OCTOBER 2016 WWW.JEWISHRENAISSANCE.ORG.UK
H U B E R M A N
I C H E L L E
I E R
F O U R N
; T H O M A S
F O R S T E R
I E L E / K A R L
F E S T S P
; B R E G E N Z E R
; LU C
M E N D E L S O N
; R A N
M E L A M
A L E X A N D E R
KO M A R
I TA LY
I L H E S P Y
G: A DA M
C OV E R
T H E
4 YOUR SAY… 6 WHAT’S NEW
Top Trump Can the Republicans woo Jewish voters?
Safe space versus free speech? In a four-page campus special, we examine the crisis around free speech at UK universities.
One step beyond Sixty years on from its opening, Judi Herman meets past and present students and staff at the radical Leo Baeck College.
Chickenshed flies high The pioneering theatre company enters a new era with a staging of Kindertransport.
Everything but the nose #TheJews is one of this year’s most controversial films. Jason Solomons speaks to its director Yvan Attal.
JR’s 20 best Jewish films! The results of our readers’ poll; Mike Leigh, Judy Ironside, Judi Herman and others reveal their favourites.
Bauhaus to our house Julia Weiner on the émigré ceramicists who shaped post-war British pottery.
ON THE COVER Soviet sensation Zinovy Zinik assesses Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid’s provocative work.
w EDITED BY REBECCA TAYLOR
E A S T
Early in the 20th century, a scheme was proposed to create a Jewish homeland in East Africa. Adam Rovner finds evidence to show this ambitious plan was scuppered by an act of sabotage
Tens of thousands of impoverished immigrants flood into Western Europe. Persecuted at home, they risk imprisonment, exploitation – even their very lives – to beat down the doors of Germany, France and Britain. Images of the tortures they suffer at home and the travails they face on their journey to freedom crowd the newspapers. Yet they are met with scorn as often as charity. These refugees worship a different God, wear unfamiliar clothes and speak a strange tongue. Xenophobia and fears of domestic unrest in the UK drive the Conservative-led government to limit the number of these asylum-seekers. The year is 1903. The immigrants are Jews escaping pogroms in czarist Russia. The prime minister is Arthur Balfour.
Balfour’s colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, had a plan to divert what he termed an “evil . . . alien immigration” from British shores. He would use the influx of Russian Jews as an instrument of imperialism and send them to the East African Protectorate, today’s Kenya. The Jews’ supposed mercantilist genius would extract the riches of the land and utilise the failing Uganda Railway, which stretched from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. Chamberlain had recently returned from a visit to East Africa and while there had travelled 521 miles of the nearly 600-milelong railroad, whose scandal-plagued construction he had championed. Here was a chance for him to rescue the government from a financial fiasco he had supported, avoid an influx of undesirable ‘aliens’, and seize the moral high ground. This was the genesis of the Uganda Plan.
Chamberlain’s calculations were not entirely cynical. Thanks to Israel Zangwill, the foremost Jewish writer of the day, Chamberlain was introduced to the aims of the fledgling Zionist Movement. It was Zangwill who had ushered Theodor Herzl into influential drawing rooms in London and who had arranged for publication of an excerpt of Herzl’s Jewish State in English. Zangwill’s efforts meant that the then fantastical goal of Jewish restoration to Ottoman Palestine was on Chamberlain’s mind during his tour of the African colonies. He mused in a report composed during his travels: “If Dr Herzl were at all inclined to transfer his efforts to East Africa there would be no difficulty in finding land suitable for Jewish settlers.”
In the spring of 1903, shortly after Chamberlain returned from Africa, he met Herzl in Whitehall. “I have seen a land for you on my travels”, he explained. “Inland the climate becomes excellent . . . and I thought to myself, that would be a land for Dr Herzl”. The Zionist leader initially had misgivings about a territory so distant from the biblical land of Israel. But the recent Kishinev pogroms, in which dozens of Jews had been slaughtered, weighed on him. Herzl, Zangwill and other influential Zionists believed that the crisis faced by Russian Jewry demanded action. And so, Herzl and his allies in London drafted a charter to establish a Jewish colony in East Africa to be called New Palestine. The man hired to hammer out the administrative details was MP David Lloyd George.
