Anti-Semitism and the emergence of Jewish Internationalism, 1840-1914

[This article is part of the Open Peer Review-Publication series “Nineteenth-Century Anti-Semitism in International Perspective”]

von Rona Yona

What is Jewish Internationalism? It seems that anti-Semites have a clearer answer to this question than this emerging field of scholarship.[1] If “Jewish internationalism” is more than a conspiracy theory, what is it and how should one apply the term internationalism in a Jewish context?[2] I would like to share some preliminary thoughts on the emergence of Jewish Internationalism in the Nineteenth century based on secondary literature, as part of a larger project on Jewish internationalism. Considering the fact that internationalism is a very broad and illusive term, to narrow the scope of my discussion I take an institutional approach, focusing solely on international Jewish organizations. Surely, not all internationalism is political or institutional. However, institution enable us to contextualize ideas, and to examine how they are put into action in specific social context.

What is Jewish Internationalism?

In 1974 Yehuda Gotthelf (1903 Warsaw-1994 Tel Aviv) published a book titled “Nationalism and Internationalism” which discussed the growing isolation of the State of Israel in the international arena. The immediate trigger was the 1973 war and the Oil Embargo placed by OPEC, which brought the Arab League boycott of Israel enacted in 1945 to its peak. Gotthelf, a leading intellectual of the Israeli Labor Movement and one of the architects of its international institutions, rejected isolationist tendencies in Israel as a dangerous development, urging Israeli Jews not to forsake the idea of human progress, in spite of the repeated attacks against Jewish nationalism. In his words “the world is still full of murder and violence and the Jews are an easy target for evil urges”.[3] But instead of giving up on internationalism, he offered Israelis to strike a balance between Nationalism and Internationalism.

Gotthelf argued that Internationalism was a desired vision of fruitful cooperation between nations. But just as nationalism can deteriorate from a positive expression of group identity into an aggressive ideology directed internally or externally, so can internationalism deteriorate into Cosmopolitanism, which he opposed on the grounds that it denies group rights. Striking a balance between nationalism and internationalism would enable Jews to embrace liberalism, socialism and international solidarity, without slipping into extreme nationalism and despairing of mankind. According to Gotthelf, the State of Israel should aspire for internationalism in spite of its isolation, because it would enable to integrate the Jewish people into universal history based on equality, thus combining their inherent nationalism and universalism. In his view, this was also a way to safeguard Jewish nationalism from deteriorating into its own version of a xenophobic ultra-nationalism.[4]

A Yiddish proverb can serve us well here: vi es kristelt sich, azoi yidlt sich (roughly translated “as the gentile does, so does the Jew”). Gotthelf did not cite his sources, but the distinction between Internationalism – a concept from the 1860’s, and the Cosmopolitanism of the eighteenth century, was made in 1911 by Ludwig Stein, a philosophy professor from Berne. According to Madeleine Herren, Stein “described the history of internationalist ideas as a dialectical development with cosmopolitanism as a thesis, nationalism as antithesis, and internationalism as synthesis”.[5] In this way he developed a kind of internationalism that did not exclude patriotism, and presented an alternative both to anti-national socialist internationalism and to world-wide pacifism, highlighting the role of the state in internationalism.

Herren’s study explores the important contribution of small nations on the periphery of power to the emergence of governmental internationalism from the 1860’s up to WWI, primarily Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands, which serve until today as centers of internationalism in cities like Geneva, Brussels and The Haag. According to Herren, governmental internationalism was a way for small nations to enhance their international influence in a global order dominated by the Great Powers of Europe. Small nations nurtured an evolutionary national, even nationalist orientation that did not necessarily lead to empire-building. It is interesting to note that Madeleine Herren, a Swiss scholar, offers a potential paradigm for the study of Jewish and Israeli internationalism, one that takes us away from the history of the Great Powers and into the realm of peripheral societies, languages and cultures.[6]

Surely, this vision of internationalism, founded on political nationalism and the nation state, was by no means the only one. Other thinkers at the time of Ludwig Stein, like British scholar Alfred Zimmern, were developing alternate international visions, which did not embrace nation states. Zimmern, a progressive liberal of German-Jewish descent, was working in an imperial context. According to Tomohito Baji, he rejected popular imperial theories of racial hierarchies and white supremacist ideologies as remnants of “barbarism”.[7] Zimmern was seeking for ways to cultivate equal cooperation between nations within the context of large and multi-ethnic states through non-political nationalism. Being a Zionist for several years, he borrowed on the work of Zionist thinkers. Zimmern adopted the idea of a stateless cultural nationalism from Russian Zionist Ahad Ha’am’s (Asher Ginzberg), and the ideal of American cultural pluralism developed by American Jewish philosopher and Zionist Horace Kallen. His own piece on “Nationalism and internationalism” described a similar dialectic between the two elements, and rejected cosmopolitanism as déraciné – being uprooted from one’s native environment or society. But the way Zimmern conceived their relations was different. Unlike Stein, he opposed the breakdown of empire into nation states. In his vision, national cultural aspirations would be fulfilled through reforming the empire into a multi-national commonwealth, modeled after the United States, which he called a “philosophy of inter-racial or rather inter-national cooperation”.[8] In other words, internationalism could also mean a cultural arrangement within tolerant states.

Jewish internationalism, like European internationalism, emerged at the second half of the nineteenth century. But its context was very different. It was not motivated by the growth of free trade and travel, nor was it conceived for the purpose of creating bureaucratic standards of measurements and currencies, academic scientific cooperation, that were required to facilitate economic transactions, or socialist cooperation – to name some of the leading motives for European internationalism at the time. Jewish internationalism was shaped first and foremost by emancipation and the struggle for Jewish rights and interests.

