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Zionism Without A State: Ahad Ha’am Relived

January 9, 2011 – 8:48 pm42 Comments

By [Author’s name removed to protect them from ISIS or the otherwise infantalised]

In recent times, an idea has re-emerged in Israeli political discourse that had for a long time been taboo; the suggestion that the piece of territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River should be configured as one, contiguous, democratic state in which everyone is a citizen. No more occupation; no more Green Line. The idea is being discussed—quietly still, but with ever-so-slowly decreasing marginality—in surprisingly disparate circles, mostly on the Left, but also on the Right.

Of course, most Israelis, and most Zionists, remain opposed to the idea—some with good reason; others because of prejudice or complacent comfort with the status quo. Partition into two states remains, in the eyes of the vast majority, the only real long-term option. There are those, however, who are now arguing that a one-state arrangement may be inevitable. This may be correct, or it may not be. And such a scenario may be desirable, or it may be detestable. However, contrary to what many (supporters and opponents) have claimed, a one-person-one-vote situation would not inherently and automatically spell ‘the end of the Zionist enterprise’, nor would it necessarily constitute an end to the story of Jewish nationalism. Pragmatic opposition is, of course, legitimate. So is ideological opposition. But Zionism is not owned only by those who believe in the principles of separation and partition. And it never was.

From its inception, the Zionist movement was a ‘wide tent’ which incorporated many different—and deeply conflicting—conceptions of Jewish nationalism. But so deeply embedded has a particular kind of political, ‘statist’ Zionism become in the minds of many people, that few remember that there is a long history of Jewish nationalist ideologies which conceived of Jewish nationhood and self-determination differently.

A long line of thinkers for whom Jewish national identity was paramount nevertheless did not support, or at least did not emphasise, the manifestation of that identity through a state ‘owned’ by the Jewish people. There was, and is, a spectrum of non-statist Jewish nationalisms; some thinkers, like Ahad Ha’am and Martin Buber, were Zionists. Others, such as Shimon Dubnow and the Bund, though not Zionists, were nevertheless Jewish nationalists. In what follows, I’ll briefly present a small slice of the thought of Ahad Ha’am, considered by many to be the ‘father’ of Cultural Zionism. Greater familiarity with his approach, which considerably pre-dated the establishment of the State of Israel, might help some who care deeply about Jewish nationalism today come to ideological terms with the possibility that we will one day find ourselves living in a reality in which Jewish hegemony in Israel, whether in a one-state or two-state reality, is no longer a given.

Unlike his political Zionist counterparts from Western Europe—chiefly, Herzl and Nordau—Ahad Ha’am (whose real name was Asher Ginsberg) did not believe that ‘Jewish Sovereignty’ was a possibility that could be realised in the near future. Nor did he think that, if a Jewish state were to come into existence, it would solve the most important problems facing the Jewish people at a national level. Responding over 100 years ago to the ideological atmosphere at the first Zionist Congress, Ahad Ha’am expressed frustration at the fact that many Western European Zionist leaders, including Herzl, seemed obsessed with advocating what he saw as a misguided solution to the wrong problem.

Ahad Ha’am distinguished between the major issues facing Jews in Western Europe—which he called “the problem of the Jews; and those facing Jews in Eastern Europe—in Ahad Ha’am’s terminology, “the problem of Judaism.” He claimed that Western European Jews were  unhappy that, even though they had left the ghetto, they weren’t able to fully integrate into the societies in which they lived, and they continued to face discrimination despite their best efforts. The problem of Jews in Eastern Europe, meanwhile, was a different one. In Eastern Europe, Jews remained a separate national group, living a distinct communal life. Exchanging their national identity for another wasn’t a real option. But for them, modernity had arrived as well, albeit differently. Though the Jews of Eastern Europe remained separate and distinct, Judaism was emerging from the ghetto. New ideas and concepts were now making themselves at home in the heart of a national culture that continued to remain deeply Jewish. The serious challenge facing Eastern European Jews was how to adapt Jewish national culture so that it could flourish in the new world created by the religious and philosophical revolution brought about by modernity.

The solution offered by political Zionists such as Nordau and Herzl matched the Jewish problem as they saw it; the Jews, unable to fully integrate elsewhere, should have a state of their own. Jews would rule over themselves and would thus no longer face the humiliation of being outsiders. Ahad Ha’am disagreed with the political Zionists in their identification of both the problem and the solution. Instead of national sovereignty, his vision called for the creation of a national cultural centre in the Jewish homeland. In this centre Hebrew would be spoken, written and read, and there would be Jewish universities, schools, agriculture, and other institutions in which Jews could live, produce and thrive, thus enriching Jewish national culture and radiating it to the communities of the Jewish Diaspora all over the world. It would serve as the ‘heart’ of the body of the Jewish nation, which would remain mostly in diaspora.

