Arthur Koestler’s Zionist recruiters used anti-Semitic ideas

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In his memoir, Arrow in the Blue (1952), Arthur Koestler says he learned about Zionism, to which he became a devoted adherent for many years, in 1922 when he was 17 and arrived at a Viennese technical university. There he was recruited to join a Zionist fraternity called Unitas. He relates the following encounter from a night of drinking and dueling:

At some point during the unofficial part of the proceedings, Hahn and Attila, both of whom were to become my intimate friends, involved me in a political conversation. Attila started by asking what I thought of Zionism. I answered truthfully that I had never thought about it and hardly knew what the word meant. It meant, in substance, explained Attila, that the Jews had been persecuted during some twenty centuries and that there was no reason to expect they would not be persecuted in the twenty-first. To argue with anti-Semites was all the more hopeless as the Jews were in fact a sick race. They were a nation without a country, which was like being a man without a shadow; and they were socially top-heavy, with a disproportionately great number of lawyers, merchants, intellectuals, and with no farmers or peasants–which was like a pyramid standing on its top. The only cure was: return to the earth. If Jews wanted to be like other people, they must have a country like other people and a social structure like other people. That was all there was to it, and there was no other way.

This seemed so simple and obvious that I wondered why I had not thought of it myself. But then, I had never been personally victimized or bothered by anti-Semitism, and had always regarded the so-called “Jewish Question” as the same kind of boring and remote subject as Municipal Autonomy or the War of the Spanish Succession.

Koestler relates that Attila’s real name was  Jacob Teller; he became a dentist in Tiberias. Hahn became a surgeon in Tel Aviv.

I just started reading Koestler (1905-1983) and understand that this is a tiny portion of his writings on Zionism. He moved to Palestine for several years, and wrote a lot on the subject. I’ll keep you posted as the story unfolds. Thanks to Theodore Sayeed.

P.S. Note that Jack Ross regularly sounds this idea: that Zionism entails self-hatred.

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