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PAGE i4A Einstein the Zionist? By Eric Herschthal New York Jewish Week The day afterAlbert Einstein died, on April 18, 1955, The New York Times' obituary included a small but critical section describing his involve- ment with Israel, a country "whose establishment as a state he championed." When Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, offered Einstein the presidency in 1952, the article furthernoted, Einsteinrespect- fully declined, saying only that he was not fit for politics. Then, two weeks later, the Times ran a front-page story that quoted the Israeli Consulate as saying that, to commemo- rate Israeli Independence Day, Einstein had been preparing a speech praising the young nation's accomplishments. It was the last thing Einstein was working on before his death, and in the unpublished speech he calledArab hostility"the root cause of the tension," according to the Consulate official. No one fact-checked that claim. But the journalist Fred Jerome, who hasjustpublished a book challenging the as~ sumption that Einstein was a strong supporter .of Israel, ar- gues that these articles set offa disturbing trend. Biographers, journalists and the public culture at large now mostly accept Einstein as an enthu- siastic supporter of Israel even though, during his lifetime, he was a welt-known critic and only a wary supporter. "It's only since he died that this alternate Einstein was cre- ated.by the media," Jerome said at a Midtown restaurant, a day after giving alecture about his new book, "Einstein on Israel and Zionism: His Provocative Ideas About the Middle East" (St. Martin's Press). "I think he would distinguish between homeland and state." Indeed, the Zionism cham- pioned by Einstein was not the one we think of today. As early as 1919, Einstein thought a Jewish homeland would be necessary, especially after he'd experienced anti-Semitjsm firsthand in Germany. But he argued for a bi-national state where Jews and Arabs shared a common land, not a strictly de- fined "Jewish state." He loathed nationalism and ethnic chau- vinism of any kind, and thought that persecuted Jews fleeing Europe would form civic insti- tutions-businesses, hospitals, schools and unions--alongside Health & Fitness Issue An Annual Issue Published By HERITAGE Florida Jewish News and Featuring a Variety of Thought-Provoking Articles on Health and Fitness Related Subjects Publication Date: June 26, 2009 Reaching a Responsive, Health-Conscious Market Deadline for this Important Issue is Friday, June 19, 2009 CALL TODAY TO RESERVE YOUR SPACE 407-834-8787 Arabs already in Palestine. He only visited Palestine once, in 1923, and the only organiza- tion there he was intimately involved with was the Hebrew University, where he entrusted all his papers in his final will. When the British Mandate expired, he did not want the land partitioned into two sepa- rate states--one Jewish, one Arab--arguing instead that any new state must favor no faith in particular and provide equal protection under the law. It was a model based on Switzerland and perhaps even America, two countries he became a citizen of andwhereethnicidentitieswere fully recognized but tempered by civic equanimity. Of course, his idea of Zionism failed, and once the Jewish state became a reality he supported it, but with a heavy heart. As he wrote in 1948 to his friend Hans Muhsan, in a private letter published in Jerome's book: "As for the state idea, I have never thought itwas agood one, for economic, political, and military reasons. But now there is no turning back, and the mat- ter must be contended with." Jerome's book translates and publishes scores of Ein- stein's private letters, essays, interviews and speeches that give a much fuller picture of his views on Israel. Each chap- ter is prefaced with a short introduction" ~hat provides context, all of it thoroughly footnoted to the works of left- leaning but highly respected historians like Amos Elon, Walter Lacquer and Tom Se- gev. Much of what appears not only challenges the notion of Einstein as a fierce supporter of Israel, but also of Einstein as gentle, slightly aloof, and cuddly professor. In one heated 1929 letter to the Zionist Organization's Selig Brodetsky, Einstein w rites that he has "neither the time nor strength to partici- pate in your polemic," adding that"if national pigheadeness proves strong enough, then we will knock our brains out as we deserve." In a 1947 letter to Muhsan. Einstein compares American foreign policy in the region to that of Germany's, "since they appear to have inherited the latter's inflatedness and arrogance." But Einstein also appears heady and optimistic about the Zionism idea too. In a 1929 letter to Willy Hellpach, the German Democratic Party mayor of Baden who was criti- cal of Zionism, Einstein wrote that"as a strong devotee of the Zionist idea" he felt compelled to explain his