“The Jews” by Hilaire Belloc: Zionism

December 12, 2020
17 mins read

Editor’s note: The following comprises the eleventh chapter of The Jews, by Hilaire Belloc (published 1922).

(Continued from Chapter 10: The Present Relation Between the English State and the Jews)


The question of Zionism has been discussed from every possible aspect save one, and that one is the only factor which relates to the thesis of this book.

It has been argued, as a purely Jewish matter; there has been debate upon its justice or injustice among the Jews themselves, as to its advantage or disadvantage to their race; debate among the various non-Jewish forces concerned as to the advantage or disadvantage it would be to them; debate upon the rights and wrongs of the native population among which the Jews might find a home; debate as to whether that home should be in Palestine or elsewhere—and so on.

All these discussions avoid the ultimate issue. Some of them, of course, are of evident importance within the Jewish community, but so far as the essential problem we are discussing in this book is concerned, they do not apply. The one question which is at issue from the point of view of our thesis is this:—

Whether the Zionist experiment will tend to increase or to relax the strain created by the presence of the Jew in the midst of a non-Jewish world.

That, and that only, is our concern, and from that point of view we may examine the theory of Zionism which has now emerged into an attempted practice.

First let us consider its necessary general implications: the implications which Zionism involves, no matter where or how the experiment were tried.

The Zionist theory is that Israel would benefit if of its many millions (some twelve millions, counting those of the partly Jewish fringe, who are sufficiently Jewish to make one with the race) a core—say a tenth—were to have a fixed territorial “city,” a country of their own, a habitation. This country, wherever it might be chosen, should be, as far as possible, a purely Jewish State: “as Jewish,” one of its exponents has said, “as England is English.”

Now, suppose the place chosen were (today we may say “had been”) an empty or almost undeveloped country, and supposing the Jews had found that their own people could bear the expense of reaching that place with sufficient capital, and of colonizing it in large numbers. Supposing a small State of a million to a million and a half inhabitants to be thus formed, to be wholly Jewish in character, and independent in the fullest sense. The question immediately arises: Would the Jews throughout the world be:—

(a) permitted to regard themselves as citizens of that State?

(b) regarded in any case as citizens of that State, whether they willed or no, and registered as such, with or without the consent of the registered person?

If not, what would be the status of the Jew outside this territorial unit, which he had chosen to be much more than a symbol of his national unity—its actual seat and establishment?

That is the question which, so far as I have watched the discussion, everybody hesitates to face; yet that is the question which will have to be faced sooner or later as the main political crux of the whole affair.

Observe that there is no question of establishing a State wherein the whole or even the great mass of the Jewish people shall reside. No one would repudiate such an idea more vigorously than the chief pioneers of Zionism. The great mass of Jews would, of course, ridicule it as impracticable and refuse it as extremely undesirable. They live and they desire to live following their present interests in the nations among whom they are dispersed. They live and they desire to live the semi-nomadic life, the international life, which has become theirs by every tradition, and which one might now almost call instinctive in them. Also the greater part of them desire to pursue those careers which go with such a life, especially the careers of negotiation and of intermediary work. They not only feel the advantage of such a position, they also feel a need and appetite for such a condition.

Whatever form Zionism might have taken before it appeared in its present experimental form, whatever was said of the theory in the past, this point was always capital:

The Jews as a nation would remain as they were, moving among all the peoples. The new Zion was to be no more than a fixed rallying point, an established but small territorial nationhood, which should do no more than proclaim their unity. It follows, therefore, necessarily, that the great mass of Jews, outside the territorial settlement, would have, after such a settlement had been formed, to obtain a definition of their political character. What is that definition to be?

I think myself the Jews would answer: “It is to be precisely what it is today, or, rather, what it has been in the Occidental nations during the past generation.” That is, the Jew is to be regarded as the full national in the nation in which he happens to be for the time. Nothing shall debar him from any position whatever in that nation. He shall be regarded in exactly the same light as all the other citizens, and, conversely, he shall obtain no privilege. In countries where there is conscription, for instance, he shall be a conscript like anybody else; where a nation in which he happens to find himself goes to war, he shall be compelled to risk his life for it like any other citizen. If he happens a year or two before the war to have settled in the enemy’s country, then he shall be equally compelled to fight for the enemy against his former country. He shall in every respect be regarded, by a legal fiction, as identical with the community in which he happens to be settled for the moment, but at the same time he is to have some special relation with the Jewish State.

