The Zionist Movement and Its Relation with the Parties to the Conflict (in the 1st World War)

The Zionist Movement and its Relation with the Parties to the Conflict (in the 1st World War)

Dr Jaafar Hadi Hassan

During the years leading to the first world-war, the Zionist Movement was not a monolithic organization, in fact it was of different strands that were distinctive in their views, such as cultural, religious, practical, political and other. Each one of them had its own leader or leaders, and the loyalties of the Jewish communities around the world at that time, were also divided between the warring parties. These loyalties were influenced by a number of factors, including regional location, or treatment of the Jews by the state, where they took residency. Many Jews including those in the United States and Palestine supported Turkey, and were anti- Russia, whereas the supporters of the Allies (mainly England, France and Russia) were said to be in the minority. This situation created acute and complicated problems for the Movement.

One of the early problems the movement faced, was that the seat of the Zionist executive at the break of the hostilities was in the capital of one of the major warring powers, Berlin, and, because of that, it was considered pro-German, while the branches in other countries supported at least partially, the Allies. The critics of the pro-German Zionists argued that such close cooperation with German political warfare would jeopardise millions of eastern European Jews particularly since the activities of the committee, remained no secret; these activities later served as justification for the anti-Jewish measures taken by the Russian government 1914- 1915.[1]

It is true that the Zionist German federation supported Germany in the war, and announced that it expected all its young members to volunteer for military service stating that Germany was fighting for “truth, law freedom and world civilisation against darkest tyranny and bloodiest cruelty as represented by tsarist disposition”. Some of them called the war alongside Germany, “holy” stating that “we know that our interest is exclusively on the side of Germany”; they also said that Germany was “strong” and would “liberate the oppressed” [2]


In addition there was the community of the Jewish settlers in Palestine, which was part of the Ottoman Empire. Most of these Jews were European citizens and the Turkish government demanded that they become Ottoman citizens or leave the country. Above all, there was the issue of the postwar settlements. Because of problems such as these, it was decided soon after the start of the war, to establish a Zionist liaison office in a neutral country. When this proposal was put for discussion, an argument erupted among the members; some preferred the United States which was neutral at that time, but others suggested otherwise. In the end they settled for Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. Some of the leaders of the movement were displeased about this decision and decided to disconnect their relations with the Bureau. One such prominent and highly influential figure was Chaim Wiezmann who, soon after the Bureau was opened, cut himself off the European Zionists.. Weizmann – who was very active in preparing the ground for the Balfour declaration and developing the chemical acetone, leading to the production of 30,000 tonnes used by the British in  the war – states in his book ‘Trial and Error’ that he wrote to the Bureau asking that no mail be sent to him. When he was invited to attend the first important war time meeting of the Actions Committee, he refused to attend and wrote to his friend Dr Shamarya Lvin – who was described as the most effective propagandist of the movement  – ‘I shall not go to the conference and I cannot do this either as a Jew or as British subject’; furthermore, to Lewis Brandeis , head of  the American Zionist branch he wrote ‘Taking into account the present political situation , I cannot help thinking that the conference at Copenhagen would prove absolutely useless for our movement, and  acutely  harmful for the future.[3] Weizmann gives the reason for  his actions by saying ‘In breaking with Copenhagen Bureau, I wanted to make sure of clean record, for though I was violently anti –Russia , I was just anti-German and pro-British”. As a result Weizmann kept his talk with British statesmen very much to himself. Frequently he did not inform even close friends, let alone the Copenhagen bureau or Berlin. Each side, was in the dark in 1917 about the achievements and failures of the other.[4]

Interestingly Weizmann complained bitterly about his colleagues, who, he says, they looked upon him as a crank and Anglo-maniac, and he further states that this attitude continued among certain groups, even after the war. He adds that he was also accused by some Zionists of being ready to sell the movement and this was for him hard to bear.[5]

The Zionists in America on the other hand, were critical of the British Branch for their involvement with the British government on behalf of the movement. In a strongly worded letter, sent to the Zionist leaders in England, Dr Judah Magnes – secretary of the American Zionist Federation, who later became president of the Hebrew University – and Dr Shamarya Levin, wrote that the activities of the Zionist leaders in England were responsible for the persecution of the Jews in Palestine and that they should stop these activities immediately (Ibid p.216). According to them not only did these actions harm the Jews in Palestine, who, after all, were under Ottoman rule, but they believed that they also go against the neutrality of the Zionist movement which was one of the principles agreed upon by the movement in Copenhagen.

In contrast to the Zionists in America, Baron Edmond de Rothschild, famous for being a strong supporter of the Zionist activities – pouring money for its projects for decades – and so called father of the Yishub (Jewish emigrants in Palestine), urged the leaders of the movement in 1914, following Turkeys entry into the war, to stop being cautious in their Zionist activities in ‘Eretz Israel’ (Palestine) and work openly to demand the establishment of a Jewish State.

