The CPD Blog is intended to stimulate dialog among scholars and practitioners from around the world in the public diplomacy sphere. The opinions represented here are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect CPD's views. For blogger guidelines, click here.

Israeli Public Diplomacy’s Longstanding Blind Spot: Arab Publics

Mar 9, 2011


As oppressive Arab regimes totter and topple under the pressure of democratization movements, Israel needs to engage directly with the region’s increasingly politically empowered peoples. But can Israel implement an effective public diplomacy and harness “soft power” with the citizenry of its neighborhood? The answer must be yes; but Israeli public diplomacy strategy and analysis over the past decade provide little guidance for outreach to Arab publics.

Israeli governments and researchers have been thinking hard for years about how to employ the attractive and coöptive qualities of soft power to advance the state’s strategic interests. But the focus has generally been on publics in the US and Europe. The target groups have with very few exceptions not included Arab populaces, whom the Israelis have generally either ignored or written off as implacable enemies of Zionism and the Jews.

The problem runs deep. Early Zionists looked at Palestine and saw, as a slogan of the time put it, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Casting an eye on the peoples who lived beyond Palestine’s borders, Theodor Herzl declared in his seminal 1896 work The Jewish State, “We should [in Palestine] form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”

These two formative sensibilities concerning Arabs and other native peoples of the Near and Middle East—willful myopia and disdainful hostility—find a strong echo in contemporary Israel’s public diplomacy efforts. The thematic continuity is evident in a 2009 study on Israeli public diplomacy undertaken jointly by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Neaman Institute for National Policy Research at Haifa’s Technion university. The study analyzes at length the concept of soft power while recommending strategies to improve Israeli outreach toward the US, Europe, and even India as a representative eastern nation. But in over 190 pages it says not a word about public diplomacy with the Arab world. The Arabs show up exclusively, as they often have in Israeli PD analyses, as devilishly effective purveyors of anti-Israeli international propaganda.

Israeli public diplomacy over the past decade has generally encompassed hasbara, or “explanation,” and recurring efforts at “branding”—or more precisely, re-branding—Israel. Hasbara operates on the basic principle that Israel’s policies aren’t inherently problematic but need to be explained properly to American and other overseas observers in order to garner international support. The Foreign Ministry-sponsored “Brand Israel” public relations campaign is a hasbara outgrowth. According to program director Ido Aharoni, “there is a very real need to talk about Israel beyond the conflict.”

Both hasbara and “branding” have self-evident shortcomings, as the former seeks to justify Israel’s position on the Occupation and such controversial policies as the massive 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead military campaign in Gaza, and the latter essentially seeks to change the subject altogether. Beyond these broad structural problems, they neglect to engage Arab publics, at whom they’re not aimed in any event. A few Israeli Cassandras have intermittently complained about Israel’s inattention to the region’s citizens. Most notable among those are the Israeli State Comptroller, foreign policy analyst and current World Jewish Congress Secretary General Dan Diker and Israeli communications professor (and current CPD Senior Scholar) Eytan Gilboa. Their complaints have gotten little official traction.

The State Comptroller’s office issued reports in 2002 and 2010 decrying the lack of public diplomacy outreach to Arab peoples. Nonetheless, the 2010 report shows a hasbara-oriented sensibility, referring to “systemic failures” of communication during Operation Cast Lead—as if a better explanation would have mollified an Arab public that overwhelmingly viewed the Israeli military response as brutally disproportionate. (It’s cold comfort that Muammar Gaddafi recently likened his own brutal military campaign against Libyan anti-regime protesters to Cast Lead.) The Israeli government’s ineffectual response to the 2010 Comptroller’s critique was to appoint the Arabic-speaking but untelegenic Ofir Gendelman as the “Prime Minister's Bureau Arabic-language spokesman for public diplomacy”, a would-be one-man counterpoise to Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.