In what follows I wish to suggest a typology of the development of Jewish internationalism in the years 1840-1914. I identify three organizational models here, by describing their emergence in chronological order: 1) the philanthropic internationalism of notables and wealthy elites, 2) institutionalization through educational internationalism and a civilizing mission, and 3) political internationalism. All three are still presently active today, alongside additional types of Jewish internationalism that emerged after World War I. Samuel Moyn has suggested a different typology, which refers only to the first two kinds in the period before World War I.[9] I argue that there was a third kind of Jewish internationalism, as will demonstrate here. The different kinds of Jewish internationalism were politically active on behalf of “Jewry”, mobilizing funds, disseminating ideas and using political pressure, with varying degrees of success. But they were constructed and legitimized differently. They all transformed the Jewish Diaspora, each according to its vision, replacing traditional ties of rabbinic authority, trade, kinship and charity with new kinds of activity. Yet in spite of their differences, they were all crystalized by the same brutal force of antisemitism.

One point of clarification before I move on. As depicted above by Stein and Gotthelf on the one hand, and by Zimmern on the other hand, the term “Jewish internationalism” can be understood in two distinct ways. A common use of the term refers to “international relations”, the relations between nations or more precisely states. However, Jews were a stateless and dispersed people without centralized institutions in the period discussed here. The relations between Jews and others are usually framed in historiography within multiple contexts of minority-majority relations. The Jew-non-Jew relationship normally refers to the one between a Jewish community and the surrounding society in one place, as it is expresses culturally, politically and socially.[10] In order for Jews to become actors in the sphere of international politics, they first need to form some sort of a unified framework that would represent them.

The second definition of Jewish internationalism is the creation of global Jewish institutions that connect the Jewish diaspora and pursues a policy on its behalf, more in line with the anti-Semitic tern “international Jew”. This definition is derives from the concept of forming “international institutions”, that is, governmental or non-governmental institutions that are constructed by multiple nationalities or citizenships for the purpose of integrated or coordinated activity. This is the meaning often referred to by the scholarly term “internationalizing”, although as we have seen there are complex relations between the “external” notion of internationalism and its “internal” definition. Samuel Moyn has recently offered to define Jewish internationalism more broadly as “the constitution of a Jewish political subject across borders for the sake of collective agency or mutual defense”.[11] This definition conveys the intent to the anti-Semitic term “International Jewry” as a unification of Jews with various citizenships, without its pejorative implications. I use it to describe the subject of Jewish internationalism and the dynamics of its development.[12]

 1. Notables and Philanthropic Internationalism

International diplomacy was a traditional component of Jewish politics, known as shtadlanut – relying on networks of trade, kinship and religious ties between communities to mobilize political support and influence in upper echelons. This is exemplified by the successful undoing of the deportation of Prague Jews decreed by Maria Theresa in 1744-45. Shlomo Avineri has argued that its scope and speed mark it as the first modern Jewish international campaign, because it made use of a printed pamphlets and horseman for rapid communication, though this argument is not very convincing since none was fundamentally new.[13]

More commonly, the Damascus Affair of 1840, a hundred years later, is regarded as the moment when modern Jewish politics emerged.[14] The affair started as an international anti-Semitic campaign, initiated by a low ranking French consul in Damascus, Ratti-Menton, which made use of the medieval blood liable to launch a popular campaign against Jews in Europe and the Middle East. The campaign revolved around the accusation that Jewish community leaders in Damascus ordered the murder of a Christian monk and his Muslim servant, for the purpose of using their blood to bake Matzos for Passover. His campaign was further complicated by an international conflict in the region. The victims were eventually acquitted and released, after the intervention of Jewish notables, primarily the Rothschilds and Moses Montefiore (1784-1885). Scholars have highlighted the contribution of the Damascus Affair to the emergence of a Jewish press, and as the first public campaign in the Jewish and general press that mobilized support, primarily in France and England.[15] This time, information traveled not only through letters.

Jonathan Frankel has shown that both the anti-Semitic campaign as well as aid to the victims had an international nature marked by the involvement of European Christian presence in the middle east. The spreading image of bloodthirsty Jews had far reaching implications on attitudes towards Jews, now despised for the scandalous ritual murder, who many believed to be true. The “news” stirred outrage across Middle Eastern Christians and Muslim communities, instilling fear among Jews of violent attacks, with some outbursts like in Damascus and Rhodes. In other places like Jerusalem, Beirut and Alexandria Jews avoided leaving their houses for fear of “retribution”. Alongside more traditional means to transfer information, the press played a major role in spreading allegations against the Jews in Europe. Major European newspapers enthusiastically published them as facts, without considering at all whether they were right, thus spreading the story about Jewish ritual murder from Paris to London, Saxony, Turin and the rest of Europe. The circulating gruesome descriptions of the fabricated murder in Damascus produced tremendous hostility towards Jews in Europe, who were caught surprised were unprepared to stop the flow of lies.[16]

These developments raised a new consciousness among Jewish leaders, namely the idea that what happens to Jews in one place has an impact on Jews in other places, an idea that became a major driving force for Jewish internationalism. With Jewish emancipation debated in most of Europe, if the accusations were to be found right they would jeopardize the motion for their rights. Abigail Green argues that the new Jewish public sphere was engaged with anti-Semitic outbursts everywhere, thus cultivating an “international Jewry” imagined through the leadership of notables.[17] She demonstrates how Moses Montefiore, a British capitalist and philanthropist of Italian Sephardi origin, cultivated connections with diverse Jewish communities, Ashkenazi and Sephardi. Compared to other educated British Jews of his class, he was more conservative in his religious observance, which enabled him to become a nexus of religious and secular Jews. And finally, after making a fortune at a young age, he devoted five decades to humanitarian and political activity on behalf of Jews. He began by managing fundraising for diverse causes in Palestine, Damascus, Corfu, Morocco, Iran and Russia. These were followed by the creation of a Jewish public sphere through sophisticated press campaigns. His remarkable longevity contributed to his success with many years of activity, and to his rise to fame. His public stature helped consolidate a common Jewish international consciousness around his personality, as embodied by his centennial birthday celebrations in 1883-1884, which attracted unprecedented excitement in the Jewish world as well as outside it.[18]

