Was Einstein a Zionist?
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Was Einstein a Zionist?
Asking if Albert Einstein was a Zionist is about like asking if St. Francis Xavier was a Catholic. It is a silly question, that would not be necessary were it not for the absurd disinformation propagated by anti-Zionist enemies of truth.
Albert Einstein once remarked, "If relativity is proved right, the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew."
Perhaps he was too modest. His triumph is so great, that the anti-Zionists are claiming he was an anti-Zionist. This may be hard to believe, but the evidence is before us. For example, at .dissidentvoice.org/Articles4/Petersen_Einstein.htm we find this claim by one Petersen:
The author betrays the fact that he has no idea what a cultural Zionist is, because saying someone was "only" a cultural Zionist is like saying, "Oh, he wasn't really a capitalist, just a follower of Adam Smith," or "Not really a devout Catholic, only a Jesuit." For some reason, anti-Zionists have spread the myth that Cultural Zionism is "less" than "real" Zionism in some way. In reality, it is Zionism plus special emphasis on revival of Jewish national culture around the world. The founder of cultural Zionism, Achad Haam, was a Zionist before Herzl and an ardent supporter of Leon Pinsker. Achad Haam came on Aliya to live in Palestine as it was called then. The article is full of the usual gibberish about Zionist racism, copied from Soviet anti-Semitic propaganda of the post-Stalinist period.
Farooq's farago of disinformation is here: globalwebpost.com/farooqm/writings/other/einstein.htm.
The "supporting evidence" that Mr. Petersen and his side-kicks ignore is massive. Einstein gave the rights to his name and most of his private papers to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem of which he was a founder and member of the board of trustees. Other papers went to the Weizmann Institute of Science. He spoke and worked for Zionism for much of his life, beginning in the 1920s. He raised money for Zionism. He congratulated President Truman on the founding of the Jewish State. If everyone was an "anti-Zionist" like Albert Einstein, we would hardly need any Zionists.
The writings of these anti-Zionist "intellects" are on the same level as those who claim that Hitler was Jewish and that "the Jews" were responsible for the plague, the French revolution, the Russian Revolution, World Wars I and II and the Islamist terrorist attacks of 9-11-01, as well as the London Transport system terror attacks by Islamists.
These semi-coherent rants would be ludicrously funny if not for the fact that the mindless spiders and algorithms of the Google search engine and others seem to be specially tuned to pick up such intellectual detritus and to rank it along with, or over, the best writings on the Web in any subject, but most especially in the fields of Zionism and Judaism, or more properly, anti-Zionism and Jew Hate. These paragons all link to each other, and each link raises their popularity in the search engines (that is why they do not merit live links here). In this way, clueless people searching the Web imbibe the disinformation that Ahad Ha'am was not a Zionist, Einstein was not a Zionist, and Hitler was a Yeshiva student, along with the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the International Jew ravings of Henry Ford. There is a great industry in such "scholarship" producing an inverted universe in which the Nazi Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini was a big liberal, and Zionist socialists are reactionaries.
Albert Einstein was not like every man, and he thought differently from the rest of us, in ways that lofty intellects like Farooq and Petersen are not likely to comprehend. Einstein was always proud to be part of the Jewish people. He was not religious, but he was proud of Jewish culture and the Jewish ethical tradition. He began his intellectual life as a pacifist and an internationalist, but anti-Semitism and the eventual rise of Nazism led him to change his mind on a few issues. Within that context, Einstein's record on Zionism is crystal clear. He was a relatively early supporter of Zionism, and was glad to appear for the Zionist cause as early as 1921 as the article below relates. Of Chaim Weizmann he said in 1921:
Einstein joined with his friend, Chaim Weizmann in helping to found the Hebrew university:
Einstein was genuinely committed to coexistence, and like many Zionists, to a bi-national state. After the barbaric Arab Palestinian riots of 1930, he wrote to plead with the Arabs not to turn to violence. Anti-Zionists have somehow tried to turn this letter into an anti-Zionist statement.
