It was early on the evening of May 28 that I went to hear Fred Jerome speak about his new book on Albert Einstein, the third of his works on Einstein’s politics: Einstein on Israel and Zionism. I read and reviewed the first of his Einstein books, The Einstein File, about his general political stance and the vendetta that J. Edgar Hoover pursued against him, trying without success to persecute him as a “Red.”
Fred Jerome is a journalist with a background in the Communist Party and later as a leader of the ultra-Stalinist offshoot, the Progressive Labor Party. His first book was well worth reading despite this unfortunate political legacy. This new book is another story, however.
He was among friends at Manhattan’s Ethical Culture Society. I’ve rarely (if ever) witnessed a “book party” with a more enthusiastic reception for an author. Nor have I ever felt more alone as a Zionist.
The thrust of Jerome’s new book is that it’s a “myth” that Einstein was a Zionist or that he really supported the State of Israel. This is not necessarily a simple argument to make, since Einstein– even in writings quoted in his book– calls himself a Zionist and was in fact offered the presidency of Israel in 1952, following the death of Chaim Weizmann.
Jerome deftly identifies Einstein as a “cultural Zionist” rather than a political Zionist, and places him in the pantheon of other left and liberal Zionists who advocated a bi-national state in Palestine before the violent Arab onslaughts in late 1947 and the first half of ’48. These people famously included Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes. They also included our own Hashomer Hatzair movement prior to ’47-48. But this does not mean that they were not political Zionists who believed in the building up of Palestine as the reborn Jewish homeland.
Jerome quotes Einstein as saying in 1930 that Palestine has plenty of room for both Arabs and Jews, as if this were not in fact a perfectly acceptable Zionist position. It was the Arab side that vociferously opposed this notion in the 1920s and ’30s, as they violently resisted Jewish immigration — and the Arabs did so despite the fact that European Jewry mostly faced its doom with the rising Nazi menace.
We of the Meretz Zionist lineage– which includes the bi-nationalist idealism of the pre-state Hashomer Hatzair– honor Einstein and others who advocated these ideals. But this does not mean that Einstein and the others should now be stripped from the history of Zionism as mere “cultural Zionists.” For example, Hannah Arendt is well known for acerbic criticisms of Israel, but she was enough of a “political Zionist” to have loudly advocated for a “Jewish army” during World War II. And Martin Buber lived for decades in the latter half of his life in Palestine and then the State of Israel. Our chaverim, Dan Leon and Hillel Schenker, worked as journalists for New Outlook magazine, an English-language Israeli journal that Buber helped found as an expression of his dedication to peace, but it would never occur to them to characterize Buber as other than a Zionist.
Fred Jerome, however, cannot accept Einstein as “really” being a Zionist, because this would make him a supporter of something “bad.” What became very clear from being at this book event is that Jerome and his enthusiasts at Ethical Culture are denying the existence of left or progressive Zionism. This concept simply doesn’t compute for them because they are, sadly, too ignorant and too prejudiced to understand. They also don’t understand that a Zionist can actually oppose ongoing Israeli policies regarding settlements and the occupation and still be a Zionist.