Laurie Magnus, 1872-1933

Aspects of the Jewish Question (1902)

Aspects of the Jewish Question (1902) by Laurie Magnus, 1872-1933


This book is reprinted, with alterations and considerable additions, from the article on " Zionism and Anti-Semitism," which I contributed to the Quarterly Review, April 1902. I am glad to take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to the editor and to the proprietor of that periodical for the necessary permission which they have kindly conceded.

My chief object in expanding and republishing the essay has been to make an impartial survey of the Jewish question in Europe. All the books and pamphlets—and they are many—which have been written in various languages on the subject err by the common defect of narrowing the outlook.

The writer in each instance sets out to prove something, and he selects his facts in order to suit his conclusion. It is natural enough that Jewish writers should seek to justify their race, and it is comprehensible at least that the detractors of the Jews should confine their record to evidences making for anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, the result has been that, instead of one Jewish problem, there seem to be half-a-dozen. There is the problem of the conversionist associations, with their somewhat hysterical propaganda, who profess to admire the Jewish race, and to desire above all things that it should embrace Christian dogma. There is the problem—of the philosophic Radicals, who would let the Jews practise any form of religion that pleases them, as long as that form does not require the maintenance of a separate race. Then — there is the Tory problem of the statisticians and economists, who avoid in their speeches calling a spade a spade, and to whom we owe a Jewish question under the name of an anti-alien movement. And there is a party of surrender among the Jews themselves, who make a glory of the title of alien by asserting their national unity.

It is obvious that, though these opinions may co-exist, they are not compatible. You cannot assimilate a population which is conspiring with the Turks for a grant of territory in Palestine. You cannot open churches for a people whom you turn back from your ports. You cannot expect the Jews to develop their best powers peacefully, amid simultaneous shouts of "Be Christians!" "Be Aryans!" "Be Zionists!" and "Be off!".

The confusion of remedies points to an imperfect diagnosis. It is conceivable that, when the Jewish question is reconsidered in the broader aspect which 1 have tried to present, the need of a violent method will disappear. After all, it is a dangerous thing, however common the habit, to generalise about the Jews. Anti-Semitic literature is constantly testifying to this fact, and the Zionists, if ever their scheme came to a practical issue, would soon discover it for themselves. But if one is to generalise about the Jews, as the mere name of anti-Semitism requires, and as so frequently happens in the prejudice of ordinary life, at least let us be certain that we know who these Jews are, what they believe, on what they wait, how they have been treated, and how they have borne the test. It is only today that our comparative historians in the new encyclopaedias have discovered—to use a stock phrase—the inevitableness of the Jewish problem in the reaction of modern Western Jewry from medieval conditions. If the accompanying map be consulted, it will be seen that the pressure of Jews westward is not likely to cease till the Russian Pale is broken down. And the Russian Pale will not be broken down till the Jews of Russia have succeeded, like the Jews of England before them, in asserting their right to civil and religious liberty. Liberty in Russia is non-existent ; when Russia has learnt its blessing, Russian Jews will share in it. The real problem of the twentieth century is the backwardness of the nations, not the forwardness of the Jews. Meanwhile, the westernmost countries do well to protect themselves. Great Britain is bound to scrutinise her immigrants from time ta time, and to see that they do not abuse her receptive capacity. But there is no escape from this circle. The solution which would make Romanian or Russian Jewry the type and standard of Jewish life, and would drag down the Jews, say, of England, to the level of a persecuted race, betraying the record of nineteen centuries, is false, retrograde, and unpractical.

My belief in the foredoomed failure of neo- Zionism, my objection to its leaders' readiness to " make capital," in Mr Zangwill s words, of the " longing for Palestine " (as if to say that the name of Isaiah has been added to the directorate of Zion, Limited), and my conviction that neither Turkey nor the Great Powers would ever seriously consider the project, are independent of my admiration for Dr Theodor Herzl himself I venture to take this opportunity of enrolling myself among his admirers, not at all because I conceive that he will be otherwise than indifferent to my sentiment, but because, among many kind things which were said of my Quarterly article, " I was blamed in certain quarters for attacking the author of " The Jewish State " and President of the Zionist Congress. The attack on the scheme must stand for what it is worth, but there is nothing personal in its intention. I have twice had the pleasure of meeting Dr Herzl; once, in Vienna, in 1896, and again, in London, this year. On each occasion he has allowed me to express my disagreement from his views, and on each, and especially on the second, I have been deeply sensible of the single-mindedness, the devotion, and the sincerity which inspire the leader of this hope. He does, I believe, more harm than good, but the conclusion of the matter lies on the knees of the gods.

In preparing this little book for the Press, I have had the advantage of the help of the Rev. Isidore Harris, M.A., editor of the "Jewish Year Book," in reading the proofs and compiling the bibliography, and I am further indebted to other friends and correspondents for assistance and advice. If the book does something to promote the cause of Jewish progress and reform, which the writer has sincerely at heart, his purpose will be thoroughly fulfilled, and his debt to those who have helped him will be discharged.

London, September 1902.

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