Einstein, like many Zionists, was also reluctant to endorse a Jewish state - a risky proposition, but was won over to the idea by the force of events:
Like many Zionists, Einstein deplored the violent tactics of the Irgun and the LEHI. Einstein was opposed to violence. He wrote a famous letter to the New York Times in 1948, asking that their leaders be denied admission to the United States.
The article excerpted below summarizes many of the highlights of Albert. Einstein's Zionist activities, as well as his somewhat idiosyncratic approach to Zionism, similar to his approach to everything else. Einstein was a Zionist, and if you hate Zionism, you are on the wrong side of Einstein's universe. Live with it. It's better than making absurd and foolish claims about Einstein and Zionism.
Was Einstein a Jewish Saint?
|“Your leader, Dr. Weizmann, has spoken…Follow him and you will do well. That is all I have to say.”
While Weizmann lectured on, Einstein smiled vaguely from the dais. He wasn’t scheduled to speak, but the audience’s demanding roar filled the cavernous, steel-beamed hall. Reluctantly, he stepped to the podium. “Your leader, Dr. Weizmann, has spoken…Follow him and you will do well. That is all I have to say.”
The speech was three sentences in all. Weizmann must have breathed a sigh of relief as he reflected on the warning imparted by a friend before their trip: “Please be careful with Einstein. [He] often says things out of naiveté which are unwelcome to us.”
“I am not at all eager to go to America,but am doing it only in the interests of the Zionists who must beg for dollars to build educational institutions in Jerusalem and for whom I act as high priest and decoy.”
Einstein, who would later say he “discovered the Jewish people” in the American throngs, had actually surprised Weizmann by accepting the invitation to America. The Zionists knew Einstein to be anything but an “organization man”—he never officially joined a Zionist group—and realized that Jewish dreams of nationhood ran against his one-world bias. But the Ostjuden still milling hopelessly in Berlin’s slums, and the slurs of Lenard and his ilk must have been fresh in Einstein’s mind when the call came.
Since the tour required missing a prestigious international meeting of physicists, he tried to explain the choice to Maurice Solovine, a friend from his Zurich days. “I am not at all eager to go to America,” he wrote, “but am doing it only in the interests of the Zionists who must beg for dollars to build educational institutions in Jerusalem and for whom I act as high priest and decoy.”
|“I know of no public event that has given me such pleasure as the proposal to establish a Hebrew University in Jerusalem." Albert Einstein.|
Their tour raised nearly a million dollars, enough to begin construction of a medical campus for Hebrew University. Whether it was situated in a state, homeland or Mandate, Einstein felt as keenly as any Jew the need for a Jewish center of learning in Palestine. “I know of no public event,” he told The New York Times, “that has given me such pleasure as the proposal to establish a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The traditional respect for knowledge that Jews have maintained intact through many centuries of severe hardship has made it particularly painful for us to see so many talented sons of the Jewish people cut off from higher education.”
|Zionism may have offended his universalist sensibilities, but it emerged for Einstein between the world wars as “a nationalism that does not strive for power but for dignity and recovery|
Zionism may have offended his universalist sensibilities, but it emerged for Einstein between the world wars as “a nationalism that does not strive for power but for dignity and recovery”-- the single rallying cause that could strengthen his beleaguered people. He concluded that “the only way to cope with anti-Semitism [was] to restore a communal solidarity, a communal pride among the Jews,” according to Hebrew University’s Gutfreund.
Characteristically, Einstein saw this pride as a benefit not strictly for Jews but, through their elevation and development, for all people. A safe and settled Jewry, he reasoned, free to develop its human potential, could draw on ethical heritage and the “genius of their prophets” to exert a healthy moral leadership in the world while sharing its expertise in medicine and, of course, science.