Montefiore was the leading Jewish figure that secured the release of the defendants in the ritual murder trial.[19] Montefiore headed a Jewish delegation, accompanied by French Jewish attorney Adolphe Crémieux, after appeals to European governments failed. In Alexandria they obtained the release of the tortured prisoners from Muhammad Ali, the ruler of Egypt and Damascus. They continued to Constantinople where the Sultan issued a decree declaring the Blood Liable to be a fabrication.[20] Less successful was the fight against rising hostility towards Jews in the European press.[21]

The affair launched forty years of activity by Montefiore on behalf of foreign Jewry, one of the leading international Jewish philanthropist and political activist in the nineteenth century, gaining him an equal standing as the Rothschilds in Jewish folklore. In one popular Israeli song he is depicted as a savior of the Jews conducting endless journeys for the sake of his poor and persecuted brethren across Europe and the Middle East, featuring his original carriage in the accompanying clip, which is on display in Jerusalem in one of the neighborhoods named after him.[22] Montefiore acted, not always successfully, on behalf of un-emancipated Jews in Russia, Rome, Morocco, Romania and Palestine. Using the Imperial context and the humanitarian discourse in Britain, like the eradication of slavery, he succeeded in turning the Jewish minority’s collective rights into an object of British foreign policy, especially in Muslim countries. Addressing their coreligionist as a “shockingly impoverished minority”, backward and in need for help was a channel through which wealthy Jewish philanthropists could legitimize activity across borders and recruit non-Jewish support.[23] But the success of such campaigns backfired. They led to accusations that Jews control international politics and the press, and that they are enemies of the nation, two major themes of modern antisemitism.[24]

Abigail Greene has suggested the notion of a nineteenth century religious philanthropic internationalism to understand men like Montefiore. According to Green, religious philanthropic internationalism made use of new arguments of humanitarianism, and enabled inter-religious cooperation, which is demonstrated by Montefiore’s appeal and acceptance as a public figure beyond the Jewish world, locally, nationally and internationally.[25]

Aron Rodrigue has taken another approach, pointing to the fact that the 1840 delegation of Montefiore and Crémieux was more political and educational than religious. According to Rodrigue, the innovation of the delegation went beyond the use of press, the consolidation of a public opinion and secular Jewish solidarity.[26] He examined the reforms that they suggested to Jewish communities they encountered in the Middle East, which he claims are no less striking. In their meetings with local communities and leaders, both Montefiore and Crémieux stressed the importance of European education, and established the first modern Jewish schools in the Islamic world (in Cairo). These schools were closed soon after, but they mark the future stage of Jewish internationalism. Montefiore and Crémieux criticized traditional Jewish education, which was devoted to the study of Hebrew and the Talmud. They called for the study of local and European languages and adopted the ideology of productivization through new education (the preference of farming, handicraft and industrial production over trade).[27]

2. Institutionalization: Educational Internationalism as a Civilizing Mission

The program suggested by Montefiore and Crémieux to reform and secularize Jewish education was institutionalized with the establishment of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1860, the first international Jewish organization. It two was triggered by another anti-Semitic campaign in the French press, this time in 1858 around the forced baptism of a Jewish child in Bologna (Edgardo Levi Mortara) and his abduction by the Papal States. The incident stirred renewed calls for the creation of an organization that will fight for Jewish rights around the world, and Crémieux soon became its president. [28]

The Alliance’s mission was broadly defined as the amelioration of the political, economic and cultural conditions of the Jews throughout the world. However, this rather vague mission soon developed into a concrete and more narrowly focused program of education and a reformist philanthropy based on contemporary European liberal values.

In order to promote these goals the Alliance collected and disseminated detailed information about diverse Jewish communities, their socio-economic structure, cultural development and political status.[29] The Alliance was a project of new educated Jewish elites including attorneys, journalists, intellectuals, educators and the leadership of the French consistory, who cooperated with Jewish financiers and notables like Rothschild and Baron Maurice de Hirsch from Bavaria. The Internationalism of Alliance was liberal, promoting individual political rights for Jews through their integration into modern social groups and economies.

In its first 11 years, the Alliance was indeed a universal Jewish organization, which acted to promote Jews and their rights everywhere, even in developed European countries like Germany, where Jews did not yet obtain full equal rights. In 1865, for example, Rabbi Alzey of Rheinhessen suggested that schools should be founded with the help of the Alliance in the poor Jewish communities of Germany.[30] The Alliance was international in the sense that it was open to anyone paying fees (including non-Jews), and soon spread to other western Jewries with 349 local committees in 1880, only 56 of which in France. However, French Jews kept dominating the central committee in spite of their small population. The membership was differently spread. In 1885 it reached some 30,000 members, its size until WWI, with 40% being French.[31]

But its universal scope did not last long. The new elites that constituted it were simultaneously devoted to the integrationist project of incorporating Jews into their surrounding nations. The Alliance became linked to French imperialism in the Levant, assuming the educational program of spreading French culture. Its French tilt stirred friction between its membership, belonging to different Western European nationalities, like militant French and German patriots in its ranks during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Moreover, tensions between France and Germany surrounding the conflict made it publicly difficult for French Jews to act on behalf of their German coreligionists, something that was perceived as conflicting with the French national interest.

