Einstein the Zionist

Einstein’s address to the National Labor Committee for Palestine – which Howard Jacobson quotes (8 January) – followed the attacks by the Irgun Zvai Leumi on Arabs in November 1937. Up until then, the policy of the Zionist leadership during the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 was one of “self-restraint” – no retaliation to killings of Jews in Palestine. The Irgun condemned this approach and breached this guiding principle. Einstein was actually a severe critic of the Israeli right and was scathing about Menachem Begin when he visited the US in late 1948.

If Einstein wasn’t a Zionist, it was a bit odd of Ben-Gurion to ask him to stand as second President of Israel in 1952. Einstein condemned Begin’s “military Zionism” and always supported the peace camp in Israel. He never renounced his Zionism.

This distortion of history by Dr Farooq is part of a wider phenomenon by those who do not believe that the Jews have a right to national self- determination. It is perfectly possible today to be a critic of the Sharon government and to be a supporter of Zionism. Yossi Beilin, the architect of the Oslo Agreement does not disavow the term “Zionist”, neither does the mainstream Peace Now organisation. Yet this is always airbrushed out of existence. Those who oppose Zionism per se seek to portray dissent against Israeli government policy as anti-Zionist, which necessitates the de-Zionisation of Einstein and other major figures such as Bertrand Russell and Aneurin Bevan. In 2005, Zionism is a pejorative term and past progressives cannot be allowed to embrace it.

School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Independent 11 January 2005

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