Rather than the theocratic state sought by many, he thought the way to achieve Jewish fulfillment in Palestine was through a “national home” under a Jewish-Arab or even international government entity. As late as 1938, he told an audience of New York Zionists, “I should much rather see a reasonable agreement with the Arabs based on living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state.” Einstein cautioned repeatedly against the “inner damage” that the Jewish people would sustain as result of the “narrow nationalism” that accompanies statehood.
Einstein had the chance to see his communal ideals in action in 1923. Spooked by the death of Rathenau the previous year, he accepted a standing invitation to travel for several months in Asia, followed by a visit to Palestine. On his 12-day tour, Einstein stopped in at schools and planted a tree. He played chamber music with the attorney general and his sisters, and Tel Aviv named him its first honorary citizen. Amid these secular engagements also came an invitation that testified to Einstein’s importance in every corner of Jewry. It came from Rav Abraham Kook, the Lithuanian-born chief rabbi of orthodoxy in Palestine. The eminent rabbi and Einstein met in Jerusalem, where they were said to have discussed Kabbalah among other subjects.
“The brothers of our race in Palestine charmed me as farmers, workers and citizens,” he wrote to Solovine. Yet the tour was by no means a second conversion. With his usual bluntness and despite his support of the Ostjuden, he dismissed daveners at the Western Wall in his diary as “dull-witted clansmen of our tribe… A pathetic sight of men with a past but without a future.”
|Einstein nevertheless inaugurated a more hopeful Israelite future when he delivered Hebrew University’s first scientific lecture from the front of a British police hall on Mount Scopus.|
Einstein nevertheless inaugurated a more hopeful Israelite future when he delivered Hebrew University’s first scientific lecture from the front of a British police hall on Mount Scopus. “Professor Einstein,” went the introduction, “please rise to the podium that has been waiting for you two thousand years.” Einstein opened with a few halting sentences in Hebrew before reverting to French for the body of his talk. He could have spoken Swahili and still projected his message: In his voice, as Gutfreund, the university’s later president would write, Einstein’s audience heard “the birth song of the long-anticipated Jewish university.”
A drizzle was falling on the late summer day in 1932 that American education reformer Abraham Flexner arrived in Caputh. The Kentucky-born Flexner had bulked up against the weather, so he was surprised to find Einstein relaxing on the porch in summer flannels, apparently oblivious to the cold.
Ensconced in Caputh’s airy comforts, Einstein seemed likewise oblivious to the political chill in Berlin: students protesting against sharing their campuses with Jews; Nazi toughs shouting slogans and threats in train corridors; and Hitler’s growing clout in the Reichstag. Through an intermediary, the army’s commander-in-chief had sent a warning that Einstein’s life was no longer safe. Even in his haven, a maid reported that Caputh’s baker had begun muttering darkly about the Jew on the hill.
Flexner had come to offer Einstein a way out, a yellow brick road to America. This was their third meeting to discuss the nascent Institute for Advanced Study, an academic Valhalla intended to seed American scholarship. Like the Kaiser Institute representatives who drew Einstein from Zurich back in 1913, Flexner knew Einstein’s assent could ensure his project’s success. Also like them, he dangled the offer of a prestigious and amply compensated post in a rarefied academic community.
Still, Einstein hated to leave his refuge. It took a few weeks of negotiations and importuning but he eventually agreed to reside at the Institute five months each year, reserving the right to return to Caputh and his comfortable Tümmler life if Hitler faded from the picture. In December, he and Löwenthal rode the train to Caputh to close up their cottage. Their departure from Germany would be temporary, according to every official and public statement, and yet, as they closed the door on their familiar rooms and the ghosts of entertainments past, Einstein told his wife to take a good look around, for she might never see the house again. He was right.
Again an immigrant, again a guest, again facing the prospect of war, Einstein felt the need to speak out in America. This time, however, the onetime pacifist condemned the failure to start a war against the existential threat in Europe. “I cannot understand the passive response of the whole civilized world to this modern barbarism,” he cried in a 1933 interview. “Does the world not see that Hitler is aiming at war?” And did America’s Jews not see that he was targeting their coreligionists first of all?
