The HyperTexts

Sigmund Freud on Zionism, Palestine, the Jewish State of Israel and Arab-Jewish Relationships

Sigmund Freud, one of the world's most famous Jews and the father of modern psychoanalysis, rejected political Zionism. In doing so, he joined Albert Einstein and other prominent Jewish intellectuals of his day. (Einstein embraced spiritual Zionism but not the idea of a militarized Jewish political state that would disenfranchise Palestinian Arabs, rob them of their land, or deny them equality.) Here is a letter that Freud wrote to a Zionist, Dr. Chaim Koffler, who had tried to recruit him to the Zionist cause:

Vienna: 26 February 1930

Dear Sir:

"I cannot do as you wish [i.e., become a Zionist] ... Whoever wants to influence the masses must give them something rousing and inflammatory and my sober judgment of Zionism does not permit this. I certainly sympathize with its goals, am proud of our University in Jerusalem and am delighted with our settlement’s prosperity. But, on the other hand, I do not think that Palestine could ever become a Jewish state, nor that the Christian and Islamic worlds would ever be prepared to have their holy places under Jewish care. It would have seemed more sensible to me to establish a Jewish homeland on a less historically-burdened land. But I know that such a rational viewpoint would never have gained the enthusiasm of the masses and the financial support of the wealthy. I concede with sorrow that the baseless fanaticism of our people is in part to be blamed for the awakening of Arab distrust. I can raise no sympathy at all for the misdirected piety which transforms a piece of a Herodian wall [i.e., the Wailing Wall] into a national relic, thereby offending the feelings of the natives. Now judge for yourself whether I, with such a critical point of view, am the right person to come forward as the solace of a people deluded by unjustified hope."

Your obedient servant,

What would Sigmund Freud have made of Israel today, and the Nakba ("Catastrophe") of the Palestinian people, millions of whom have been ethnically cleansed into walled apartheid ghettos and denied basic human rights? Certain of his quotes are illuminating:

A belligerent state permits itself every such misdeed, every such act of violence, as would disgrace the individual.
A civilization which leaves so large a number of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into revolt neither has nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence.
Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.
Civilization began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock.
Civilized society is perpetually menaced with disintegration through this primary hostility of men towards one another.
Everywhere I go, I find that a poet has been there before me.
Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.
What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.
What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree.
Where id was, there ego shall be.
Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism.
It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built upon a renunciation of instinct.
He does not believe, who does not live according to his belief.
If you can't do it, give up!

Four German Jews helped change the course of human history. By the time the first, Karl Marx, died in 1883, Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl were rising stars in their twenties living a few doors apart on a Vienna street. Albert Einstein also had connections to the Vienna Circle. Freud admired Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, but like Einstein, Freud was put off by any hint of Jewish chauvinism. Hence his last book, Moses and Monotheism, was Freud's attempt to show that Jewish ethnicity and nationalism were not integral to its main gift to humanity. 

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 the theft of Palestinian land relates to Israel's latest offensive against Gaza, known 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 Jimmy Carter: "Israeli policy is to confiscate Palestinian territory." You may also want to read and consider Israeli Prime Ministers who were Terrorists; they include Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon and David Ben-Gurion.

The HyperTexts