counted amongst this scum.'36 In giving evidence before the Peel Commission he had an intuitive, one hesitates to use the word 'prophetic', dreadful fear of a major tragedy looming ahead, facing the Jewish people, He pleaded for a return to the promises given to him during the First World Wrar, and a lifting of the restrictions on immigration to s?ve as many Jews as possible from a coming catastrophe: 32 Cf. Shlomo Breiman, Ha'pulmus Bein Lilienblum Le'vein Ahad Ha'am Ve'Dubnow Ve'hareka Shelo (Jerusalem, 1951); ditto: 'Ha'mifne Ba'makha shava Ha'ziburit Ha'yehudit Bereishit Shnot Ha'shemonim', Shivat Zi?n&gt; edited by B. Dinur, I. Halpern, and Z. Wislawski, Vol. 2-3 (Jerusalem, 1951-1952), pp. 83-227. 33 Quoted by Lewis Namier, Facing East (London, 1947), p. 154. 34 On them, cf. Venturi, op. cit. 35 (My italics) cf. The Jewish National Home and its Critics. The Oxford speeches by Sir Alfred Mond and Dr. Chaim Weizmann (London, March, 1922), p. 10. 36 See 'The Jewish People and Palestine'. State? ment made before the Palestine Royal Commission in Jerusalem on 25 November 1936 (Jerusalem, 1936), p. 25.</page><page sequence="8">144 Professor Chimen Abramsky 'I told the Royal Commission that the hopes of 6,000,000 Jews are centred on emigration', he reported to the Zionist Congress in 1937. 'Then I was asked: But can you bring 6,000,000 Jews to Palestine?' I replied, 'No. I am ac? quainted with the laws of physics and chemistry, and I know the force of material factors. In our generation I divide the figure by three, and you can see in that the depth of the Jewish tragedy? two millions of youth, with their lives before them, who have lost the most elementary of rights, the right to work.' He finished off with a stark grim forecast, which even now, nearly forty years later, one shudders to read: 'The old ones will pass, they will bear their fate or they will not. They are dust, economic and moral dust in a cruel world. And again I thought of our tradition. What is tradition? It is telescoped memory. We remember. Thou? sands of years ago we heard the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and my words are but a weak echo of what was said by our judges, our singers and prophets. Two millions, and perhaps less: "Scheerith Hcipleta"?only a branch shall survive. We have to accept it.' He was quite willing to accept a partitioned Palestine, to form a tiny Jewish State that could rescue at least two million Jews. He pleaded with his opponents in the Zionist Move? ment to agree with him. On the very rare occasion he parted from the scientist that he was and revealed himself as an ardent believer, again more of a populist than an observer of ritual. It is a belief in 'the Glory of Israel will not lie'.37 His 'credo' is more of a cri de coeur than mere belief. T now address myself to those with whom I have not always been politically at one. I speak not as a Mizrachi but as a deeply religious man, although not a strict observer of the religious ritual. I make a sharp distinction between the present realities and the messianic hope, which is part of our very selves'.38 In the face of constant threats and opposition by the Arabs the British Government rejected the plan for Partition, and instead increased the restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine. A marked anti-Jewish policy fol? lowed. Illegal immigrants were hounded, imprisoned, deported. This even went on during the war and after, in spite of the fact that the Jews took a most active part in the war effort; the Arabs frequently helped the enemy side, and their leader, the Mufti, Haj Amin El Huseiny, was an active collaborator of Hitler.39 The Zionists themselves were strongly divided, a minority advocated terror against the British, the majority demanded political struggle, restraint from attacks on British and Arabs, raising the number of illegal immigrants, and bringing in American Jewry as a powerful pressure group on the American Government, which in turn would urge the British to relent and lift the ban on immigration. For this purpose Weizmann wrote early in 1942 an article for the very influential American perio? dical Foreign Affairs. For a number of reasons the article is highly significant. First, even he, who prophesied in 1936 the destruction of a large portion of the Jews in Europe, was still optimistic enough to believe that millions would survive the war and Nazi rule. (The same sentiments were expressed at the time by his close adviser, Sir Lewis Namier.40) What is really important in this article is the reafBrmation of the need for a Jewish State, and in it he inadvertently spelt out his own tragedy. 37 Cf. Samuel i, 15, 29. 38 'Dr. Weizmann's Speech to the Zionist Con? gress, 4 August 1937.' Supplement to Palestine, 11 August 1937, p. 8. 39 This aspect has been amply described in many books dealing with the emergence of the State of Israel. 