In contrast to Berlin of 1914, however, this time Einstein could act. Having settled in Princeton permanently in 1933 and helped transform Flexner’s Institute into an exemplar of American research, he was also shaping it into a refuge and hub for Europe's persecuted scholars. He could have done otherwise, succumbing to the easy routines of his suburban hideaway. Yet this very contentment spurred him to action. “I am,” he confessed in a letter to the queen of Belgium, a longtime friend, “almost ashamed to be living in such a place while all the rest struggle and suffer.”
No storm troopers threatened to interrupt his twice-daily strolls along Princeton’s quiet leafy streets to the Institute’s borrowed space at Princeton University. In fact, locals went to great lengths to protect the professor’s privacy. To visitors—both expected and not—who streamed through the little wrought-iron gate and up to the front porch of the narrow clapboard house he and Löwenthal bought at 112 Mercer Street, Einstein proved a shy but genial host. Boys from the Princeton Country Day School, after struggling fruitlessly over a math set, once brought it to Einstein for help, and he seldom rebuffed strangers who approached him on the street with questions or greetings. Löwenthal died in 1936, but Einstein remained in the house in the company of her daughter Margot, his devoted secretary Helen Dukas and, after 1939, his sister.
As “Professor Einstein,” he still filled his hours with calculations and jottings related to physics, but these were dormant years for theoretical breakthroughs. Many younger colleagues, in fact, suspected the old man was washed up, chasing a pipe dream with his single-minded focus on finding a “unified field theory” that would unite the laws of physics under a single model. (“How ironic,” physicist Lee Smolin wrote in My Einstein in 2006, “that now the Institute is filled with young people playing with unified field theories.”)
As “Citizen Einstein,” however, he was anything but dormant, almost biblical—a whirlwind and scourge to the complacent, most notably on behalf of his endangered people. Even while still in Europe, during a final 1933 stay in Belgium, Löwenthal had complained that the Einsteins’ temporary home had turned into “an asylum for the unfortunate, invaded from morning to night by people who need help.” In the States, he scoured the Institute and other universities to find temporary sinecures for Jewish academics trapped in Europe. He proposed names of prominent scientists, artists and thinkers for U.S. emergency visas, and he met with President Franklin Roosevelt at the White House in 1934 to plead for more of them. In 1939, fellow immigré physicists asked him to petition Roosevelt again—this time for research toward a nuclear weapon, so the Germans wouldn’t develop one first. Perhaps with Haber’s gas clouds in mind, he obliged.
Einstein worked feverishly to rescue kin, friends, kin of friends and even strangers from the maw of Hitler’s Germany. He personally vouched for dozens, establishing in their names as many $2,000 bank accounts (required by immigration authorities) as he could afford. When tapped out, he beseeched friends and colleagues to put up funds, guaranteeing the deposits himself. In addition to university professors, he helped bring over non-academics like Wachsmann, his Caputh architect, and future Life magazine photographer Philip Halsmann. In 1941, he took in theoretical physicist Fritz Reiche, one of the last Jewish scientists to slip out of Nazi Germany.
Einstein personally petitioned for so many refugees that, by the end of 1930s, his once influential signature at the bottom of an affidavit had ceased to carry weight. Beyond the visa race, he toured the fundraising circuit for Zionist institutions, refugee groups and other Jewish causes. He graced daises at dinners, fiddled in benefit concerts and donated his books and manuscripts for auction.
By the time he approached the front stoop of Marion Epstein’s modest stucco house in downtown Princeton, the war was over and Einstein’s worst fears about Europe had been realized. Epstein played it cool when he knocked, ushering Einstein into her small living room with no more fuss than she made over the dozen or so others arriving that evening to plan the Princeton’s United Jewish Appeal’s spring fundraising dinner at the Nassau Tavern.
