Historisches Seminar der Universität Zürich, Wintersemester 2002/03
Kolloquium "Israel und Palästina (19.-Mitte 20. Jh.)"


Die pauschale Abwertung der osmanischen Welt und die Zusammenführung von Heilsgeschichte, triumphaler "Realgeschichte" und teleologischer Nationalgeschichte.


Ottoman Palestine - "a sad backwater of a crumbling empire"

Ben-Arieh, Yehoshua, The rediscovery of the Holy Land in the nineteenth century, Jerusalem: Magnus Press - Hebrew University - Israel Exploration Society, 1979 (Zweitauflage 1983), S. 11, zitiert in Krämer 2002, S. 385.

At the beginning of the 19th century Palestine was but a derelict province of the decaying Ottoman Empire. The Sublime Porte only showed interest in it because of the holy places and the meagre revenue extorted from the wretched habitants. The country was badly governed, having no political importance of its own, its economy was primitive, the sparse, ethnically mixed population subsisted on a dismally low standard; the few towns were small and miserable; the roads few and neglected. In short, Palestine was but a sad backwater of a crumbling empire - a far cry from the fertile, thriving land it had been in ancient times.

"Conclusion: The Verdict of History"

Polowetzky, Michael,  Jerusalem recovered : Victorian intellectuals and the birth of Modern Zionism, Westport (Conn.): Praeger, 1995, S. 148 f.

Through their endeavors in politics, literature, academic research, and archaeology, such important figures in the Victorian intellectual community as George Eliot and Charles Warren frequently exhibited a profound fascination with the religion, culture, and history of the Jews. In their many efforts to convert the general population to their views, these individuals unfortunately received only passing interest and from time to time were handed discouraging and bitter rebuffs. It was the intellectual community more than any other single group in nineteenth century British society that succeeded in keeping these issues before the public and at last winning a fair hearing for Jewish national aspirations before the Gentile power structure. It was the intellectuals more than any other group who by the closing decades of the century at last enabled the British government to become receptive to the concept of Zionism. Neither Lord Ashley, Benjamin Disraeli, or Laurence Oliphant were the first persons in their country's history to endorse the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine; the idea had already attracted interest intermittently for at least three hundred years. However, it was they and their colleagues, who through their combined efforts did the most to demonstrate to the many doubters that this vague and ill-defined notion could be transformed into a practical political and diplomatic policy. The members of the British government in November 1917 understood this very well; for men like David Lloyd George and Arthur James Balfour were born and launched their careers during the period when these actions were being taken. Upon reviewing all the events of his life, Balfour, who met the author of Daniel Deronda at Oxford and who as Lord Salisburys private secretary was the first to read Oliphant's propasal about the East, described the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine as his most significant achievement.

Alas, the issuing of the Balfour Declaration marked not only the culmination of the Victorian intellectual community's attempts to persuade Britain to advance the political aspirations of the Jewish people but also represented the final act in that great drama. The nation that emerged from the ravages of the First World War possessed none of the idealism and sense of confidence that were found in an earlier age; her society had lost its fascination with the Great Asian Mystery. No longer benefiting from the inspiration of earlier visionaries, contemporary twentieth century Britain would prove to be not the midwife of a newborn Israel as the Victorians had so much hoped, but sadly her opponent.


"Kyros": Israel als Spender heilsgeschichtlicher Unsterblichkeit an die Supermacht

Merkley, Paul Charles, The politics of Christian Zionism: 1891-1948, London: Frank Cass, 1998, S. 190-92.

In the years of his retirement Truman frequently insisted that the most infuriating moments of his Presidency were those when he had to fight off the persistence of the Zionists. These people, he said, were the only people who ever stood in his presence and spoke to him as though their cause was the only cause in the world, as though their people were the only people who suffered, and as though that suffering gave them the right to speak to him as though the office of President of the United States meant nothing to them. No other visitors ever pounded on his desk!

