Einstein on Palestine: the Prophet of Peace
by Michael R. Burch,
an editor and publisher
of Holocaust and Nakba poetry
I find it interesting that Albert Einstein's last name rhymes with Palestine.
wrote extensively and passionately about Palestine, Israel, Zionism and Judaism,
so let's consider what one of the world's
most intelligent (and wisest) men had to say. One thing he consistently
maintained was that the most important thing for Israeli Jews was to
get along with Palestinian Arabs:
The first and most important necessity is the creation of a modus vivendi
[way of living] with the Arab people.
Einstein denied any superior rights for Jews, calling "complete equality" for Palestinians the "most important aspect" of Jewish
The most important aspect of our policy must be our
ever-present, manifest desire to institute complete equality
for the Arab citizens living in our midst ... The attitude we adopt toward the
Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people.
Only cooperation with Arabs, led by "educated, spiritually alert" Jewish
workers, he wrote, "can create a dignified and safe life." He also said:
What saddens me is less the fact that the Jews are not smart enough to
understand this, but rather, that they are not smart enough to want it.
Einstein was more than a scientist: he was also a philosopher, humanitarian and peace activist. What did
he have to say about Palestine and Israel? Was
he a Zionist, and if so, in what way? If he could speak to us today, what would
he say? Fortunately, his words are still with us, so let's consult them. [Anyone
who doubts anything quoted on this page can refer to the Hebrew University's online
archive of Einstein's collected writings by doing a Google search for "Einstein
"The strength of our whole movement [Zionism] rests in its moral justification, with which it must stand or fall."
If you are unfamiliar with the real history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,
or have been told that Israel is "only defending itself," please read
Albert Einstein's 1948
letter to the New York Times, then click your browser's "back" button to return to this page.
If you want to understand how the theft of Palestinian land relates to Israel's
against Gaza, such as Operation "Pillar of Defense" or "Pillar of Clouds," please click here
Amud Annan "Pillar of Fire." If you want to hear the
opinion of the former U.S. president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who
negotiated peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, please click here
"Israeli policy is to confiscate Palestinian territory."
Albert Einstein was a strong believer in the need for social justice. "Striving
for social justice," he wrote, "is the most valuable thing to do in life." He
also believed strongly in equality for everyone, advocating "the democratic
ideal of social justice coupled with the ideal of mutual aid and tolerance among
all men." But the leaders of the fledgling state of Israel did not believe in
equality and social justice for everyone. Rather, they favored Jews over the
Arab natives, just as white settlers in America had favored themselves over
Native Americans. One of the "favors" both groups wanted for themselves was to
grab native land without paying for it. When done at gunpoint, that is armed
robbery. When done on a large scale, it is ethnic cleansing. Thus Einstein and
the leaders of Israel were at opposite ends of the spectrum on how Israeli Jews
should interact with their Arab neighbors. Einstein advocated complete equality,
social justice, mutual aid and tolerance. The Zionist leadership came up with an
"Iron Wall" policy that would show no mercy to Palestinians.
Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel in 1952. Why did Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion
implore his assistant, the future president Yitzak Navon, over a cup of coffee: "Tell me what to do if he
says yes! I've had to offer him the post because it was impossible not to, but if he accepts we are in for trouble!" And why did Einstein turn
down the presidency, writing sadly to his stepdaughter Margot:
"I would have to tell the Israeli people things they would not like to
If you continue reading this page, the reasons will become clear, and you will
see that Albert Einstein was remarkably consistent in his views about Palestine
and Zionism: he always opposed the creation of a Jewish political state at the
expense of good relations with native Palestinians. He preferred peace and
brotherhood with Palestinians to an armed Jewish state bristling with weapons.
Was Einstein a Zionist intent on creating a Jewish political state? No, he said a
number of times that he did not want a Jewish state and thought it was a bad,
outdated idea. And the Zionists themselves did not consider him to be one of
Einstein attended the Sixteenth Zionist Congress in 1929, the World
Zionist Organization mentioned him as one of 112 "non-Zionist" attendees.
On April 17, 1938 in a speech to the National Labor
Committee for Palestine, Einstein said:
"I should much rather see reasonable
agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the
creation of a Jewish state. Apart from the practical considerations,
my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a
Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter
how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain,
especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks,
against which we have already had to fight without a Jewish state."
In 1950 Einstein republished the same statement after Israel’s creation and the
subsequent horrors of the Nakba (Arabic for "Catastrophe"). And now, having seen the current living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank
and refugee camps throughout the Middle East, who can refute him?
In January, 1946, in a reply to the question of whether Jewish refugee
settlement in Palestine demanded a Jewish state, Einstein told the
Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry:
"The State idea is not according to my
heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with narrow-minded
and economic obstacles. I believe it is bad. I have always been
In What Price Israel? Alfred M. Lilienthal, recounts that on April 1,
1952, in a message to the Children of Palestine, Inc., Einstein "spoke of the
necessity to curb 'a kind of nationalism' which has arisen in Israel 'if only to
permit a friendly and fruitful co-existence with the Arabs.'" Lilienthal also
relates a personal conversation with Einstein: "Dr. Einstein told me that,
strangely enough, he had never been a Zionist and
had never favored the creation of the State of Israel.
