A lot has been said about the Arab-Israeli conflict after the fragmentation of Palestine and the following creation of a State of Israel in 1948. However, few are those who know that the Austro-Hungarian Theodor Herzl, father of modern Zionism —the political movement that promoted the creation of Israel—, national Israeli hero and officially called a Visionary of the State, never proposed that the new land for the Jewish people should be inextricably located in the former Promised Land, and rather seriously considered another option from the start. That option was Argentina.
This is documented in his fundamental book "The Jewish State" published in 1896, a work that resonated within sectors of the Jewish collectivity and which allowed him to become the first president of the World Zionist Organization in 1897. After presenting the discrimination problem suffered by the Jewish people for centuries, Herzl discards both the assimilationist postures —proposing for Jews to integrate themselves to the countries they inhabited and leave their culture behind— as well as the isolationist postures, reflected in the existence of ghettos which, since the 16th century, were multiplying around Europe. For the Austrohungarian, the only way to put an end to anti-Semitism was to create an independent state that could receive the diaspora Jews. This projection, as we shall see, brought upon grave consequences and is one of the keys to understand the problems witnessed in West Asia.
For the time being, it is significant to note how Argentina could have turned into Palestine.
In page 44 of "The Jewish State" Herzl writes: "Argentine is one of the most fertile countries in the world, extends over a vast area, has a sparse population and a mild climate. The Argentine Republic would derive considerable profit from the cession of a portion of its territory to us. The present infiltration of Jews has certainly produced some discontent, and it would be necessary to enlighten the Republic on the intrinsic difference of our new movement." What does this refer to?
Between 1878 and 885, Argentina has incorporated to its territory a large part of Patagonia, after the genocidal campaign against the native peoples —particularly mapuches and tehuelches—, under the lead of General Roca —whose face shamefully still decorates the Argentinian $100 pesos bill, the one of the highest nominal value in the country—, known as "Conquest of the Desert".
The vast amount of lands that became available after the massacre of indigenous peoples made it possible for the development of the migratory project the government desired, materialized in the Immigration and Colonization Law of 1876, which facilitated the arrival of foreigners to the country regardless of their place of origin or religion. In the Eurocentric conception of the so-called "Generation of '80", which main figures were Roca himself and presidents Sarmiento and Avellaneda, the only way to push the nation to the future was through the replacement of its traditional inhabitants —the indigenous and the gaucho— for Europeans, that is, substituting with "civilization" what they regarded as "barbarism".
The first contingents of Ashkenazi Jews from East Europe arrived to the country during the 1880 decade, escaping from the pogroms they were victims of, especially in the tsarist Russia. One of the main promoters of this movement was the Jewish-German baron, businessman and banker Maurice de Hirsch, a millionaire philanthropist who helped hundreds of Jewish families to resettle in agricultural colonies of Buenos Aires, Entre Rios and Santa Fe through the brand new Jewish Colonization Association (JCA). The statutes of the Association proposed to "Facilitate the migration of Israelites of the countries of Europe and Asia where they are depressed by specially restrictive laws and where they are deprived of political rights, to other regions of the world where they can enjoy of these and other rights inherent to man."
However, in his book, Herzl says "infiltration" and uses the word in a pejorative way. And this is because, in spite of his appreciation for the will of baron Hirsch to work for the Jewish cause, he was always highly critical of his work: different to the project devised by the father of Zionism, the JCA did not propose to create a new state, but simply a relocation of the Jewish people —in exodus for some one thousand years— in areas where they could live in peace, far from the persecutions they were subjected to. For Herzl, this was something inconceivable and unviable: in Argentina or in Palestine the solution was a state or nothing.
The problem of the Zionist project did not have to do with the choosing of a place where to settle the Jews escaping from Europe, but with the political way employed to carry it out. To understand why this is so, it is interesting to bring here some related ideas from the German Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt, whose most famous work is the essay on the trial against the Nationalsocialist leader Adolf Eichmann, in which she proposed the concept of "the banality of evil".
Arendt was, at the beginning, a supporter of Herzl's initiatives, because she understood it as a concrete solution from a political approach to face anti-Semitism. But as Zionism grew exponentially, supported by the interests that the French, British and the United States had on Palestine, and after the events leading to the creation of Israel, she became ever more critical of the movement. And quickly she warned about the danger of having invented a nation-state completely held hostage to foreign interference, ignoring the will of the surrounding Arab peoples. The project went wrong frm the beginning and, as it is known, as soon as a state of Israel was declared, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon declared war on it.
Arendt was, at the beginning, a supporter of Herzl's initiatives, because she understood it as a concrete solution from a political approach to face anti-Semitism. But as Zionism grew exponentially, supported by the interests that the French, British and the United States had on Palestine, and after the events leading to the creation of Israel, she became ever more critical of the movement.
