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He knew the need for a Theodore Herzl long before Herzl acknowledged the need for a Jewish homeland

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Leon Pinsker’s “Auto-Emancipation” still stands as one of the most compelling arguments ever written for an independent Jewish homeland.

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In his superb history of Zionism, The Siege, Conor O’Brien reflects upon one of the major obstacles the movement faced in the late 19th century: “Logically, the emergence of a Jewish State in Palestine depended on the collapse of both the Ottoman and the Russian empires.”

 From the viewpoint of someone living in 1897, the year of the very first Zionist Congress, such a possibility was a mere fantasy. And yet, here we are, at the tail end of commemorating the 53rd anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the aftermath of the Six-Day War.

 But long before Theodor Herzl and his contemporaries met in Basel to launch modern Zionism, Polish physician Leon Pinsker had penned a remarkable pamphlet making the Jewish people’s case for a nation.

 Fourteen years before Herzl’s “The Jewish State”, Pinsker’s “Auto-Emancipation” still stands as one of the most compelling arguments ever written for an independent Jewish homeland.

 Up until the pogroms of 1881, Pinsker had been an assimilationist. Previously pinning his hopes on universal enlightenment, at least within the Russian Empire, he later concluded that “no previous civilization has been able to achieve it”.

 In his pamphlet, Pinsker eloquently described the dilemma of European Jews in the late 19th century. He called the Jew “the stranger par excellence…they home everywhere but are nowhere at home.” A man, who should have been able to assimilate into European society, felt that the security and safety of the Jewish people could no longer be dependent on the “enlightenment” of their European neighbours.

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Above all, Pinsker was practical. Auto-Emancipation is a case study that acknowledges difficult circumstances and proposes possible solutions to overcome them. His idea of a fund to purchase land for settlement and development by Jewish immigrants predated the establishment of the Jewish National Fund by 19 years.

Pinsker realized, even in 1882, the need for a “congress of Jewish notables” comprised of the most prominent members of Europe’s Jewish community, to speak as one voice on behalf of the Jewish people.

 He also understood the imperative of cooperating with the day’s governments and empires if the Jewish homeland were to ever become a reality. Dangerous times called for fantastic ambitions grounded in practical considerations and realities.

 Foremost for Pinsker was the failure of Eastern European Jews’ Aliyah to Ottoman-controlled Palestine. Of the 35,000 who immigrated to Palestine during that period, over half abandoned the project within several years due to inexperience in settling a new land and harsh Ottoman opposition. Pinsker wanted the next wave of immigrants to learn the lessons of their predecessors’ shortcomings.

As a Syrian and an Arab, I was taught even at the university level that Israel was a “European colonialist project”; that some European Jews showed up one day in 1948 and established their “entity”. Reading Auto-Emancipation was a revelation. I consider it the best introduction to the necessity of a Jewish state. I found it so remarkable that I had it professionally printed and bound with Herzl’s “The Jewish State”.

 It is a work I refer to frequently for inspiration. I can think of no other small text that so superbly makes the case for Israel, long before the name existed for a country.

Pinsker’s work is also relevant to the civil rights protests currently taking place in much of the world. As he wrote concerning the situation of his fellow European Jews, “legal emancipation is not social emancipation.”

 From its very founding, the modern Zionist movement faced circumstances that by all logic should have made it unfeasible. And yet, here we are, 138 years after Leon Pinsker felt the need to pen his pamphlet anonymously, and the state he envisioned stands accepted and respected among the nations of peoples. Reading Auto-Emancipation is to be inspired in so many ways. “If you will it, it is no dream.”

We are so fortunate to be living in an age where the dream that seemed impossible in the late 19th century is now a reality.

Aboud Dandachi is a former Syrian refugee who arrived in Canada in 2017 through the Canadian Refugee Resettlement Program. He has been published, interviewed and cited on Syrian issues in numerous outlets, including the BBC, NPR and the Israeli and Turkish press. He has been published on Tablet Magazine and the CJN. Follow him on Twitter at @abouddandachi

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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