Also, he told me of a significant conversation with [Chaim] Weizmann [the leader of
the World Zionist Organization.] Einstein had asked him: 'What about the Arabs
if Palestine were given to the Jews?' And Weizmann said: 'What Arabs? They are
hardly of any consequence.'"
No wonder Albert Einstein refused the presidency of Israel, since he would have
been replacing Weizmann and would have been surrounded by men with similar
racist, inhumane views of Palestinian Arabs.
These are just a few quick examples and I will provide more, if you
stick with me for a few minutes. I fail to see how anyone who reads what the great man of peace
said himself, so consistently and for so long, can come to any conclusion but
that Albert Einstein wanted a homeland for Jews in Palestine where they could
live in peace with Palestinians, but not an armed Jewish political state, which
he rightly believed would make matters worse. He despised
racism, intolerance and injustice, so I'm sure he would be appalled at Israel's
apartheid walls, its Jim Crow laws and kangaroo courts, and its denial of
freedom, justice and basic human rights to millions of Palestinians.
And what would Einstein have to say about Israel's leaders? Well, shortly
after the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre, he wrote a letter to American Friends of
the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel. In it he referred to the Irgun, led by
Menachem Begin (later, a Prime Minister of Israel) and the Stern Gang, of which
Yitzhak Shamir (also a future Prime Minister of Israel) was a member, as
terrorist organizations, roundly denouncing these
“misled and criminal people.”
Einstein, along with Sidney Hook, Hannah Arendt, Seymour Milman and other
prominent Jews, wrote a letter to the New York Times (December 4, 1948)
in which they condemned Menachem Begin’s and Yitzhak
Shamir’s Herut ("Freedom") party as fascist and espousing
"an admixture of
ultra-nationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority." The letter
appears in full later on this page, along with a link to a scanned image of the
letter. I believe you can also find the letter online in the archives of the
New York Times.
Other articles published in by New York Times confirm Einstein's
consistent views: a 1930 article headlined "Einstein attacks British Zion
Policy," a 1938 article stating that Einstein was "Against Palestine State" and
a 1946 article stating "Einstein Bars Jewish State."
Einstein was much wiser than the people who try to appropriate his
name to excuse acts of racism and intolerance he would never have sanctioned,
much less have participated in himself. Many Christians do something similar,
when they blindly support Israel despite its government-sponsored system of
apartheid and ethnic cleansing, even though no one can possibly believe that Jesus
Christ would have forced completely innocent Palestinian children and
their mothers to walk this new Trail of Tears. [For anyone who disputes terms
like "apartheid," "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide" in regard to Israel, I would simply
point out that (1) apartheid walls twice as high as the Berlin wall do not stand defensively on
Israel's legal borders, but snake very offensively deep inside Occupied
Palestine, stealing valuable land and water sources; and that (2) hundreds of
Palestinian villages and thousands of individual homes have been destroyed
since the Nakba ("Catastrophe") of 1948. It takes a huge amount of money,
manpower and machinery to demolish so many villages and houses, and a lot of
careful coordination, so no one can possibly suggest that such things are
"accidental" or just someone else's bad fortune. And the real question is not
why Palestinian farm families fled the fighting (which we would probably have
done ourselves), but why the farmers and their children were never allowed to return,
despite not having taken part in any hostilities. I
might temporarily flee a war or natural disaster, but if someone deliberately
destroys my house in order to claim the underlying land without paying for it,
and refuses to allow me to return, and anyone in my family
dies as a result, that is clearly armed robbery and murder. When such things
happen on a large scale over a long period of time they merit the terms "ethnic
cleansing" and "genocide."]
Albert Einstein, Spiritual Zionist
Zionism springs from an even deeper motive than Jewish suffering. It is rooted in a Jewish spiritual tradition, whose maintenance and
development are for Jews the raison d'Ítre of their continued existence as a community.
I believe the record clearly shows that if Einstein was a Zionist in any way, it
was in a spiritual, tolerant, humanitarian sense. He shared the vision of Hebrew prophets who called for chesed (mercy, compassion, lovingkindness) and social justice. In a 1938 article
entitled "Why Do They Hate the Jews," Einstein spoke of
"... the bond that has united the Jews for thousands of years, and that unites them
today ... the democratic ideal of social justice, coupled with the ideal of mutual aid and tolerance among all men."
Is this why David Ben-Gurion feared an Einstein presidency: because Ben-Gurion's version of Zionism was unjust, intolerant and anti-democratic?
Is this why Einstein came to fear for the soul of Israel: because he saw Zionism being transmuted into fascism before his eyes?
