A party for Jewry’s phantom limb

Middle East
on 16 Comments

Sunday, October 22, 2017, a party was thrown to celebrate the 120th Anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Worker’s Bund of Russia, Poland and Lithuania, sponsored by YIVO Institute for Jewish Research at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan.

News of this YIVO event at the CJH provoked a campaign to stop it before it occurred. This outraged article and its comments, “Why is the Center for Jewish History celebrating anti-Zionism?”, gives a great sense of the Bundist and political Zionist stances on the place of Jews in the world.

The American Jewish Historical Society recently succumbed to pressure from right-wing Israel backers and cancelled two events on Israel/Palestine. The same forces are calling for the firing of CJH executive director David N. Myers.

The panel discussions were not focused on Israel, but it is clear why reviving this part of 20th century Jewish history triggered Zionist alarm. The Bund’s ideals of a secular Jewish identity, worker solidarity across the line of Jew and non-Jew, and respect for the Yiddish language, directly competed with the Palestine-focused, Hebrew-elevating model of Jewish development.

In the wholesale cruelty and degradation of the Shoah, a Jewish political power that sought Jewish rights in harmony with elevation of the rights of other victims of injustice and sought brotherhood of the oppressed, was gutted in the catastrophe to the Yiddish population of the world.

Palestine’s future was also affected. A phantom limb of world Jewry was missing at the time of the crisis at the end of the British Palestine mandate — the mass of non-Zionist Yiddish-speaking social democrats of the Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland.

The Bund in the interwar 1920-39 period provided a model of secular Jewish identity without separatism. As a successful Jewish political party in Poland, the Bund demonstrated effective Jewish participation in a multiethnic state. It demonstrated the Bund principle of Doikayt, “hereness,” working in the society in which one lives, rather than toward the religious other world, or toward a Jewish state.

Bundism favored cultural autonomy for national groups that would work together in modern states like Poland that contained distinct nationalities, rather than conceiving of a country as a monolith of one national group.

The Bund fought the idea Jews were “foreigners” in Europe, and felt that the Jewish homeland project played into that idea. As Jewish settlement in Palestine proceeded, the Bund favored a cooperative Jewish-Arab state. It found Zionism to be a nationalist ideology like the nationalisms it fought in Russia, Poland, and Lithuania.

Many people in the audience and panels had gone to Bundist camps in the United States and Australia and were third or fourth generation Bundists. One highlight was a pickup chorus of Yiddish Bundist songs, culminating with the anthem, Di Shvue/The Oath, which does not particularize to Jews the fight for economic and social justice:

Brothers and sisters of poverty and toil

who are scattered far and wide. Rally together!

Our flag is at the ready, red with blood, it waves with anger.

Heaven and earth will hear us, and the stars will bear witness.

An oath of blood, an oath of tears: we swear!

About Abba Solomon

Abba A. Solomon is the author of “The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein's Speech ‘The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews.’” His website is abbasolomon.com

Other posts by .


Posted In:

16 Responses

  1. Keith
    October 24, 2017, 5:28 pm

    ABBA SOLOMON- “In the wholesale cruelty and degradation of the Shoah, a Jewish political power that sought Jewish rights in harmony with elevation of the rights of other victims of injustice and sought brotherhood of the oppressed, was gutted in the catastrophe to the Yiddish population of the world.”

    What must be kept in mind is that the Holocaust essentially eliminated millions of Jews who were opposed to Zionism. The Zionists were a relatively small, elite supported minority among Jews prior to World War II who had difficulty recruiting Jews to immigrate to Palestine. The notion of 2000 years of Jewish longing to “return” to the sacred soil of Israel is Zionist ideology, nothing more. The current popularity of Zionism among Jews is a consequence of the dramatic increase in Zionist power since WWII, particularly after 1967.

    • DaBakr
      October 27, 2017, 2:12 am

      @k

      prooving what? That it takes the annihilation of half your people for some to grasp reality.

      • Keith
        October 29, 2017, 4:08 pm

        DABAKR- “prooving what?”