However, the Zionists in Palestine had a different stance to this. They endeavoured to seek settlement within the Ottoman Empire, and appease the government. According to D. Vital in his book, Zionism, The Crucial Phase, Zionists in Palestine harboured a powerful tendency to seek accommodation with the Turks, in the hope, that their contributions are recognised by the Ottoman Empire and their requirements met. This instinctive tendency for accommodation was tested when the Italian-Turkish war broke out, and the Zionist leadership were torn between avoiding involvement and what seemed an opportunity to demonstrate loyalty to the Turks. Whilst discussions took place to form a legion to fight with the Ottomans, this did not get off the ground. A more serious proposal to form a medical detachment, to serve the wounded under the auspices of the Red  Crescent, was also not enacted due to financial constraints. In the end the Zionists in Palestine did no more than express their sympathy.[6]

As for the Russian Zionist Jews, they were against the Allies and in support of the Germans according to Ronald Graham of the foreign Office in Britain. This is stated very clearly in a letter sent by him to Belfour in 25 October 1917. The letter states that information from every quarter shows the very important role which Jews are now playing in the Russian political situation. At the present moment these Jews are certainly against the Allies and for the Germans, but almost every Jew in Russia is Zionist, and if they can be made to realize that the success of the Zionist aspiration depends on the support of the Allies and the expulsion of the Turks from Palestine, we shall enlist a most powerful element in our favour.[7]

Another good example of the different loyalties of the Zionist groups, is the plan for the formation of the Jewish battalion which, became to be known later as Zionist Mule Corps. This idea originated mainly with Vladimir Jabotinsky (founder of revisionist Zionism and Bitar movement) and few of his Zionist colleagues. This group thought that one way of making sure, that Jews would be taken seriously at peace table, was to organize a Jewish military unit to fight on the side of the Allies.[8]

But as soon as the plan was known to the other Zionists, it faced very strong opposition not only from ordinary Zionists in Britain (with rare exception) who even attacked Jabotnisky physically, but also from the official Zionist bodies, which were committed to neutrality. The Copenhagen Bureau denounced the plan with strong words, and violently rejected Jabotinsky proposition. Not only did the movement forbid all the Zionists to take an active part in it, but it also warned Jabotinsky that ‘if he does not cease his activities, he will bury the Zionist enterprise for ever’ (The Jewish Agency for Israel website).[9]

The Actions Committee of the organization also resolved that the Jewish battalion project stands in deep contradiction to the principle of the Zionist activities. In fact some members of the Committee called the project a ‘criminal offence’.[10] Jabotinsky refused to heed the committee’s statements and replied to them by saying that they were thoroughly mistaken, and added they had come to neutral Denmark from blind Germany and sick Russia; he adds that he had no doubt at all that Germany was incapable of winning the war and that Turkey would end by being smashed to pieces. He suggested a compromised proposal to the committee which was refused.[11] Despite objections by the majority of the Zionist leaders, he moved to London where he continued to work towards the establishment of a battalion. The corps was formed and fought at Gallipoli, and at the end of it the British disbanded it and many of its members were moved to England becoming the nucleus of a newly formed Jewish Legion with Jabotinsky as the main figure. This legion later participated alongside the British army, fighting in Palestine.

It is important to note that after the war, and in particular the Balfour
Declaration, differences amongst the Zionist regional parties remained; essentially, two divergent concepts emerged that were different in ideology and approach. On one hand, the American Zionists led by Brandeis who were critical of the political Leadership in London, believed with the Belfour Declaration, the main political tasks of the movement had been accomplished, and that from now on energies had to be devoted to the building of Palestine. They advocated complete focus on Palestine with respect to funding and efforts demanding that “contributions should be devoted only to projects in that country”; they were “not in favour of diaspora nationalism and refused to pay for Zionist activities outside Palestine”. On the other hand British and European Zionists led by Weizmann were critical of the American Zionist approach claiming they lacked a “Jewish heart” and stating that Brandeis’ policy was “Zionism without Zion”. In contrast to Brandeis, Weizmann and the Europeans made the argument that Palestine could not be colonised in the same way as America, and that international efforts for Zionist causes everywhere should be supported.[12]

In summary, the above examples show, that the Zionist movement at the time of the conflict (and beyond) was not unified in its position in relation to the warring parties, rather, there were contrasting, and contradicting stances taken by the members, in different regions. This paper is not aimed at providing an exhaustive review of these varied views and their implications, but is designed to highlight some of the key stands taken by prominent and leading figures of the movement. Finally, despite the spectrum of different allegiances and loyalties among the members of the movement which we referred to, they were all striving and manipulating to reach a key mutual objective, which was the establishment of a Jewish state. The achievement of the infamous Balfour Declaration was the basis of establishing this state but, unfortunately, this same declaration has been the cause of great calamity for the Palestinian People, who continue to suffer from its repercussions until today.

[1] Walter Laqueur, The History of Zionism,p.174

[2] Ibid, p172

[3] P.211

[4] Walter Laqueur,op.cit p.178

[5] Trail and Error,pp. 211-212

[6] pp. 83-84

[7] Ibid p.289

[8] Encyclopeadia Judaiaca, Zionism

[9] The Jewish Agency for Israel Website

[10] David Vital, Zionism, The Crucial Phase,p.149 and The Jewish Agency for Israel Website

[11] David Vital, op. cit,p.149

[12] Walter Laqueur,op. cit.,pp. 458-459



Encyclopeadia Judiaca (1972), Zionism

The Jewish Agency for Israel(website)

Laqueur,Walter (2003), The History of Zionism (European Jewish puplication Society

Vital,David,(1987) Zionism, The Crucial Phase,(Clarendon Press.Oxford)