In his early writings about Zionism, Einstein spoke optimistically about the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, but he repeatedly
stressed that the single most important aspect of Zionism was for Jews to treat Arabs as equals. As he came to realize that many
Zionists, including highly influential Jewish leaders like Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, had
absolutely no intention of treating Arabs as equals,
Einstein strongly opposed them and sometimes became curtly dismissive of their hubristic rhetoric in his letters, as we will see.
But for now here is testimony by Albert Einstein which clearly refutes the idea that he
wanted a Jewish political state. In January 1946, shortly before the Nakba
in earnest, Einstein made a presentation to the Anglo-American Committee of
Inquiry, which was examining the questions raised by Zionism:
Judge Hutcheson: It has been told to our committee by the Zionists that the
passionate heart of every Jew will never be satisfied until they have a Jewish
state in Palestine. It is contended, I suppose, that they must have a majority
over the Arabs. It has been told to us by the Arab representatives that the
Arabs ... will not permit
having themselves converted from a majority to a minority.
Dr. Einstein: Yes.
Judge Hutcheson: I have asked these various persons if it is essential to the
right or the privilege of the Jews to go to Palestine, if it is essential to
real Zionism that a setup be fixed so that the Jews have a Jewish state and a
Jewish majority without regard to the Arab view. Do you share that point of
view, or do you think the matter can be handled on any other basis?
Dr. Einstein: Yes, absolutely. The state idea is not according to my heart. I
cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with many difficulties and
narrow-mindedness. I believe it is bad.
Judge Hutcheson: ... the idea of insisting that a Jewish state must
be created—isn’t it anachronistic?
Dr. Einstein: In my opinion, yes. I am against it …
I published the first version of this page before Fred Jerome's book Einstein on Israel and Zionism was published in June 2009. I
highly recommend Jerome's book for readers who are interested in the history of Zionism, the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and
rational solutions to the ever-vexing, perpetually perplexing problem of peace in the Middle East. I decided to update my page after reading
his book, as Jerome translated letters of Einstein's that had previously been unavailable to English readers. One thing I found particularly
pleasing was Jerome's comment that the "spirit of Einstein's statements, writings and utterances remained the same across a time gap of
several decades and a shift from scientific-philosophical to the political." I had come to the same conclusion myself, while working on the
first version of this page. As we will see together, Einstein didn't "waffle" on his humanitarian, tolerant, spiritual vision of Zionism. If
he changed, it was in his understanding that his vision was losing out to something ominously like the fascism and fanaticism that he and so
many of his fellow Jews had fled during the Holocaust, and which so many of them had unfortunately failed to escape. Now, if Zionism
is ever to right itself, in my opinion it will have to reconsider the words of its greatest intellectual, its greatest humanitarian, and perhaps its greatest
Einstein on Racism and Nationalism
Leon Simon said, "As might be expected, there is in Professor Einstein's nationalism no room for any kind of aggressiveness or chauvinism. For him the
domination of Jew over Arab in Palestine, or the perpetuation of a state of mutual hostility between the two peoples, would mean the failure
Einstein deplored racism and nationalism, calling nationalism the "infantile disease" of the human race. He also said that "oppressive
nationalism must be conquered." He denounced nationalism and its trappings in no
uncertain terms: "Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome
nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how passionately I hate them!"
Having seen the extremes of anti-Semitism in Europe, and particularly in Berlin after he took a
professorship there only to be forced to flee when Hitler rose to power, Einstein came to believe in the need for a Jewish homeland in
Palestine. However, unlike the political Zionists he came to oppose, Einstein did not believe the Jews had any "right" to rule over
Palestinians, who always constituted the clear majority of the population.
So what would Albert Einstein say today about the modern Jewish state of Israel, which has created a system of apartheid designed to
deny non-Jews the most basic human rights, including the right to buy land, the right to due process in fair courts, and the right to marry
and raise children without government interference? Israel's government has gone so far as forcing Palestinian mothers to either leave their
native land, or be separated from their own children! Why are Palestinian mothers and children being forced to walk this new Trail of Tears?
As Jerome points out in his Translator's Note, the government of Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into "the largest ghetto in human
history" and that because the "whole world is watching" but "doing nothing" it is "an abominable spectacle that degrades us all." As an editor
and publisher of Holocaust poetry, I agree, and I believe Albert Einstein would also concur.
Einstein opposed all forms of racism, saying: "I have conceived of Judaism as a community of tradition. Both friend and foe, on the other
hand, have often asserted that the Jews represent a race; that their characteristic behavior is the result of innate qualities transmitted by
heredity from one generation to the next ... The Jews, however, are beyond doubt a mixed race, just as are all other groups of our
civilization. Sincere anthropologists are agreed on this point; assertions to the contrary all belong to the field of political propaganda and
must be rated accordingly."