The Alliance was truly universal for 11 years, until its British members split and established their own Anglo-Jewish Association in 1871, due to conflicting national interests with a centralized organization located in Paris, as well as religious divisions between Reform and Orthodox Jews. They were followed by the Israelitische Allianz zu Wien in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1873, and eventually the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden in 1901. While English and Austro-Hungarian philanthropists were less active on the cultural sphere, the Hilfsverein challenged the educational domination of Alliance in the Islamic world (see below), and developed a competing educational project along the lines of spreading German culture. Their act concluded the disintegration of international Jewish philanthropy along national lines in the Great Powers of Europe.[32]

A similar dynamic can be traced in other leading Jewries. In America, the Alliance had little appeal to begin with, and in 1906 American Jews established the American Jewish Committee, and in 1914 the unified international philanthropic organization JDC (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), providing relief to eastern Europe and Palestine. The JDC quickly became the strongest Jewish international philanthropic organization, marking the demographic and economic ascent of American Jewry. WWI also serves as a watershed for Alliance, after which it became even less neutral and more “French”, with regular funding from the French foreign ministry.[33] And in Russia, liberal elites and magnates developed their own local philanthropic organization in 1905 (ORT – Russian acronym of “The Society for Handicraft and Agricultural Work among the Jews of Russia”), which became internationalized after World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution by Russian Jewish émigrés in Paris and Berlin. WWI also brought about the breakdown of its network and former geopolitical habitat with the new borders now dividing the territories of the Russian Empire in eastern Europe into the new Polish, Lithuanian and other nation states.[34]

While international Jewish philanthropy disintegrated into separate organizations, it was more successful in consolidating distinct “Western” Jewries in the various Great Powers of Europe and the US, which were active on behalf of “Eastern” Jewries. International philanthropy reshaped Jewish communities in France, Germany and other places by deepening their local national identity, and creating successful local cooperation in the parliament and press. These campaigns crossed ideological and religious divides, between Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and secular Jews, and in other places also between socialists and liberals. The constant flow of information about “exotic” Jewries like Iraq, created imageries of these ancient lands and shaped a Jewish vision of their past, which differed from Christians one. They also stressed the differences between educated European Jews and the “backward”, illiterate, persecuted Jews living in semi “barbaric” non-European countries. Hence, the philanthropic internationalism of aiding “eastern” communities was paradoxically both boosting a Jewish identity and Jewish solidarity across borders on the one hand (by identifying with the miseries of other Jews), while simultaneously cultivating a distinct European identity on the other hand, deepening the differentiation between European and other Jews. Since “east” and “west” were hierarchic code words that shaped a global Jew order, structuring the relations with “other” Jewries as a process in which non-Western Jews should aspire to become like their Western coreligionists, which were depicted as the pinnacle of progress.[35]

These cultural values were expresses by a second important development which is of our concern, namely the turn away from politics and towards education, which became the main project of Alliance. Initially, diplomacy was a central component of its vision. In its first decade the Alliance participated in the successful campaign for equal rights in Switzerland. Once achieved, the Alliance settled for legal formal equality, which did not necessarily lead to the decline of prejudice and discrimination. It refrained from any activity directed towards emancipated Jews, as is demonstrated by its passivity during the Dreifuss Affair and the violent outbursts that followed it. These were largely ignored while reports on antisemitism outside France continued as usual, showing that the Alliance refrained from using its methods of public and diplomatic intervention, which were applied elsewhere.[36]

Moreover, the Alliance failed to apply the strategies that it used in colonial Algeria to European states where Jews were not emancipated, like its continued attempts in Romania. In 1867 the secretary of the King of Romania explained to Crémieux that the Jews could not be granted citizenship because they were “a foreign element” and “hated by the populace”. They needed to prove themselves to be “Romanians” first. He suggested that the Alliance should concentrate on helping Romanian Jews to “renounce everything that distinguishes their outward appearance from the other inhabitants”. He used this familiar excuse for exclusion, to fend off the Alliance’s liberal rhetoric of “civilization”.[37] The Alliance and its supporters sought new strategies, like inserting clauses about Jewish rights into the commercial treaties of their governments with Romania, while promoting modern Jewish schooling and providing relief, but these had no effect on the increase of discriminatory legislations against Romanian Jews. Diplomacy reached its peak at the Constantinople Conference in 1876-7 and the Congress of Berlin in 1878, convened to discuss the Balkans, where the Alliance and others successfully lobbied for the inclusion of an article on Jewish equality. However, the considerations of the Great Powers were founded on imperial ambitions and realpolitik that shifted quickly, and the article remained a dead word. The campaign backfired, and without political support, the Alliance lost its prestige and became the target of attacks, increasingly losing the public sphere to anti-Semitic discourse.[38]

After this failure, the Alliance soon became absorbed by an educational project for the “regeneration” of Jews in the Muslim world. Like Montefiore, the mission was aimed at all un-emancipated Jews, including the majority of Jews living in Eastern Europe, but Russia prevented the intervention of Western Jews in its affairs. Muslim rulers were either indifferent or too week to resist the intervention of western powers, and the project got an orientalist twist. The Alliance’s golden age was 1880-1914, with schools in every major Jewish center from Morocco to Iran, and a total of 183 in 1913.

An example of the philanthropic education of Alliance was its model school in Palestine, Mikveh Yisrael or Israel, established in 1870. Mikveh Israel reflects the ideology of “productivization” – “the transfer of Jews from their traditional mercantile and financial occupations into agriculture and handicraft”.[39] The agricultural school was regarded as its most important vocational training school. According to Derek Penslar, the school was designed for the moral improvement of its pupils, and was shaped by its educational objectives, more than any practical consideration it might have on the Jews of Palestine. The school failed miserably in creating Jewish farmers, and helping its pupils integrate in the local agricultural workforce. It was more successful as an experimental farm that introduced innovations into Palestinian agriculture.[40]

According to this model, emancipated Jews helped other Jews to join the civilized world and to promote their emancipation. The striking thing about this model was that it was Western Jews, not the states in which North African and Middle Eastern Jews lived, which assumed this role, although they had little effect on their political status. French Jews transferred their internal program of emancipation to Jews abroad. As those who’s emancipation was most advanced, they set the agenda, and were joined by other emancipated Jewries in England, Germany and Italy. However, outside Europe in Muslim countries the Alliance did not pursue legal equality with the Muslim majority but rather strove to replace their discrimination with privileges by granting them the protection of European powers and subordinating them to European legal norms, a step that improved their legal status but increased their separation from their environment. This is demonstrated, for example, by the Alliance’s attempts to include Tunisian Jews as “Europeans” even before the French conquest, as was eventually done by Crémieux, now French Minister of Justice.[41]

The alliance mobilized Jews in local communities in the Maghreb and the Middle East to promote secular education. However, it constructed Jewish internationalism between “western” and “eastern” Jewries in the context of a “civilizing mission”. Since emancipation was at the center of this program, antisemitism was only a subtext, motivating emancipated Jews to demonstrate their enthusiasm and commitment to progress by spreading it to “backward” Jews abroad, thus safeguarding their status at home. In spite of its civic language, the endeavor was philanthropic.