Weizmann,Chaim,( 1949),Trail and Error,(Hamish Hamilton, London)

William Blackstone – a Christian Zionist who devoted his life to the establishment of a national Jewish home. By Dr. Jaafar Hadi Hassan

William Blackstone was born in a town called Adams in New York State in 1841.  At this time the U.S. was going through a religious revival which was called the Third Awakening.  Adams was particularly affected by this revival as it was the home of a famous theologian and preacher, Charles Finney (d.1825) who played a prominent role in this movement.  It was said that Blackstone was very much influenced by this atmosphere from his youth and he was ‘born again’ since he was 16-17 years old. He began to attend religious circles and meetings for the study of the Bible and began to be influenced by a movement whose main proponent was John Nelson Darby (d.1882) who was British of Irish origin.  Through his intensive study delving into the Bible he came up with a theory which says that the world has to pass through seven dispensations and we are about to enter the seventh dispensation in which Jesus will appear and rule the world for one thousand years (millennium).

But before Jesus reappears there will be many events and disasters which will strike the world and its people such as plague, fire, volcanoes, floods and so on.  This would continue for a seven year period which he called tribulation. Then the Anti-Christ will appear to fight the Battle of Armageddon. During this battle Jesus will save the believers personally and he will take them to heaven and they will come down with him when the battle is over and the Anti-Christ is defeated.  And this he calls the Rapture. Then Jesus will start his rule from Jerusalem for 1,000 years, a rule which will be characterised by peace and prosperity. Darby also believed that this whole process should include another important element that is the gathering together of the Jews in Palestine which he thought to be necessary for this process to work.  This movement is now called Dispensationalism after the seven Dispensations which divide the phases of history.This movement nowadays has a huge following particularly in the United State.

Blackstone became a staunch believer in this theory and began to propagate its principles.  In 1878 he published a book called “Jesus is Coming” which sold one million copies and was later translated into 20 languages.  Subsequently he left his job as a business man and devoted his life to preaching. He then moved to Chicago and established an organisation called American Messianic Fellowship International.  One of his main works in this organisation was to help the Jews to settle in Palestine and for this reason he embarked on a trip to the Holy Land where he met some Jewish emigrants and encouraged them to stay.  He praised their work and said to them that their living in Palestine is a blessing to the Ottoman Empire and promised them help. After his trip Blackstone began seriously to gather as many Jews as possible in Palestine as he thought that this would hasten the reappearance of Jesus.  Then in 1889 he convened a conference which was attended by Jewish and Christian personalities which was the first time this had happened. This conference was convened under the banner of the past, present and future of the Jews.

At the end of the conference the participants declared that the Jews should be helped to emigrate to Palestine and found their national home and they demanded that the American government use its influence and prestige with other countries to treat Jewish communities better.  They also demanded that the Russia about whose treatment the Jews were complaining, should “lift its hard hand from these people” and the participants sent a letter to the Tsar to that effect.

In 1891 Blackstone presented his famous memorandum to the President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison.  The memorandum was entitled “Palestinefor the Jews”. In it he defended the Jews and deplored their condition in Russiawhich he described as miserable.

He began his memorandum by asking the question “What should be done for the Jews of Russia?” and the answer he gave was “Why do not we give them Palestine back”.  He quotes several verses from the Old Testament which he thought prophesised their return to Palestine.

And in order to help the Jews to go to Palestine and to found a national home he suggested to the President and his Foreign Minister that they start a political action in order to implement this idea and to convince European countries and empires to convene an international conference “To look at the condition of the Jews and the possibility of helping them to live in Palestine and remove their suffering”.

He also said in the memorandum “That the time has come for the Christian nations to have compassion on the Jews and to take them back to their land”.  He also suggested that the Ottoman Empire be compensated for Palestine with the participation of rich Jews in this project.

Blackstone signed the memorandum in his capacity as Chairman of the Jewish Christian Conference with four hundred and thirteen personalities who also signed with him.  Among them were congressmen, judges, heads of churches, industrialists and editors of newspapers and included John Rockefeller and W McKenally who subsequently became President of the United States and who was assassinated during his second term of office.

Blackstone attached a letter with his memorandum addressed to the President and his Secretary of State detailing the ideas laid out in his memorandum.  In this letter he emphasised that the signatories were only a few but represented a very large number of people who supported the memorandum. He also mentioned in his letter that he had visited Palestine in 1889 and found that founding a national home for the Jews in Palestine was in fact practicably possible and politically acceptable.  Again he emphasised the Old Testament verses which indicated the return of the Jews to that country. He also requested the convening of an international conference and stated in the letter “My wish is that the President and his Foreign Minister will have the honour to concern themselves with this great matter and to secure a national home for the Jews through such a conference”.

He mentioned to them that if they did that their deed would be like that of Cyrus II the Persian king who let the exiled Jews go back to Palestine to build their temple.  When the President received the memorandum he promised to look at it.

Blackstone also wrote articles emphasising the ability of the Jews to establish a state which could take millions of them and he also mentioned the commercial advantage to the West.  In his articles he also stated that the country needed only a government which could prepare it for the emigrants, and said this government should have control over the area of the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

He also suggested the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple which in his opinion would encourage the Jews, particularly the Orthodox, to go to Palestine.  On this point he is in agreement with the Zionist Christians who likewise call for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple.

