“The Promised Land, nobody imagined to seek it where it really is, inside our selves … The Promised Land exists wherever we carry it… The Promised Land, where we can have hooked noses, black or red beards, and bow legs, without being despised for it; where we can live at last as free men on our own soil, and where we can die peacefully in our own fatherland. There we can expect the award of honor for great deeds, so that the offensive cry of ‘Jew!’ may become an honorable appellation, like German, Englishman, Frenchman–in brief, like all civilized peoples”1 Theodor Herzl

When talking of a Jewish autonomist homeland, we are all familiar with the Zionist solution of creating it in Palestine, but its important to note that there have been many different ideas and proposals for Jewish states that were not in Palestine/land and some of those even came into existence. I would like to refer to some examples from the last hundred years.

Uganda Program

At the Sixth Zionist Congress at Basel on August 26, 1903, its leader Theodor Herzl proposed the British Uganda Program as a temporary refuge for Jews in Russia that were in immediate danger due to pogroms. By a vote of 295-178, it was decided to send an expedition (“investigatory commission”) to examine the territory proposed. While Herzl made it clear that this program would not effect the ultimate aim of Zionism, which was a Jewish entity in the Land of Israel, the proposal aroused a storm at the Congress and nearly led to a split in the Zionist movement. The Jewish Territorialist Organization (ITO) was formed as a result of the unification of various groups who had supported Herzl’s Uganda proposals during the period 1903-1905.

The Zionist movement at the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905 finally rejected the Uganda Program, but the ITO called for an alternative and created a movement to continue the plan of the Uganda scheme. After the rejection of the Uganda scheme on the grounds of impracticability by the British, the movement turned its attention to settlements in Canada and Australia. But opposition from local residents led him to abandon the scheme. Expeditions were sent to Mesopotamia (Iraq), Cyrenaica (Libya) and Angola but little came of these expeditions.

A project that had some concrete success was the Galveston scheme, which contemplated the settlement of Jews in the American Southwest, in particular in Texas. The project received the assistance of Jacob Schiff, the American Jewish banker, and some 9,300 Jews arrived in that area between 1907-1914, through the Emigration Bureau of the Territorialist organization.

With the publication of the Balfour Declaration, the ITO faced a severe crisis since many of its members came to the conclusion that Eretz-Israel was not so utopian after all. The failure of the organization was due to its inability to secure a definite project, and its lack of sensitivity towards the historic and traditional sentiments of Jewish identity.2

***

A plan to settle European Jews that were marked for extermination, in the Sitka area in Alaska, was proposed by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes in 1939, but it was turned down. This is similar to Uganda proposal in it being a temporary solution to saving Jews who were in immediate danger. An alternate history of the proposal where Jews do settle in Sitka “a land not of milk and honey but salmon and lumber”3 is the subject of author Michael Chabon’s novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. “The Sitka he created is far from being a utopia though. On the eve of Reversion, when the territory is to be returned to Alaskans, and the Jews who are suspended between hopelessness and oblivion, are kicked out – the book’s Sitka is a grim, choked place, desperate and despairing”.

Madagascar Plan

The National-Socialists also had an idea for a Jewish “state”. The Madagascar plan was a policy suggested by the Third Reich government of Nazi Germany to forcibly relocate the Jewish population of Europe to the island of Madagascar.

The evacuation of European Jewry to the island of Madagascar was not a new concept and the British, French, and Polish governments had all contemplated this thought. Nazi Germany seized upon it and in May 1940, in his Reflections on the Treatment of Peoples of Alien Races in the East, Heinrich Himmler declared: “I hope that the concept of Jews will be completely extinguished through the possibility of a large emigration of all Jews to Africa or some other colony.”w

Although some discussion of this plan had been brought forward from 1938 by other well-known Nazi ideologues, such as Julius Streicher, Hermann Göring, and Joachim von Ribbentrop, it was not until June 1940 that the plan was actually set in motion. With victory in France being imminent, it was clear that all French colonies would soon come under German control, and that the Madagascar Plan could become a reality. A potential peace treaty was expected with Great Britain, which in a few weeks time was about to experience German aerial bombardment in the Battle of Britain. The Germans fully expected them to capitulate as quickly as the French did, thereby putting the British navy at Germany’s disposal for use in the Jewish evacuation.