40 It is true, little reliable information percolated from Europe till the end of 1942, when the Polish leader of the Bund, Shmuel Zygelbojm, was earlier smuggled out and revealed to an astonished world the existence of gas chambers, and the Final Solu? tion of Hitler for the Jews. Few believed him, and in utter despair he committed suicide in 1943 pro? testing at the deafness of the Western world. See Lewis Namier, 'The Jews,' in Nineteenth Century and After (November, 1941), reprinted in his book Conflicts (London, 1942), pp. 121-136; also the brilliant but subjective lecture by Sir Isaiah Berlin, Zionist Politics in Wartime Washington: A Fragment of Personal Reminiscence, Yaakov Herzog Memorial Lecture, delivered at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2 October 1972, pp. 22-31. On Zygel bojm's Mission see Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 16, cols. 1251-1252 and the literature cited there.</page><page sequence="9">Weizmann: A New Type of Leadership in the Zionist Movement 145 He wrote that in Palestine: 'Jews who so desire will be able to achieve their freedom and self government by establishing a State of their own, and ceasing to be a minority dependent on the will and pleasure of other nations'. So far there was no radical departure from his earlier views, but he still clung to the idea that 'considering the strategic and economic importance of Palestine, the inclusion of the Jewish State within the British Commonwealth of Nations would be to the interest of both'.41 In his old age he remained deeply loyal to Britain. He failed to see the declining state of the British Empire and the rise of an ally and yet rival America as the great super-Power. This probably explains why he was lukewarm in support of the militant 'Biltmore Resolu? tion' which demanded the setting-up of a Jewish State straight after the war, and this sheds light on a growing and profound division between him and David Ben Gurion.42 Or was it, perhaps, a gnawing doubt that the Jews had not yet learnt the art of governing themselves, and would still require the tutelage of the British to help them over a difficult period ? Or was it, possibly, the fact that he sensed the loss of his deepest roots in the destruction of Polish and East European Jewry ? The greatest weak? ness of Weizmann, and this covers the whole period between 1917 and 1948, was that he lacked a base of popular support in Palestine. Before the Holocaust, he relied almost entirely on East European Jewry. Ben Gurion, on the other hand, built up over a long time an im? mense mass following, first as the builder of the Histadruth, and later on as the unrivalled leader of the Yishuv and its self-defence the Haganah. Further, Weizmann when he paid frequent visits to Palestine remained largely an outsider, a distinguished guest; a man who spoke many languages, and never mastered the Hebrew tongue. He could in all sincerity say the same as the eminent French Socialist, Charles Rapaport, who used to say good humouredly, 'Je parle dix langues, et surtout je parle Yiddish.' Another characteristic weakness in Weiz? mann, as well as in many other English Zionists, was that he and they made an arti? ficial distinction between Ministers of H.M. Government and officials of the Colonial and Foreign Offices?a distinction which hardly existed in reality. He frequently criticised the civil servants and inadvertently exonerated the Cabinet Ministers. Ben Gurion from 1939 on avoided this trap. The war was over. Hitler was defeated. Germany lay in ruins. The Jews lost over six million in the Holocaust. The Labour Government of Attlee and Bevin pursued an open anti-Zionist policy, bordering on crude antisemitism. Immigrants were hunted down. Concentration camps appeared in Palestine. Jewish leaders were arrested, and military curfew was the order of the day. Weizmann, the old warrior, the highly experienced leader, was ailing and ageing, but was not yet finished. He responded to the urgent demand of the Jewish Agency and the Yishuv, and proceeded to Jerusalem to testify there to the Anglo American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine. He revived Pinsker's definition of antisemitism,43 and in one short sentence he gave to it a new, brilliant and profound twist: T believe the one fundamental cause of antisemitism?it may seem tautological? is that the Jews exist. We seem to carry anti? semitism in our knapsacks wherever we go'. For the remnants of the Jews who, somehow, survived the Holocaust, he pleaded that there was only one place for them to go to, namely, Palestine, and in the end it would have to be a Jewish State. At last he felt deeply pessimistic and bitter about the British. Of Palestine, he stated: 'This is the only country in the world under the British flag where we, as Jews, are confined more or less to a ghetto; we are not allowed free movement and free settlement on the land'. He admitted that 'we shall need an Admini? stration which is in sympathy with the eventual upbuilding of the Jewish State'. He was reluc? tant to spell out what should happen in the 41 See 'Palestine's Role in the Solution of the Jewish Problem,' reprint from Foreign Affairs, January 1942 (London, March 1942), pp. 13-14. 