Ahad Ha’am’s disagreement with political Zionism, then, was partly ideological: Herzl envisaged a Jewish State in which Jews wouldn’t suffer discrimination; Ahad Ha’am envisioned a Jewish Society that would bring about a renaissance of Jewish national culture.

However, Ahad Ha’am’s disagreement with political Zionism was also in part a product of his realism. He felt that it was impossible to expect that the majority of Jews will come to a newly revived Jewish homeland in Israel.  Millions of Jews are not going to leave their homes in such a short space of time. Furthermore, he argued, the land of Israel is already populated. There are Arabs living there, and they, too, will grow in number. They won’t necessarily take well to the idea of a Jewish state being established in their country, and will likely present serious—and understandable—opposition.

Thus, for Ahad Ha’am, Jewish statehood was both unrealistic and unworthy of being a first priority. The “problem of the Jews” wouldn’t realistically be solved by trying to move millions of people from their homes to a place with an existing population who, in the unlikely event that such a mass influx happened, would not be happy about it. The “problem of Judaism,” of course, also wouldn’t be helped simply by creating a polity ruled by Jews; that problem needed to be addressed at the substantive, cultural level. Statehood couldn’t deliver that: it was neither a sufficient nor even a necessary condition for Jewish culture to flourish in its homeland.

And so, Ahad Ha’am advocated his vision of a Jewish national cultural centre in Israel. A centre that would not be inhabited by the majority of Jews, and which would probably not be majority Jewish (at least for the foreseeable future), but which would be the cultural centre of the Jewish nation worldwide. This solution, with or without statehood, would contribute to Jewish national culture and its flourishing in a modern reality. That is what Ahad Ha’am argued then. Today, the Hebrew-speaking society that now exists in Israel does indeed make just such a contribution to Jewish life. Is it crazy to think that it might go on doing so in the future, regardless of the number of states that exist between the river and the sea?


The author was a madrich of yr 10 in Melbourne Hineni and Head of Hineni’s Shnat Israel program in 2003. He was also Federal Head of Hineni in 2002. He is currently an educator living and working in Boston, U.S.A

This article is part of the Hineni journal, Partition, which was distributed in synagogues around Australia on the 63rd anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Partition Plan for Palestine. We are publishing a selection of articles from the journal.

The following parties helped make the journal possible:

Frank Levy, JNF, Unger Catering, JMC Corporate Real Estate Consultants, Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, Hagshama Melbourne, Antique Silver Company, shaundesign.com, Danielle Blumberg (editing), Mervyn Chait (formatting)

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  • Sam says:

    John Lennon also envisioned a perfect world without religion or hatred in his “anthem” Imagine. He was not really expecting it to come to fruition as most Jews of the world do not expect Ha’am’s view to see the light of day.
    Too much has been invested in the State of Israel, not only economically but in the collective Israeli and Jewish psyche. Most Israeli families live with the pain of loss somewhere in their family over the numerous wars, and terrorist attacks endured since 1948.
    Furthermore it is plainly evident (from Arab unwilligness to enter into sincere peace negotiations), that if the government is not controlled by Jewish Israelis there is a real chance that draconian laws could be enacted specifically aimed at the Jewish populace.
    Very few Israelis would be willing to give this type of scenario a try, knowing that it might be irreversible once put into action.

  • Akiva says:

    The best piece I’ve read on Galus for more than a year. And refreshingly free of cant and propaganda – I know nothing about Ahad Ha’am, which is embarrassing, so I’m off to go and read. Well done!

  • I really enjoyed this post as well – thankyou. I was vaguely familiar with Ahad Ha’am before, but am now inspired to learn some more. The main reason that I have always been so opposed to calling myself a Zionist is because I completely decry the established equation: Jewish nationalism = sovereignty over other people. Sam rightly warns against the possibility of Arabs instituting draconian measures against Jews, yet the opposite scenario is no less abhorrent. While I was aware that certain Zionists envisaged a completely different manifestation of nationalism, I was not aware of just how starkly different it was. To my thinking, the model that you have presented here is a very reasonable development of pre-Zionist aspirations of Jewish autonomy.

    Your reference to Herzl’s “solution” as being one informed moreso by the “Jewish problem” in Western Europe was also very interesting, and I shall have to give that some more thought. Was that your observation, or have you encountered that distinction elsewhere?

  • Akiva says:

    yes, I was particularly interested in that suggestion also.