Einstein was obviously correct; geneticists tell us that all human DNA is virtually identical. There isn't a "Jewish" race or a "Palestinian"
race, really. We are all members of the same species and our differences are primarily traditional (i.e., cultural), not racial. Politicians,
religious figures, pundits, demagogues and rabble rousers may use our cultural differences to convince us to despise and attack each other,
but if we examined our bloodlines closely enough, we'd find that we're all "mongrels" of the same species. So why fight wars over differences
that are less even than skin deep? And yet the Jewish state of Israel rests on the foundational idea that Jewish babies are born with vastly
superior rights to Palestinian babies. Albert Einstein did not agree with such irrational racism.
Einstein on Anti-Semitism
Einstein was also aware that widespread anti-Semitism on the part of Arabs was not a historical fact, and that friction between Jews and Arabs
was due in large part to legitimate fears and grievances on the part of Arabs who faced enormous problems due to the migration of large numbers
of Jews to Palestine (especially because many Zionists arrived with the obvious, stated intention of taking over). Einstein said:
could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people. Despite the great wrong that has been done us [the
Holocaust], we must strive for a just and lasting compromise with the Arab people ... Let us recall that in former times no people lived in
greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these Arabs."
What the early Zionists did, in effect, was use European racism to excuse Jewish racism against Palestinians. This was simply wrong.
Historically, Arabs had treated Jews far better than European Christians had. Until Jews began arriving in large numbers with the stated
intention of ruling Palestine, Jews and Arabs had lived together mostly in peace. Why then were Arabs singled out for oppression and
domination by Jews? Primarily because the Jews needed a safe place to land, but rather than accepting minority status and majority (i.e., Arab)
rule, they insisted on taking over, using British clout and cannons to conquer a largely defenseless populace.
Einstein lamented the failure of Zionist Jews to reach a just understanding with Arabs, and criticized their reliance on their influence with
powerful Englishmen like Winston Churchill. (Churchill sympathized strongly with Zionism and had much to do with the transfer of political
power to the Jewish minority in the early 1920's.) In a letter to a friend, Einstein said:
"I also think that during these last years an
understanding between us and the Arabs which could have led to a bi-national administration was no longer possible. Earlier,
however—actually, since 1918—we neglected the Arabs and trusted in the Englishmen over and over again."
To be fair to the Englishmen, they often did much—though never all—of what the more ardent Zionists demanded, to the anguish of
the Palestinian majority, who were thus denied the right to self-determination. It would have been impossible for Englishmen to make one side
happy without bitterly disappointing the other. But if true democracy had been enacted, the Arab majority could have prevented what eventually
happened in 1948: the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian farmers and their families, the majority of whom were not
combatants and had every right to return to their land once the fighting was over. For someone like Einstein, who believed in the equality of
human beings, and for everyone who abhors racism and believes in equal human rights, a Jewish state in Palestine presents a real dilemma. The
Palestinians have always constituted the clear majority of the population. Only by keeping millions of Palestinians in refugee camps and a
state of political limbo can Israeli Jews claim to constitute the "majority." Thus Israel has never really been a "democracy."
Einstein on the Degeneration of Zionism into "Blind Nationalism"
The greatest danger in the present situation is that blind chauvinism may gain ground in our ranks. However firm the stand we make for the
defense of our lives and property, we must not forget for a single moment that our national task is in its essence a supra-national matter,
and that the strength of our whole movement rests in its moral unification, with which it must stand or fall.
Einstein became more and more disillusioned with the lip service Zionists paid to justice, saying:
"... [the Zionist] movement [must] avoid
the danger of degenerating into a blind nationalism. In my opinion, we must endeavor above all that psychological understanding and
an honorable will towards cooperation take the place of resentment towards the Arabs. The overcoming of this difficulty will, in my
opinion, be the touchstone that our community has a right to existence in the higher sense. I must unfortunately openly acknowledge that the
attitude of our [Zionist] officialdom, as well as the majority of public expressions in this connection, appear to me to leave much to be
Einstein on the Danger of a Military Mentality
No irreconcilable differences stand in the way of peace between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Let us therefore above all be on our guard
against blind chauvinism of any kind, and let us not imagine that reason and common sense can be replaced by British bayonets.
Einstein also feared the "military mentality" he saw developing among Jews:
"It is quite
true that our situation has once again become perilous and that we lack all
power to check the danger. But when I look at Russia and America, I cannot help
wondering whether we would behave more sensibly if we were as powerful as they
Today Israel has one of the most powerful militaries on the
planet, despite its tiny area and miniscule population, compared to those of the
United States, Russia and China. American taxpayers have contributed hundreds of
billions of dollars in financial aid and advanced weapons to a nation that
increasingly looks like a police state with a Gestapo mentality.