When the Zionist Movement appeared on the world stage at the end of the 19thcentury Blackstone was in touch with its leaders.  When the Ugandan option was suggested by Britain to Hertzel, the leader of the movement, after the option of al-Arish was abandoned, Blackstone discouraged him and sent him a copy of the Old Testament marking the verses which he thought prophesised the return of the Jews to Palestine.  This copy is now in the Hertzel Museum in Israel.

Blackstone continued to write and give public talks about his ideas regarding the return of the Jews to Palestine and the Second Advent of Jesus and when the book of “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was published he wrote articles in newspapers criticising the content of the book saying that it was false and accusing those who believed in it of being anti-Semitic.

He travelled to many countries including the Middle East preaching and publicising his book.  He also went to China after translating the book into Chinese. During the First World War he published a second edition of his book and it was a best seller at that time because of the events of the war which Christians thought would usher in the Second Advent of Jesus .  During this time he submitted his memorandum again to President Thomas Woodrow Wilson and this time it was signed by 80 well-known personalities. He also attached to it a letter in which he stated “I was honoured to get support to submit the memorandum on behalf of the Jews and I am convinced that the development of events indicated that the time is approaching  to take a noble decision like the one taken by Cyrus II, King of Persia. I am sure of your sympathy and your desire to help the Jews in their miserable condition and I pray that you will seize this opportunity to secure for yourself and for our nation the blessing which God promised to Abraham and his seed and to show mercy to the Jewish people”.

The memorandum had a very positive reaction among the Zionists of America.  This is clear from a letter written by Lewis Brandeis, the leader of the Zionist Movement in the United States, addressed to James Rothschild which states regarding the memorandum “A memorandum was written for this purpose (supporting the Zionist idea) and it was signed by many well-known Christian personalities and it will be submitted to the President at the right time in order to gain more support”.  Brandeis also wrote a letter to Blackstone in which he praised his efforts and expressed his great happiness with all his work for the benefit of the Zionist Movement and appreciated the influence which the memorandum had had. Brandeis also said to him in his letter that he considered him the father of Zionism “Because your work preceded that of Hertzel”. Brandeis also considered him as the most important non-Jewish ally of Zionism.

Before he died in 1938 Blackstone left a great amount of money in his will to Brandeis to help the Jews to emigrate to Palestine – Blackstone died in 1938.  Some scholars such as Maxwell Koda believe that Blackstone’s efforts and activities on behalf of the national Jewish home played a big role in the emergence of the Zionist Movement.  Others say that Blackstone is considered one of the few Americans who played a very important role in establishing a national Jewish home. The newsletter of the Zionist Emergency Committee said on the 50th anniversary of his memorandum “It proposed a real solution like that which Hertzel proposed in his book “The Jewish State” and Blackstone should be considered as the pioneer of political Zionism”.  The Encyclopaedia Judaica has an entry on him and in it it praised Blackstone’s Zionist activities and his efforts towards establishing a home for the Jews. It also states that his memorandum might have had an influence on President Wilson in his support for the Balfour Declaration which was issued by the British government in 1917 regarding the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  In appreciation of his work towards this cause, Israel planted a big forest in his name.

The American Messianic Fellowship International which he founded more than a century ago is still functioning particularly in its efforts to help immigrants to Israel.  It also has a big website. This organisation calls for the demolition of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in its place.



The Pakistani and Israeli foreign ministers have met publicly for the first time.  This meeting came about after Israel had decided to withdraw from Gaza after 38 years of occupation.  After the meeting Silvan Shalom, the Israeli foreign minister, called it a “historic and huge breakthrough” and expressed his happiness and said “We are hoping to establish diplomatic relations between our countries”.  The Pakistani foreign minister, Khursheed Kasuri, said that Pakistan had decided to “engage” with Israel and called the meeting “a gesture to underscore the importance we, in Pakistan, attach to Israel ending its occupation of Gaza”.

Historically this was not the first contact between the two countries aiming at establishing diplomatic relations.  In fact, contact with this aim in mind goes back to the 1940s, almost immediately after Pakistan and Israel joined the United Nations.  The two representatives of the two countries at the world body, Abba Eban (later foreign minister of Israel) and Ahmed Shah Bukhari, initiated the contact to establish diplomatic relations.  The Pakistani foreign minister at the time, Zafarulla Khan, whom the Israel Intelligence Service called al-Ahmedi (because he was of the Ahmediyya Sect) encouraged the contact. Zafarulla Khan also called on Arab countries to make peace with Israel after the Arab Jewish war ended in 1948.

The contact (negotiation) continued for some time but ceased when the Prime Minister of Pakistan Liyaqat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951, the cause of which remains a mystery.  According to a report submitted by Abba Eban, Pakistan was on the verge of recognising Israel.

It is not known why Pakistan started these early contacts with Israel despite the disquiet among people in the Muslim world after the United Resolution in 1948 to divide Palestine, as a result of which Israel emerged as an independent country and also despite the uproar and demonstrations in Pakistan itself at the time.  

The suggestion of Abba Eban that the reason for this contact was that Pakistanwanted to embarrass India which had not recognised Israel yet, was not, I think, either a good or a justifiable one.  Later on there were other contacts between the two countries though they were not very serious ones. These contacts took place in the 1950s, between the Pakistani foreign minister Fairuz Khan Noon and Shabtai Rosen, an Israeli ambassador.  There were also some casual and clandestine contacts.

