I’ve mentioned elsewhere Chaim Weizmann’s use of ‘Messianism’ as an historical promoter of the Zionist project – ‘our almost Messianic dreams’ (page 191). So, it is noteworthy that elsewhere in his autobiography (Trial and Error), he claimed, ‘The suffering of Russian Jewry never were the cause of Zionism. The fundamental cause of Zionism was, and is, the ineradicable national striving of Jewry to have a home of its own – a national centre, a national home with a national Jewish life.’ ( as president of the Zionist Federation speaking to delegates from constituent societies. p.253). It was, by the by, politic for him to take that line in May 1917, for the Russian revolution promised, albeit fleetingly, to end Russian persecution of Jews. If they no longer needed to flee oppression, and Weizmann contradicts Herzl in this, they needed another stimulus. Hence, ‘Messianism’.
Oddly, Zionist ‘Messianism’ seems to be unlike historic Jewish Messianism. What, after all, prevented Jews from going to Palestine? Over hundreds of years many had. There had been various journeys – sometimes ignored by the Ottoman authorities – often failing, in part because Northern European Jews were unable to adjust to the demands of the climate and the work. Jews went there to die, but not to live. As Weizmann’s own Rebbi had remarked, “You”ll never bring the Messiah any nearer.”
Because ‘Messianism’ needs a Messiah: and not any messiah, ‘The Messiah’. From the 2nd century to the present, as some orthodox Jews still maintain, they are to wait remaining in diaspora the coming of their Messiah. And that coming, in their expectation, would not bring just a ‘national home’; it would have international significance. That is what they had been waiting for for over two and a half thousand years. Christians believe that the Messiah has come, the Jewish Jesus, but that is not here the point. Weizmann’s ‘Messianism’ was a mixture of Romanticism and propaganda that had and has nothing to do with reality.
Weizmann, in the same chapter, quotes very favourably, an article for The Times newspaper by W. Steed, in which it is stated, ‘…The importance of the Zionist movement is that it has fired with a new ideal millions of poverty-stricken Jews cooped up in the ghettos of the Old World and the New.’ Journalistic hyperbole? Probably certainly. For, given the chance, those many millions in the ‘Old World’ during the following two decades showed little interest in hot and rocky Palestine and much more in the New World streets of Chicago, Boston, New York, even London and Newcastle. And the ideal of those Jews who went to Palestine as Zionists was, in practice, to send into refugee camps those millions of Palestinians who escaped the Irgun, Stern or Hagana terror cells.
That is not the Messianic hope, nor is it an idealistic dream, it is a horrific and evil reality.
Later, in his book, it seems Weizmann has become aware, if not of the logical consequences of his activities, at least of some realities. He writes (p.556), ‘I have never believed that the Messiah would come to the sound of high explosives. The dissident groups which sprang up in Palestine, (e.g. Irgun) and which terrorized the government and to some extent the Jews … represented to my notion a grave danger for the whole future of the Jewish state in Palestine.’ It is argued they still do. Did Weizmann really believe he was a kind of 20th century ‘John (or Chaim) the Baptist’, preparing the way…?
Proudly acceptiing his election as president of the newly declared State of Israel and criticizing British policy as ‘anti-Zionist’, he seems incapable of seeing that Zionism’s treatment of the Palestinian population was little different from that of Czarist Russia’s treatment of Jews. Neither can he see that inherent in the notion of a ‘Jewish state’ in Palestine is the expulsion of the indigenous population. Zionism expected ethnic cleansing, and Zionism carried it out.