        Demonstrating that Zionism was not a response to a mass desire among Jews to return to the physical manifestation of the metaphysical land of Israel, rather, it was/is an attempt to recreate Jewish tribalism on a secular basis. Demonstrating that Zionism was sufficiently unpopular that to be viable it required the skillful exploitation of the Holocaust by the Zionists who valued tribalism above Jewish lives. It also shows how fragile the prospects for Zionism were that the Zionists couldn’t put Palestine on hold for 15 to 20 years in order to rescue Jews. So much for the mythical 2000 years of Jewish longing to return to their mythical homeland. Prior to the Holocaust, the Zionist had difficulty recruiting Jews to make aliyah. And that the Zionists were well aware that Nazi persecution of Jews enhanced their chances for success. If Herzl was the father of Zionism, then Hitler was the midwife who assisted in the birth of Israel.

        As for Zionist exploitation of the Holocaust, it takes real talent to miss it, and a ton of chutzpah to deny it. A quote for you: “From a purely instrumental standpoint, the Shoah proved the greatest asset ever acquired by Zionism, one seduously cultivated over the Years.” (p66, “Overcoming Zionism,” Joel Kovel) Also, “Although many Jews were initially opposed to the creation of Israel, the Zionists were able to use the Hitler tragedy to obliterate anti-Zionist opposition and non-Zionist indifference in capturing every aspect of organized Jewish life.” (P206, “The Zionist Connection II,” Alfred M. Lilienthal). See also, The “Holocaust Industry,” by Norman Finkelstein.

        DABAKR- ” That it takes the annihilation of half your people for some to grasp reality.”

        You need to grasp the reality that Israel was not a realistic refuge for Jews then or now, and was never intended to be. Rather, Israel and Zionism utilize the Holocaust to turn back the clock to a form of medieval tribalism in modern, multicultural form (kinship), where Zionist Jews view all non-Jews as the hostile “other,” irrational anti-Semites. This is the basis for Zionist power-seeking and tribal exclusiveness.

      • Nathan
        October 29, 2017, 9:55 pm

        Keith – Although it seems to be common knowledge that the Holocaust is the main factor behind the rise of Israel, actually the historic truth is the exact opposite: DESPITE the Holocaust, the Jews succeeded in founding their state.

        You quite often bring up the issue of the supposed exploitation of the Holocaust in the struggle for the hearts of the Jews. You quote anti-Zionist authors in order to “prove” that this is the factor “in capturing every aspect of organized Jewish life”. However, you should note that indeed the masses of Jews throughout the world understood that the founding of a Jewish state is an urgent need. You might not agree with this conclusion, but this is not about you. Many, many Jews who had opposed Zionism (or who had never given the matter a moment’s thought) suddenly supported the idea of founding a Jewish state.

        Let’s assume for argument’s sake that your perspective of events is correct, and that Zionists exploited the tragedy in order to win the propaganda war. Well, so what? The Holocaust was a very recent gigantic event, and it shouldn’t be strange to you that its perceived significance is a central part of the debate.

        Finally, you raise the issue of rescuing Jews during the Holocaust. Again, I would like to point out the historic reality of those terrible years. Although there is always room for criticism regarding the action or inaction of the Jews in Palestine and in America, still it must be stated that it was absolutely impossible to save the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust. In your “criticism”, you state that Zionism was unpopular (i.e. it included just an insignificant minority of Jewry with “fragile prospects”), but then you have expectations that the Zionists should have rescued Jews (i.e. they had the potential of dealing with powerful Germany). You have the Zionists as insignificant in order to prove that the Jews rejected their message, but then you have them as strong in order to prove that they are bad people. It’s just propaganda.

        And speaking of propaganda, the “mythical homeland” is also just propaganda. There is no doubt that Jewish history begins in the Land of Israel. There is no doubt that the geographic setting of the ancient Hebrew literature is in that country. This is not mythology or legend. Surely, as an anti-Zionist, you can argue that these facts are irrelevant in your eyes – but presenting them as mythology is simply untrue.

      • Keith
        October 30, 2017, 12:58 am

        NATHAN- “Keith – Although it seems to be common knowledge that the Holocaust is the main factor behind the rise of Israel, actually the historic truth is the exact opposite: DESPITE the Holocaust, the Jews succeeded in founding their state.”

