Chaim Weizmann Combined Gifted Statesmanship with a Passionate Commitment to Jewish Particularism

April 17 2018

With Israeli independence day approaching, Gil Troy reflects on the life of the chemist and Zionist activist Chaim Weizmann, who was one of the architects of the Balfour Declaration, a crucial leader of the Zionist movement during the Mandate period, and eventually Israel’s first president. Troy notes, among other things, the great Jewish statesman’s understanding of Zionism itself:

The Jewish people have “never based the Zionist movement on Jewish suffering,” [Weizmann] would insist. “The foundation of Zionism was, and continues to be to this day, the yearning of the Jewish people for its homeland, for a national center, and a national life”—for normalcy!

Weizmann’s Zionism put him on the right side of the great 20th-century debate pitting liberal nationalism against totalitarian Communism. One of sixteen children—eleven [of whom] survived into adulthood—he and eight other siblings went Zionist, moved to Palestine, and thrived. Chaim’s brother Shmuel, who embraced Communist universalism, was executed in 1939, in Josef Stalin’s purges. His sister Maria was imprisoned thanks to Stalin’s paranoid, anti-Semitic Doctor’s Plot.

Taking this family argument to the world stage, when studying in Geneva, Weizmann debated the merits of nationalism versus universalism with some exiled Russian Communists, including Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin. . . . [Living in Britain], when his local member of Parliament, Lord Arthur Balfour, wondered why the Jews wouldn’t establish a national homeland in Uganda instead of Palestine, Weizmann asked: “Mr. Balfour, suppose I were to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?” Balfour replied: “But Dr. Weizmann, we have London.” Weizmann responded: “True, but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.”

In the 1930s and 1940s, with Hitler’s rise to power and Britain’s ban on Jewish immigration to Palestine threatening any hope of a Jewish state, Weizmann found himself without a clear role to play, yet:

Weizmann sidelined was still an epoch-making statesman. He—and his extraordinary pediatrician wife Vera—were now living in the land of Israel, helping [to create] a state where one could be Chaim the scientist and the statesman, the humanist and the Jew, all at once. . . . Believing that science, technology, and education would serve as the new state’s national building blocks, Weizmann helped found the Technion, Hebrew University, and, in 1934, what is today the Weizmann Institute of Science, which recently ranked sixth in the Nature “index of innovation.”

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The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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