Einstein on Arabs being Provoked into "Acts of Hostility" by Zionists
Shaken to its depths by the tragic catastrophe in Palestine, Jewry must now show that it is truly equal to the great task it has
Einstein also recognized that Zionists were provoking the Arabs to "acts of
hostility" (such tactics have been freely admitted by Israeli military leaders like
Moshe Dayan, who admitted trying to lure Syrians to attack Israelis in border
skirmishes). Einstein said:
"We need to pay greater attention to our relations
with the Arabs. By cultivating these carefully we shall be able in future to
prevent things from becoming so dangerously strained that people can take
advantage of them to provoke acts of hostility. This goal is perfectly within
our reach, because our work of construction has been, and must continue to be,
carried out in such a manner as to serve the real interests of the Arab
Einstein on the Ideal of Peace
Einstein clearly saw a just peace with Arabs as vital, saying:
the achievement, however, let us not lose sight of the cause to be served by
this achievement: rescue of our endangered brethren, dispersed in many lands, by
uniting them in Israel; creation of a community which conforms as closely as
possible to the ethical ideals of our people as they have been formed in the
course of a long history. One of these ideals is peace, based on understanding
and self-restraint, and not on violence. If we are imbued with this ideal, our
joy becomes somewhat mingled with sadness, because our relations with the Arabs
are far from this ideal at the present time. It may well be that we would have
reached this idea, had we been permitted to work out, undisturbed by others, our
relations with our neighbors, for we want peace and we realize that our future
development depends on peace."
How very different his words sound, than those of
men like Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu!
As one of his biographers, Ronald Clark, pointed out, "Along with these feelings
which tended to qualify Einstein's enthusiasm for Zionism there was the
essentially pacifist nature of his approach to the problems of the world. Even
when it came to Zionism, a subject as emotionally close to his heart as anything
ever was, he could never look on his opponents, in this case Arabs, as the
deep-eyed villains which the sentiments of the case demanded. He was all for the
policy of live and let live."
Einstein on the Colonization of Palestine by Jews: a Blind Spot?
If Einstein had a "blind spot" in regard to Zionism, it may have been over the
matter of Jewish colonization. If so, this "blind spot" is certainly
understandable, considering the precarious situation of Jews in Europe and
Russia. It seems clear from his letters that Einstein knew Jews were colonizing
Palestine, since he used the term on multiple occasions. Colonization of an
inhabited area of course entails displacement of the indigenous population, in
order to make room for the colonizing population. Whenever colonization occurs,
the invaders invariably usurp the rights, land and resources of the invadees. If
this was not the case, the invaders would be either expelled or assimilated;
however, the Zionists had no plans to be either expelled or assimilated. They
clearly intended to become the rulers of Palestine.
In 1902, the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, in a letter to "the
one man who most represented European colonialism," Cecil Rhodes, appealed for
his support of Zionism specifically "because it is something colonial." Before
Herzl, as early as 1862, Moses Hess had spoken of "the founding of Jewish
colonies in the land of their ancestors." By 1919, a mere two years after the
Balfour Declaration, Chaim Weizmann was confidently predicting that Palestine
would be "as Jewish as England is English or America is American." The same
year, the King-Crane Commission suggested that Zionism could result in "a
practically complete dispossession" of Palestinians. A mere four years later, in
1923, Vladimir Jabotinsky created the doctrine of the "IRON WALL," saying, "Our
colonization must ... proceed in defiance of the will of the native population."
Jabotinsky claimed not to hate Arabs, only to be "indifferent" to them, and
to all non-Jews. But of course he was speaking indifferently of doing great harm
to innocent women and children. It's difficult to imagine two men less alike
than Jabotinsky and Einstein, the great humanist, who said of racists:
individual will guide his actions by reason and insight, not by dull instinct."
In 1929, Weizmann proposed that all Palestinian Arabs be deported to Jordan,
despite the fact that the Jews were less than 20% of the population and owned
less than 10% of the land, insisting that "democracy was not appropriate for
backward peoples" and that Arabs were "too primitive" to "understand what we are
bringing them." (Weizmann sounds remarkably like Hitler speaking about Jews.)
By 1969, Golda Meir would trump even Weizmann, saying,
"There is no such thing as a Palestinian people ... It is not as if we
came and threw them out and took their country. They didn't exist."
In 1982, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in a speech to the Knesset,
would say, "[The Palestinians] are beasts walking on two legs."
In 1998, Ariel Sharon said, "There is no Zionism, colonialization, or Jewish
State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands."
While Herzl and Zionists like Jabotinsky, Weizmann,
Ben-Gurion, Meir, Begin and Sharon knew that colonizing an already-populated region held by "barbarians"
would necessarily result in violence, Albert Einstein may not have foreseen
this. And so, while he undoubtedly would have opposed colonialism everywhere
else in the world, as the racist artifact of dying ultra-nationalistic empires,
in his letters he spoke of Jewish colonization of Palestine in a surprisingly
off-hand manner. He seemed almost blissfully unaware that, as David Hirst put
it, "Violence was implicit in Zionism from the outset." His unawareness may have
been due to the fact that the early Zionists had hidden their true intentions. For
instance Herzl "confided his beliefs" to his diaries, that "military power was
an essential component [of Zionism] ... and that ideally the Zionists should
acquire the land by armed conquest."