Like the Rothschields before, the succes of the Alliance attracted the attention of antisemites. In 1882 the first International anti-Semitic congress convened in Dresden, primarily by Germans and Hungarians, with some Austrians and Russians. Though these groups were spurred by local reasons, according to Jacob Katz they “presented their ideas as relating to the life of all European Christian countries”. They sought to “demonstrate the universal character of this movement. The idea of the international anti-Semitic congress emerged” by “portraying Jews as a danger to all civilized nations”.[42]

The congress established the Alliance Antijuive Universelle, alluding deliberately to the Alliance Israelite Universelle. It depicted the Alliance Israelite as an instrument of Jewish world domination, one of the congress’s leading ideas, which would become increasingly popular in the 20th century. The second congress, convened in 1883 with additional delegates from Rumania, Serbia and France, was ideologically divided, failing to institutionalize an international anti-Semitic movement. Organized political anti-Semitism was much more successful on the national level.

The congress demonstrates that international political antisemitism preceded Jewish political internationalism by 15 years, though much less successfully. This brings me to the third and last model in my typology – Political internationalism. I will focus here on Zionism, but there were other kinds of Jewish Political internationalism, like ITO (Jewish Territorialist Organization, established in 1903). In contrast to anti-Semitism, Jewish nationalism was international.

3. Political Internationalism: Nationalism and Democracy

Like previous types of Jewish internationalism, Zionism was a direct response to antisemitism, in this case the rise of political antisemitism in the late 19th century. Most famously it was the Dreyfus Affair of 1894-1895 in Paris, where the National Assembly was discussing whether the Jews are taking over the French government, and the election of the populist anti-Semite Karl Lueger as mayor of Vienna, which led Theodore Herzl, Journalist and playwright, to establish the Zionist Organization in Basel in 1897. Zionism was a disillusionment from the project of emancipation. It adopted the principles of self-determination, and adapted them to Jewish circumstances and culture. The Zionist Organization had deep cultural roots in Jewish thought, as well as in European political thought, attracting intellectuals, politicians, artists, technocrats, rabbis, and entrepreneurs, as well as ordinary men and women. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, when European Jewry was in dire distress, it attracted a mass membership of half a million to a million adults.

According to Shlomo Avinery, the essence of the Zionist Organization that Herzl formed, its biggest innovation and the key to its success was “the revival of Jewish public sphere”. In 1895, after an epiphany triggered by the display of crude anti-Semitism in Paris, Herzl met dozens of people to discuss his new idea of a Jewish state, and to form a political plan. These discussions yielded his pamphlet Der Judenstaat (the Jewish State), less than a hundred page long, published in 1896. It attracted immediate public interest and was translated into several languages thanks to its broad scope. Unlike emancipation, grounded on individual rights since the French revolution, Herzl rested on the supposition that Jews were one nation, however dispersed and diverse. Their group rights would be secured by a nation state. At the center of his formulation was the issue of Jewish policy.[43]

Herzl’s book harshly criticized the previous models of Jewish internationalism, namely philanthropy and humanitarianism, as well as traditional rabbinic leadership, for failing to address the core issue of “the Jewish Question”, which according to him required a political solution. He saw “productivization” and the vision of creating Jewish farmers as completely unsuitable, in light of the fact that Jews were essentially members of the middle class, and that in any event the peasantry would disappear with the progress of economic modernization. Instead he offered a modern state outside Europe that would liberate Jews from the modern internalized version of the Ghetto they were living in, as equal but socially rejected and despised citizens.

Similar ideas emerged irrespectively of Herzl in different European spaces. One example is the Russian Zionist and Doctor Leon Pinsker, of which Herzl was unaware. Pinsker’s pamphlet Autoemancipation! was also published in German, in 1882. Subtitled “A Warning to his kinsfolk by a Russian”, it was an outraged manifest using clinical language.[44] Herzl read it a few days before the publication of The Jewish State, and agreed with its content. As a Doctor of Law, the subtitle of Herzl’s practical plan was more political and rational, “Proposal of a modern solution for the Jewish question”.

Herzl’s plan was to organize a mass migration of Jews into a single territory with standing international law. The problem in realizing it was the lack of a recognized public Jewish authority. It was necessary to establish a public organization that could act in the name of the Jewish people. The multiple existing communal, religious and cultural Jewish organizations could not represent a global national entity. Herzl offered a preliminary plan for institutions, based on British law. It involved a Society, a Company and a Charter (international recognition). The company was the colonizing agent, and the society was the Jewish polity. Designated to be a political and not just a voluntary philanthropic organization, Herzl discussed the question of sovereignty or gestor according to Roman Law. The Society of the Jews would be the legal representative acting on behalf of the Jews in their territory, wherever it may be. He stresses that the foundation of a state was not the territory but the nation. He therefore discussed its constitution and the future regime. Herzl opted for an aristocratic republic, since the best option in his mind – a constitutional monarchy – was not possible without a historically famous Jewish family. Like Montesquieu he considered unrestrained democracy as too populist and unstable.[45]