42 Cf. Berlin (lecture), op. cit. p. 27-30. 43 On Pinsker, see Ahad Ha'am, Essays, Letters, Memoirs, translated and edited by Leon Simon (Oxford, East and West Library, 1946), pp. 183 200.</page><page sequence="10">146 Professor Chimen Abramsky transition period, nor did he request that Britain should abandon Palestine. To the cold comfort offered by many non Jews to the Jews that they were fine people, who could easily be absorbed in the rest of the world, without specifying where, Weizmann, the scientist, the chemist, the wit, and the Russian Jew, replied in his inimitable way: 'We are usually told by way of a compliment, by well-meaning friends, that the Jews are an excellent leaven for a non-Jewish society. We are told sometimes, in a different form, that the Jews are the salt of the earth and contribute this salinity to the non-Jewish society. Appar? ently the non-Jewish society stands in need of a certain quantity of salt, I do not know how much. But my experience is that it is a sort of double-edged or left-handed compliment. One can stand a certain amount of salt, but if the concentration of salt increases beyond the right proportion, then the soup, or the dish, with the salt, goes down the sink. That has happened to the Jewish people. They have acted as salt and then were poured out, poured away.'44 Like many other Zionist leaders, Weizmann tended to see the Arab question through a kind of old-fashioned liberal idea of patronage. He saw clearly that Jewish settlement in Palestine tended, on the whole, owing to the economic development of the country, to raise the stan? dard of living of the Arabs; this led him to believe, quite sincerely, that they would accept voluntarily a Jewish hegemony in the land, where they would enjoy civil rights, but not be the decisive power in the State. After meeting King Feisal (then Emir, later King of Iraq) in 1919, he stated: 'The Arabs are not strangers, they have lived in the country for centuries. They are a primitive people ... as we enter Palestine, we say: "There is room both for you and for us; you will benefit by our coming in, and we shall benefit by friendly relations between you and us".' When, in the near future, Palestine would become a real Jewish National Home, he assured the Arabs, who remained deaf to all these overtures, that: 'We shall be the last people to drive off the fellah from his land; we shall establish normal relations between us and them'. The most Utopian part of this scheme was expressed as follows: 'The Arabs will live among us; they won't suffer; they will live among us as Jews do here in England'. He dismissed any other solution as 'criminal, childish, impolitic, stupid'.45 To his earlier arguments, after World War Two, he began to add that the Arabs should be satisfied in having obtained seven States in the Near East, with seven seats in the United Nations, and they could afford to leave a small territory in which Jews would have sovereign? ty.46 He failed to see the rise of strong, emo? tional chauvinist tendencies among the Arabs that would bring about a nationalism which has radical and fascist elements mixed in it; that one could not dictate to people whom they should choose for their leaders; and finally, that the Palestine Arab problem, like the Jewish question, is fed by very powerful irrational elements, and no easy solution is at hand. His political work was nearing its end. With the Declaration of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, in which, it seems, he had a leading part, though not a signatory to it, it fell to him to obtain immediate recognition from President Truman for the young State, an act which helped decisively in its survival.47 He became nominal President of the State; no political consultations took place with him; Ben Gurion brushed him aside and kept him, in Richard Crossman's phrase, as 'a prisoner in Rehovoth.'48 44 See Weizmann, The Right to Survive, 1946, pp. 17+4. 45 See Weizmann, Zionist Policy, An Address, pp. 14-15; for some of his many later statements on this thorny question, cf. The Jewish National Home and its Critics, pp. 11-12; 'The Jewish Position in Palestine,' in Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society, Vol. XXIII, July 1936, pp. 433-441; 'The Jewish People and Palestine', pp. 22-23; 'Weiz mann's Speech to the Zionist Congress', pp. 6-7; 'Palestine's Role in the Solution of the Jewish Prob? lem', pp. 10-12; The Right to Survive, pp. 7, 18-19. 