Herzl - “The anti-semites will become our most dependable friends"

(2006) From an article by British socialist Tony Greenstein

Herzl recognised both an identity of interest and a common ideology between Zionism and anti-semitism. When he brought out his pamphlet Der Judenstaat in 1895, the warmest welcome was from anti-semites: “Was at the printing office and talked with the managers ... both are presumably anti-semites. They greeted me with genuine cordiality. They liked my pamphlet.” [18]

Desmond Stewart’s perceptive biography notes: “… already in 1896 Austrian anti-semites were finding ammunition in Herzl’s arguments, as would the followers of Drumont …” [19] Eduard Drumont was one of the most important anti-semitic ideologues of the 19th century. He wrote an influential book, La France juive (1886) and edited a daily paper, La Libre Parole, and was one of the leaders of the anti-Dreyfusards. Herzl was full of admiration for Drumont: “But I owe to Drumont a great deal of the present freedom of my concepts, because he is an artist.” [20] Herzl lobbied for Drumont to review his pamphlet in La Libre Parole, which he did on January 15 1897, and he was delighted with the result. Drumont “praises the Zionists of Herzl’s persuasion for not seeing in us fanatics … but citizens who exercise the right of self-defence.” [21]

Likewise Herzl’s deputy, Max Nordau, in an interview with Raphael Marchant, correspondent for La Libre Parole, observed that Zionism “is not a question of religion, but exclusively of race, and there is no one with whom I am in greater agreement on this position than M. Drumont.” [22]

On this there was unanimous agreement amongst Zionist writers. The first Zionist theoretician was Moses Hess, an early acquaintance of Marx. In his pamphlet, Rome and Jerusalem, Hess wrote that “Race struggle is primary and class secondary”, [23] before going on to explain:

“The Germans hate the religion of the Jews less than they hate their race – they hate the peculiar faith of the Jews less than their peculiar noses ... reform, conversion, education and emancipation – none of these open the gates of society to the German Jew, hence his desire to deny his racial origin.” [24]

Zionism and anti-semitism shared the same political outlook and territory. Herzl soon realised that “The anti-semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-semitic countries our allies.” [25] The touchstone both for Zionism and the anti-semites (and later the Nazis) was their loathing of the French Revolution, which had liberated the Jews from the ghettos and granted political equality. The Zionists, like the orthodox rabbis, saw emancipation as the cause of all their ills. Zionism was the secular equivalent of Jewish orthodoxy.

As Zionist historian Noah Lucas observed, “Zionism was the antagonist above all of the individual assimilation associated with emancipation.” [26] Max Nordau’s speech to the first Zionist Congress in 1897 derided the French Revolution and emancipation as a mere “geometric mode of thought of French rationalism”. Nordau’s only doubts regarding Zionism were that the Jews might not be “anthropologically fit for nationhood.” [27] Likewise Nahman Syrkin, the first ‘socialist’ Zionist, held that “Emancipation of the Jews was, from the beginning, a result of logical conformity to the implications of a principle rather than a real need.” [28]

It is often claimed that Herzl became a Zionist because of the 1894 Dreyfus affair – Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was falsely accused of espionage, stripped of his rank and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil Island. This is unlikely. The Dreyfus affair became a cause célčbre and was proof that anti-semitism could be successfully fought. It was this hostility to anti-semitism which was to result in less than 25% of French Jews being exterminated in the holocaust. [29]

Desmond Stewart confirms that it is unlikely that Herzl’s Zionism derived from Dreyfus. [30] Likewise rabbi Elmer Berger:

“Where in all the world a century before would more than half a nation have come to the defence of a Jew? Had Herzl possessed a knowledge of history, he would have seen in the Dreyfus case a brilliant, heartening proof of the success of emancipation.” [31]

Herzl himself wrote:

“In Paris ... I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-semitism.” [32]

18. M. Lowenthall, The diaries of T Herzl, New York 1962, p.91.

19. D. Stewart, Theodor Herzl, New York 1974, p.25.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., p.251 fn.

22. Ibid., p.322.

23. M. Hess, Rome and Jerusalem, Foreword, New York 1958.

24. Ibid., p.49. See also p.71.

25. R. Patai (ed.), The complete diaries of Theodore Herzl, Vol.1, London 1960: entry for June 11 1895.

26. N. Lucas, The modern history of Israel, New York 1975, p.18.

27. Complete diaries, pp.275-76.

28. N. Syrkin, The Jewish problem and the socialist-Jewish state; cited in A. Hertzberg op. cit., p.337.

29. Reitlinger estimates that 60-65,000 French Jews died in the extermination camps, Hilberg puts the figure at 75,000 out of some 300,000.

30. D. Stewart, Theodore Herzl – artist and politician, London 1974, p.164.

31. Ibid., p.167.

32. Ibid., p.6.