The rabbis are betraying their people”

Yakov Rabkin
October 2005

Published in Outlook (Vancouver) in October 2005.

“The rabbis are betraying their people”

The response reflects a common misconception. Many fail to distinguish between Jews and Zionists. Mr Muraskin writes that ‘From the start there were, then, only two possibilities: that the Arabs defeat the Zionists or that the Zionists defeat the Arabs. War between the two was inevitable’. Indeed, the predominantly secular Zionists introduced discord in the otherwise harmonious relations that had obtained among the different religious groups in Ottoman Palestine, and thus made the war inevitable. There was no Golden Age in Palestine. But, just as in Canada today, different religious and ethnic groups coexisted rather peacefully.

The Zionists, imbued with the vision of a new Hebrew freed from the yoke of tradition, found the traditional Jews to be a serious nuisance. This is a well known fact that Segev reiterates rather cursorily. « Much of the pre-Zionist Jewish population – that is, those who lived in Palestine before the 1880s – … were deeply hostile to the notion of secular Jewish autonomy in the Holy Land… » (p. 16). Segev explains that besides their abhorrence of Zionism, « they feared that Zionist activity would cause the autorities to act against all the Jews (p. 17).

Mr Muraskin reproaches me that I attribute to Segev’s book support for “restoring Arab-Jewish coexistence in the framework of a single liberal state”. I never said that  Segev supports a one-state solution to the chronic violence in Israel/Palestine. In fact, I do not know Segev’s stand on the issue. I do say, however, that those who oppose the idea of a « one man, one vote » should read the book in order to understand the nature of the conflict that the Zionist idea of separate development has brought about.

Mr Muraskin appears upset at my insistence that most Jews, particularly those who inhabited Palestine at the end of the 19th century, rejected Zionism. Segev mentions that Ben-Gurion was also upset that « the rabbis are betraying their people » (ibid). In fact, the Hagganah assassinated one such traitor – Jacob De Haan – in 1924 while he was organizing a delegation of anti-Zionist rabbis to London. Jews who reject nationalism disturb and enrage. As an historian who has written a book on the history of Jewish opposition to Zionism, I occasionally encounter this reaction from those who feel that the very mention of such opposition destroys their romantic, some would say fascist, vision of all the Jews united around the Israeli flag. This unity never existed and it certainly does not exist today. Many Jews remain opposed to Zionism while there are millions of Christians who ardently support it.

Yakov M Rabkin

Yakov Rabkin is Professor of History at the University of Montreal; his book Au nom de la Torah: une histoire de l’opposition juive au sionisme is scheduled to be published in English early next year.

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The rabbis are betraying their people”