  • ariel says:


    I’m not sure that the established equation is Jewish nationalism = sovreignty over another people.
    This is an extremist view not held (as far as I know) by the vast majority of Zionist Jews.
    Although I’m not sure what ruling over another people actually means. It could also mean Christendom in Australia ruling over its Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist minorities.

    Either there will be two states – one for Jews and one for Palestinians – or there will be one state which is Jewish in character (like Australia is Christian in character) with other minorites living there peacefully and accepting the values of the country in which they live. Like we as Jews do in Christian countries.

    I prefer the former over the latter for numerous reasons.

  • Raphael Dascalu says:

    Mr Sackson (or Hadrian, if you prefer): Congratulations on writing a wonderful piece.

    Sam: It’s true that few Israelis (and probably even fewer diaspora Jews) would consider giving up Jewish statehood (in whatever sense they understand that term, since it isn’t necessarily that clear). However, considering non-statist Jewish nationalist and particularly Zionist positions has some wider value to it. Firstly, they offer a critique of political Zionism that I think is necessary to hear, particularly if one subscribes to political Zionism. Secondly, they provide some kind of vision for what a Jewish cultural revival might look like (in some ways they prefigure contemporary Israeli culture, in some ways they sit very uncomfortably with it). The fact that political Zionism became dominant doesn’t mean that the discussion about how to cultivate a vibrant cultural life must end. So even if one doesn’t believe that a single democratic state for all of its citizens is possible, there is much value in considering these thinkers.

    Again, Adrian – shkoyekh.

  • Adrian says:

    I’m glad people found the article interesting.

    Simon, to answer your question: The observation about the ‘problem of the Jews’ in Western Europe vs the ‘problem of Judaism’ in Eastern Europe, and their respective influences on different forms of Zionism, is absolutely not my own. Ahad Ha’am himself makes this distinction, and he is pretty scathing in his criticism of Herzl and Nordau.

    Those interested can read some of his writing on the topic here: http://www.benyehuda.org/ginzberg/medinat_hayehudim.html#_ftn1 (Hebrew), and here: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/haam2.html (English)

  • Adrian says:

    I would add to Raf’s wise words that I actually think engagement with cultural Zionism is especially important for those who believe strongly in a two-state arrangement. There is a tendency to view Israel – within the green line – as having a choice between being a ‘Jewish state’ or a ‘state of all its citizens’. Many define the former option in a way that necessarily involves institutionalised privileging of Jewish citizens over others, while the latter is often grouped with a disdain for Jewish national culture. I think if there is one day a division into two states, there will likely be a strong push in the direction of Israel becoming even more of a Jewish ethnic state than it is now. The forces pushing in that direction are already very powerful, so this isn’t particularly difficult to imagine. Cultural Zionism (which comes in various forms, of course), offers Jews a way of thinking that embraces Jewish national identity and culture, without calling for the state’s organs to institutionally embody ‘Jewish rule,’ thus alienating non-Jewish citizens. That is worth thinking about in a (hypothetical) democratic state with a clear Jewish majority, just as it is in a (hypothetical) democratic state with roughly equal populations of Jews and Palestinians.

  • ariel says:


    What about in a (hypothetical) democratic state with a clear Palestinian majority?

  • Larry Stillman says:

    It’s great to see someone (relatively) young reviving Ahad Ha’am who has long been a favourite of many people with a very different view of Zionism. But isn’t in fact what Adrian has been presenting very similar to the ideas presented by some Palestinians within Israel of the need for a secular constitution that respects both communities as part of a final settlement. See http://galusaustralis.com/2010/05/2961/an-israel-for-all-its-citizens-rather-than-an-israel-for-all-jews/.

    Perhaps the difference between what Adrian has written and the presentation by someone like myself is that my analysis comes from a desire to correct injustice caused to Palestinians, and people are by and large uncomfortable with any upfront discussion of the failures of political Zionism.

    Ahad Ha’am also wrote a very nice Hebrew. See http://www.benyehuda.org/ginzberg/

  • Great piece; saw the street – never knew much about the guy!

    “… for Ahad Ha’am, Jewish statehood was both unrealistic and unworthy … Here’s a thought experiment: if he believed (like others) that millions of Jews would actually emigrate to a State of Israel, would he have changed his idea of what the state should look like?

    As an aside, I find it weird/creepy that these early Zionists spoke in terms of a “Jewish problem” and its possible solutions *sigh*.

  • Sam says:


    We already have proof that a Jewish controlled Israeli government does not make special efforts to punish, or significantly disadvantage it’s Arab citizens. I agree, that to do so would be abhorrent. Also I reject that Jewish nationalism = sovereignty over other people. The Palestinians in Israel are there, and have been for a long time. It was never a choice that Israel had to make, (that is to put them there and rule over them). In many ways successive Israeli governments have had to walk a tightrope trying not to be seen to be unfair to one ethnic group or another. Obviously there have been some failures but they have not been major, when you consider the difficulties and the overall picture.

