The Sephardi Role in the Flowering of Zionism

The advent of modern political Zionism in the 1890s inspired many Sephardi and Mizraḥi Jews to leave their homes for the land of Israel, and many more to establish Zionist groups in the countries where they lived. But even before that, non-Ashkenazi Jews had done much to encourage Jewish settlement in Palestine. Most importantly, Rabbi Judah Solomon Alkalai, born in Sarajevo in 1798, was, along with such Ashkenazi contemporaries as Moses Hess and Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, a major proto-Zionist thinker, as Ashley Perry writes.

Alkalai had the idea, echoed later by Theodor Herzl, to get various nations to give the Jews a homeland just as they had, around the same time, assisted the Greeks and others. . . . [He] wrote, “the salvation of Israel lies in addressing to the kings of the earth a general request for the welfare of our nation and our holy cities, and for our return in repentance to the house of our mother.” . . . He also called for the establishment of a bank to finance the emigration of the Jews and for settlement societies and other practical steps.

In 1843, he wrote the treatise Minḥat Yehudah, which called for the adoption of Hebrew as a national language, the purchase of land in Palestine, development of agriculture to form the basis for absorption of new immigrants, and encouragement of a sovereign-based national unity. At the age of seventy-three, Alkalai traveled to Israel to determine the possibilities for settlement there—an arduous journey at his age. More remarkably, he came to live in the Land of Israel with his wife in 1874, at the age of seventy-six. . . .

Around the same time, another Sephardi Jew was laying the practical foundations for Jewish settlement in Israel, and in Jerusalem in particular. Born in 1784 in the Italian city of Livorno but raised in England, Sir Moses Montefiore was so struck by his visit to Jerusalem in 1827 that he became devoted to the city and its inhabitants for the rest of his life. He later used his position as president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews to carry on a notable correspondence with Charles Henry Churchill, the British consul in Damascus, concerning the resettlement of Jews in Israel. His acts of philanthropy in building the Jewish settlement in the Holy Land are numerous.

Read more at JNS

More about: History of Zionism, Mizrahim, Moses Montefiore, Sephardim, Theodor Herzl

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount