The HyperTexts

Einstein on Palestine and Israel: the Prophet of Peace

Albert Einstein was more than a scientist: he was also a philosopher, humanitarian and peace activist. I also find it interesting that his last name rhymes with "Palestine." What did Albert Einstein have to say about Palestine, Zionism and the modern state of 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 we can consult them. [Anyone who doubts anything said on this page can easily scan the Hebrew University's online archive of Einstein's collected writings by doing a Google search for "Einstein Archives Online."]

compiled by Michael R. Burch, an editor of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

"... the strength of our whole movement [Zionism] rests in its moral justification, with which it must stand or fall." ― Albert Einstein

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 constant theft of Palestinian land relates to Israel's military offensives against Gaza, known as Operation "Cast Lead," Operation "Pillar of Defense" and Operation "Protective Edge," 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."

Einstein Demanded "Complete Equality" for Palestinians

Einstein denied any superior rights for Jews, calling for "complete equality" for Palestinian Arabs as the "most important aspect" of Jewish policy, saying: "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 just smart enough to want it."

Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel in 1952. Why did Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion say, "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, saying, "I would have to tell the Israeli people things they would not like to hear"? If you continue to read this page, the reasons will become clear, and you will see that Albert Einstein was remarkably consistent on his views about Palestine and Zionism: he always opposed the creation of a Jewish political state at the expense of good relations with the Palestinians. For example:

Einstein participated in the Sixteenth Zionist Congress in 1929. But 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."

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 against it."

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 [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 many more, if you will stick with me. 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 a Jewish political state. 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 Albert 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 Likud 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."

If you continue reading this page, it will become clear that Albert 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 very similar, when they blindly support Israel despite its government-sponsored system of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and slow genocide, seeming never to consider the fact that Jesus Christ would never have forced completely innocent Palestinian children and their mothers to walk this new Trail of Tears. [For anyone who disputes the words "apartheid," "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide" in regard to Israel, I would simply point out (1) apartheid walls twice as high as the Berlin wall which are not "defensive" because 95% of the monstrosities do not lie defensively on Israel's legal borders, but snake very offensively deep inside Occupied Palestine, stealing valuable land and water sources; and (2) the hundreds of Palestinian villages and thousands of individual homes that 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 the 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. ― Albert Einstein

I believe the record clearly shows that Einstein was a Zionist, but in a spiritual, tolerant, humanitarian sense. He saw Zionism through the eyes of the 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 began 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 createdisn’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 prophet.

Einstein on Racism and Nationalism

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 of Zionism. ― Leon Simon

Einstein deplored racism and nationalism, calling nationalism the "infantile disease" of the human race. He also said that "oppressive nationalism must be conquered." But 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

The first and most important necessity is the creation of a modus vivendi with the Arab people. ― Albert Einstein

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, "There 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. ― Albert Einstein

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 desired."

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. ― Albert Einstein

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 are." 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 police state 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 undertaken.― Albert Einstein

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 population also."

Einstein on the Ideal of Peace

Einstein clearly saw a just peace with Arabs as vital, saying, "When appraising 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 ruling elite in 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, but 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: "A nobler 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 main goal 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 superlatives: "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."

Einstein was Used by the Political Zionists, but was Not Considered a Zionist by Them

In 1921, Kurt Blumenfeld warned 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 that "A Jew who strives to impregnate his spirit with humanitarian ideals can call himself a Zionist without contradiction." However, by 1929 it seems 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 ..." (although by this he may have meant something like, "We the other Jews who do not live in Palestine").

Einstein obviously believed 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

Einstein also 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 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, saying, "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 nationalism."

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 trade unions.

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." [pp. 352-353]


A scanned image of this Open Letter from the New York Times is available at this link.

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 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 Dream 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 subduing 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 prophets."

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?

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. — Albert Einstein

The HyperTexts