Of course Hitler's dream of conquest had been colonial, as he sought lebensraum
("living room") for Aryan supermen outside the borders of Germany. Indeed, both
World War I and World War II were primarily the result of colonialism and
ultra-nationalism, as Germany, Italy, England, France, Russia and Japan competed
with each other to have the greatest, grandest, most powerful "empire" on the
planet. Future wars in places like Vietnam and Algiers would be spawned by the
colonial impulse. But no hot spot would be hotter longer than the hot spot
created by Jewish colonialism, in Palestine.
In the early stages of Zionism, it seems Einstein invested a somewhat naive faith in the
ability of Great Britain to make colonization a positive experience for both
Jews and Palestinians, saying, "I cannot believe that the greatest colonial Power
in the world will fail when it is faced with the task of placing its unique
colonizing experience at the service of the reconstruction of the ancient home
of the People of the Bible. The task may not be an easy one for the Mandatory
Power, but for the success it will attain it is assured of the undying gratitude
not only of the Jews but of all that is noblest in mankind."
For some time Einstein spoke in glowing, perhaps naive,
"Zionism is not a movement inspired by chauvinism or by a sacro egoismo. I am convinced that the great majority of the Jews would refuse
to support a movement of that kind. Nor does Zionism aspire to divest anyone in
Palestine of any rights or possessions he may enjoy. On the contrary, we are
convinced that we shall be able to establish a friendly and constructive
cooperation with the kindred Arab race which will be a blessing to both
sections of the population materially and spiritually. During the whole of the
work of Jewish colonization not a single Arab has been dispossessed; every acre
of land acquired by the Jews has been bought at a price fixed by buyer and
seller. Indeed, every visitor has testified to the enormous improvement in the
economic and sanitary standard of the Arab population resulting from the Jewish
colonisation. Friendly personal relations between the Jewish settlements and the
neighbouring Arab villages have been formed throughout the country. Jewish and
Arab workers have associated in the trade unions of the Palestine railways, and
the standard of living of the Arabs has been raised. Arab scholars can be found
working in the great library of the Hebrew University, while the study of the
Arabic language and civilisation forms one of the chief subjects of study at
this University. Arab workmen have participated in the evening courses conducted
at the Jewish Technical Institute at Haifa. The native population has come to
realise in an ever growing measure the benefits, economic, sanitary and
intellectual, which the Jewish work of reconstruction has bestowed on the whole
country and an its inhabitants. Indeed, one of the most comforting features in
the present crisis has been the reports of personal protection afforded by Arabs
to their Jewish fellow-citizens against the attacks of the fanaticized mob."
But slowly Einstein came to the realization that Arabs did not see Zionism
as helpful, although he remained optimistic, saying:
"One who, like myself, has cherished for many
years the conviction that the humanity of the future must be built up on an
intimate community of the nations, and that aggressive nationalism must be conquered,
can see a future for Palestine only on the basis of peaceful co-operation between the two peoples who are at
home in the country. For this reason I should have expected that the great Arab
people will show a truer appreciation of the need which the Jews feel to
re-build their national home in the ancient seat of Judaism; I should have
expected that by common effort ways and means would be found to render possible
an extensive Jewish settlement in the country. I am convinced that the devotion
of the Jewish people to Palestine will benefit all the inhabitants of the
country, not only materially, but also culturally and nationally. I believe that
the Arab renaissance in the vast expanse of territory now occupied by the Arabs
stands only to gain from Jewish sympathy. I should welcome the creation of an
opportunity for absolutely free and frank discussion of these possibilities, for
I believe that the two great Semitic peoples, each of which has in its way
contributed something of lasing value to the civilisation of the West, may have
a great future in common, and that instead of facing each other with barren
enmity and mutual distrust, they should support each other's national and
cultural endeavours, and should seek the possibility of sympathetic
co-operation. I think that those who are not actively engaged in politics should
above all contribute to the creation of this atmosphere of confidence."
But at least by 1921, Einstein was aware of the potential for disaster in
Palestine, as he said in a letter to Paul Ehrenfest that:
"In several places ...
a high-tensioned Jewish nationalism ... threatens to degenerate into intolerance
and bigotry; but hopefully this is only an infantile disorder."
Unfortunately, this "high-tensioned nationalism" was the beating heart of
what came to be known as political Zionism, and intolerance and bigotry became
its watchwords. If we read what Israeli prime ministers like Menachem Begin,
Golda Meir and Ariel Sharon said themselves about Palestinians, they really do
sound like Nazis speaking dismissively of Jews.