Israel’s inability to engage with Arab publics was painfully on display with the government’s response to the Egyptian revolution, which alternated between stony silence and dark mutterings about Egypt transmogrifying into a second Iran should Hosni Mubarak fall. Perhaps most damaging was Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom’s statement on Israeli radio that “if regimes neighboring the Israeli state were replaced by democratic systems, Israeli national security might significantly be threatened.” The Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram reported Shalom’s pronouncement under the damning headline, “Israel Dreading a Democratic Arab World.”

It’s time for the Israeli government’s lack of engagement with the region’s peoples to come to an end, for reasons of both peril and opportunity. Concerning the former, Israel no longer has the luxury of dealing in its neighborhood with leaders divorced from public opinion. Reforming Arab governments will increasingly respond to their peoples’ will in order to retain their support. If Israel fails to court and communicate with newly empowered publics it will end up with Arab analogues to Turkey, where voter antipathy to Israeli policies has contributed to the Erdogan government’s dramatic downgrading of the Turkish-Israeli alliance. Silvan Shalom is right at least in the short term about an erosion of Israeli security in the face of properly represented, anti-Israeli Arab populaces. Short-term will become long-term if Israel continues to do nothing to alter the dynamic of its relations, or more precisely non-relations, with these populaces.

Israel’s opportunities as a prosperous, economically vibrant democracy are plentiful. The Israelis are potentially well positioned to assist in the development of Arab civil society structures concerning effective governance, quality education and other forms of human capital development, and press freedoms. They can help via investment and advice to foster the growth of entrepreneurship already taking root in the region. And Israel can and should play a defining role in the creation of a widespread sense of regional interdependence, in which peace and prosperity are embraced by the great majority of citizens as a common good. In doing so, Israel has the opportunity to significantly reduce deep-seated Arab public antipathy toward the Jewish State and Jews in general. It’s noteworthy that a recent Pew poll indicated that 90 percent of Arabs outside of Israel feel negatively toward Jews, but only 35 percent of Israeli Arabs, suggesting that stronger and more widespread relationships can make a substantial positive difference.

But in order to grasp these opportunities, Israel must make at least three key changes.

First, the Israelis must abandon once and for all the mindset of standing aloof from the region and move toward full investment in the Near and Middle East as an integral citizen.

Second, Israel must shift decisively away from the conception of public diplomacy as explanation, or simply one-way “outreach.” PD requires two-way engagement and relationship-building. Israel must be committed to policies that entail listening, learning, and increasing mutual understanding over time.

Finally, all the regional public diplomacy in the world will be completely ineffective as long as Israel maintains its current Palestine policies, which polling data indicates is of first-magnitude importance to Arab publics. While achieving a just settlement with the Palestinians is not a panacea for Israel’s capacity to effectively engage with the peoples of the Middle East, it is a sine qua non. As so many Israeli officials and analysts are enamored of the idea of soft power, they would do well to keep in mind the words of Joseph Nye: “Actions speak louder than words, and public diplomacy that appears to be mere window dressing for the projection of hard power is unlikely to succeed.”



Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

You write: Early Zionists

You write: Early Zionists looked at Palestine and saw, as a slogan of the time put it, “A land without a people for a people without a land.”

1) the phrase was first used by Church of Scotland clergyman Alexander Keith in his 1843

2) the fact that it was a "widely-propagated Zionist slogan" is not true. It was used mainly in anti-Zionist literature.

see: "A Land without a People for a People without a Land"
by Diana Muir Middle East Quarterly
Spring 2008, pp. 55-62

The slogan did not mean that there were no inhabitants at all in Palestine. The letter "a" appears before the word "People" (capital P) since the word refers to "Nation" and not population. In the 1800's the region was under Ottoman rule and the was no "Nation" living on the land. The population there was made up of tribes, clans, and nomads. The Jews were and are a nation (common history/heritage, common religion, common language being Hebrew, common connection to the Land of Israel) for over 2000 years. For sure in the 1800's there was no Palestinian Nation.