The reception of Herzl’s pamphlet was quite remarkable, considering its legal debates. Published in February 1896, The Jewish State turned Herzl from a journalist into a political leader overnight. Four months later he already met the Ottoman Sultan, along other political European figures, in spite of the fact that he had no institutional support and no mandate. Until his early death in 1904 he conducted conventional Jewish diplomacy of pursuing a foreign policy through a powerful state. The difference from his predecessors was in the moral and legal foundation he rested on. A group of supports that consolidated around him convened an all-Zionist meeting. After deliberations and warnings to keep the event secret, Herzl decided for a public congress, which convened in Basel in 1897. It was part of a larger trend of national and international congresses which flourished at the time. Although he initially opposed it, and thought he could rely on Jewish magnate, the Zionist Organization was formed as a parliamentary democracy, which eventually became the political system of the State of Israel established in 1948.[46] The new structure immediately began to transform internal relations between previously existing Zionist organizations. For example in Russia, a new type of middle class activists with academic education came to the fore, threatening to push aside the previous leadership of wealthy men, Rabbis and secular intellectuals grounded in rabbinic schooling, like Ahad Ha’am mentioned here.[47]

The first Zionist Congress was not a very impressive event, with only 69 representatives of organizations that can be termed “Zionist”, and about a hundred invited guests. The congress was far from representing the entire Jewish people or even most of it. Still, Herzl considered it a Constituent Assembly because it was the first concrete step towards creating a Jewish polity. Aware of the meekness of the new institution, he famously concluded its first meeting in his diary, “at Basel I founded the Jewish state”, estimating that if not in five than surely in fifty years everyone will acknowledge it.[48]

If we analyze the international aspect of Herzl’s plan and actions, it was both internal and external. Externally, his diplomacy was directed towards gaining international political and legal recognition for the colonization of a territory, preferably Palestine, from the Great Powers, which was eventually achieved. Internally, the Zionist Organization created a democratic infrastructure for the international consolidation of a political and legal national Jewish entity. It was perceived as “international” by Jewish reviewers.[49] As an international movement of national liberation the international dimension of Zionism was dual. Yaron Tsur has rightly argued that the meaning of diaspora nationalism in the Zionist case goes beyond the definition of Ernst Gelner and Anthony Smith, as a national movement that operated in complex geopolitical contexts of multiple empires and nation states. The question of Zionism also rests on the internal integration of the different parts of the Jewish diaspora, with an extremely diverse population spread across various parts of the world.[50]

Surely, opposition to his actions was strong among competing Jewish ideologies, liberal, religious, socialist as well as other kinds of Jewish nationalists. One direct response to the first Zionist Congress was the idea of Jewish autonomism by Simon Dubnow, which developed a different vision of Jewish parliament within a multinational state as a modern revival of traditional Jewish communal institutions that were abolished by modern states.[51] At the same time, these ideologies were also incorporated into Zionism, as different strands. In fact, Zionism was a very broad term, with multiple interpretations, which were became a part of the State of Israel. One interpretation already mentioned here was Ahad Ha’am’s idea of a national Hebrew cultural movement, which could be detached from politics.[52] There were also alternative political variation, like the one opted by Polish Zionists in independent Poland, who adopted the idea of a national Jewish autonomy within the nation states, under the protection of the League of Nations.[53]

In his typology, Samuel Moyn has followed historian Salo Baron, considering the next phase of Jewish Internationalism after the Alliance to be the “quantum leap at the Versailles conference” in 1919 and the creation of a supranational authority after WWI. In Versailles and the League of Nations, Lucien Wolf and the Comité des délégations juives (a new body representing various Jewish organizations) created a minorities regime intended to protect East European Jews living under fragile new sovereigns. The League of Nations was a new geopolitical entity, the first try at international organization above the state. It provided a new international regime through which Jews could harmonize their interests abroad with the humanitarian policies of their states, seeking to protect collective minority rights, in the tradition of the nineteenth-century, in new ways. This system failed miserably with its suspension by Poland, and was abused by Adolph Hitler in the name of German minority rights in the east.[54]

I would like to suggest here a different view, according to which a parallel path of Jewish internationalism emerged in 1897. The two kinds could perhaps be distinguished as integrationist and national internationalism. On the one hand, Jewish citizens of European powers and the US continued to develop their Jewish internationalism together with an active membership in their states and societies. To these we can perhaps add Jewish socialists, communists and anarchists that were active in the creation of an alternative world order, while being passionate Jews and even patriots of their nations. It remains to see how Jewish internationalism operated within and interacted with socialist internationalism.

On the other hand, Zionism marks a new kind of political internationalism that does not rest solely on the external geopolitical sphere. Built on a principals of national liberation Zionism restored and developed the initial political dimension of the Alliance’s mission by creating a democratic polity. It applied new nationalist and democratic agendas that began to shape the political space in the late 19th century in central and eastern Europe, marking the weakening of multiethnic empires. We need not exaggerate the democratic nature of the ZO, which had many philanthropic aspects, similar to its humanitarian alternative, as well as other similarities that can be found between the two, like an appeal to notables. Nevertheless, it gradually developed its political and democratic features, especially after it gained the patronage of the British Empire and its mandate in Palestine.

To briefly point some of Zionism’s institutional innovations. First, it was political. Second, it was a democratic congress.[55] These two constructed a utopian vision of the Jewish diaspora as a single political nation, a fact which caused continued internal friction. Third, most of its membership was east European and after WWI they dominated the organization, followed numerically by central Europeans and a few western and Sephardi Jews.[56] And fourth, in 1917 it gained international political status with the Balfour Declaration, which was confirmed in 1920 and 1922 in the framework of a mandate from the League of Nations. This act transformed it from a free (and powerless) international association into an official element in the British Empire. This status could have easily been revoked, and had little practical bearings on the Government of Palestine. But it transformed the organization internally, by granting it small measures of sovereignty – primarily through partial control over Jewish immigration to Palestine and the allocation of public funding.