Einstein was Used by the Political Zionists, but was Not Considered a Zionist by Them
In 1921, Kurt Blumenfeld told Chaim Weizmann, "Einstein, as you know, is no
Zionist" and warned him not to let Einstein make speeches because he "often
says" things "which are unwelcome by us." But Einstein himself said:
"A Jew who strives
to impregnate his spirit with humanitarian ideals can call himself a Zionist
However, by 1929 it seems that Einstein may no longer have considered himself to
be a Zionist, as in his address to the Sixteenth Zionist Congress, he mentioned
Herzl, Weizmann and the "enthusiastic minority that calls itself Zionist," then
spoke of "We, the others ..."
Einstein obviously believed that the first priority of Zionism should be a just agreement
with the Arabs. He was not alone in this opinion, as other Jewish leaders and
intellectuals, including Fromm, Buber, Magnes, Hugo Bergmann, Ruppin and
Calvaresci spoke along the same lines. Norman Bentwich said, "That conviction
was expressed emphatically by Albert Einstein when I visited him in his cottage
during my stay in Berlin in 1930. He would not remain associated, he said, with
the Zionist movement unless it tried to make peace with the Arabs in deed as
well as in word. The Jews should form committees with the Arab peasants and
workers, and not try to negotiate only with the leaders."
Einstein on the Partitioning of Palestine
Einstein did not think the partitioning of Palestine was a good idea without UN
supervision, writing to
an unidentified Mr. Brainin:
"[I have a] long-held ... conviction
... that for Palestine the only fair and suitable form of government is a
bi-national arrangement. However, the management would have to be substantially
taken over by the United Nations for the foreseeable future, because the
political life of Palestine is thoroughly muddled and, therefore, the land is
not ripe for political independence."
Einstein Repudiated the Need for a Jewish Political State
"I should much rather see reasonable
agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the
creation of a Jewish State. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of
the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish State, with
borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am
afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain ... "
Furthermore, he said:
"A just solution of this problem
and one worthy of both nations is an end no less important and no less worthy of
our efforts than the promotion of the work of construction itself [i.e., than
the creation of a Jewish state in Israel]."
He clearly renounced nationalism and the need for a specifically Jewish state,
"The difficulties we have been through have also brought some good in
their train. They have shown us once more how strong is the bond which unites
the Jews of all countries in a common destiny. The crisis has also purified our
attitude to the question of Palestine, purged it of the dross of nationalism. It
has been clearly proclaimed that we are not seeking to create a political
society, but that our aim is, in accordance with the old tradition of Jewry, a
cultural one in the widest sense of the world. That being so, it is for us to
solve the problem of living side by side with our brother the Arab in an open,
generous, and worthy manner."
In his testimony of January 1946 before the
Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, he said:
"The State idea is not according
to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with
narrow-mindedness and economic obstacles. I believe that it is bad. I have
always been against it [i.e., against a Jewish political state rather than a
Jewish homeland]." He went further to deride the concept of a Jewish
commonwealth as an "imitation of Europe, the end of which was brought about by
What was Einstein's view regarding the creation of the State of Israel? A certain Dr. Lilienthal went to
Princeton to see Einstein and pose the question directly to him. According
to Dr. Lilienthal, "I went to Princeton to seek the Professor's views on the
incident. Einstein then told me that he had never been a Zionist and had never
favored the creation of the State of Israel."
Once the true nature of certain elements within the Jewish state of Israel had
become abundantly evident, a number of prominent Jewish
voices of conscience rose to the occasion, sending an Open Letter to the New York
Times. Einstein, Sidney Hook, Hannah Arendt and Seymour Milman were among the
signers of this letter, which appeared in the
Times on December 4, 1948.
The letter said:
"Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our time is
the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the 'Freedom Party' ...
a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political
philosophy, and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out
of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist
right-wing chauvinist organization in Palestine.
The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to
the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American
support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political
ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans
of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is
inconceivable that those who opposed fascism throughout the world, if currently
informed as to Mr. Begin's political record and perspectives, could add their
names and support to the movement he represents ... A shocking example was
their behavior in the Arab village of Deir Yassin ... this incident
exemplified the character and actions of the Freedom Party. Within the Jewish
community they have preached an admixture of ultra-nationalism, religious
mysticism, and racial superiority. Like other fascist parties, they have been
used to break strikes, and have themselves pressed for the destruction of free
The discrepancies between the bold claims now being made by
Begin and his party, and their record of past performance in Palestine, bear the
imprint of no ordinary political party. This is the unmistakable stamp of a
Fascist party for whom terrorism (against Jews, Arabs, and British alike) and
misrepresentation are means, and a 'Leader State' is the goal.
In the light of the foregoing consideration, it is imperative
that the truth about Mr. Begin and his movement be made known in this country.
It is all the more tragic that the top leadership of American Zionism has
refused to campaign against Begin's efforts, or even to expose to its own
constituents the dangers to Israel of support to Begin. The undersigned
therefore take the means publicly presenting a few salient facts concerning
Begin and his party, and of urging all concerned not to support this latest
manifestation of fascism."