        Without the Holocaust, it is highly unlikely that Israel would have been created as a Jewish state. The lack of support among the Jewish masses was overwhelming as evidenced by the lack of immigrants to Palestine. That you deny this indicates that you are a Zionist fundamentalist, nothing more.

        NATHAN- “However, you should note that indeed the masses of Jews throughout the world understood that the founding of a Jewish state is an urgent need.”

        Strange that they should have not sought to immigrate to Israel even after the Holocaust and had to be coerced into doing so. Doesn’t it bother you to piss on your intellectual integrity?

        NATHAN- “Many, many Jews who had opposed Zionism (or who had never given the matter a moment’s thought) suddenly supported the idea of founding a Jewish state.”

        After the Holocaust, Nathan, after the Holocaust. And after the Zionist exploitation of the Holocaust. This is the reality, deal with it.

        NATHAN- “Let’s assume for argument’s sake that your perspective of events is correct, and that Zionists exploited the tragedy in order to win the propaganda war. Well, so what?”

        So what? Jewish DPs were coerced into immigrating to Israel and Diaspora Jews were seduced into supporting a retrograde colonial project which permitted a retrograde return to Jewish tribalism, and you say “so what?” Zionism, among other things, has caused an enlightened Judaism to be abandoned in favor of a retrograde blood and soil secular version of medieval Judaism, and you say “so what?” Of course, the Palestinians not being Jews don’t count.

        NATHAN- “And speaking of propaganda, the “mythical homeland” is also just propaganda.”

        No it is not! Ashkenazi Jews are converts who have no physical connection to the land. The Diaspora is mostly a mythology. The Jewish elites may have been driven out of Israel way back when, but the majority of Jewish peasants (back when Jews were peasants) were not. Instead, they (opportunistically?) converted to Islam and lived in Palestine for centuries until Eastern European Jewish converts invaded their land. That is the reality, Nathan, deal with it.

      • eljay
        October 30, 2017, 1:41 pm

        || Nathan: … And speaking of propaganda, the “mythical homeland” is also just propaganda. … ||

        As is the Zionist notion that geographic Palestine is the (ancient / historic / eternal / one true) homeland of every person in the world who chooses to be/come Jewish.

      • Keith
        October 30, 2017, 4:18 pm

        NATHAN- “You have the Zionists as insignificant in order to prove that the Jews rejected their message, but then you have them as strong in order to prove that they are bad people. It’s just propaganda.”

        I never said that the Zionists were weak or insignificant. They were elites who wielded considerable influence among their fellow Jewish elites. Influence which worked against rescue efforts. Had they put the conquest of Palestine on hold during the Hitler years and concentrated on rescue efforts, many thousands of Jewish lives would likely have been saved. How many? Pure speculation, however, at the least, the bulk of the 800,000 Hungarian Jews which Zionist Dr. Rudold Kastner traded away for the “rescue” of about 1700 Zionist elite Jews. Perhaps several hundred thousand. Perhaps more. The bulk of the 6 million were likely doomed in any event, as were well over 20 million Soviets.

        As far as exploitation, the fate of Holocaust survivors living in Israel tells you all you need to know about Israel as a safe haven for Jewish refugees. On another thread, commenter Misterioso provides some useful quotes and links. I copy one of these with a direct link to YNET.

        “Documentary shows Israel the worst place for Holocaust survivors to live throughout Western world. Hundreds protest outside Knesset, demand government help survivors with financial difficulties
        ….
        “Holocaust survivors have left Israel to live out the rest of their days in Germany due to the better conditions they receive there, according to a documentary program broadcast Tuesday night by Israel’s Channel 2 television.”
        (Ines Ehrlich) https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3388445,00.html

      • MHughes976
        October 31, 2017, 1:48 pm

        As to the ancient homeland – there’s no doubt that 2000 years ago there existed – and had existed for some time – a Kingdom generally called ‘of the Jews’ or ‘of Judaea’., though it was based in the land everyone for many centuries had called, by a usage acceptable among Jews too, ‘Palestine’.
        Things in legitimate historical dispute include the true antiquity of this kingdom and the degree of the connection both biologically and culturally between the peoples of that time and the peoples of now. Beyond that there is the question of what moral implications, if any, these connections have.
        The phrase ‘ancient homeland’ is used for the elision or erasure of these questions and for the invocation of an emotional response and
        so could be said to be mythopoetic rather than scientific.
        Virgil has a powerful discussion of ‘ancient homeland’, ‘antiqua mater’. Though he embraces the term he does show that it springs from the religious needs and political imperatives of the time when it is embraced, not just from the facts of the past.