endorsement Of a Jewish homeland. "I saw worthy Jews basely caricatured [in Germany], and the sight of it made my heart bleed .... Then I realized that only a common enterprise dear to the heart of the Jews all over the world could restore this people to their health." He continues: "The establishment of a national home or, more ac- curately, a center in Palestine, was a suitable object on which to concentrate our efforts." Though several prominent biographers contacted agreed with Jerome's portrait of Ein- stein, at least some voiced con- cern about Jer6me's possible motives. Hanoch Gutfreund. a leading Einsteii~ scholarwho now heads the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew Univer- sity, said thatwhile Jerome was researching his book there, HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 19, 2009 A new book by the journalist Fred Jerome republishes many letters, articles and speeches by Einstein that show he was critical of a Jewish state. he overheard vague rumors that some were. questioning Jerome's intentions. "Therewas avague memory that [Jerome] was trying to mobilize Einstein to criticize Israel." Gutfreund said in an interview from Israel: He said that he had not read the book though, and could not com- ment on its precise content. Nonetheless, his personal reading of Einstein closely matched Jerome's: "I don't think that there is any coun- tering that. until [Einstein] died, he never withdrew his support of Israel, even though he was often critical." Silvan S. Schweber. an- other prominent Einstein scholar who recently retired from teaching at Brandeis, provided a blurb on the book jacket's back cover, but after reading a galley copy, he wrote to Jerome's editor that some of the contextual passages could be more "tem- perate," adding: "The book, to have its impact, must not allow Jerome's possible biases to detract from Einstein's as- sessment of who was respon- sible for the turn of events." Jerome used the Hebrew University archives for his book, havin,ga German scholar, Michael Schiffmann, translate much 0fthe work, since Jerome does not read German. When asked how he could get a full account of Einstein's views without knowing the language muchofhis letterswerewritten in. Jerome said, he told Schiff- mann to translate anything that mentioned Israel, regard- less of its message. "Anything he wrote," Jerome said he in- structed Schiffman, "I was not at all sure what I would find." Jerome has already pub- lished twowell-received books" on Einstein: "The Einstein Files" (St. Martin's Press, 2002), which analyzed the secret file the FBI kept on Einstein, and "Einstein on Race and Racism" (Rutgers University Press. 2005), co- authored with Roger Taylor and detailing the scientist's public advocacy for civil rights. While Jerome said this book is probably his last on Einstein, he was prompted to write it partly because of the recent glut of Einstein biographies that he thinks overemphasize the scientist's support for Israel. Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography from 2007. for in- stance, writes that Einstein "embraced" the Jewish state. But even that. Jerome says, is misleading: "I think if you look at the letters. 'embraced' is a little strong a word." Still, not everyone agrees that the public has a mis- conception about Einstein's views. The British biographer Peter D. Smith said in an e- mail that while he thought Jerome probably "got the balance right" with regard to his views on Israel, "I wouldn't say Einstein's support of Israel is over-stressed." Of course, American views might be quite different from those in Britain. but even Smith's biography makes Einstein's stance un- ambiguous. In one passage of Smith's biography, published in 2005, he writes: "Einstein had made it clear that he did notagreewithJewish national- ism any more than he didwith German nationalism and even questioned the necessity of a Jewish state in Palestine." In that same passage, Smith quotes a letter from 1921 that also appears in Jerome's book. Written by the Zionist leader Kurt Blumenthal to Weiz- mann after Einstein agreed to accompany Weizmann on a fundraiser for Israel in America, it says: "Einstein, as you know, is no Zionist. and I askyou not totry to make ahim a Zionist or to try to attach him to our organization." Blumen- thal added that Einstein"often says thing outofnaivete,which are unwelcome to us." More than 30 years later, it appears that Israeli leaders still held Einstein at arm's length. While it is perhaps better known that Einstein declined the of- fer of the Israeli presidency in 1952, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's reaction to that news paints a clearer picture. That response, made to an aide, is quoted in Jerome's book: "Tell me what to do if he says yes! If he accepts, we are in trouble." Eric Herschthal is staff writer for the New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. t