Foreign news: Zion in Basle

TIME | Monday, July 27, 1931

Amid shouts and tears a chunky, goateed little British industrial chemist, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, was kissed and embraced by his followers last week as the 17th World Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland came to an end. For a fortnight 258 delegates had met in Basle’s stuffy Mustermesse (sample fair) Hall, had emotionally and continually vociferated. Result: a change in presidents; no change in Zionism’s complicated, diffuse political program.

Zionism’s leaders must achieve their ends by diplomacy rather than action. To carry out its program for a Jewish National Home in Palestine, Zionism is attempting to get money from world Jewry (its deficit is now $4,000,000), and concessions from Great Britain, mandate-holder of Palestine. In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Jewry was promised a permanent Jewish National Home in Palestine. But England, most Zionists agree, has reneged in the last two years. The Simpson Commission issued a report implying that the Zionist land policy in Palestine was harmful to the Arabs. The Passfield White Paper (TIME, Nov. 3), stalling for the moment all Zionist progress, caused Dr. Weizmann to resign as president of the World Zionist Organization. The subsequent, interpretative MacDonald Letter attempted to modify the harshness of the White Paper, but failed to suit most Jews. The problem of dealing with England divided last fortnight’s Congress into two factions, focussed Zion’s attention once more upon its need for strong leadership.

God Save Us! Arab-Jewish riots, Wailing Wall troubles, world Depression, the death of two great leaders (Baron Melchett and Louis Marshall) and the slowing-up of Zionism’s executive machinery made Dr. Weizmann’s presidency a difficult one. But many delegates believe he was too conciliatory. Boomed bass-voiced Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise last fortnight at the Congress: “A vote for the administration of Dr. Weizmann is a vote for the present British regime! . . . An eternal disgrace! . . . You have sat too long at British feasts!” Trembling, still pale from a recent throat operation, Dr. Weizmann hurried from the hall where he had been presiding, cried: “I could not stand it any longer! It is irresponsible and unparliamentary!” Then last week, after long hours of angry debate, a coalition of anti-Weizmannites gathered 118 votes and by electing Dr. Nahum Sokolow president made known their disapproval of the “eternal disgrace.”

But had they insured a new policy? Few thought so: some said they would have voted for the Mustermesse janitor in order to have a new deal. Day after Dr. Sokolow’s election the Congress elected an executive committee in which the majority are Weizmannites. Extremist in talk, the Congress had ended by becoming moderate in action, for the new president, 72-year-old Dr. Sokolow, is conservative, suave, quiet. Eminent among Jewish linguists and scholars, he has all his life been a journalist. Emotionally he spoke at the opening meeting, not in the statesman’s but in the Hebraist’s manner: “We are the oldest martyr people in the world! What pen can describe the wrongs and cruelties we have borne in the course of thousands of years? What good the nations have done us by such action as the Balfour Declaration is not kindness. Shall we now be driven into mistrust of mankind?” Fervently he quoted a Jew from Kishinev who cried: “God save us from commissions and we’ll save ourselves from pogroms!”

Action is the simple program of the Revisionists, who are Dr. Weizmann’s most violent opponents. They demand a national, autonomous Jewish state in Palestine. Zion, say they, may try once more to ”play the game” with England, but let no one think (as does Dr. Weizmann) that the present situation is in the least bearable. Organizer and leader of the Revisionists is 50-year-old Russian-born Vladimir Jabotinsky. Kinetic, rambunctious, romantic, he is called the Hitler, the Mussolini of young Zionists. Round-faced, bespectacled, he is a poet and international journalist. He founded the Jewish Legion of the British Army, fought in Palestine during the World War, was imprisoned in the fortress of Acco for leading a Jewish defense corps against Arab attackers in Jerusalem in 1920. Viewed now as a firebrand, he is forbidden to return to Palestine.

Vladimir Jabotinsky – “The Hitler of Zionism”

Weizmann supporters called the Revisionists ‘”Hitlerites” during the Congress last fortnight. Keeping obligingly in character, they shouted back: “Red slaves! Go to Moscow!” Impressively they arose during a later debate, walked out of the meeting just as dramatically as Hitlerites walked out of the Reichstag last February. Next day they walked back in, minus Leader Jabotinsky who announced he would take a six-month leave. One Revisionist, Abraham Lang, tore down a blue-&-white Zionist flag because he thought the Congress had “betrayed Zionism’s ideals.” He was tried last week, suspended from Zionist activities until next December. Abraham Lang wept.