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Was the Holocaust a key factor in the establishment of the Zionist state?

March 20, 2008

Peace and blessings Rabbi,

I am in my last year of 6th form (that's high school in the American system), and i am studying for my History A-levels. For our end of year coursework module we have to choose a topic of interest to us and base a question around your area of interest, and develop a 3,500 word essay on it, i am finding it rather difficult to get a sufficient answer regarding my question:

To what extent where reactions to the Holocaust the key factor in the development of a Zionist State in 1948?


Evaluation of historians, in order to reach judgment.

If you could help direct me to answer this question that would be of great help Rabbi.


Dear Ahmed,

I wouldn't say that the Holocaust was THE key factor leading to the founding of the Zionist state. The Zionist movement had been around for several decades prior to the Holocaust, and founding a state had always been their goal, ever since Herzl wrote "The Judenstaat". But it is true to say that if not for the Holocaust, the state probably would not have come about. The reasons are twofold: from the non-Jewish side, and from the Jewish side.

From the non-Jewish side: Before WWII, Britain issued the 1939 White Paper stating that the purpose of the Balfour Declaration had already been fulfilled and Jews could no longer come to Palestine in large numbers. Even after the War, Britain under Clement Atlee and Ernest Bevin was prepared to continue with the White Paper policy of severely limiting Jewish immigration and opposing a Jewish state. But due to the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust and the Zionists' demands for the absorption into Palestine of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees in the displaced persons camps of Europe, American popular opinion, as well as President Truman, began to support a Jewish state. (The Jewish refugees really could have been absorbed into America and other countries, but the Zionists didn't let that happen because they wanted to use them to exert pressure on the British.)

At the same time, the Zionists in Palestine began a campaign of terror attacks against the British. Not only the Irgun Zionists, but also Ben Gurion and his mainstream Haganah participated in this guerilla warfare. The British were eventually pressured into placing the problem for the United Nations to solve. It was American arm-twisting that ensured that the two-thirds of the General Assembly voted for partition and a Jewish state in November 1947. This two-thirds vote could never have been achieved before the Holocaust, and in fact the U.N. didn't even exist before the Holocaust.

From the Jewish side, the Zionists were a popular movement even before the rise of Hitler, but they were by no means the majority of the Jewish people. The Zionists who came in the late 1800's and up through the 1920's were an ideologically motivated marginal group. There were still many Jewish organizations who were non-Zionist, such as the Joint Distribution Committee, and most religious Jewish organizations. When the danger of Hitler became clear, however, Jews began fleeing to Palestine just to get out of Europe. Many began to support Zionism or at least emigration to Palestine as a method of saving Jews. After the Holocaust this Jewish support for Zionism became even stronger. Some non-believing Jews felt that Jews had to be strong and have an army to prevent a repeat of the Holocaust. Many religious Jews, although not Zionists, stood together with the Zionists before the Anglo American Commission on Palestine and later the United Nations Investigation Committee and demanded unlimited Jewish immigration.

At the same time, anti-Zionist rabbis such as Rabbi Velvel Soloveitchik of Brisk, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum of Satmar and Rabbi Abraham Karelitz warned against founding a Jewish state and stated that it was forbidden according to Jewish law. The Neturei Karta, founded in 1935, dominated Jerusalem's old Orthodox community from 1945 onward, and that community refused to play any part in the founding of the state. However, they were in the minority among the Jews.

After the founding of the Zionist state and throughout the years, to this day, the Holocaust is crucial in maintaining Jewish and non-Jewish support for the Zionist cause. It is claimed that without a state of their own, the Jews would be vulnerable to another Holocaust. Holocaust Memorial Day is very important in the Zionist state and in Zionist communities worldwide. The Anti-defamation League and the Wiesenthal Center are important hubs of the Zionist propaganda machine. Zionists commonly use the charge of anti-Semitism to silence their critics.

However, we religious Jews see it differently. The world is run by G-d, and all events, good or bad, are dictated by Him. He has His plans for the Jewish people in exile, and we cannot claim that we need a state in
order to stay safe. And on the contrary, making a state is heresy because it demonstrates lack of trust in G-d's providence.

If I can be of more help to you please feel free to write again.