He and he alone is to be (certainly in practice and, of right, in legal decisions) eligible for admission to that city, for office in it. His opinion is to count in the conduct of that State, wherever he may personally be placed in the world. He is to regard himself—indeed that is inevitable from the definition of the new State—as personally allied to it, if not a member of it. He cannot dissociate himself from its fortunes nor be indifferent to its success or failure. He must in effect be loyal to it. He owes it allegiance of a moral kind. He will necessarily be in much the same position as are men of Irish descent in the Colonies, in England, and in the United States, to the surviving and now increasing remnant of their race which has clung to its native land. But in the particular case of the Jew this allegiance will not diminish with time. It will remain ever vivacious. The race, as its individual components pass from one country to another, will make one body, generation after generation, with the fixed polity settled in the New Zion. That certainly is the ideal, as I hear it expressed on every side in conversation and in writing by the Jews who support it.

Well, if the ideal is left in that condition (and it is admitted to be in practice in that condition), it will result in a grievous prejudice to the Jewish people, and will be a source of more permanent evil to them than any other policy they could have undertaken. It will emphasize that very point of dual allegiance which it must be their object to soften if the Jewish problem is to be solved.

The existence of a Zionist State will bring into relief the separate character of the Jew. The Jewish nation will no longer be able to depend for one of its defences upon the indifference or the ignorance still widely present among its hosts. Whereas before the experiment was attempted, many of those hosts could forget the difference between him and them, many had no experience of it and many remarked it without its affecting their attitude towards the Jew; after the experiment has been put in practice there must necessarily be a change.

To give a concrete instance, no one could in his anger say to a Jew, “You disturb our repose; you are an alien element in our community; you must leave it.” For if he meant that, he was at the same time condemning his victim to universal exile. But once an established national State exists, once you have in the world a considerable number—say a million and a half Jews—who are not the nationals of any other nation, but are the citizens of a Jewish nation with a known locality, an organized State, then the suggestion of exile changes its meaning. The opponent of the Jew is now able to say: “Go back to your own country,” and you may be very certain that he will say that unless some other solution than the legal fiction of full citizenship in one country and of moral allegiance to another is dropped.

The presence of the new Zion will do for the Jewish people what a frame does for a picture. It will not be universal to them; it will not cover the whole field of Jewish activity. It will be but a fraction of the whole. But it will inevitably emphasize the separation, the individual and alien character of the whole. It will concentrate attention upon all those things which the nineteenth century—in what I have called “the Liberal solution”—carefully put in the background and tried to forget. It will militate against an honest solution which would recognize the completely distinct character of the Jew and yet refuse to subject them to any indignity or suffering on that account.

There is more than this. The various nations, taken as a whole—the Roumanians as a whole, the Poles as a whole, the French, the Italians, the English as a whole—take up very different attitudes at any one time toward Israel, and in each the attitude varies from generation to generation; there is always, at any one time of history, including our own time, a certain number of national units which are openly hostile to the Jew, regretting his presence among them, restricting his activities and determined, above all, to separate him, by a sharp legal definition if possible, at any rate by universal social practice, from the rest of the community.

Now these hostile peoples cannot possibly be prevented from using the weapon put into their hands by the existence of a new Zion, with the implications I have just defined. It is difficult enough even now for the countries where Jewish finance controls the politicians (and these are still the most powerful countries) to restrain the anti-Jewish feelings in the lesser nations. It is only done by elaborate rules which are imperfectly obeyed and which are felt in these smaller nations to be imposed by alien interference with their domestic rights. The protection by the French, English and American Governments of what are called by a euphemism “national minorities”—which means, of course, everywhere the Jews—is a perilous affair, and one which can only be carried out most imperfectly even as it is. But the one foundation for that task, the one argument which its promoters appeal to, is the fact that the “national minority”—that is, the Jews present in a hostile community—can plead universal exile.

If you turn them out in order to suppress them, they can only leave for another country. They have none of their own to go to. Or again, if your treatment of the Jews is harsher than that of your neighbour, you are virtually directing a Jewish emigration over your neighbour’s borders, and to that your neighbour has a right to object. But once an independent Jewish seat is established, this argument falls to the ground. It is no reply then to tell these nations that the new Jewish State cannot contain the whole Jewish race. It will answer that it is not concerned with the whole Jewish race but only with its own section of that race.

Further, it will of course always be to the interest of those who desire to be rid of the Jewish element in their midst to argue that the Jewish State could be more peopled and that there is plenty of room for more citizens. Again, those hostile to the Jews in their midst can say: “Very well. Since there is no room for the whole mass of our Jews in your new State, we will not deal with the whole mass; allow us to suggest that such and such individuals shall leave our State, where they are not wanted, and shall go to their own.” And they would pick out the Jews whose exile would most weaken the Jewish community in their midst.