Epstein, now 91, did give the honorary chairman the best seat, “a big, comfortable armchair,” she recalls. There Einstein sat, quietly balancing his cake and teacup on his knees, while the committee made schedules and drafted the invitation.
One of the best ways to meet the famous Albert Einstein in the 1940s was to join the Princeton UJA. “He was always willing to give his name,” Epstein recalls matter-of-factly. “He was quiet, friendly, simple. There was no pride of fame.” Epstein, a UJA board member, had also helped organize Sunday socials for Jewish officer candidates housed at the university during the war. “Einstein came to one of those,” she recalls. “One of the women brought her teacup from home and made sure he drank from it!”
Einstein was more in demand than ever for causes he cared about, scientific and political, Jewish and secular. “What the individual can do,” he once explained, “is give a fine example, and have the courage to firmly uphold ethical convictions in a society of cynics.” Einstein upheld his convictions by denouncing both Senator Joseph McCarthy and Joseph Stalin at the height of their powers; he championed the rights of African Americans in the heyday of Jim Crow (befriending Paul Robeson and hosting Marian Anderson more than once at his house when the Nassau Tavern turned her away); and he showed no patience for materialism and pomp. For Jews, he opined in a 1932 essay, “‘serving God’ meant ‘serving the living.’ The best of the Jewish people, especially the Prophets and Jesus, contended tirelessly for this.”
And Einstein contended tirelessly for the Jews, seeming, like some quantum spark, to be in several places at once. As on his 1921 junket with Weizmann, the interests of Jewish institutions of higher learning lay close to his heart. The only difference is that they were now in the United States as well as Israel. In 1946, he let organizers of what would become Brandeis University name their start-up foundation the “Albert Einstein Foundation for Higher Learning, Inc.” In 1948, New York’s Yeshiva University asked for his name on the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, which opened the year he died. For Hebrew University, which had named its school of mathematics for him, Einstein ceaselessly sought funds and favors. And he served on an advisory committee for an institute in Rehovot later named for his friend Weizmann, to which he donated a trove of personal papers in 1946 and which, in 1980, opened the Albert Einstein Center for Theoretical Physics.
|For Hebrew University,// Einstein ceaselessly sought funds and favors. And he served on an advisory committee for an institute in Rehovot later named for his friend Weizmann, to which he donated a trove of personal papers in 1946 and which, in 1980, opened the Albert Einstein Center for Theoretical Physics.|
Nevertheless, where Palestine’s politics were concerned, Zionists still had reason to fear unwelcome statements from their “high priest and decoy.” As late as 1946, Einstein would still testify against Jewish governance to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine. But as in Germany, where racism had helped Einstein forge his Jewish identity, world events now persuaded him of the need for a Jewish state.
“It was a gradual process,” Gutfreund says of Einstein’s change of heart. “There was a disappointment in the policies of the British Mandate authorities; there was a disappointment of the rejection by the Arab League of all his attempts at overtures to understanding; and then there was the realization that the whole enterprise might be lost, be destroyed,” without outside support.
Reconciling this support with his innate pacifism would always be a struggle. In Tea With Einstein, author William Frankel said that Einstein railed against Jewish guerilla warfare under the British in 1946. “Einstein was passionate in his denunciation of the Irgun and the Stern Gang,” Frankel wrote, “even though he conceded that its militant activities could possibly advance the creation of the Jewish state which was, in his opinion, both desirable and inevitable.”
“When President Harry Truman recognized Israel in May 1948, Einstein declared it “the fulfillment of our dreams.”
...“No one respects or bothers about those who do not fight for their rights,” a changed Einstein wrote to his cousin in Uruguay. As planned, the cousin auctioned off Einstein’s letter, raising $5,000 to buy arms for the Haganah.”
When President Harry Truman recognized Israel in May 1948, Einstein declared it “the fulfillment of our dreams.” Perceiving its vulnerability after independence, he again set aside his pacifism in the name of human preservation. “No one respects or bothers about those who do not fight for their rights,” a changed Einstein wrote to his cousin in Uruguay. As planned, the cousin auctioned off Einstein’s letter, raising $5,000 to buy arms for the Haganah.
