How a Jewish Legion Came to Fight for the United Kingdom in World War I

Aug. 21 2017

From the moment the Ottoman empire joined forces with the Central Powers in November 1914, the Zionist leaders Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Chaim Weizmann worked to create a Jewish legion to fight alongside the British army to liberate Palestine from the sultan. The idea met with strong opposition from both the government of Herbert Asquith and the Zionist leadership, and resulted only in the short-lived Zion Mule Corps, which fought against the Turks in the failed Gallipoli campaign. But in 1917 London reconsidered, allowing for the formation of Jewish units to be made up primarily of Russian subjects living in Britain. Colin Schindler writes:

Leading Zionists—including Nahum Sokolow, Max Nordau, and Ahad Ha’am—had hitherto opposed the formation of a Jewish military force. In addition to compromising the movement’s neutrality, they feared Turkish reprisals in the fashion that had been visited upon the Armenians—massacre and persecution.

British Zionists such as Harry Sacher and Leon Simon believed that Weizmann had been seduced by Jabotinsky’s “jingoism.” The [British] Zionist Federation indignantly opposed the very idea of a Jewish regiment as did Lord Rothschild, later the recipient of the Balfour Declaration.

The fear that a specifically Jewish regiment would impinge on their loyalty to the British crown affected many communal leaders. . . . The anti-Zionist Edwin Montagu, secretary of state for India, considered himself a patriotic Jewish Briton and vehemently opposed the Balfour Declaration. While the cabinet rebuffed his attempt to prevent any declaration, it did accede to his opposition to a battalion of British Jews. “Friendly alien Jews” was another matter—and such battalions would be added to the Royal Fusiliers. British-born Jews themselves could apply to join or be transferred. The poet Isaac Rosenberg wished to join but was killed in action [on the Western front] before he could do so. . . .

Jews from the UK eventually constituted almost one-third of the five battalions of the Royal Fusiliers—now known to history as the Jewish Legion. It was, however, more the symbolism of a Jewish army than the few minor military clashes in the Middle East in 1918 that impacted on Jews worldwide.

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More about: Chaim Weizmann, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, Jewish Legion, World War I, Ze'ev Jabotinsky

Palestinian Acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State Must Be a Prerequisite to Further Negotiations

Oct. 19 2018

In 1993, in the early days of the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasir Arafat accepted the “right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.” But neither it nor its heir, the Palestinians Authority, has ever accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Robert Barnidge explains why this distinction matters:

A Jewish state for the Jewish people, after all, was exactly what the [UN] General Assembly intended in November 1947 when it called for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into “the Arab state, the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem.”

Although the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state does not stand or fall on this resolution—in declaring the independence of Israel on the eve of the Sabbath on May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council, [the precursor to the Israeli government], also stressed the Jewish people’s natural and historic rights—it reaffirms the legitimacy of Jewish national rights in (what was to become) the state of Israel.

The Palestinians have steadfastly refused to recognize Jewish self-determination. [Instead], the PLO [has been] playing a double game. . . . It is not simply that the PLO supported the General Assembly’s determination in 1975, rescinded in 1991, that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” It is that that the PLO leadership continues to speak of Jews as a religious community rather than a people, and of Zionism as a colonial usurper rather than the national liberation movement that it is.

The U.S. government, Barnidge concludes, “should demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state” and refuse to “press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians unless and until that happens.”

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Peace Process, PLO, US-Israel relations, Yasir Arafat