In the present state of affairs, with the Cabinets of Rome, Washington, London and Paris still heavily influenced by Jewish finance, they have, for the moment, a military force behind them sufficient to impose their orders in some measure upon the reluctant nations of Eastern Europe and in some measure to create an artificial protection for the Jews there. Even if this protection were to last another generation (which is unlikely), the presence of Zionism, interpreted in the sense I have just quoted, would be enough to undermine its work. On any change in the situation, in case of any conflict between these Western powers, or of any change by one or more of them in its attitude towards the Jews, Zionism, thus interpreted, would be the ruin of the Jews in the Centre and East of Europe. The danger is of such great practical importance that it ought to be the very first matter for discussion. It is only our acquired habit of falsehood and secrecy upon the Jewish problem which has thrust it in the background. In the nature of things it must come to the front, and it would be far better to have the lines of some solution laid down before it becomes insistent.

What are those lines to be?

Their general character is clear enough.

Whether it be of advantage or no to have a purely Jewish State (I mean whether it be of advantage to Israel or no) may be safely left to the Jews themselves to discuss. But one thing is certain: if they decide in favour of its continuance, then they must decide also in favour of some form of recognition for the purely Jewish nationality of the Jews outside that State.

Thus only will the situation become open and therefore innocuous. If they try under the new conditions to maintain the old fiction that a Jew is at the same time a Jew and yet not a Jew, that he can be at the same time a Jew and an Englishman, or a Jew and a Russian, or a Jew and an Italian, they will be trying to maintain it under conditions quite other than those of the past, and under conditions where the falsehood will break down in practice.

Suppose you were to make such recognition partly voluntary, and leave it to the Jew wherever he might be to claim or not to claim his nationality as a Jew; to be regarded, if he so willed, as a national of the Jewish nation in Zion, or as a national of the people among whom he happened to be living for the moment. You may say that under this purely voluntary system (which would, I suppose, be more just) very few would choose for Zion. The great majority would like to go on under the old fiction. That is certainly true of the West; but would it be true of the East? Would it be true of either East or West in a moment of persecution? I think it would not. Even if it be true of the East to-day, it certainly would not be true of any body of Jews suffering there, in the future, any degree of molestation.

But apart from that: Supposing but a small minority availed themselves of this voluntary form of recognition, supposing only a small minority to claim Jewish nationality as defined in the terms of the Zionist State, there would still be the contrast between those who had thus publicly proclaimed themselves nationals of Zion and those who hung back. In other words, short of a general admitted maintenance of the old fiction (of which Zionism more than any other force must accelerate the breakdown), you must have, through Zionism, an accelerated tendency to treating Jews throughout the world as being, whether without the New Zionist State or within it, a separate people. And they are a separate people, they cannot be other. My whole plea is that this truth should be recognized and acted upon; for if it is shirked or denied it will take its revenge. Reality always takes its revenge upon unreal pretence.

There remains in connection with Zionism another consideration which is also of importance, though of a very different kind. Is the new Jewish State to rely upon its own military strength and its own police—though perhaps guaranteed (for what that may be worth) by international agreement—or is it to be a protected State occupied, defended and policed by the strength and fighting qualities of some other kind of men, not Jews—Englishmen, Frenchmen or what not?

As we know, the particular solution attempted, the particular Zionism of which the experiment is now being made in Palestine, plumps for the second solution. The protection of Jews from natives is to be undertaken by a garrison of Englishmen. It plumps for this solution under conditions as adverse as they well can be. The present experiment is, as we noted at the end of the last chapter, not an independent Jewish State, national, guaranteed, standing in its own strength; but a protected State; and that State protected by one nation: Great Britain. The new Zion does not depend for its internal peace, for its establishment against highly hostile forces, for the ex-propriation of the local landowners, for the keeping of the peace between local elements highly hostile to itself, upon Jewish soldiers and Jewish courage. It depends upon British soldiers, British organization and British sacrifice. Those who have promoted the Zionist experiment have deliberately chosen the very worst moment for such a folly.

Granted that whoever was to be the Protector he must be a friendly Protector, no worse solution could have been devised. A little nation is always morally guaranteed in its independence, if only by the balance of the greater nations. The violation of the neutrality of Belgium offers nothing of a rule; on the contrary, it was an odious exception. And an exception it would have been just as much if the neutrality had not been officially guaranteed under Prussia’s own hand. The smaller nations, of which the modern world is full, will have, we may be very certain, a long lease of life. The larger nations envy but applaud their security and happiness. They will not be allowed to disappear. The same, I think, would be true of the Jewish national seat, could it be established, inhabited wholly or mainly by men of the Jewish race, religion and culture; presenting to the world the same aspect as does, for instance, Denmark to-day. But to depend for its establishment upon the superior power, upon the military and financial sacrifice, of another and totally different people, is a challenge and a provocation. It is the building of the pyramid upwards from its apex. It is an experiment in the most unstable of unstable equilibriums.