    Adrian’s statement in the original piece, in my mind encapsulates the heart of the difficulty.

    “Furthermore, he argued, the land of Israel is already populated. There are Arabs living there, and they, too, will grow in number. They won’t necessarily take well to the idea of a Jewish state being established in their country, and will likely present serious—and understandable—opposition.”

    Most Jews are reasonable and accept the above to an extent, with the proviso that a Jewish state was an imperative, particularly after the holocaust.
    However proposals for a Jewish state located in Madagascar or far east Soviet Russia put forward respectively by the Third Reich and Stalin were not going to be acceptable. The British in Herzl’s time also put forward their Uganda plan in East Africa as a possible solution to Russian pogroms against Jews in Europe. It is interesting but hardly surprising, that anti-semites were the most vocal in trying to resettle Jews in locations that they would never choose for themselves.

  • Adrian says:

    Thanks for the interesting and thoughtful comments. Some responses:

    Ariel- Yes, in that situation as well. Though this wasn’t exactly the situation you refer to, remember that Jews were a tiny minority in the land when Ahad Ha’am wrote his ideas.

    Larry- I don’t think the desire to see injustices to Palestinians corrected or at least acknowledged is a difference between us. One of the reasons I think cultural Zionism deserves more attention than it gets today is that it is a form of Jewish nationalism that, unlike some others, IS compatible with a belief in human rights that apply to all, and statehood that affords genuinely equal rights to all citizens.

    David- That’s an interesting question, and one that Ahad Ha’am partially addresses himself:

    “The material problem, then, will not be ended by the foundation of a Jewish State [ie, even if a Jewish state is established -AS], nor, generally speaking, does it lie in our power to end it (though it could be eased more or less even now by various means, such as the encouragement of agriculture and handicrafts among Jews in all countries); and whether we found a State or not, this particular problem will always turn at bottom on the economic condition of each country and the degree of civilisation attained by each people.”

    Ahad Ha’am didn’t think the physical/material problem of the Jews could be resolved by Jewish statehood or any other single grand solution. Each place and its local issues; each place and its local resolutions.

    For him, the national-cultural issue was much more important, and for Jewish national culture to flourish, Jewish sovereignty – in the sense proposed by political Zionists – wasn’t necessary.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Adrian,

    A well written piece. I just take issue with your reply to Ariel “Jews were a tiny minority in the land when Ahad Ha’am wrote his ideas.”
    Actually, in 1900 (close to the prime of Ahad Ha’am) , the Jewish population was estimated at 78,000, or 12% of the Palestine (I’m assuming the denominator does not include the area east of the Jordan River, but it isn’t clear)

    While 12% might not sound like a lot, it’s far from a tiny minority, and it was a higher percentage than any other place on that list. For example, Even in “Austria, Hungary, Poland” Jews were about 6.4%.

    Furthermore, in some areas of Palestine, Jews were either a majority or close to a majority. For example, according to some estimates, Jews made up 60% of Jerusalem at this time.

  • Akiva says:


    The numbers that you cite above for Ottoman Palestine are far from certain, and are the subject of much debate. The wiki page you cite relies only on the Jewish Encyclopaedia of the time, written in America, and which itself gives absolutely no sources for its information. The loose source is likely to be the Ottoman Census, which historians view as deeply problematic – amongst other things, they did not count Bedouin, and substantially undercounted the fellahin, since this meant a much smaller tax-bill for the landowners. There was also a considerable swell of Arab immigration to Palestine throughout the last part of the 19th century, and the early years of the 20th, some of it illegal, and much of this will not appear in the census either. Certainly, the illegals will not. Most importantly, the Ottoman census understood no Ottoman ‘district’ called Palestine. Instead, it was made up of ‘centres’, such as Jerusalem, Nablus, Acre – and Acre, for instance, included areas which are currently in the Lebanon. In addition, only Muslims were subject to conscription, and so many avoided the census for this reason.

    The figures above are contradicted in another wiki entry – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Palestine#cite_note-3 – which has more modern citation, and appears to be less partisan. Recent reports coming out of the Hebrew University agree with these figures. ( The figures here are smaller. This is no way changes my firm scholarly belief that wikipedia is not a valid source for contested historical statistics. Given the unreliable data we have, it is impossible to make any definite statements about the precise sizes of the various communities. This uncertain data has been widely abused by both sides of the debate, and mauled out of any claim to truth by partisanship.