One of these clandestine contacts is detailed in a recently published book by the journalist George Crile in which he mentions the secret deals by the Pakistani army, then headed by General Zia ul Haq, and Israel, through the CIA, for weapons to supply the Afghan Mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union.

The recent initiative by Pakistan towards Israel was prepared for by some statements by the Pakistani leader, Pervez Musharraf, such as his statement in an interview with a private TV channel in 2003 in which he said “We have to review our policy towards Israel and to look at it anew devoid of sentiment …because we do not want to be Palestinians more than the Palestinians themselves and not to be Catholics more than the Pope”.  And when Shimon Perez met him two years ago at the Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland the former said to him “There are many rumours that relations have been established between our two countries”. Musharraf replied by saying “We are putting great efforts towards this aim but you have to make progress towards the conflict with the Palestinians”. President Musharraf also agreed for the first time to give a speech to a conference in America organised by a Jewish group, which was convened last September and in the same month met Ariel Sharon during the United Nations Summit meeting.

It is also reported that he was saying to the Americans who have always pressurised him to recognise Israel and to do so publicly, that he was waiting for the right moment to do this.

According to the Jerusalem Post General Musharraf himself initiated the recent contact and he himself wanted it to be public and Turkey was asked to hold the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries.  However, he subsequently emphasised in New York during the UN annual gathering that there would be no normalisation with Israel until after the Palestinian State was established. The Pakistani foreign minister stressed that the meeting did not mean recognition and this would come after progress in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.  But I believe such statements by the Pakistani officials are made only to calm the domestic and Muslim opposition to this move. Because there was some disquiet in Pakistanwhen the meeting took place and one of the opposition leaders in Pakistan said “It is a dark day for the Pakistani people and we object to (diplomatic) relations with Israel”.

Regardless of how much Pakistan tries to trivialise the move, it is obvious that it is the beginning of the normalisation of relations.  This was emphasised by the Israeli sources which said that the next move would be to cancel the ban on Pakistanis travelling to Israel so that the Pakistani people could travel to Israel in great numbers, as Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country after Indonesia.  This would then be followed by delegate visits at ministerial level and so on. All these activities would finally be crowned by the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Many people have asked the question what prompted Pakistan to take this step despite the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians which has not yet been resolved?  Has Pakistan been pressured or does it need diplomatic relations with Israel?

Some analysts believe that there are two important issues at work here.  One of them is Pakistan’s relations with the United States and the other is its relations with its historical enemy India.  As for its relations with the former, Pakistan has come to the conclusion that to get the support and help of the United Statesparticularly after the invasion of Iraq, it should establish diplomatic relations with Israel as the United States had been asking President Musharraf to do.  The opportunity for Pakistan came when Israel decided to withdraw from Gaza.

As for its relations with India, Israel established official relations with India in the early 1990s and has been developing them since then and one of the important aspects of these relations was military involvement such as selling equipment, arms and sophisticated planes to India besides the exchange of intelligence information.  And because of all this Pakistan, the experts say, wanted to balance this relationship in order that, that between Israel and India would not be at her expense, and she would not be on the losing side. Some believe that Pakistanalso needs to send her students to improve their knowledge of technology and advanced science at Israeli universities because the United States is putting many conditions on her students after the 11th September.

Whatever the reasons are, relations between the two countries will have important implications for the politics of the Middle East.  First of all it will open the door wide for other Arab and Muslim countries many of whom are now negotiating in secret with Israel for this very purpose.  This relationship will be very beneficial economically to Israel as it has many goods and a lot of expertise to export to Pakistan. In addition, many Pakistanis will flock to Israel as tourists and this will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to the Israeli economy.  With this relationship Israel will have another important country to support it in the international organisations by which Israel is complaining that she is neglected and not given a role suitable to her status in these organisations.

There is another advantage Israel will gain in that she will be closer to Iran which she considers an existential threat to her and  enemy number one plotting to destroy her and she will be able to gather intelligence more effectively.

Lastly there is another important point which not many people are aware of which is related to the Judaising of some tribes who live between Pakistan and Afghanistan and who some Jewish organisations think are originally Jewish but who converted to Islam many centuries ago.  Jewish organisations such as Kullanu (all of us) and Amishab (my people returned) are working very hard but secretly to convert them to Judaism. Some of these activities include publishing books and making videos. These operations will be easier after Israel has established diplomatic relations with Pakistan.

The Law of Return, the Chief Rabbinate and the Status of Non-Orthodox Jews in Israel By Dr Jaafar Hadi Hassan

It is a well known fact that most of the population in Israel are immigrants who came to the country according to the Law of Return which was passed by the Israeli Knesset in 1950. This Law, in conjunction with a later Nationality Law, gives every Jew the right to settle in Israel and acquire instant, automatic citizenship. It is worth mentioning here that the Religious Authority in Israelrecognizes as Jews only those who are born to a Jewish mother or were converted to Judaism according to the Halakhah (Jewish Religious Law) as interpreted by the Orthodox. However, among the groups which emigrated according to this law, were followers of some sects which are not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate, the Religious Authority, in Israel. They are considered non-conformist. This paper will deal with these groups which faced and are still facing problems with the Religious Authority and with Orthodox Jews in general, regarding their Jewishness. The state, nevertheless, still encourages them to emigrate and grants them citizenship in order to help fill the land, in this case, with people whose Jewish origin is not recognized by the Religious Authority.