One could argue that antisemitism and Jewish internationalism were caught in a destructive cycle. Antisemitism was a key factor in crystalizing the three types of nineteenth century Jewish internationalism surveyed here, but other factors shaped them internally. In the 20th century a sort of a dialectic relationship developed between the Nazi use of the image of the “International Jew” and the one that Jewish actors did.

This is not to say that anti-Semitism was the only drive for Jewish internationalism. Certainly, modernization, modern communication and transportation, social and ideological changes had a deep, perhaps even more important, impact on transforming Jewish life across the modern world.[57] However, it would seem safe to say that anti-Semitism was a major force behind these transformative moments of collective action, which reshape modern Jewish societies.

To sum up, until WWI Jewish internationals developed through the process of modernizations and interaction with anti-Semitism, from notables, to the new bourgeoisie and academic professionals, and finally including the wider public in a democratic sphere. WWI was a watershed for Jewish internationalism, which created new states and borders. The beginning of the 20th century brought a new understanding of Jewish Internationalism as securing Jewish rights in each state through an international institution that would counterbalance European sovereign states and their policies towards Jews. The creation of the League of Nations after WWI launched a new supranational sphere, in which Jewish internationals could promote Jewish interests and interact with anti-Semitic policies, but this opens an entirely new chapter in the history of Jewish internationalism.

[1] For a general overview see, Salo Baron’s early work, Social and Religious History of the Jews, New York 1937, Vol. 2, pp. 316-325

[2] The idea of a Jewish internationalism or cosmopolitanism is a central modern anti-Jewish notion, which conceives the Jewish people as inherently international. This notion dates well before the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in 1903. It appeared already in the debates around Jewish emancipation in the first half of the nineteenth century, targeting other religious minorities as well. Abigail Green, “Nationalism and the ‘Jewish International’: Religious Internationalism in Europe and the Middle East c. 1840-c. 1880” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 50/2 (2008), pp. 535-537

[3] Yehuda Gotthelf, Leumiyut Vebeyn-Leumiyut (Nationalism and Internationalism), Tel Aviv 1974, p. 17

[4] Ibid, pp. 7-19

[5] Madeleine Herren, “Governmental Internationalism and the beginning of a New World Orderin the Late Nineteenth Century”, in: Martin Geyer and Johannes Paulmann (eds.), The Mechanics of Internationalism, Oxford 2001, p. 125

[6] Ibid, pp. 121-122

[7] Tomohito Baji, “Zionist Internationalism? Alfred Zimmern’s Post-Racial Commonwealth” Modern Intellectual History  (2016 [first view, online]), p. 26

[8] Ibid, p. 25

[9] Samuel Moyn, “René Cassin, Human Rights, and Jewish Internationalism”, in: Jacques Picard et al. (eds.), Makers of Jewish Modernity: Thinkers, Artists, Leaders, and the World They Made, (forthcoming). Moyn regards both notables and modern institutional organizations as one kind that rests on the same intellectual and geopolitical perspective, but I think it is important to distinguish between the two, which often cooperated, because of their distinct social aspects.

[10] For an example of the view that Jews are a sub-culture of their cultural and social environment see, David Biale, “Preface: Toward a Cultural History of the Jews”, in: idem (ed.), Cultures of the Jews, New York 2002, Vol. 1, p. xix

[11] Moyn, “Cassin”

[12] On the ideological debates revolving around the historiography of Jewish internationalism, see for example Michael Graetz, “Hahitargenut Haklal Yehudit: Iyun Mehadash” (Universal Jewish Organization: A Reevaluation), in: Israel Bartal (ed.), Kehal Yisrael: Hashilton Haatsmi Hayehudi Ledorotav (Jewish Self-Rule through the Ages), Jerusalem 2004, Vol. 3, pp. 211-222.

[13] Avineri also claims that the arguments used by shtadlanim in the campaign were modern, combining an appeal to royal and Christian mercy and to the benefit of the state and mercantilist interests. His argument requires a broader comparative and empiric perspective for further substantiation. Shlomo Avineri, “Medinaut belo Medina: Truma Yehudit Lahistoria Ha-politit?” (Policy without a State: A Jewish Contribution to Political History?), in: Hana Amit, Aviad Hacohen and Haim Beer (eds.), Minha Lemenahem: Kovets Maamarim Lihvod Harav Menahem Hacohen (A Collection of Essays in honor of Rabbi Menachem Hacohen), Bene Brak 2007, pp. 269-283

[14] An interesting interlude was the Congress of Vienna, which also discussed Jewish emancipation. Baron, Social and Religious History of the Jews, p. 320

[15] For the most comprehensive study of the affair see, Jonathan Frankel, The Damascus Affair: “Ritual Murder”, Politics, and the Jews in 1840, Cambridge 1997

[16] Frankel, The Damascus Affair, pp. 77-97

[17] Green, “Nationalism and the ‘Jewish International’”, pp. 535-558

[18] Idem, “Sir Moses Montefiore and the making of the ‘Jewish International’”, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, 7/3, (2008) 287-307; Idem, “Rethinking Sir Moses Montefiore: Religion, Nationhood, and International Philanthropy in the Nineteenth Century”, American Historical Review 110/3 (2005) 631-658

[19] The Rothschild family was also instrumental in obtaining documents from the Austrian consul in Damascus and publishing them in the press, acting primarily behind the scenes.

[20] The appeal to the Sultan was part of the campaign to include Jews in the Tanzimat reform embarked on 1839 which would ultimately grant loyal non-Muslims equal rights. Aron Rodrigue, French Jews, Turkish Jews: The Alliance Israelite Universelle and the Politics of Jewish Schooling in Turkey 1860-1925, Bloomington 1990, pp. 18-21

[21] Frankel, The Damascus Affair, p. 159

[22] The lyrics were written by Haim Hefer (1925-2012), the song was performed in 1971 by popular singer Yehoram Gaon. The carriage is on display in Yemin Moshe neighborhood, one of the neighborhoods built with the aid of Montefiore outside the old city walls in Jerusalem.