    The one exception to this uncertainty does seem to be the Old City of Jerusalem, probably because at this stage (1900), the actual old city is distinct in the census from the district of Jerusalem (very large, included Bethlehem and Jericho as well as Jerusalem and its surrounds and has a large Muslim majority) and also from a subdistrict of Jerusalem which included suburbs such as Eyn Karem and Beit Zeit (this area also had an overwhelming Muslim majority). The Old City of Jerusalem has a Jewish majority – around 60% – from the beginning of the 20th century, although probably not before. It is likely that there were slightly more Christians than Muslims in the Old City. It is possible that the number of Jews was larger than this in the city, as it is likely that not all the large number of ‘foreign’ Jewish arrivals were counted on the census.

    This raises an interesting point. It seems possible that from Ahad Ha’am’s perspective, the majority of the Jewish population were new immigrants, not inhabitants. Even if there were more a tiny minority than an infinitesimal one, they may have been perceived as an infinitesimal influence.

  • frosh says:

    For those who weren’t patient enough or didn’t have enough time on their hands to read the above comment, here it is in summary:

    Demographic data always has a degree of uncertainty

    (Which is why I always use the term estimates when making use of it)

  • Akiva says:

    No, actually one of my points was that you appear to be spinning the avaliable data to suit your own purposes.

    The other was that from the perspective of the Ha’am, a closer consideration of the data may make your assertions irrelevant.

  • Anonymous says:

    Frosh, it is alarming to see how little you value research.

  • Adrian says:


    I shouldn’t have used the word “tiny”. Jews were a minority. My response to Ariel isn’t really affected by this distinction, though. Ariel asked whether I thought cultural Zionism would hypothetically be worth considering in a situation in which Jews were a minority. My answer was yes, and I was pointing to the fact that the situation isn’t entirely hypothetical – Jews were a minority when the early cultural Zionists formulated their ideas, and they didn’t expect this to change (although they did expect the Jewish population of Palestine to grow). Clearly they saw their approach as relevant for a Jewish minority.

    Thanks for helping me clarify that.

  • Thanks, Akiva – I hate Wikipedia as well, and it’s interesting to see how blatantly it contradicts itself. Where are you getting your information from in your first paragraph, about the Ottoman census? The reasons for its bias are very interesting. But more importantly, I wonder if an unwillingness to be counted led to a low estimation of the Jewish population after the arrival of the Haredim and the construction of Mea Shearim.

    As for the majority of Palestine’s Jews in the 20th century being part of the New Yishuv, I would think that this is beyond question. I have heard it suggested, however, that waves of Arabs began moving to Palestine at the same time: is this true, do you think, or is it political rhetoric? (None of this impacts upon Ahad Ha’am of course, but it may deeply influence the application of his ideology.)

  • ariel says:


    To clarify, I was asking *specifically* about Cultural Zionism in a Palestinian-majority, independent state (ideally democratic).

    The situation in Ahad Ha’am’s time was one of Ottoman rule and them being quite benevolent to Jews and others living in what I can only best describe as the Ottoman Province of Palestine (seeing as it had not been an independent entity since the Roman Empire).

    I’m not sure how Cultural Zionism would have faired had there existed there a completely independent, Arab-majority state with a Jewish minority.

  • Still a lurker says:

    David – I wonder if your discomfort with the term “Jewish problem” is related to its use by the Nazis? If so, please understand that the term “Judenfrage” really has two quite distinct translations and meanings.
    The “Jewish problem” was very much the issue the Nazis had with how to deal with the Jewish population, ultimately resulting in the Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution.
    On the other hand the term can be translated as the “Jewish question” which was a well respected and intended phrase to parallel the other “questions” of the 19th century such as the Polish question, the Armenian question and so on. The question was how what were the national and ethnic rights of various groupings in an era of rapidly formalising nationalism.
    The Jewish response to the Jewish question was very broad ranging, from the formal assimilationists who actively championed as proud Jews the abandonment of Jewish identity to the Bund (about whom I disagree with Adrian – I think to call them nationalists is to confuse the Yiddish terms “natzye” and “folk” which weren’t interchangable and which have almost the reverse meanings of their English parallels) to the Folkist movement to the Cultural Zionists to the Political Zionists.
    The Folkist movement has been largely forgotten but the debates between Ahad Ha-Am and Chaim Zhitlowsky are fascinating. Essentially the former called for Israel and Hebrew to be the cultural wellspring of Jewish life; the latter called for Eastern Euorope and Yiddish to take the same role.
    History may have made the judgement but from my reading on the topic (and I’m no expert!) Zhitlowsky probably had a more developed theoretical framework.