46 Cf. The Right to Survive, p. 18; Presidential Address to the Twenty-Second Z^on^st Congress, Decem? ber 1946 (London, 1946), p. 8. 47 See Eban in Weizmann, by Several Hands, pp. 249-313. 48 See R. Crossman, in Weizmann, by Several Hands, p. 328, and particularly, pp. 331-332 et infra.</page><page sequence="11">Weizmann: A New Type of Leadership in the Zionist Movement 147 There are two more points which need to be looked at briefly. From the start of political Zionism he, like many Russian Jews, was at first sceptical about Herzl's political activities, and from 1901 became one of his consistent and sharpest critics. In his autobiography, Trial and Error, he summed up, in a brilliant passage, his attitude to Herzl, a passage brimming with Ahad Ha'am's critical spirit. Weizmann was referring to the opposition the Uganda Plan provoked among the Russian Zionists: 'Herzl attempted to substitute Uganda for Palestine, as a temporary palliative measure, he urged, failing to perceive that, with all their sufferings, the Jews of Russia were incapable of transfer? ring their dreams and longings from the land of their forefathers to any other territory. It was thus made manifest that Palestine had, in fact, never been "available" to the Western leader? ship. It had been a mirage, and when the mirage faded, Uganda?which as a matter of fact was even more of a mirage?was proposed in its place'.49 Yet he acknowledged that Herzl 'was a force in Israel,' but he remained an alien with a philanthropic approach to the Jewish problem. For him Herzl's work was 'action for the people', while his own was 'action by the people.' Though he was, and remained, consistently an ardent critic of Herzl, he himself adopted many of Herzl's methods in political negotia? tions. He was authoritarian, would not brook criticism easily, and felt that he was right. His fight for the Balfour Declaration is in many ways reminiscent of Herzl's idea of the Charter, with one crucial exception: Weizmann felt, rightly, that he did represent and symbolise the mass of East European Jewry. Like a good disciple of Ahad Ha'am, the Hebrew University and later on the Weizmann Institute of Science were dearest to his heart. When Palestine was not yet fully liberated he insisted on laying the foundation-stone of the University. Ahad Ha'am congratulated him and wrote that it was 'a great historic event'; Ahad Ha'am had taught 'that the reconstruction of our national life is possible only upon spiritual foundation', and that this must go hand in hand 'simultaneously with the colonisation work itself'.50 Weizmann's remarkable political and diplo? matic activity forms one of the most fascinating chapters in modern Jewish history, and Sir Charles Webster referred to him as perhaps the outstanding diplomat of the First World War,51 but this, however glorious a chapter, belongs to the past; his present and future monuments will remain the two great spiritual institutions of Israel: the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Weizmann Institute in Rehovoth. In those he embodied the words of Zechariah: 'Lo Be'khail ve'lo Be'khoakh ki im Be'rukhi.' 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit.'52 To sum up: Weizmann represented the first modern Russian Jewish leader to have deeply influenced the West, acknowledged by Jews and non-Jews alike, embodying all the rich traditions of an immensely colourful com? munity. He synthesised the Haskalah, Pinsker, Lilienblum, from whom he imbibed populism, Ahad Ha'am helped him in his aristocratic tendencies, he took the best from Herzl, combining this with the richest liberal tradi? tions of Western Europe, and they all fused within him into a unique personality. Classical Judaism is notoriously poor in political ideas. The Bible describes King Saul as being: 'Mi'shikhmo va'ma'alah ga'voha mi'kol Ha'am' 'From his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.'53 This fits him perfectly. A tall, distinguished looking, intellectual aristocrat, proud, without inferiority complexes, he walked like an equal with kings and statesmen, and yet an all-round Jew. Many people paid tributes to Weizmann, 49 See Trial and Error, p. 54. 50 See Ahad Ha'am, Essays, Letters, Memoirs (London, 1946), pp. 294-295. 51 Cf. Webster, The Founder of the National Home, p. 3. 52 See Zechariah, iv, 6. 53 See Samuel I, ix, 2.