In your link to Herzl's

In your link to Herzl's "Jewish State" one finds the following paragraph "In 1902, he published a utopian novel about the Jewish state, Altneuland (oldnew land) a vision complete with monorails and modern industry. , Altneuland envisioned a multipluralistic Democracy in which Arabs and Jews had equal rights."

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the description of the election campaign that was to have taken place in 1923. The campaign focused on the rights of the country's non-Jewish inhabitants. Contrary to what is sometimes said of Zionism - that it ignored the existence of Arabs in the country - the book reveals not only an awareness of the existence of the Arab population; the Jewish state is predicated on the concept that all its inhabitants, regardless of religion, race or gender, enjoy equal rights and the right to vote. These rights are extended not only to Arabs, but to women, though at the time the book was written no Western democracy had given women the vote.

In the book, not only do the country's Arabs have the right to vote, some of them serve in key posts. Among them is one of the novel's heroes, an Arab engineer from Haifa named Rashid Bey. To use a term from our day, Herzl envisioned a state that would be both Jewish and democratic, both a Jewish nation state and a state of all its citizens.

(source: Herzl's vision of racism )

To David Elazar: Thank you

To David Elazar: Thank you for your comments on my article. I am of course well aware of the provenance of the formulation, “A Land Without a People for a People Without a Land.” My occasional editor at The National Interest, Dr. Adam Garfinkle, wrote a groundbreaking article on the subject in 1991 (“On the Origin, Meaning, Use and Abuse of a Phrase,” Middle Eastern Studies, 10/91), which I read when it was published (NB I was focusing on US-Israeli relations at the time). It is true that British evangelical Christians like the Rev. Alexander Keith and Lord Shaftesbury initially promulgated the phrase in the mid-19th century.

However, Zionist playwright and author Israel Zangwill, perhaps best known for his 1908 play about immigrant assimilation in the US, “The Melting Pot,” took the aphorism to a new level of public awareness and use with his employment of it in his 1901 article “The Return to Palestine” in the British monthly The New Liberal Review, which in turn was widely circulated by other journals, such as the nonpareil British journalist W. T. Stead’s The Review of Reviews (you can find Stead’s laudatory comments at country without a people&f=false).

Indeed, Zangwill became so closely identified with “A Land Without a People….” that a 1919 article in the London Jewish Advocate pointedly reminded readers that Lord Shaftesbury had previously uttered the phrase (while forgetting Rev. Keith altogether). This article, available at"land... "land without a people"&f=true, is especially interesting for its interview with the Emir (later King) Faisal, who expressed his support for allowing a Jewish homeland in Palestine while vociferously objecting to a Jewish state, and who worriedly referenced Israel Zangwill as he asserted that Arab sentiment was “bound to be exacerbated by the suggestion, for instance, by Mr. Zangwill that Arabs should be packed out the country in order to allow Jews to go in….” While this was not exactly what the Zionist playwright meant, one can see how the phrase’s potential implications alarmed moderate Arab leaders.

As for whether “A Land Without a People” was meant to be taken literally, I will simply quote the fairly conservative Zionist Adam Garfinkle (I hope Adam does not cavil at my characterization):

"Although a few early Zionists (including Herzl), believed that the land was virtually empty….[m]ost believed that the land was desolate because there was not in Palestine 'a people' in the then-current European sense of a group wedded to a particular land whose members defined themselves as composing a separate nation." (“On the Origin” etc., p. 539)

Adam’s analysis is seconded by my onetime teacher at Harvard Zachary Lockman, despite the ideological chasm between the two scholars:

"[T]he dominant Zionist representation of Palestine’s non-Jewish inhabitants asserted that they lacked the requisite characteristics which might entitle them to national rights in the country; they were not, and by their very essence could not be, a distinct or coherent people or nation.” (Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948, UC Press, 1996, p. 31)

So in fact there was both a literal and 19th century nationalist meaning of “Land Without a People.” In any event, it implied that resident Arabs had no legitimate claim on the land, as opposed to the Jews, who in the formulations of early Zionist theorists Achad Ha’am and Micha Berdichvesky were an “organic people” like other European national groups but lacking a physical state. (See e.g. Anita Shapira, Land and Power: the Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948, Stanford Press, 1999, pp.17-29)

Hence as for your blanket assertion, “In the 1800's the region was under Ottoman rule and there was no ‘Nation’ living on the land,” it is the intellectual product of an antique ideology. Speaking as a scholar and teacher, we should not be bound today in our analysis by attitudes and theories that were prevalent over a century ago.