Even as a critic of Israel, Einstein’s dedication to his people guaranteed his great stature among world Jewry. No incident better proved that point than what transpired after the death of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, in November 1952. Inside of a week, readers of Israel’s Maariv newspaper had proposed the 73-year-old Einstein, “the greatest Jew alive,” to succeed him. When a telegram arrived requesting an audience for Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban at 112 Mercer, Einstein was alarmed. How to let the Israelis down gently? he wondered.
Einstein telephoned Eban to head him off but the diplomat insisted on at least sending over a formal letter of invitation. Einstein met Eban’s emissary with a letter of his own, explaining that a position like Israel's presidency required etiquette and interpersonal finesse—traits that he, rightly, claimed to lack. While publicly disappointed, his petitioners were privately relieved by the turndown: “Tell me what to do if he accepts,” Prime Minister Ben-Gurion had urged an aide. “If he does, we are in for trouble!”
Einstein took pains over his “rejection letter” to the people of Israel. “My relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond,” he wrote, “ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.”
On the morning of April 17, 1955 Albert Einstein lay in bed at Princeton Hospital. An aortic aneurysm he had known about for years was rupturing and he expected to die soon, but the 75-year-old felt well enough this day to wield a pencil. He had work to do on his field theory and yet another mission to benefit Jews and Israel. Just days before, he had invited Ambassador Eban to his home to offer a modest proposal: Would the Israelis like him to record a national radio address on Israel’s behalf? “I must challenge the conscience of the world,” he told Eban, and “boldly criticize the world powers for their attitude to Israel.” The speech was planned to coincide with Israeli Independence Day at the end of the month.
Einstein died early the next morning. Left by his bedside were “12 pages of tightly written equations,” as Isaacson described, and preliminary notes for the speech that began: “I speak to you today not as an American citizen and not as a Jew, but as a human being.”
By evening, Einstein’s body had been cremated with just 12 mourners on hand. In keeping with the way he had lived, Einstein’s funeral was absent of ritual. Someone recited a bit of Goethe but, at his request, no prayers were said. Nor did Einstein wish to leave behind a memorial or gravesite. His ashes were strewn over the nearby Delaware River.
Though Einstein left the world without a physical monument to his existence, it can be said that he gave literally his all to the Jewish people. In life, he liberally lent his prestige and name and, as in the case of the UJA and the Princeton students, his presence. After death, Einstein found a way to continue giving. He left orders in his will for a trust to be formed containing “all of my manuscripts, copyrights, publication rights” and, most significantly in hindsight, all other rights. The trust’s income was designated for his dependents -- Dukas and his stepdaughter Margot -- as long as they lived. After that, its contents and income reverted to Hebrew University.
|...those who would use Einstein’s name and image for commercial ends must pay for the privilege. Every Einstein T-shirt or poster, each Baby Einstein toy, the many Apple “Think Different” ads, all earn money for Einstein’s beloved institute of Jewish learning [the Hebrew University].|
To a degree that Einstein may never have imagined, that gift has kept on giving. Scholars and the public enjoy free access to his vast writings and correspondence (including thousands of pages online), but those who would use Einstein’s name and image for commercial ends must pay for the privilege. Every Einstein T-shirt or poster, each Baby Einstein toy, the many Apple “Think Different” ads, all earn money for Einstein’s beloved institute of Jewish learning.
For the rest of the Jewish people, he left a less tangible but equally valuable legacy: a clearly marked ethical trail for those courageous enough to follow it. With relativity, Einstein paved new roads for scientists. With his own life, he pioneered new ways to live as a Jew.
Mandy Katz is an associate editor at Moment. In December 2006 she reviewed photographer Annie Leibovitz’s highly acclaimed A Photographer’s Life for Moment.
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