  • Akiva says:

    some sources I looked at:

    an online source which is rigorous about footnoting and seems impartial: http://www.mideastweb.org/palpop.htm. It led me to –

    Oke, Mim Kemal, “The Ottoman Empire, Zionism and the Question of Palestine” in International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol.14, 1982.

    Gilbar, Gad G, ‘Ottoman Palestine, 1800-1914: studies in economic and social history (Haifa)

    The most useful thing I read in terms of scrutinizing the Ottoman Census processes was:
    McCarthy, Justin.The Population of Palestine: Population History and statistics of the Late Ottoman Empire and the Mandate, Institute for Palestine Studies Series. Columbia University Press, 1990.

    which I found via the review: Khalidi, R, ‘The Problem of Palestine: Population History and statistics of the Late Ottoman Period and the Mandate.’, The Journal of the American Oriental Society, Jan-March, 1994.

  • Shaun says:

    It strikes me that me that one of the key points that Ahad Haam was making was that political zionism did not seem to be a particularly realistic option at that time given the demographic reality that the Jews were then only a minority in Palestine, which was based on his own visit to Palestine.

    One wonders what his views would have been in 1947, when at that time whilst the Arab population was still the majority, through immigration, the Jewish population was more significant. Would he have supported a jewish state, or perhaps adoped the binational approach popular amongst Magnes and others.

    As for the whole demographic debate, the best thing I’ve seen was this article in the NYRB by one of Israel’s foremost historian Yehoshua Porath, which is a stinging critque of Joan Peter’s book ‘Time Immemorial’.


  • frosh says:

    The only thing “alarming” is how little you value your own opinion. Clearly, you don’t even value it enough to attach a pseudonym to it, let alone your real name. There’s no courage in exploiting anonymity to dish out personal insults against named individuals.

    Jenny/Akiva (assuming you might possibly be a separate person from Anonymous),
    I not sure what hidden agenda you think I have. I was merely pointing out that the Jews were not a “tiny” minority – something the author of the article has now agreed with.

  • rachsd says:


    I note that you seem be confusing Ahad HaAm with Adrian. Adrian used the word ‘tiny’ to describe the Jewish minority in Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century. Ahad haAm didn’t. I also think you might be projecting when you speculate that Ahad HaAm would not have considered immigrants from Europe to be residents of Palestine.

    Incidentally, if you follow Shaun’s link and then follow the link from that article to the correspondence about the article, in the author, Porath’s, reply to his critics he reveals a possible source for the 12% figure – and it isn’t the Ottoman census. Apparently a Jewish historian, Ruppin, who Porath says was a good demographer estimated that on the eve of World War 1, the Jewish population of Palestine was between 80 and 85 000 and the total population was 689,275. This would make the Jewish population around 12% of the total population. It seems plausible that this might be where the Encyc Judaica got it from. To what extent the figure is accurate, I don’t know, and I’m not really sure it’s relevant to this discussion either.

  • Akiva says:

    Ruppin has been widely discredited among historians – Benny Morris included – as a partisan over-estimator, hopelessly compromised by his personal investment. Porath I know less about, but what I have read isn’t complimentary either.

  • Akiva says:

    and for G-d’s sake, and for the last time – I am NOT anonymous. with or without capitalization.

  • frosh says:

    Who knew that Akiva/Jenny was qualified to provide a meta-analysis of the demographic studies of fin de siecle Palestine?

    At some point, all demographers and historians will be “discredited” by counterparts with an alternative point of view – especially in the area of Israel/Palestine.

    Furthermore, when you use terms like “it is generally agreed” about such contested content, you only serve to discredit yourself.

    The point is Jenny that the Jews were not a tiny minority. Adrian has acknowledged this; it’s time to move on.

  • I’m sorry – it’s not my intention to become embroiled in an ideological debate, but who cares whether Adrian has “acknowledged” this or not? I’m not meaning to slight you, Adrian – I think your article is fantastic, and you know a great deal more about this topic than I ever have. But I disagree with Frosh that any one person has the final say on this issue, and I actually found Akiva’s feedback quite interesting. I’m not going to adopt it without question, but I also don’t get the impression that she is adopting it without question either. Maybe I am wrong on that point, but it doesn’t matter. I think that Frosh’s “summary” of Akiva’s original comment was actually quite important: demographic data always has a degree of uncertainty. Let’s not be so partisan then, and appreciate the nuances that underscore the arrival at that data.

    I would like to look more into the sources quoted by Akiva, Shaun and RachSD before I draw any conclusions for myself, and I appreciate each of you taking the time to provide them.

