Rudolf Steiner article, Magazine for Literature, 66th year, No., 38, 25 September 1897
THE DESIRE OF THE JEWS FOR PALESTINE
Not a few smart people will find it superfluous that any word was spoken about the strange gathering that took place in Basel a few days ago under the name Zionist Congress. The fact that a number of European-born Jews come together to propagate the idea of establishing a new Palestinian empire and to cause the Jews to emigrate to this new "promised land" seems to these wise men to be an insane idea of a morbidly excited fantasy. In this judgment, they are reassured. They do not talk about it anymore. I believe, however, that these wise men have lagged ten years behind in their judgments. And ten years is a small eternity in our time when events are flowing so fast. Ten years ago, with some justification, one could think that a Jew was half mad who had the idea of bringing his people to Palestine. Today one may only consider him hypersensitive and vain; but in another ten years things can be very different.
However, in the case of Messrs. Herzl and Nordau, the present leaders of the Zionist movement, I think it is more about vanity than a sensitivity to a perceived increase in anti-Semitism. The commonplace phrases that Herzl put forward in his booklet "The Jewish State" (M. Breitenstein's bookstore, Leipzig and Vienna, 1896) and the story-telling with which the sensationalist Nordau in Basel delighted his listeners are certainly not troubled from the deepest depths of their souls. But they come from intelligent minds who know what works most strongly for those Jews who have a sensitive heart and a sophisticated sense of self-respect. These latter members of the Jewish people will, in my opinion, become followers of Messrs. Herzl and Nordau. And the number of these members is certainly not small.
What good is it to emphasize so often that the Jews who feel this way are in grave error? They turn their eyes away from the great advances that have been made in recent decades, the emancipation of the Jews, and only see that they are still excluded from many places, and many rights are reduced; and, moreover, they hear that they are being insulted by the anti-Semites in the most desperate way. They do so because their hurt feelings cloud their minds. They are unable to see the powerlessness of anti-Semitism; they only see its drive and its outrageous excesses. They doubt whoever tells them: look at how futile the machinations of the hate of the Jews is, and how all their endeavors end in embarrassment.
Their listen only to those who say to them like Theodor Herzl: "In the populations, anti-Semitism is growing daily, hourly, and must continue to grow, because the causes persist and can not be resolved. ... Our well-being seems to contain something provocative, because for many centuries the world has been accustomed to seeing in us the most despicable of the poor. At the same time one does not realize, out of ignorance or narrow-mindedness, that our well-being weakens us as Jews and extinguishes our peculiarities. Only the pressure presses us back to the old tribe, only the hatred of our surroundings makes us strangers again. So we are and will remain, whether we like it or not, a historical group of recognizable togetherness. We are a people - the enemy makes us without our will, as has always been in history".
And those who find such sentences the most powerful reverberations today were very ready with a passion to let their own peoplehood merge into that of the West. It is not real anti-Semitism that is the cause of this Jewish over-sensitivity, but the false image formed by an over-excited fantasy of the anti-Semitic movement. Anyone who has anything to do with Jews knows how deeply among the best of its people is the tendency to make such a false picture. Mistrust of the non-Jew has thoroughly seized their souls. In the case of people with no trace of conscious anti-Semitism, they suspect an unconscious, instinctive, secret hatred of the Jews at the bottom of the soul. I count it among the most beautiful fruits, which can drive human inclination, if every trace of suspicion between a Jew and a non-Jew is extinguished in the direction indicated above. I would almost call such a passion a victory over human nature. It is not excluded that in a short time such inclinations will be altogether impossible.
There may come a time when the sensation sphere of Jewish personalities becomes so irritated that every understanding with non-Jews becomes impossible. What counts in the so-called Jewish question is sensible arguments and plans, not the tearing of intimate threads between Jew and non-Jew, or the rise of emotional tendencies, or a thousand unspeakable things. It would be best if there were as little talk as possible in this matter. Only the mutual actions of individuals should be valued. It does not matter if someone is Jewish or German: if I find him nice, I like him; if he is disgusting, I avoid him. This is so simple that it is almost silly when you say it.
But how foolish do you have to be when you say the opposite! I think the anti-Semites are harmless people. The best of them are like children. They want to have something to blame for the ill they suffer. When a child drops a plate, it looks for somebody or something that has bumped it to blame for the accident. It does not seek the cause, the fault, in itself. That is what the anti-Semites do. It is bad for many people. They are looking for something to blame. The circumstances have brought it about that many currently see this something in Judaism.
Much worse than the anti-Semites are the heartless leaders of the European-weary Jews, Messrs. Herzl and Nordau. They turn an unpleasant childish world into a world-history stream; they are making a harmless banter into a terrible cannon fire. They are seducers, tempters of their people. They sacrifice the understanding that all reasonable people should wish, for their own vanity, which thirsts for programs, because - where deeds are lacking, at the right time a program is established.
However harmless anti-Semitism is in itself, it becomes dangerous when the Jews see them in the light, into which Herzl and Nordau place them. And they understand the language of the tempters, these gentlemen: "One will pray in the temples for the success of the work. But in the churches too! It is the solution of an old pressure under which everyone suffered. But first it must be light in the mind. The idea must fly out to the last deplorable nests where our people live. They will wake up from their dull brooding. For in all our lives comes a new content. Everyone only needs to think about it themselves, and the train will be a huge one. And what fame awaits the selfless fighters for the cause! That is why I believe that a generation of wonderful Jews will grow out of the earth. The Maccabees will rise again." So writes Mr. Theodor Herzl in his "The Jewish State".
I fear there will come a time when the Jews no longer believe what we non-Jews tell them about anti-Semitism, in favor of parroting their Jewish seducers. And like so many beguiled, soulful Jews they will translate the empty phrases of these deceivers into the language of their hearts. The seduced will suffer; but the seducers will triumph over the success their vanity has won. In Basil the question has been basically decided: what should be done to make the solution of the Jewish question as impossible as it possibly could be?
Whether the gentlemen Herzl and Nordau really believe that the Palestinian empire can be established, I can not decide. I hypothesize, in honor of their intelligence, that they do not believe in it. If I am right in this assumption, then one must blame these leaders for placing more obstacles in the way of the confrontation between Jews and non-Jews than the anti-Semitic agitators. The Zionist movement is an enemy of Judaism. The Jews would do best to look closely at the people who make specters of them.