This leads me to your separate point about Herzl’s utopian Altneuland. First, as Garfinkle notes, Herzl initially had no idea of just how numerous the non-Jewish indigenous peoples were in Palestine. Second, his utopianism was balanced a mitteleuropäische hauteur toward non-European peoples, as my quote from The Jewish State makes clear. Third, Herzl “raised in his diary the idea of quietly and informally evicting the inhabitants of the country from their land,” adding that “at first people will think that such behavior carries a bad odor.” (Elie Podeh and Asher Kaufman, eds., Arab-Jewish Relations: From Conflict to Resolution? Essays in Honor of Professor Moshe Ma’oz, Sussex Academic Press, 2006, p. 25; see as well Shapira, pp. 16-17) Clearly, Herzl's views were complicated, to say the least.

Again, thanks for your comments.

I am puzzled by your attempt

I am puzzled by your attempt to prove that the early Zionists were guilty of "willful myopia" by quoting a slogan that they did not use.

Zionism had so may slogans that I am almost tempted to assert that there were more official slogans than there were Zionist, but the slogan you cite is not among them.

As I stated in my article
"A Land without a People for a People without a Land", Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2008, ( the official Zionist slogan of the era stated that "The aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law." Zionist groups used a range of other slogans, including "Torah and Labor," "The Land of Israel for the People of Israel according to the Torah of Israel," and "Zionism, Socialism, and Diaspora Emancipation." These, along with "Jewish State," "Back to the soil," "Return to Zion," "Jewish homeland," "A Palestine open to all Jews," and, by far most frequently, "Jewish national home," were widely-propagated Zionist slogans. Search for them and you find hundreds of published uses by early Zionists. If the slogan "Land without a people for a people without a land" ever became popular among Jews, no one has published evidence of it. It was, however, once quite popular among Christians.
Your assertion that Herzl "believed that the land was virtually empty" is widely shared. I can only assume that you and others making this assertion have not re-read Der Judenstaat (1895) recently. Here is an online source. ( , although all translations have their problems, and Herzl had his quirks, such as debating in his own mind whether Jews should build a state in the Argentine or Palestine, but there can be no doubt that he knew that Palestine was populated. Herzl: "Should the Powers declare themselves willing to admit our sovereignty over a neutral piece of land, then the Society will enter into negotiations for the possession of this land. Here two territories come under consideration, Palestine and Argentine. In both countries important experiments in colonization have been made, though on the mistaken principle of a gradual infiltration of Jews. An infiltration is bound to end badly. It continues till the inevitable moment when the native population feels itself threatened, and forces the Government to stop a further influx of Jews. Immigration is consequently futile unless we have the sovereign right to continue such immigration."

Quoting Israel Zangwill to make a claim about what early Zionists were thinking is about as valid as quoting Ronald Reagan to make a claim about what 20th century liberal Democrats were thinking. Reagan was once a liberal Democrat, and Zangwill was briefly a Zionist. Zangwill's defection from the movement was notorious. But, just for the record, here the argument he made for building a Jewish national home in the land of Israel. I leave it to your readers to judge whether it constitutes "disdainful hostility."

"The Arabs should recognize that the road of renewed national glory lies through Baghdad, Damascus, and Mecca, and all the vast territories freed for them from the Turks… The powers that freed them have surely the right to ask them not to grudge the petty strip (Palestine) necessary for the renaissance of a still more downtrodden people."