One of the earliest of these groups which emigrated to Israel according to the Law of Return and has encountered problems with the Chief Rabbinate ever since their arrival in the country, are the Qaraites. The Qaraites are a Jewish sect which was founded in the eighth century AD by Anan ben David in Iraq and subsequently spread to many other countries.1 From its inception this sect did not recognize the Talmud which is considered by mainstream Jews as the second source for the Jewish religious law after the Torah (Old Testament). Consequently when the Qaraites arrived in Israel the Chief Rabbinate refused to recognize their Jewishness. In fact they considered them heretics and as such their marriages and divorces invalid. In addition, their marriage with non-Qaraite Jews is not sanctioned by the Religious Authority. When former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Nissim was asked if there was any way that a marriage between a Qaraite and non-Qaraite could be validated, his answer was that it is impossible unless the Qaraite converts to Orthodoxy. He even said that “the position of a Qaraite is worse than the position of the Christian who wants to become Jewish because of the doubtful legitimate birth.” Additionally, the former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Ulterman said “Our stand was defined through the generations and ages that our sages cursed any one who would remove the ban on marriage to the Qaraites and, therefore, the ban is impossible to remove.”2 As a result of this, the Qaraites cannot be issued with marriage and divorce certificates which naturally creates problems for them, and also cannot be buried in Jewish cemeteries, serve on religious councils etc. Consequently Qaraite leaders have repeatedly tried to resolve their ambiguous status. They applied in 1960 for separate recognition of their religious council, but were talked out of it by the head of the state, Ben Zvi. He, together with other secular Jews, wanted to avoid a legal distinction between Qaraites and other Jews. Similar appeals were made in 1962 and in 1965 and although the government refused these appeals, it did, however, form a Commission for Examination of the Personal Status of the Qaraites. After a year’s deliberation it issued its recommendations which called for granting the Qaraites legal authority over their own personal status and for recognition of their religious courts. After several years’ delay and several more public appeals by Qaraite leaders, a bill to the effect was introduced in the Knesset. It was not passed.3 The Qaraites nowadays are considered a separate sect and because of this they feel betrayed by the state and treated as second-class citizens. As a result many of them, frustrated by this treatment, have emigrated to France, Canada and the United States.

Another Jewish group which faces problems in Israel with the Chief Rabbinate is called the progressive group, mainly the Reform and the Conservative (Masorti) Jews. These groups have different opinions from the Jewish Orthodoxy regarding the Torah and the Talmud. They recognise female rabbis and have many other different practices which do not conform with the Jewish Orthodoxy. These people have therefore faced discrimination from the Religious Authority since the establishment of the state. When they complained of discrimination against their kind of Judaism in the early years of the state, Ben Gurion and Golda Meir told them that their movements would be accepted in Israel only if sufficient numbers of their members settled in the Jewish state. The Religious Authority considers this group, like the Qaraites, as a separate sect and does not recognise any conversions to Judaism they perform in Israel or outside it as valid. When the Reform Jews demanded that their conversions be accepted in Israel, the conversion authority in the Chief Rabbinate office proposed the recognition of the Reform Jews as a separate religious community in Israel and stated “Reform is anyway a different religion in every manner – it allows intermarriage…and does not believe in the Torah.” The former Sephardic chief Rabbi Itzhak Nissim even stated that Reform is not a religion and said “Freedom of religions is intended for members of all religions, including minorities, but it is not intended to achieve the opposite objective with the result that the dominant religion in the state, Judaism, be jeopardized and torn asunder…Reform is not a religion”.4

Orthodox Rabbis and politicians have used every opportunity to delegitimise and harass progressive Jews. The Chief Rabbinate in Israel is always warning practising Jews not to attend Reform and Conservative services. A statement circulated in 1984 proclaimed that “it is strictly forbidden to pray in Reform and Conservative synagogues. Whoever prays in such a place almost certainly has not fulfilled the obligation of Torah reading, or prayer”.5 Progressive Rabbis are not permitted to serve as army chaplains, officiate at marriage ceremonies, serve on religious councils etc. According to this group, Israeli schools and textbooks portray them in a very stereotyped way, as inherently assimilationist and anti-Zionist, in spite of the fact that they are very active Zionists and have two Zionist organizations, one called ARZA which belongs to the Reform Jews and one called Merkaz which belongs to the Conservatives. The followers of progressive Judaism number many thousands in Israel and in spite of the stance of the Religious Authority towards them, the government still encourages those outside to emigrate.