In a very ironic and twisted way, both the Zionists and the Nazis wanted to remove the Jews from Europe. The Zionists believed that in doing so they could save the Jews from anti-Semitism, both psychically and spiritually, while the Nazis wished it in order to destroy and extinguish them. However, they both agreed that Jews have no place in Europe. Herzl understood this and wrote in his diaries “The anti-Semites will become our most loyal friends; the anti-Semitic nations will become our allies”.4

Anti-Semitism fuelled almost all plans for Jewish settlement out of Europe. The Fugu Plan or Fugu Plot was a scheme created in the 1930s in Imperial Japan, centered around the idea of settling Jewish refugees escaping Nazi-occupied Europe, in Japan’s territories on the Asian mainland, to Japan’s benefit. The plotters believed that the Jews could be quite beneficial to Japan, but also quite dangerous. Therefore, the plan was named after the Japanese delicacy fugu, a puffer-fish whose poison can kill if the dish is not prepared exactly correctly.

At its core, the Fugu Plan was a scheme to convince thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Jews to settle in the puppet state of Manchukuo (Manchuria) or possibly Japan-occupied Shanghai, thus gaining not only the benefit of the supposed economic prowess of the Jews but also convincing the United States, specifically American Jewry, to grant their requested favor and to invest in Japan. The plan was based on a naive acceptance of European anti-Semitic mythology, as found for example in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

***

Of course, Stalin also had his concept of a Jewish home. According to Joseph Stalin’s national policy, each of the national groups that formed the Soviet Union would receive a territory in which to pursue cultural autonomy in a socialist framework. Jewish Autonomous Oblast was formed in 1928 to give Soviet Jews a home territory and to increase settlement along the vulnerable borders of the Soviet Far East. The area status was raised to that of an autonomous region in 1934. The Jewish population peaked in 1948 at about 30,000 (one fourth of the total population). Despite some remaining Yiddish influences, including a Yiddish newspaper, Jewish cultural activity in the region has declined enormously since Stalin’s anti-cosmopolitan campaigns and since the liberalization of Jewish emigration in the 1970s. Jews now make up less than 2% of the region’s population.

Oblast was also a response to the supposed threats to the Soviet state: Judaism, which ran counter to official state policy of atheism, while Zionism, and its desire for the creation of the modern State of Israel, contradicted Soviet views of nationalism. The idea was to create a new “Soviet Zion”, where a proletarian Jewish culture could be developed. Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, would be the national language, and a new form of socialist literature and the arts would replace religion as the primary expression of culture. The idea of Yiddish culture was also an answer to the Bund the biggest and most popular Jewish socialist movement.

The Bund (Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland) strongly opposed Zionism, arguing that emigration to Palestine was a form of escapism. The Bund did not advocate separatism; rather it focussed on culture, not a state or a place, as the bonding element of Jewish “nationalism”. The Bund sought to ally itself with the wider social democratic movement in order to achieve a democratic socialist society wherever they lived. In their home countries they hoped to see the Jews achieve recognition as a nation with a legal minority status. The Bund also promoted the use of Yiddish as the language of the Jewish masses and as a Jewish national language, while they opposed the Zionist project of reviving Hebrew.

————–

1 Theodor Herzl , The Jewish state (Der Judenstaat), 1896. p. 19
2 Jewish Virtual Library
3 Patricia Cohen, The frozen chosen, New York Times, 29.4.2007
4 Diaries of Theodore Herzl, edited and translated by Marvin Lowenthal (1956)

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