ISIDORE ABRAMOWITZ, HANNAH ARENDT, ABRAHAM BRICK, RABBI JESSURUN CARDOZO,
ALBERT EINSTEIN, HERMAN EISEN, M.D., HAYIM FINEMAN, M. GALLEN, M.D., H.H.
HARRIS, ZELIG S. HARRIS, SIDNEY HOOK, FRED KARUSH, BRURIA KAUFMAN, IRMA L.
LINDHEIM, NACHMAN MAISEL, SEYMOUR MELMAN, MYER D. MENDELSON, M.D., HARRY M.
OSLINSKY, SAMUEL PITLICK, FRITZ ROHRLICH, LOUIS P. ROCKER, RUTH SAGIS, ITZHAK
SANKOWSKY, I.J. SHOENBERG, SAMUEL SHUMAN, M. SINGER, IRMA WOLFE, STEFAN WOLFE.
New York, Dec. 2, 1948, pp. 352-353
A scanned image of this Open Letter as it appeared in
the New York Times is available at this
Einstein Avoided "Eulogistic Expressions" about Israel
The Official Einstein Archive contains an address Einstein prepared
for a dinner for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1950. Zionists seem to have
drafted an earlier version of the text, which contained "eulogistic expressions"
about Israel. The original text stated: "The people of America will welcome this
great orchestra because it is sent to us in a spirit of gratitude for the part
we have played in helping to establish a democratic state of Israel. Israel's
contribution to the beauty of living, like all artistic creations, will help not
only Israel, but the entire Middle East." Einstein crossed out parts of the
original draft, including the reference to Israel as "a democratic state," and
stated his consistent view that "The meaning of Israel lay always and still
lies in the spiritual values which it creates and embodies. The new state should
only be seen as a means to serve these ends efficiently, not as an end in itself
or even as an instrument of political ambitions." The document is dated
almost two years after the State of Israel was founded. So it seems that Einstein did
not consider Israel to be a "democratic state" and did not see the creation of a
Jewish state in Palestine being a "help" to the "entire Middle East."
Einstein Shared the Vision of the Hebrew Prophets
Einstein had a very different dream than the dream of
political Zionists. His early support for a Jewish presence in Palestine clearly
did not extend to Jews seizing control of the region and subjecting or displacing
Arabs. While some commentators see Einstein as either an ardent political
Zionist, or a man who vacillated on the subject of a Jewish state, to me he
seems remarkably consistent. His dream was always of a form of Judaism based on
the teachings of Hebrew prophets who called for chesed [mercy,
compassion, lovingkindness] and social justice. As he saw the nature of the Jewish
state that emerged, Einstein distanced himself from the racism, nationalism and
militarism which soon became its watchwords.
Einstein considered the message of the prophets to be the
living, beating heart of Judaism, saying:
"The Zionist goal gives us an actual
opportunity to put into practice, through a viable solution of the Jewish-Arab
problem, those principles of tolerance and justice that we owe primarily to our
prophets. I am convinced that the living transmission of those principles is the
most important thing in Judaism." He also said: "To be a Jew, after all, means
first of all, to acknowledge and follow in practice those fundamentals in
humaneness laid down in the Bible: fundamentals without which no sound and happy
community of men can exist."
He also said:
"Just one more personal word on the question of partition. I
should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of
living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from
practical consideration, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists
the ideas of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal
power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will
sustain, especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own
ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a
Jewish state. We are no longer the Jews of the Maccabee period. A return to a
nation in the political sense of the word would be equivalent to turning away
from the spiritualization of our community which we owe to the genius of our
Was Einstein a prophet himself? Just before he died
on April 18, 1955, Einstein signed what became known as The Einstein-Russell
Manifesto. In it, the great theoretical physicist and the philosopher-mathematician
Bertrand Russell went beyond vague moral arguments for pacifism. Instead they
posed political choices:
"There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress
in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we
cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember
your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new
Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death."
Was Einstein a Zionist? Yes, because he dreamed of a Jewish homeland: a community where Jews would be safe and
live together in peace, but not a political
state bristling with weapons. Einstein was an idealist who heeded the call of the Hebrew prophets for
compassion and justice. Just before he
died, he sounded like one of those prophets himself, saying that the
difference between Paradise and Sheol [the grave, destruction, death] is a
matter of choice, of human desire and will. We can choose to see all men as equals,
respect their rights as we wish them to respect our own, and live in peace, or we can call ourselves the
Chosen Few, trample on the rights of others, and go down to Sheol: to death, to
destruction. The world is, to a large degree, what we choose to make of it. We
can tame wild beasts, making the savage wolf man's best friend, the
loving and loyal dog ... but what will we do about ourselves? Will we ever use our
hearts and brains simultaneously, to our best advantage? But perhaps the last
and greatest of the Hebrew prophets left us with a glimmer of hope:
I deplore the tragic events ... not only because they revealed human nature
in its lowest aspects, but also because they have deranged the two peoples and
have made it temporarily more difficult for them to approach one another. But
come together they must, in spite of all.