  2. echinococcus
    October 25, 2017, 12:49 am

    Thank you, Solomon, for this notice and the factual reminder.
    Both Zionists and “Non-Zionist” tribals have been working so hard to make the very memory of the Bund disappear –they almost have succeeded except for the rare reminder like yours.

    Thanks to Phil Weiss and Co., too, for publishing.

  3. JosephA
    October 25, 2017, 11:08 am

    This was a very fascinating article, thank you.

  4. DaBakr
    October 25, 2017, 9:05 pm

    “A model of secular Jewish identity”
    Only a true asshat (tnx 2 rb) true believing, Zionist hating, mediocre minded drivel would celebrate the debacle of inter-war european jewry. Of course PW would be expected to pine and slaver over the biggest failure Jews ever undertook to improve themselves and their place in society. Trusting in ‘like minded’ Lithuanian, Russian
    , polish, Ukrainian, Latvian and other assorted europeans to see comradery. Nazis and communists. The best friends the Jews who migrated from Judea across northern africa and up through western Europe ever had.

    • Mooser
      October 26, 2017, 7:00 pm

      “the Jews who migrated from Judea across northern africa and up through western Europe ever had.”

      Keeping the laws of Family Purity in full force at all times, but taking on a protective physiognomy when necessary.

      • DaBakr
        October 26, 2017, 8:22 pm

        @m

        are you grumbling about big noses?

  5. wdr
    October 29, 2017, 1:52 am

    The Bund may have been “the model of secular Jewish identity without separatism,” but, unfortunately, the countries they were living in were not- Poland in 1918-39 was systematically anti-semitic, with Jews discriminated against at all levels of society. Virtually every central and eastern European state (except Czechoslovakia) enacted anti-semitic legislation, quot systems, etc. during the inter-war period. The Bund continued to live in a fool’s paradise. The Zionists obviously had a better grip on reality.

    • echinococcus
      October 30, 2017, 6:13 am

      Piling bullshit on top of propaganda.
      If things were as you say, and there is a lot to be answered to that collective “antisemitism” accusation anyway, then what one does is fight against it, not go to some far-away country to become a thief, a colonial murderer and cannon fodder. Duh.

  6. Nathan
    October 29, 2017, 10:59 pm

    “It found Zionism to be a nationalist ideology like the nationalisms it fought in Russia, Poland, and Lithuania”.

    The article about the Bund neglected to mention an important aspect of its ideology: The Bund was a movement of Jewish nationalism. It’s true that the Bund opposed Zionism (and it opposed immigration in general). However, it had one very important common denominator with Zionism: It defined the Jews as a nation. The Bund’s nationalism was based on the Yiddish language.

    The Bund opposed Zionism – not because Zionism is about nationalism – but because it viewed Zionism are bourgeoisie. The Bund believed in world revolution, but it maintained that the Jews will participate in this socialist revolution as Jews (as the Jewish nation). It opposed immigration because the revolution is “here” (they coined the term “doykayt” to express this concept), so they objected to the immigration of Jews to Palestine. They objected also to the revival of Hebrew (Yiddish, in their view, is the language of the Jewish masses or proletariat).

    They did not oppose Russian or Polish or Lithuanian nationalism. The Bund recognized the legitimacy of other national identities. Actually, this was its quarrel with Leninism. The Bund wished to join the “Communist International”, but it insisted that they maintain their distinctive Jewish national identity therein. Lenin did not agree. Only after the revolution in 1917 did the Bund in Russia join the Soviet Communist Party, being forced to give up its Jewish national identity. After 1917 (and until the Holocaust), the Bund continued to exist with its own ideology only in Lithuania and Poland (in the USSR it ceased to exist).

    The Bund was by far the largest of all Jewish ideologies. Keith – it did NOT believe in assimilation, and in this aspect of its ideology it was the same as Zionism (i.e. the Jews are a distinct people, one of the peoples of the world).

Leave a Reply