The Freud Museum

Freud Today

12th Aug 2003 - Freud and Zionism: Further Communications

Yudit Jung, New York

Before I became a psychoanalyst, I was an academic, with teaching and research positions in Germany, Israel, and UW Milwaukee. The topic of my dissertation was: "The development of a national identity in the Jewish working class in Russia, Poland, and Palestine, between 1889 and 1929." Through my academic work, I was intensely familiar with the roots of Zionism (and also of a non-Zionist cultural movement, called: "The Bund") I spent three years researching the politics that led to the foundation of the Israeli State, in the Israeli State's Archives in Jerusalem, with access to original and microfiched documents of the British Foreign Office (FO) and Secret Service files about political activities of both, the Jewish settlers, as well as the Arab natives. Those documents were opened in 1968 by Golda Meir, after they had been closed in 1938 because of "delicate political content". During the time they were opened, between 1968-73, I happened to do my research in Israel. They were closed in 1973 again for another 50 years, because they still contained material that was considered too sensitive for the public.

Among many other letters, those documents also contained copies of the discussion between Freud and his German-Jewish colleagues in and outside of Israel, who wanted to solicit him for a position at the newly founded Hebrew University. Freud, as well as Albert Einstein, were considered for a teaching position at the Hebrew University to be. Freud declined, as many leaders of the Jewish "intelligentsia" at the time. The letter, published by the Freud Museum, has to be understood as a contribution in the context of his personal friendship with the leaders of the Yishuv in general, and the members of the "peace-party" in particular. At the time, Jewish immigrants from German speaking countries, many of them having known each other from college in Europe, had already gotten together
under the leadership of Chaim Arlosoroff to found the "Peace Party", which included prominent German-Jewish intellectuals in Palestine, such as Martin Buber.

The discussion about the feasibility of a secular Zionism was broadly shared by the Jewish community in Europe, not only by the members of the "Yishuv", the settlers, themselves, who had only recently come to Palestine from Europe. Freud, living in Vienna, Theodore Herzl's home town, and being a prominent intellectual in the Jewish community at large, could not help but being part of the ongoing debate, but to my knowledge, has Freud nowhere ever actively taken an official anti-Zionist stand, with the intention to prevent further development of an Israeli State. He also never severed his ties to his ethnic and religious roots, and remained a member of "Bnei Brith" to the end of his life.

In the article printed by your Museum, Freud even explicitly stated: " sober judgment of Zionism does not permit this. I certainly sympathise with its goals, (sic!) am proud of our University in Jerusalem and am delighted with our settlement's
prosperity." Freud had doubts about the practicality of the Yishuv's endeavor, but not about the ethics of the goal. The 1929 riots, to which his letter referred, were very complicated in nature, and Freud's reference to "inflammatory" rhetoric in the service of "rousing the masses" was a referral to BOTH, Arab fervent anti-Zionism, as well as to Jabotinsky's inflammatory speeches, later continued by the infamous Rabbi Meir Kahane. Freud's letter to Dr. Chaim Koffler, -a friend, who held an important political position, - is not to be interpreted as anything but a reflection of the general discussions about the pro's and con's of an Israeli State, and in no way different from what Martin Buber or Chaim Arlosoroff (who, by the way was murdered in 1933 for his peace efforts) voiced in private debates. It is a stand against anti-inflammatory rhetoric, which was used by extremists of BOTH ethnic groups in Palestine at the time, but in no way is it a condemnation of Zionist goals or a one sided blaming of the Jewish settlers at large for inciting political rhetoric. Had it been otherwise, Freud would have become very noticeable to the British Foreign office, which monitored anti-Zionist activities very carefully under their mandate, simply BECAUSE THEY USED ANTI-ZIONISM PURPOSEFULLY in the service of their official Divide and Rule colonial policy. And if the British FO did not pay much attention to Freud's opinion re Zionism, neither should we.

David M Jacobson, Reading, England

I have serious reservations about the item on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the correspondence between Freud and Chaim Koffler. It should be remembered that Freud's reply was written in 1930, a few years before Hitler's assumption of power in Germany and 8 years before the Austrian Anschluss. Freud's views then were no different from perhaps the majority of Central European Jews and the influential Bund party in Poland. However, views tended to change sharply after 1933, and irrevocably so. I think that it would be more appropriate to feature Freud's writings relating to Zionism and Palestine in the later 1930s and these would be more relevant to current circumstances.

Miriam M. Reik, New York

In the now much-debated letter, Freud expresses his pride in the accomplishments of his people, but doubts the overall Zionist enterprise, apparently on practical grounds. Would the Arabs and Gentiles allow Jewish control over their holiest artifacts?

A sentence or two further, he draws a reasonable conclusion from his concerns: he wishes Israel had been founded on a less historically encumbered place. For him, as a secular Jew, Zionism did not mean "redeeming" the historical land of Palestine (whatever its borders), but establishing a state where Jews were free of any of the constraints they endured at the time in Europe (never mind what they suffered later). Thus, it is fair to say that while he did not oppose the establishment of Israel, he regretted that it was situated where it was. And he was right

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