Reply to Diana Muir: Thank

Reply to Diana Muir: Thank you for your comments. I am of course familiar with your 2008 Middle East Quarterly article but welcome your recapitulating its points here. On the basic issue about whether some variant on the formulation “a land without a people for a people without a land” was an early Zionist slogan, your conclusion that it was not is quite simply in the minority. That it was one of many Zionist slogans is not in dispute. However, as Adam Garfinkle explains in his benchmark 1991 Middle Eastern Studies article on the subject (see my previous reply for full cite), the combined publicity of the phrase by Israel Zangwill and the famed American public lecturer John Lawson Stoddard resulted in the spread of the concept among both American and European Jewish Zionists in the years the years preceding and following the turn of the 20th century. (Garfinkle 1991, pp. 545-46.)

Anita Shapira in Land and Power (see my previous reply for full cite) seconds the fame and ubiquity of “a land without a people for a people without a land”: “The slogan….was common among Zionists at the end of the nineteenth, and the beginning of the twentieth, century. It contained a legitimation of the Jewish claim to the land and did away with any sense of an uneasiness that a competitor to this claim might appear.” (Shapira, p. 42)

But rather than take the word of scholars writing ex post facto, let us look to someone in a position to comment authoritatively: Chaim Weizmann, who stated in a 1914 speech, “In its initial stage, Zionism was conceived by its pioneers as a movement wholly depending on mechanical factors: there is a country which happens to be called Palestine, a country without a people, and, on the other hand, there exists the Jewish people, and it has no country. What else is necessary, then, than to fit the gem into the ring, to unite this people with this country?” (Speech by Weizmann in Paris, 3/28/1914, in Barnet Litvinov, ed., The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann: Series B: Papers, v. 1, August 1898-July 1931 (Rutgers-transaction Press, 1983), pp. 115-116.) Thus does Weizmann posit the phrase in question not merely as a slogan, but as a determinative modus operandi in Zionism’s early iteration. I will note that in your article you mildly note Weizmann referring to the phrase “as descriptive of attitudes common in the early days of the movement”—the quote above makes clear that he saw it as far more than that.

Indeed, it behooves me to point out that your article, although interesting, contains a key fallacy of historical reasoning. The fact that you fruitlessly searched “seven major American newspapers” and the ProQuest Historical Newspapers general database for evidence of the phrase’s widespread currency does not mean that you have definitively made your point. Have you gone through The Forward and other US Jewish and Zionist publications of the period, in English, Yiddish and other languages? British and other European contemporary publications? Ha’Zvi and other early Yishuv-era periodicals? If you were my graduate student, I would say that you have an interesting hypothesis and a good initial presentation, but you have a lot of work ahead of you to fully research your topic—and of course, you would have to be open to the possibility that your research might lead you to a different conclusion.

On your point about Herzl’s awareness of the considerable indigenous population of Palestine: as I note in my previous reply, Herzl was indeed disabused of his initial ignorance. But once he was, he displayed an ambivalence over what to do with these people, as evidenced by my quote from Podeh and Kaufman, eds., in my previous reply concerning Herzl’s mulling their possible eviction from Palestine. Moreover, the Zionist trope of a literally unpopulated land persisted in some quarters long after Herzl discovered otherwise: As late as 1976, then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, writing in the New York Times, referred to Palestine as “until the end of World War I a barren, sparsely inhabited Turkish province,” a questionable assertion in light of the 600,000 Arabs and others who lived there as of the early 1890s. (“Golda Meir, On the Palestinians,” NYT, 1/14/76, online at New York Times electronic archive.)