The followers of Reconstructionist Judaism are considered to be in the same category and treated in the same way. This movement was established by Rabbi Mordacai Kaplan in the 1930s in the United States after he had published his book “Judaism as Civilization”. This book provides the foundation for the Reconstructionist ideology. According to Kaplan, Judaism should be understood as evolving religious civilization. He believes that in order for the Jewish community to survive, Judaism must eliminate its authoritarian dogmatic features. In particular, Judaism must divest itself of supernatural beliefs such as belief in a supernatural God. Kaplan also believes that the Bible is the work of many people in many ages and does not believe that the Halakhah (the Jewish Religious Law) is holy and unchangeable. In their prayer book the Reconstructionists have eliminated all references to the Revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai and the doctrine of the personal messiah and the Jews as the chosen people. Kaplan and his followers were excommunicated by the Orthodox for expressing atheism, heresy and disbelief in the basic tenets of Judaism.6

Yet another of these groups is that of the Ethiopian Jews who are known as the Falashas and who call themselves Beta Yesrael. These Jews were brought to Israel, according to the Law of Return, in two operations in the nineteen eighties and early nineties of the last century. Their number is estimated now at about 70,000. Ever since their arrival in Israel the Chief Rabbinate has cast doubt on their Jewishness. The reason given was that the Ethiopian Jews had totally lost contact with Jewish laws (implying non-recognition of the Talmud). In the eyes of the Rabbis they were considered “mamzerim” (illegitimate children) and their marriage contracts were not recognized and, consequently, neither were their divorces.7 They were asked to convert to Orthodox Judaism. One of the requirements for conversion to Orthodoxy is circumcision, which the Ethiopian Jews have practised. However the Chief Rabbinate did not recognize the manner in which circumcision was practised by them. There were also other rituals which they had to undergo and observe. Some of them conformed to this conversion but the majority of them rejected it as they considered it to be insulting and humiliating. Some declared it to be pure racism, protested and demonstrated and about 30 people committed suicide in 1985-1987 because of the discrimination against them.8 Because of these problems some of the Ethiopian Jews began to join Reform or Conservative Judaism for recognition and some began to shun Judaism in general, and Israelis in particular, and have begun looking for an identity and culture of a mixed African and Caribbean type. They have begun to talk about black nationalism, stating their belief in that, rather than in Judaism.

The Messianic Jews are another group which faces problems in Israel with the Religious Authority. These people who number several thousand in Israel today consider themselves Jews, but also believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, whereas all other Orthodox Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to come. Because of this group’s belief in Jesus, the Chief Rabbinate does not recognize them as Jews. In fact, some ultra-Orthodox want the followers of this sect to be forced to become orthodox or be deported and they have established organizations to fight this group, to spy on them and inform the Ministry of the Interior about their proselytising activities. The best known of these organizations is called “Yad L’ahim” (Strength for the Brothers). Messianic Jews are often harassed and persecuted by the Orthodox. In 1997 two Knesset members proposed a bill which makes the printing, possession, reproduction, distribution or import of religious material that induces conversion criminal offences, punishable by a year in jail. The Messianic Jews criticized this bill and said “The bill criminalizes basic human rights and limits the freedom of people to tell about their beliefs”.9 Nevertheless, despite all this, their number is on the increase and they have many places of worship.

A further group of non-conformist Jews who emigrated from the United States to Israel, according to the Law of Return, are the Black Jews who call themselves Hebrew Israelites. The first group of these people arrived in Israel about 1969 and since then others have followed. Although the authority doubted their Jewishness they were allowed to stay temporarily and recently were granted residence. They now number a few thousands and their number is increasing because of their high birthrate. They too, like other non-conformist Jews, are not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel because they believe only in the first five books of the Old Testament and the Talmud has no authority over them. They also differ from the Orthodox Jews in believing that Jesus is a prophet of God. In addition they do not celebrate some of the important Jewish festivals and do not practise all Jewish rituals. They believe too that the founder of the sect and their current leader, Ben Ammi, is a prophet. The Chief Rabbinate asked these people to convert to Orthodox Judaism as otherwise they would not be recognized as Jews, but they rejected this suggestion fiercely and considered it an insult. Now they live in Israel as residents but not as citizens, nonetheless there is no doubt that the government will eventually grant them citizenship.10 A well known incident occurred recently which confirms the non-recognition of this group by the Orthodox Jews, when one of their members was killed on 17th January 2002 and was not allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery by the Religious Authority and was buried outside it.11 Another group that I would like to mention here are followers of Secular Humanistic Judaism which appeared in the sixties of the last century in the United States. This sect, like the majority of those already discussed, has many followers all over the world including Israel. These people believe in a Judaism devoid of a divine element. They profess to be atheists and believe that Judaism was the creation of the Jews. They also deny the existence of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and consider the Exodus account to be a myth. According to them, the Biblical account is not authoritative, rather, it is a human account of the history of the Israelites.12 Although the beliefs of this sect go against the basic tenets of Judaism they are active in Israel and work for their brand of Judaism publicly and have their own synagogues.

Another group which emigrated in the latter years of the last century came from Russia. Many thousands of them are not considered proper Jews. According to the head of the Conversion Authority at the Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, up to 300,00 of the recent arrival (of Russians) maybe gentiles, (non-Jewish) but only 5,000 have converted. Many of these arrivals are Christians and others are not interested in becoming Jews.13 Others say that almost 50 per cent of the total population of the Russian immigrants are non-Jewish.14 But these immigrants have, nevertheless, been granted citizenship, given accommodation and all kinds of help and are very active in supporting and maintaining the State. The fact that the Religious Authority does not recognize any of these groups and sects did not and does not in any way deter the State from encouraging them to emigrate, welcoming them and assisting them to settle in every way. In other words, using the Law of Return as an instrument in order to fill the land with people who say they are Jewish. This policy is a deliberate one and it is not new. In fact it has been pursued by Israel for a long time so that displaced Palestinians or their descendants will have no land to return to. This goes against the UN Resolution No 194 which demands that Israel allow them to return to their homeland.