  • Anonymous says:

    Simon: Independent of the accuracy and significance of Frosh’s summary, I took offence that it was stated with a haughtiness and disdain implying Akiva’s research might as well be ignored. Bold-face and facetious. I usually assume that’s the sort of behaviour moderators dislike on their sites, but it seems not here.

    rachsd: Akiva’s critique of the census data was less concerned with the calculation of the Jewish population than the calculation of the overall population, which Akiva made clear was likely understated by the official census. Even if we consider Ruppin’s Jewish population estimate reliable and fix it in our equation, but in actuality the general population is larger than estimated (I can only assume the 689,275 was not his estimate), the 12% decreases. If the general population is wildly under-reported, then 12% also decreases wildly.

  • Anonymous says:

    Further, rachsd: you claim Akiva is projecting in seeing the new Jews on the land as immigrants. Projecting – at least to an extent – is surely essential for understanding history. It is easy to see statistics and forget that they do not represent what the world actually feels like. The historian attempts to discover the latter, and his speculation is often through projection.

  • rachsd says:


    As I said in my comment above, “To what extent the figure is accurate, I don’t know, and I’m not really sure it’s relevant to this discussion either.”

    If that is too subtle for you: I don’t believe the figure is true. It’s not important to this discussion whether it is true. I certainly didn’t share the possible source in order to argue that the figure was accurate.

    Is projecting necessary to understand history? Well, no one can be entirely objective, but it is certainly not necessary to ascribe positions to historical figures with absolutely no evidence that they held them (e.g. Ahad HaAm perceived the Jewish population as smaller than it was) and then project your own ideology onto them in order to understand why they supposedly held those positions!

    Finally, yes, I realise that if the numerator or the denominator changes, the percentage will also change, but thanks for the heads up.


    Not only did Adrian acknowledge that the Jewish population wasn’t a tiny minority, but perhaps more relevant, none of the sources that Jenny linked to give figures that would make the Jews a tiny minority. Actually, having just looked at the one that she says gives smaller figures, the proportions of Jews in the total population are *extraordinarily* similar to the 12% figure: 11% in 1890 and 14% in 1914. I was assuming before I looked that they actually would have been much smaller – say 5 or 6%, but this still wouldn’t make Jews a tiny minority.

    Again, in case anyone thinks I am saying this because I believe any of those figures, I don’t.

    Btw, you *hate* wikipedia?? It’s an extensive collection of articles, written entirely by volunteers, there’s no advertising, the quality is variable but improving and sometimes very good. What’s to hate?!

  • rachsd says:

    Also, Anonymous I’m not sure why you *have* to assume that the 689 275 figure wasn’t Ruppin’s. According to Porath, it was.

  • Oh, I actually use Wikipedia from time to time myself :) I don’t hate it so much as all that (and wasn’t thumbing my nose at it), but I do very much dislike the way in which it is often used. Too many people treat it as both the first and the last reference. As you said yourself, it is all written by volunteers. To that I might add that most of them are anonymous, and many of them are very partisan. One doesn’t need to do a lot of sleuthing in order to uncover the fact that most assertions on Wikipedia are actually arguments, and a minimal amount of research will often uncover opposing points of view – sometimes drawn from the same evidence!

    That two pages on this subject should have contradicted each other is what I found fascinating but, as I said, I’m not casting my vote in any one direction. That’s not because I don’t care, but because I don’t pretend to know more about this issue than I do.

  • Sam says:

    I would like to add my opinion as to the use of Wikipedia. Quite apart from the historical context of information used in this thread I have used it for work related searches in the medical field to get a slightly different slant and to explore links. I have found it remarkably accurate almost every time and it corresponds closely to most other respected source material such as MIMS. (The Doctors bible for medication and pharmacology.)

  • Galus Australis says:

    Hi Anonymous,

    One of the editors sent you an email yesterday to your supplied email address. As of yet, no reply has been forthcoming. We understand that you may not check that email address regularly, so we ask you to please do check it and reply to us when you see this comment.

    Thanks in advance, and Shabbat Shalom to all.

  • @Still a lurker – yes, that is the reason for my discomfort, and thanks for the clarification

  • Leo Braun says:

    “John Lennon also envisioned a perfect world without religion or hatred in his ‘anthem’ Imagine”! • Yet even children of our patriarchs quarrelled incessantly. Was it merely an accident that Cain and Abel, the first two brothers of the Bible, were murderer and victim? When scarcely was a generation, not to cast into turmoil by some sort of internal Jew schism. Such as Issac against Ishmael, Jacob against Esau, Judah against Israel, Judas against Jesus, Pharisees against Sadducees, Maskilim against Hasidim, Zionists against Bundists, Capitalists against Communists, and Neocons against the Humanity.