The matter is, of course, being discussed everywhere from the point of view of Great Britain, and nowhere more eagerly than among those who have to do the policing and the armed protection. But we are not here concerned with the ill effects such a situation must have on Great Britain—effects so ill that the experiment as a merely British Protectorate is bound to break down—we are rather concerned with the effect it may have upon the Jews themselves. No great nation will sacrifice its foreign policy, will admit a point of acute weakness, simply to please the Jews. Sooner or later such a nation is bound to say: “We cannot sacrifice our interests to yours. Look after yourselves.” And that is where the peril to the Jews of this system, a protectorate, comes in.

If there were any reason to suppose a natural alliance between the British Army and the Jews; if we could imagine British officers and men taking a natural pleasure in ousting the Arab and making way for the Jew, it would be another matter. If there were something in the nature of things which made that alliance permanent and stable, if the Jews were a fully accepted part of the British Commonwealth as are, for instance, the Scots or the Welsh, some permanent arrangement might be possible. But they are nothing of the sort. The position is wholly unnatural. It cannot last. And if it cannot last with the British connection, how should it last with any other? How shall the transition be made from a British Protectorate to another protectorate? Or how, seeing what violent hatreds have already been roused by the mere beginnings of the experiment, shall the conflict which makes the protectorate necessary be avoided?

So far the dislike of the position, which is very far-reaching, and already very deep in England, is a passive dislike. No English soldier has yet been killed; there has been but little necessity, as yet, to repress the Arab and create hostility, though even what little necessity there has been was odious to the troops concerned. But things cannot remain in that state. The conflict is inevitable. When the conflict comes the feeling which has hitherto been passive will become active. People will not tolerate the loss of sons and brothers in a quarrel which is none of theirs, which cannot possibly strengthen the British State; which, if anything, must weaken it; which is felt to be precarious and ephemeral, and which will be undertaken against those with whom British sympathy naturally lies, and in favour of those with whom the average soldier and citizen—unlike the professional politician—has no ties and no sympathy.

The matter can be very plainly put thus:

If a Zionist experiment is necessary, or advisable, then let it be made in such a fashion that it can be dependent upon Jewish police and a Jewish army alone. Let it not rely upon a foreign protectorate, which will not last long, which is a weakness to the directing power, and which creates a false position.

If it be answered that the Jews are not capable of producing such an army or such a police, that they would inevitably be defeated and oppressed by the hostile and more warlike majority among whom they would find themselves, then let them make the experiment elsewhere. But it is certain that the present form of the new Protectorate is the most perilous form which could have been chosen for it, so far as the Jews themselves are concerned. I appeal confidently to the near future to confirm this judgment.

From one most poignant aspect of the matter which we all have in mind I deliberately abstain—I mean the effect of the experiment upon Christian and Mohammedan feelings throughout the world of an attempt to establish Jewish control over the Holy Places. I abstain because of the emotions aroused by it, which are violent and universal, and are of the sort I have deliberately determined, as my Preface has informed the reader, to keep out of this essay. Things indeed are not yet at the point of open quarrel in this most perilous of all the results of Zionism. We must trust for a solution before it is too late, but that solution will not be reached if we select for discussion matters upon which there can be no agreement, and on which there is now aroused the most passionate feeling.

Still, though I abstain from discussing that point, I would beg the Jewish readers of this my book to bear it in mind. If they believe the religious emotions to be dead in the modern world, or even to be lessening, they may find themselves terribly disillusioned.

I also refrain from making comment here—I have made it strongly enough elsewhere—upon the strange selection made by the Jews for their first ruler of the Arabs and Christians in Palestine. I will do no more than to say that a desire to shield the less worthy specimens of one’s race is natural and even praiseworthy. One may even take a certain glory in that one is able to protect them from outsiders. But to give them too great a prominence is a mistake, and it is indeed deplorable that of the whole world of Jews—from crowds of Jews eminent in administration, and political science, known for their upright dealing and blameless careers—Mr. Balfour’s Jewish advisers (whoever they were) should have pitched on the author of the Marconi contract and the spokesman of the famous declaration in the House of Commons that no politician had touched Marconi shares.

(Continue to Chapter 12: Our Duty)

Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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