  1. On the Qaraite history and belief see Jacfar H Hassan, The Jewish Qaraite Sect (Arabic). 2. S.Z. Abramov, Perpetual Dilemma pp.282-3. 3. D. Ross, Acts of Faith p.142. 4. W. Frankel, Israel Observed pp.217-8 5. M.A. Meyer, Response to Modernity, A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism p.468. 6. Dan-Cohn-Sherbok, The Future of Judaism pp.135-137 7. R.S. Feuerlicht, The Fate of the Jews p.206 8. T.G. Wagaw, For Our Soul : Ethiopian Jews in Israel pp.118-9 9. The Jerusalem Report 29/5/1997 10. On the history and beliefs of the Hebrew Israelites see M. Launds (Jr) Israel’s Black Hebrews. 11. The Jerusalem Report 11/2/2002 12. The main reference on the subject of Secular Humanistic Judaism is “Judaism Beyond God” by Sherwin T Wine (a prominent exponents of this sect). 13. the Jerusalem Report 25/12/1997 14. D. Siegel The Great Immigration , Russian Jews in Israel, p.64 *This paper was given at the international conference on the Israeli Law of Return, which was held at the University of London in April 2002.


The Jerusalem Wall Cuts Off Thousands of Palestinians From Their City By Dr. Jaafar Hadi Hasan

It is no coincidence that the decision by the Israeli cabinet, to accelerate completion of the wall surrounding the city of Jerusalem, was made on the first anniversary of the ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague that it was illegal and contravened international law, and demanding it be dismantled. However, Sharon showed the world his customary disregard of international decisions, by not complying and rejecting them.


The stepping up of the construction of the wall came after the majority of the temporary injunctions by the Israeli court were lifted. These had only halted work while the government introduced cosmetic changes that did not change its nature or effects.


Once complete, the Jerusalem wall that will surround this city, will be 48km long, and rising to nine metres or more in height. It is part of the wall Israel was putting up between itself and the West Bank over the past two years; totalling 680km in length, and grabbing 8% or more of the lands of the West Bank, while cutting of some Palestinian villages and towns, and scattering their inhabitants once complete.


The main objective of the Jerusalem wall is to expel as many Palestinians as possible from within the city boundaries, while absorbing Jewish settlements, some with high population density like Maa’leh Adumim; population 30 thousand. On its completion, areas like Kafr ‘Uqab, Qalandiya, Sha’faat refugee camp, and others will be outside the city limits of East Jerusalem. Israel says that the inhabitants of these areas number 55 thousand, while the Palestinians assert that the number is more than double that.


These Palestinians will be denied all education, health, and other services that they had been receiving when they were a part of Jerusalem; in the long term, some of them will lose their jobs or their businesses. Some had expressed the fear that Israel may declare them absent and so confiscate their possessions. Their entry into Jerusalem will depend on the whim of the soldiers manning the entry points Israel will put in the wall. There they will be subjected to rigorous search and identity checks, their fate no different from their compatriots in the West Bank; standing for hours in long queues, suffering difficulties and persecution making their life hellish.


According to Lubulianski, mayor of Jerusalem, the number of those entering and leaving stands at 65 thousand, including 3,500 schoolchildren – this will mean waiting for many long hours. This mayor – a Haridim Jew – had earlier described the wall as a talisman of good fortune, or one of the “gates of life”, even though it would provoke the anger of Palestinians and their hatred.


These words are in harmony with the mentality that builds the wall. In the sight of these persons, whatever causes torment and anguish to the Palestinians, is considered a gate of life. This torment will not only lash those leaving their city, but will be visited on those staying in it as well.


In addition to what the inhabitants of East Jerusalem were subjected to for many years, in terms of persecution in living space, their homes subject to demolition on the pretext of unauthorised building – the latest being the decision by the mayor a few weeks earlier to demolish 90 homes – prohibiting construction of new dwellings or extensions, then the geographical area will most definitely cease to accommodate them, especially after many of them had been displaced to the city centre, having learnt that the wall will be built in their areas, and will expel them from these.


In addition, their siege by the Jews will become more acute in future,, especially as the orthodox/Haridim Jews were slowly taking the place of the secular Jews, who had started to vacate the city many years ago. These Jews give birth to large number of children, twelve or more per family. Their model is the mayor himself, a Haridim Jew, with twelve children, and from them fifteen grandchildren until now, and he is expecting more.


According to what he has mentioned, the number of births in Jerusalem reached 18 thousand in 2004, and according to predictions more than two-thirds of these were to Jews, the population of the city was 700 thousand, of which two-thirds were Jews.


It goes without saying, that the objective behind building the wall is the Juda-isation of the city, and expulsion of the Palestinians from it by any means, so that Israel presents the Palestinians with a fait d’accompli, and ends all aspirations that East Jerusalem could be the capital of their future state.


What Israel is doing today is not only a contravention of international law, but contrary to the spirit of the times that rejects all forms of racism; its actions are an embodiment of such racism. The individual in face of the inaction of the world – despite the voices of criticism and courageous decisions to boycott – can only hope that the wall will cease to be one day, as other walls before it were also made to come crashing down.


  • Iraqi academic living in London – this article was first published in Al-Hayat newspaper, and is re-published here by kind permission of the author.