[23] Abigail Green, Mosses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero, Cambridge 2010, pp. 88-89, 138, 268-270 and more

[24] Avineri, “Policy without a State”, p. 277

[25] Green, “Rethinking Sir Moses Montefiore”, pp. 631-658

[26] Avineri, “Policy without a State”; Frankel, The Damascus Affair

[27] Rodrigue, French Jews, Turkish Jews, pp. 12-16. On Jews and the discourse of productivity in Late Modern Europe see for example, Shmuel Almog, “Produktivizatsia, Proletarizatsia Ve-avoda Ivrit” (Productivization, Proletarization and Hebrew Labor), in: idem, Leumiyut, Tsiyonut, Antishemiyut: Masot Umehkarim (Nationalism, Zionism and Anti-Semitism: Essays and Studies), Jerusalem 1992, pp. 139-168.

[28] Smaller organizations like the society for the settlement of Palestine established by Dr. Haim Lurie from Frankfurt am Oder in 1860-1864 were less successful at this stage. Abraham Malamat, Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson et al. (eds.), A History of the Jewish People, London 1976, p. 893

[29] Eli Bar-Chen, “Two communities with a sense of mission : the Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden”, Jewish Emancipation Reconsidered (2003) pp. 111-121

[30] Zosa Szajkowski, “Conflicts in the Alliance Israelite and the Founding of the Anglo-Jewish Association, the Vienna Allianz, and the Hilfsverein”, Jewish Social Studies 19 (1957) p. 33

[31] Bar-Chen, Eli Bar-Chen, Lemaan Ahai Vereai?  (For My Brother’s Sake?), Dissertation, Tel Aviv University 2002, pp. 60-61

[32] Szajkowski, “Conflicts in the Alliance”, pp. 29-50

[33] Rodrigue, French Jews, Turkish Jews, pp. 28-30

[34] On the international period of ORT see, Alexander Ivanov, “From Charity to Productive Labour: The World ORT Union and Jewish Agricultural Colonization in the Soviet Union, 1923-38”, East European Jewish Affairs, 37/1 (2007) 1-28

[35] Bar-Chen, “The Alliance and the Hilfsverein”

[36] La Ligue de Droit de l’Homme which was formed to combat antisemitism gained little support. Bar-Chen, For My Brother’s Sake?, p. 32-41

[37] Lisa Leff, Sacred Bonds of Solidarity: The Rise of Jewish Internationalism in Nineteenth-Century France, Stanford 2006, pp. 183-198, quote from p. 189

[38] Ibid

[39] Derek Penslar, Zionism and Technocracy: The Engineering of Jewish Settlement of Palestine, 1897-1918, Bloomington 1991, p. 15

[40] Ibid, pp. 13-23

[41] Bar-Chen, For My Brother’s Sake?, p. 41-48

[42] Jacob Katz, From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933, Cambridge 1980, pp. 279-280. See also Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, London 1988, pp. 98-99

[43] Shlomo Avineri, Herzl’s Vision: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State, New York 2014, pp. 114-140

[44] David Vital, The Origins of Zionism, Oxford 1975, pp. 122-132

[45] Avineri, Herzl, p. 129

[46] On the deliberation whether to convene a congress or not and the circles that preceded Herzl and promoted it see, Alexander Bein, “Gilgulei Haraayon shel Kongress Tsiyoni” (The Development of the idea of a Zionist Congress), World Congress of Jewish Studies, Vol. 1 (1947) 469-476

[47] Yossi Goldstein, “Maarehet Hayahasim bein Havaad Haodisai lebein Hatnua Hatsiyonit Harusit Veherzl” (Relashion between the Odessa Committee, the Russian Zionist Movement and Herzl), Zionism, Vol. 10 (1985) 33-52

[48] Avineri, Herzl, p. 141

[49] See for example its reception by Nahum Sokolow, the leading Polish Zionist figure of the time. François Guesnet, “The First Interview”, in: Heiko Huumann (ed.), The First Zionist Congress in 1897: Causes, Significance, Topicality, Basel 1997, p. 155

[50] Yaron Tsur, “Leumiyut Pzura Vemashberim Hamurim Batfutsot” (Diaspora Nationalism and Severe Crises), in: Yechiam Weitz (ed.), Bein Hazon Lerevizia: Mea Shnot Historiografia Tsionit (Between Vision and Revision: A hundred years of Jewish Historiography), Jerusalem 1997, pp. 177-178

[51] Israel Bartal, “‘Tahlif Lamemshala, Lamedina Velaezrahut’: Shimon Dubnov Vehashilton Hayehudi Haatsmi” (‘An alternative to the Government, to the State and to Citizenship’: Simon Dubnow and Jewish Self Rule”, in: Jewish Self-Rule, Vol. 3, pp. 223-232, esp. 29

[52] Vital, The Origins of Zionism, p. 187-200; Anita Shapira, Israel: A History, Waltham 2012, 54-62

[53] David Engel, “Citizenship in the conceptual world of Polish Zionists”, Journal of Israeli History, 27/2 (2008) 191-199

[54] According to Moyn, individual “human rights”, as protected by a supranational institution, was a later development after WWII and the Holocaust, within the UN. Moyn, “Cassin”. Baron, Social and Religious History of the Jews, p. 321-325

[55] In the Alliance, for comparison, the democratization of election in 1910 led to their suspension a year after and further splitting. Szajkowski, pp. 43-46.

[56] It was established in central Europe due to restrictions on the institutionalization of previous Zionist actors in the Russian Empire.

[57] See for example, Graetz, “Universal Jewish Organization”.

Cite as: “Rony Yona, Anti-Semitism and the emergence of Jewish Internationalism, 1840-1914, in: Nineteenth-Century Anti-Semitism in International Perspective – Open Peer Review, 16.12.2016,


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