    Manifestly, Elie Wiesel wrote that his ability to deny the evil unleashed by Jews against the other Jews ended with the Altalena incident. As it never occurred to him that a Jew might be capable of spilling the Jewish blood. More so waging a war by Jews against the other Jews and surely not on Jews who refused to fight back, mirrored in the Altalena tragedy. A ship loaded with a thousand holocaust survivors! On board Altalena which approached Tel Aviv shore under Irgun command. Staunch zionist rivals to the Israeli Hagana fighters that included a young zionist officer Yitzhak Rabin. Who carried out Ben Gurion’s order to fire on the defenceless men, women and children. Because of some arms on board Altalena, donated by French Jewry.

  • Leo Braun says:

    “Ahad Ha’am claimed that Western European Jews were unhappy that, even though they had left the ghetto, they weren’t able to fully integrate into the societies in which they lived, and they continued to face discrimination despite their best efforts”! [Adrian Sackson]

    • Wait a minute, what sort of Jews we’re talking about?

    Since the casteless Jews, marginalised lot in the 18th century Europe, were obliged to wear yellow bonnet and star-of-david arm-band (unlike the highly revered Rothschilds) as a warning sign “for the community sake”! Until Napoleon’s campaign in 1797, when Rome, Venice, Verona and Padua ghettos were abolished and liberated Jews were allowed to live wherever they wanted and practice any religion in open.

    What was followed a couple of years latter by the siege of Acre (Acco, north-western Israel) in 1799, as Napoleon prepared to unveil his astounding proclamation, first ever to declare the homeland in Palestine for the destitute Jews. If not for the connived evildoers foul-play consequences, hell-bent to retain the collateral human shield of the Jew lesser brethren. As a result Acre siege was lost to Brits at the time, along with the casteless Jews emancipation prospect.

    So once it became obvious that Napoleon couldn’t establish national home for the persecuted Jews in Palestine, France was declared as their homeland. Where granted full citizenship Jews got involved in business and in political life to the disgust of the Jew peers of the realm. Metternich-Winneburg, Austrian consul in Paris in a letter to Austria’s foreign minister Count Standion stated on Sept 1806: “All Jews look upon Napoleon as their Messiah”!

    Clearly, Napoleon Bonaparte was the only govt leader who gave Jews equality while the other nations born-to-rule tyrants kept them in bondage. He abolished special taxes on Jews in Germany and gave them for the very first time civic and political equality. When strong opposition in France manifested itself, Napoleon stood firm in his support of Jewish equality, thus ending up to pay an ultimate price!

  • Daniel says:

    A recent poll shows that many (if not most) Palestinians would prefer to live in Israel:


    A large part of the appeal is obviously the economic opportunities and social welfare, but also the democratic rights and security that are so obviously lacking in the neighboring Arab states.

    Outside a core of hardened Islamists, the majority of the Palestinians (given equal rights) would prefer to be Israeli and the issue of what colour flag flies over Jerusalem for most runs a distant second to having jobs, education and just just getting on with life without violence. Jews ought to have little to fear from a one state solution. They have demonstrated that they can run an equitable democratic state, and build a thriving economy. Would a potentially non-Jewish majority ever want to (let alone be able to) overturn such an arrangement in favour of the typically corrupt, authoritarian regime that prevails in the region?

    I believe it is the lure of the progressive, secular, economically successful, Israeli state that the regional despots fear, far more than military might, and the reason they must continue to provoke Israel into conflict. Without it there may be a good chance that Arabs would overwhelmingly choose Israel of their own free will.

    Perhaps time for Israel to project some “soft power”, share some of the light with its neighbours rather than withdrawing behind a defensive shell?

  • Leo Braun says:

    “Jews ought to have little to fear from a one state solution. They have demonstrated that they can run an ‘equitable democratic state’, and build a thriving economy”!

    • Wait a minute, what sort of Jews we’re talking about? http://links.org.au/node/851

    In fact historically zionism was not supported by the majority of Jews. As Nahum Goldmann, former President of the World Jewish Congress wrote, “When zionism first appeared on the world scene most Jews opposed it and scoffed at it. Herzl was only supported by a small minority”.

    There is a very respected and honoured Jewish tradition of opposition to injustice and human rights violations! Hence, no monolithic position for Jews when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian issue. Many prominent Jewish intellectuals and activists have criticised Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Franz Kafka, for example, was very critical of zionism.

    According to Philip Weiss, “Kafka was against political zionism because he understood it would transform the Jewish presence in society. It would make Jews the administrators of a nation rather than inhabitants of one. He anticipated that Jewish nationalism would call on the worst aspects of Jewish society”… http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/04/jewish-critics-of-zionism-and-of-israels-treatment-of-the-palestinians

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