As for your contention that my “[q]uoting Israel Zangwill to make a claim about what early Zionists were thinking is about as valid as quoting Ronald Reagan to make a claim about what 20th century liberal Democrats were thinking”: This is not an apt analogy, given Zangwill’s titanic stature within the early Zionist movement, which gave international legs to his reformulation of “a land without a people….” and made his ultimate rejection of Palestine-centered Zionism so electrifying. In contrast, Reagan during the heyday of his New Deal liberal association did not say or do anything of great general political influence—until as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild he worked assiduously to counter communist influence within the US film industry (including acting as an FBI informant and testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee), a course of action that began his redirection over the succeeding decade away from liberalism and toward conservatism. A far better analogy would be, for example, with notable 1960s activists like Peter Collier and David Horowitz who made a grand splash on the far left (in their case as writers and editors at the flagship New Left magazine Ramparts) before migrating to the far right. Their activities at both ends of the political spectrum were equally noteworthy, as was the case with Israel Zangwill’s Zionist and anti-Zionist pronouncements.

Again, thanks for taking the time to comment on my article.

Neal, Zangwill left the

Neal, Zangwill left the Zionist movement in 1905, and was reviled by the Zionists for having done so. "A land without a people for a people without a land," appears to have been anathema precisely because he had used it. Weizmann cites it only to point out how wrong Zangwill had been. Weizmann was speaking to a Zionist club in Paris that had been badly shaken, as the entire movement had been, by the murder of Moshe Barsky at Degania, the first kibbutz member to be killed in an Arab attack. Mainstream Zionists were shaken because many had persuaded themselves that they could make aliyah and live in peace and brotherhood with the local Arabs. Or they had persuaded themselves that they could proceed as though the Arabs did not exist. Or, as Anita Schapira suggests, correctly, I think, they just didn't like to think about the fact that there were Arabs in Palestine since they could not do anything to change this fact and dwelling on it was not a good way to accomplish their goal of building a Jewish state. Weizmann spoke to tell them that it would be hard and there would be sacrifice required.

My article was inspired by the fact that the phrase in question is widely cited to assert that early Zionists believed that the land was empty. I went searching for uses by early Zionists to figure out what they meant by it.

One of the problems with publication is that editors cut for length. I did extensive searches using variants of this phrase in Yiddish, English and German. What I found was somewhat wide usage by Christian Zionists, and a handful of uses by Zangwill and a couple of minor figures, all in English, then this one use by Weizmann who cites the phrase as evidence of a false, Zangwillian assumption.

To check myself, I did similar searches for official and other Zionist phrases. Huge numbers of hits from the pre WWI period, even on long, clunky ones like "The Land of Israel for the People of Israel according to the Torah of Israel," used by religious Zionists who were, as you know, not numerous in this period. Yet you find their slogan in pre WWI American newspapers. The huge number of hits on so many Zionist phrases and slogans makes the near absence of this phrase striking. Dramatic enough to write up as an article.

Might the phrase turn up as more old and Yiddish newspapers and journals are put online? It might. Although it is significant that it was an English language phrase and Yiddish speakers had plenty of other slogans.

The phrase is used shortly after WWI by early western and Arab anti-Zionists, as a way of discrediting the Zionist movement. But as far as I can find it only comes into widespread use after the PLO begins using it in the 60's.

Until someone finds evidence of widespread use, it is probably discrete not to cite it as having been widely used.

As to whether early Zionists thought that the land was empty, I very much doubt it. Mishulachim (charity collectors) from Hebron, Safed, Jerusalem and Tiberias made regular circuits through nineteenth century European communities, collections were widely taken up after the 1837 Safed earthquake, the flow of olim and letters home was steady long before Herzl and news from Palestine was eagerly sought in all Jewish communities. A Jew would have had to have been singularly clueless not to know that there were Arabs living there.

Even teh highly assimilated Herzl was not that clueless. Judenstaat is, after all, his first word on the subject of Zionism and it is in many ways a stunningly clueless book, but he knew that Palestine was populated.

As to whether the land was unpopulous, it is a matter of perspective. Is the land half empty or half full?