Nevertheless, in retirement Truman looked back upon his role in bringing about the establishment of the state of Israel as among his proudest achievements. He would reckon among his fastest friends the individuals who had persuaded him to make the cause of Zion the cause of the government of the United States. Among his proudest memories would be those moments when he acceded to the request of the Zionist chieftains - for support of Partition, for inclusion of the Negev, for recognition of the state of Israel - throwing his State and War Departments into consternation, and significantly, he invariably hit upon these moments to illustrate the point that the President must do what is right, even if all the expert advice is running the other way - the point of the famous motto on the desk: 'The Buck stops here.'

When the former president took visitors on tour of the Truman Library, he liked to show them the Torah scroll and its Ark, presented to him by the President of Israel. Then there was Truman Village, which he could not show off literally, but to which he could direct his friends when they visited Israel. This truly extraordinary gift was presented to President Truman at a dinner in Washington in May 1952, with these words from the Israeli Ambassador, Abba Eben:

'We do not have orders or decorations. Our material strength is small and greatly strained. We have no tradition of formality or chivalry. One thing, however, is within the power of Israel to confer. It is the gift of immortality. Those whose names are bound up with Israel's history never become forgotten. We are, therefore, now writing the name of President Truman upon the map of our country. In a village of farmers near the airport of Lydda at the gateway to Israel, we establish a monument, not of dead stone but of living hope. Thus when the eyes of men alight on Truman Village in Israel they will pause in their successive generations to recall the strong chain which, at the middle of the 20th century, drew the strongest and the smallest democracy together with imperishable lines.'

Eban recalls that, 'As I left the rostrum I saw the tough-minded President burying his face in a handkerchief without any effort to restrain his emotion. The next day he sent me a letter asking me for a text of my address: "You spoke so flatteringly about me that for a moment I had the impression that I was dead".'

Moshe Davis has left us record of a visit which Harry Truman made a few months after the end of his Presidency to the Jewish Theological Seminary, together with Truman's friend, Eddie Jacobson. Jacobson introduced Harry Truman to the professors: 'This is the man who helped create the State of Israel', but Truman corrected him: 'What do you mean "helped to create"? am Cyrus. I am Cyrus.'

It seems that the analogy to Cyrus had already been suggested to President Truman by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Isaac Halevi Herzog, on the occasion of a visit to him in the White House early in 1949. The rabbi went on to assert: 'God put you in your mother's womb so you would be the instrument to bring about Israel's rebirth after two thousand years.' We are told by a witness that, 'On hearing these words, Truman rose from his chair and, with great emotion, tears glistening in his eyes, he turned to the Chief Rabbi and asked him if his actions for the sake of the Jewish people were indeed to be interpreted thus and the hand of the Almighty was in the matter'.

These words of Truman's - 'I am Cyrus' - were uttered neither casually nor ironically. We must take them with the fullest seriousness, and when we do, we will have the key to understanding Truman's constant proZionism.

Harry Truman frequently turned over the name of 'Cyrus the Great' as he rehearsed the names of the 'Great Men of History'- a mental exercise which he performed regularly, as a concert pianist performs scales. The American democratic process, he knew, had put him in the place where Cyrus redivivus was expected. His awareness of all this is what explains the consistency of his refusal to allow himself to be worn down by the emotional and sometimes brutal arguments of the Zionists, fully as much as it explains his serenity in the face of the arguments from anti-Zionist Jews, the pro-Arab blandishments coming from the State Department, the 'realistic' military judgements coming from George Marshall and George Kennan, and the economic-geopolitical arguments of James Forrestal.

To doubt his personal fitness for this great role would have been the same as to doubt the fitness of the American political system which had put him in place. To set his own name at the end of that long catalogue of the Great Men (in which Cyrus always figured) was not, he believed, an act of vanity, but a requirement of fidelity to received religion and to his own selfconfidence as a student of history.




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