As Pablo Lopez Chaves exposes eloquently in his article "Saving the Jewish fatherland. Hannah Arendt and the Palestinian issue", dealing with the ideas of the German political theory on it, one of the gravest mistakes of Herzl's proposals came from the political language which he learned in the context of the modern Europe, where nation-state was the only valid political project. Arendt looked positively at the arrival of Jewish settlers to Palestine which had increased since the beginnings of the 20th century and which gave rise to the political experience of the kibutz, representing the establishment of new supposedly democratic organization, in a context in which conventional states were entangled in ever more bureaucratic structures which led to the two great wars. But she never believed that they should reduce themselves to include only Jews.
The development of a nationalist ideology ever more isolated from reality in Israel —ideology encouraged and fueed by successive governments until our days— placed the Jewish people, in her words, "as a sidelined nation, hopelessly estranged from the other countries". And the idea that "a nation without a country" would have to escape to a "country without a nation" —a place that didn't exist in the world save for where ethnic cleansing had been practiced, such as in Argentina—, was virtually impossible to realize without conditioning, as Lopez Chaves says, "the future of the Israeli state toward conflict" and mortgaging "its survival to foreign intervention". Arendt expresses it clearly when stating that the only chance of developing a Jewish homeland in Palestine necessarily depended on the existence of a "Jewish-Arab cooperation". Without it, "any Jewish adventure is doomed".
It should be noted how the conflict stemming from the creation of the Israeli regime has unfortunately fueled antisemitism rather than helping to reduce it, contrary to the wishes of Herzl. And this comes from the confusion that exists between Judaism and Zionism which serves the Israeli interests.
The adoption and furthering of the Zionist project in Israel evolved into a strong increase in militaristic and imperialist policies which translated into territorial expansion and the extermination of the Arab population of Palestine. At the same time, the alliance of the country with the main Western powers, such as the United States, France and Great Britain —famous for their colonizing adventures around and across the globe—, has generalized even more the wrong trend of equating Judaism, as a religion, tradition and peaceful and community culture —two of which seven main commandments forbid theft and murdering—, with Zionism as a political project first and economic-military one secondly, which has showed to have very little to do with peace and collective efforts and a lot to do with the theft of lands and murdering.
Israel is a Zionist project and an imperial enclave of the United States and Great Britain which calls itself the world homeland of the Jews, and from there it claims itself the right to talk in the name of the entire Jewish people. From the Western pro-Israeli massive mainstream media such confusion is intentionally encouraged in order to label any humanitarian sympathy and empathy of millions of peoples around the world to the sufferings of Palestinians as "antisemitism".
When accusing as antisemite what isn't more than an understandable anti-Zionist expression, the existence of the Israeli regime is justified over and over as an only solution to the problem of discrimination against the Jewish people. And thus its militarization, imperialism and territorial appetites are justified, in a vicious circle ewithout end. Such mechanism is even more dangerous when besides from getting in the way of detecting real sources of antisemitism, it also condemns and silences the thousands of Jews around the world who do not share the Zionist project, as it places them in the uncomfortable —and false— position of enemies of their own people.
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To close this historical reflection, I believe it necessary to briefly return to the ideas of Baron Hirsch of establishing the Jewish nation in Argentina, and asking what would have happened if this project would have been realized.
Judaism —with no need for Zionism— has flourished freely in Argentina contributing great figures to the culture, politics, science and arts of the country, without necessarily leaving its traditions and customs: today it is possible to find a Jewish population going from the ultra orthodox to completely liberal, proud of its ancient culture and religion and of being part of the Southamerican nation.
Were the proposals of Maurice Hirsch so mistaken? Unfortunately it was impossible to test it, due to the influence that Herzl gained rapidly among the most powerful Jewish circles.
However, if some 130 years after the arrival of the first Jewish immigrants to Argentina we consider the fruitful integration that this nation achieved in the country —harboring the eighth largest Jewish community in the world of some 200 thousand people—, it is likely that the answer be negative. Judaism —with no need for Zionism— has flourished freely in Argentina contributing great figures to the culture, politics, science and arts of the country, without necessarily leaving its traditions and customs: today it is possible to find a Jewish population going from the ultra orthodox to completely liberal, proud of its ancient culture and religion and of being part of the Southamerican nation.
A more intense Jewish immigration, as it took place in the United States or Canada, could have certainly met the same destiny that met other millions and millions of European immigrants and immigrants from other corners of the world which increased the country's population from 1.8 million in 1870 to almost 8 millions by 1914, and gave it a unique feature for which it is rightly called a "melting pot of races".
If the words of Hirsch had not fallen on deaf ears, if his project had continued and received more support, if the project of Zionism —with the big contradictions it entailed to the Jewish people— had been sidelined, perhaps today we would not be regretting the disastrous consequences of an almost one century old conflict in Palestine and which, due to its own historical origins, does not seem to have any chance of future resolution.
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