</page><page sequence="12">148 Professor Chimen Abramsky and many pondered on the secrets of his powers and successes. To take a few: David Ben Gurion saw him as 'the greatest Jewish emissary to the Gentile world . . . There was no other Jew in whom the non-Jewish world perceived the embodiment of the Jewish people, with their ability, their will, and their longings.'54 Sir Lewis Namier and Sir Isaiah Berlin, both extremely good judges of people, saw him as a Jewish Exilarch?a Resh Galuta?a Rosh Hagolah 'leading his people back to their ancient land'. When negotiating with Governments, Isaiah Berlin wrote, Weizmann was 'the prime minister of a government in exile. He was not a suppliant but an equal, a voice speaking for a great historical nation, a figure of formidable powers whose proposals were not to be ig? nored'.55 Balfour, 'a master in the art of polities', as Namier aptly called him, reflected on Weiz? mann as a statesman, the problem he was facing and grappling with: 'the extraordinary difficulties of carrying political responsibility without political power; . . . his constituency', mused Balfour, 'encircled the globe, but he had no coercive power over his followers, nor any physical force to oppose to their enemies. The perquisites of the responsible statesman were lacking. He was even without power to tax'.56 Balfour remained deeply puzzled. Abba Eban quoted about Weizmann the epitaph Thucydides wrote of Pericles, but as the latter was primarily a legislator, this does not seem to me to apply to Weizmann.57 The secret of Weizmann's success lies, in my view, in the fact that he, more than anyone else, represented for thirty years the hopes and aspirations of six million Russian and Polish Jews. No small constituency. It is this that was his secret weapon. Let me conclude with a few quotations from the founder and master of modern political theory, Niccolo Machiavelli, whose description applies equally to Weizmann. 'Great leaders such as Moses, Cyrus, Romu? lus, Theseus, and their like, it will be seen that they owed nothing to fortune, but the oppor? tunity which gave them matter to be shaped into what form they thought fit; and without that opportunity their powers would have been wasted'. 'It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. Because the innovator has enemies in all those who profit of the old order ... It is necessary, however, in order to investigate thoroughly this question, to examine whether these innovators are inde? pendent, or whether in order to carry out their designs they have to entreat or are able to com? pel. In the first case they invariably succeed ill, and accomplish nothing; but when they can depend on their own strength and are able to use force, they rarely fail. Thus it comes about that all armed prophets have conquered and unarmed ones failed'.58 Though the last four years of his life were glory without power, and with little influence, he never gave up thinking about the fate of the Jewish people, so close to his heart. Abba Eban recorded Weizmann's last reflections on his death-bed: 'We are a small people, but a great people. An ugly and yet a beautiful people. A creative and destructive people. A people in whom genius and folly are equally com? mingled. We are an impetuous people who have time and again repudiated and wrecked what our ancestors built. For God's sake, let us not allow the breach in the wall to swallow us'.59 Postscript For this lecture I have consulted also the four volumes of Weizmann's speeches, in Hebrew, but have preferred, for many reasons, 54 See Weizmann, by Several Hands. Preface by David Ben Gurion, p. 2. 55 See Namier, Facing East, pp. 151-152; Berlin, in Weizmann, by Several Hands, p. 45: ditto: Weiz? mann as Exilarch (Rehovoth, 1972), pp. 13-21. 56 Cf. Mrs. Edgar Dugdale, 'Man and Statesman', in Chaim Weizmann?A Tribute, p. 27. 57 Cf. Eban, in Chaim Weizmann?Statesman, pp. 21-22. 5? See The Prince, ch. 6, Oxford World Classics, pp. 23-25. 59 Cf. Eban, in Chaim Weizmann?Statesman, p. 28.</page><page sequence="13">Weizmann: A New Type of Leadership in the Zionist Movement 149 to use the English originals. The literature on Weizmann is quite enormous, as every book or article which has dealt with the history of the State of Israel had also to examine Weizmann's role in it. My purpose has been chiefly to build up a picture of the man as leader based mostly on his own statements. Of the vast literature which I have found very helpful, in addition to those mentioned in the footnotes are the following: For a different interpretation from the late Leonard Stein on the reasons which prompted the British Govern? ment to issue the Balfour Declaration, see: Meir Verete, AI hatzharat Balfour ve'oseha, Haumah, Jerusalem, 1970, pp. 300-316; and a supplementary article to Stein's thesis cf. Dvorah Barzilai, 'On the Genesis of the Balfour Declaration', #o/i, XXXIII, Jerusalem 1968, pp. 190-202 (Hebrew). On early Zionist attempts to negotiate with the Arabs, cf. Moshe Perlmann. 'Chapters of Arab-Jewish Diplo? macy 1918-1922', Jewish Social Studies, New York, Vol. VI, 1944, and Meir Verete, 'Zionist-Arab-British Relations and the Inter Allied Peace Commission', &gt;?7?/z, Vol. XXXII, No. 1-2, Jerusalem, 1967, pp. 76-115.</page></plain_text>