Certainly it looked empty to travelers coming from Europe or America. And certainly a great deal of land not farmed in the early nineteenth century was brought under cultivation in the early Zionist period, and the population supported by farming in Palestine increased in this period because higher value crops and better agronomy were introduced, most notably by Zionists, Templars and Greek Christians.

The point of my article is that although it has been assumed for decades that this was a widely used phrase, I could not find evidence that it was. Golda Meir's "a barren, sparsely inhabited Turkish province" could as easily apply to the Thracian plain, the Peloponnese, most of Syria a great deal of Anatolia, and in fact, much of the Empire. Late Ottoman security and economic conditions are not widely admired. These lands all supported smaller populations that they were capable of.

Whether there was room in the Middle East for a Jewish state is a different question.

To Diana Muir: Thanks for

To Diana Muir: Thanks for your further comments. I must confess that this exchange is starting to have the feel of an exercise in pilpul, given how it deals with only a sliver of the issues discussed in my article, rather than the core. I could be wrong, but it seems that rather than engaging my central assertions and prescriptions, you may be attempting to undermine the validity of my analysis of the contemporary problem by the back door, as it were, via casting doubt on my analysis of the historical context. I hope this is not the situation; but just in case:

First, the fact that Israel Zangwill rejected Zionism in 1905 does not negate the phrase in question’s significance in the preceding years, due in no small part to its having been widely promulgated in laudatory reviews and synopses of Zangwill’s 1901 New Liberal Review article by William T. Stead and others, nor its continued pungency following his departure from the movement. Indeed, Chaim Weizmann may have been decrying “the land without a people, etc.” formulation as a mistake that had to be rectified; but at the same time, to reiterate the point in my previous response, he was still describing it as the movement’s determinative modus operandi in its earliest years: “On this basis,” Weizmann averred in his 1914 Paris speech, “Zionism grew.” (Speech by Weizmann in Paris, 3/28/1914, p. 116 [full cite in my previous response].)

It is unfortunate that in later years anti-Zionists latched onto the phrase and sometimes mangled it and its meaning by dropping the article “a”, but one cannot in an excess of zeal simply wish away its significance as a motif within early Zionism.

Second and related, concerning your reliance on online databases to provide your evidentiary base: from a scholarly perspective, this simply will not do. Web document searches even in 2011 only scratch the surface of what is archivally available. The discovery of something “dramatic” on the Internet does not necessarily make it correct—your claim as presented would not pass muster in a juried scholarly journal. As someone who has done on-site research in dozens of archives and libraries across the US and Western Europe for my past several articles, I don’t have a surfeit of sympathy for those who purport to tackle a major subject but can’t or won’t put out a commensurate research effort. It’s well and good if one isn’t willing or able to physically chase down document collections; but one can’t then make sweeping assertions about large historical issues.

Leaving aside travel to relatively far-flung US and international libraries and archives, since you evidently live in the Boston metro area, have you descended into the bowels of Widener Library? Plumbed Brandeis University’s special collections (containing e.g. microform copies of the Chaim Weizmann papers)? Delved into the Boston and New York Public Libraries? The American Jewish Historical Society’s and YIVO’s collections at Union Square? It would be a good start—but not the end, of course. And as for the issue of Yiddish- versus English-language slogans, it should be noted that Chaim Weizmann delivered his 1914 Paris speech in Yiddish—the “land without a people….” formulation was apparently well-recognized across language lines.

Third, your assertion about late Ottoman Palestine’s low population density is tendentious, and your interpretation of Golda Meir’s 1976 description of pre-1918 Palestine as a “barren, sparsely inhabited Turkish province” is frankly sophistical in not acknowledging the implicit ideological justification that lay behind the formidable Mrs. Meir’s contention. In fact, Palestine’s population in 1913 approached 750,000 (see, Roger Owen, p. 264, full cite below) in a land area of about 10,000 square miles, which, to put it in perspective, was about the same as that of 114,000 square-mile Arizona in 1950. It may not be Manhattan, then or now, but sparse it ain’t.

And your associated claim about a great leap in 19th century crop production due to Zionist, Templar and Greek Christian agricultural improvements is arguable, given the analyses of scholars such as Iris Agmon (Family and Court: Legal Culture and Modernity in Late Ottoman Palestine (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2006), see pp. 17-21); Roger Owen, who paints a chequered picture of Zionist settler agriculture and its dependence for a quarter-century on the largesse of Edmund de Rothschild (The Middle East in the World Economy, 1880-1914 (I.B. Tauris, 1993), see pp. 173-79, 270-72); and especially Gad G. Gilbar of the University of Haifa (e.g. “The Growing Economic Involvement of Palestine With the West, 1865-1914,” in David Kushner, ed., Palestine in the Late Ottoman Period: Political, Social, and Economic Transformation (Brill, 1986).

Gilbar asserts flatly:
“At the root of these economic and social developments [including agriculture] was a factor that was exogenous to the economy and society of Palestine. It was not Ottoman reforms, nor Templar settlement, nor the first Jewish waves of immigration, nor even foreign activity in Palestine in general that had caused them, but the fact that at the time Palestine’s economy became increasingly linked to the world economic system, and particularly to the economies of Europe….However, though the moving factor was external, the bearers of this growth were primarily local Arabic-speaking Muslims and Christians.” (p. 188)

At the very least, the jury is out on the subject, so do try to evince a bit less certitude with this sort of assertion.

Finally, on the issue of the extent of Herzl’s cluelessness which seems to vex you so, let me quote Joseph Heller, emeritus historian at Hebrew University, NB a critic of revisionist historians like Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim (and not to be confused with the other Mr. Heller):
“When Herzl in 1896 raised the idea of moving out the ‘local residents’ (it was not by accident that ‘Arabs’ were not specified), he knew absolutely nothing about the region’s Arabs. Herzl became aware of the Arab problem only in the wake of the letter written by Yusuf Zia al-Khalidi, a Jerusalem dignitary, to Rabbi Zadok Kahn of Paris. Indeed, that letter may have been the inspiration for the famous dialogue in Herzl’s utopian novel Altneuland on the benefits that would accrue to the Arabs from Zionist settlement.” (Heller, The Birth of Israel, 1945-1949: Ben Gurion and His Critics (University Press of Florida, 2000), p. 296.) [NB for those who desire an examination of the text of al-Khalidi’s letter to Kahn, the Chief Rabbi of France, see Neville J. Mandel, The Arabs and Zionism Before World War I (Univ. of California Press, 1976), pp. 47-49.]

Whether Theodor Herzl literally had no initial awareness of the presence of some 600,000 Arabs and other non-Jewish native peoples in Palestine is ultimately not amenable to being settled definitively—as evidenced by a broad swath of reputable scholars who have wrestled with the issue and taken varying positions. It is also ultimately irrelevant to my point about a propensity of many Zionists then and now to take little positive notice of Arab publics.

In fact, you put it rather nicely yourself concerning early mainstream Zionists, as you refer to their having “persuaded themselves that they could proceed as though the Arabs did not exist” or, following Shapira, “they just didn't like to think about the fact that there were Arabs in Palestine since they could not do anything to change this fact and dwelling on it was not a good way to accomplish their goal of building a Jewish state.”

Exactly. I think that a good way to term what you describe is “willful myopia”—which of course is precisely how I put it in the opening paragraphs of my article.

Thus endeth the Disputation. Now perhaps you, or some other good reader, might be interested in commenting on the central point of my piece, concerning the necessity of Israel doing henceforth what it hasn’t in the past, which is to engage directly, positively and systematically with newly empowered Arab publics as a key component of her public diplomacy program.


Visit CPD's Online Library

Explore CPD's vast online database featuring the latest books, articles, speeches and information on international organizations dedicated to public diplomacy. 

Join the Conversation

Interested in contributing to the CPD Blog? We welcome your posts. Read our guidelines and find out how you can submit blogs and photo essays >