The Sixth Zionist Congress opened in Basel on Sunday 23 August 1903. When Herzl took the stage to address the assembled delegates, he announced that the British government had offered to create “an autonomous Jewish settlement in East Africa . . . under the sovereign supervision of Great Britain”. The charter that Lloyd George had negotiated included “the appointment of a Jewish official as the chief of the local administration”, with permission to have a free hand in municipal legislation and management of “religious and domestic matters”. Herzl’s address was greeted with loud applause. Soon, however, delegates accused him of betraying the movement he had founded.
Many Russian delegates fought against Herzl’s proposal to send an expedition
16 JEWISHRENAISSANCE.ORG.UK OCTOBER 2016
I N S
. KO L L
BI C H A E L
to East Africa to determine the region’s suitability for colonisation. The Russian rejectionists instead urged the creation of more Jewish settlements in Palestine. The leader of this faction, Menachem Mendel Ussishkin, argued, “the essence of Zionism is to save the Nation of Israel, not our poor brethren in Russia and Romania”. Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg), the father of cultural Zionism, disparaged Herzl’s and Zangwill’s diplomatic success as nothing more than “paper Zionism”.
The acrimonious debates at the congress nearly erupted into a riot. Local police were called to maintain order. Finally on 26 August the delegates convened to vote on whether to dispatch a commission of enquiry to East Africa. Herzl’s lieutenant, intellectual giant Max Nordau, voted in favour of the expedition along with Zangwill and more than 290 others. Only 178 delegates rejected the motion, including Chaim Weizmann, future architect of the Balfour declaration, and a young Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, who later founded the right-wing New Zionist Organisation. A stubborn Russian opposition walked out of the hall and later defamed Herzl in the press.
Though it sounds like the setup to a bad joke, these three men – a Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew – pursued the task of surveying a would-be Jewish homeland.
The most surprising champion of Herzl’s New Palestine was Eliezer BenYehuda, the journalist credited with reviving Hebrew as a spoken language. Ben-Yehuda maintained that East Africa will “be a New America. Perhaps even more fruitful than America!” He guaranteed that the population of Jewish East Africa would be speaking Hebrew within two decades. Zangwill envisioned an African Zion “in which justice shall be better done than in any existing state . . . in which woman’s rights are equal to man’s, in which poverty and wealth are not so terribly divided.” But the rejectionists remained unmoved. Max Nordau was even the victim of a failed assassination attempt in Paris. His would-be killer, a Russian law student, shouted, “Death to Nordau the East African!” before firing several rounds from his revolver. Then on 3 July 1904, Herzl died after suffering a heart attack. Friends whispered that opposition to the Uganda Plan was to blame.
Chamberlain had selected the Uasin Gishu plateau for potential colonisation. The precise borders of the territory varied during negotiations. In its most expansive version, New Palestine was to extend 70 miles east to west – from the flamingo lake of Nakuru to Lake Victoria – and 90 miles north to south, from Mount Elgon to the equator. The total land area on offer was approximately 6,300 square miles – about the size of Yorkshire.
Delays, lost supplies and dissension plagued the Commission from the start. Wilbuschewitz blamed St Hill Gibbons for logistical problems. The major mocked Wilbuschewitz for his lack of preparation.
“East Africa will be a New America. Perhaps even more fruitful than America”
On 13 January 1905 the Zionist Commission disembarked at the port of Mombasa. The three expedition members were Major Alfred St Hill Gibbons, a British Boer War veteran, Swiss naturalist Dr Alfred Kaiser, and Nachum Wilbuschewitz, a civil engineer from Russia. Wilbuschewitz was the only Jewish member of the group. St Hill Gibbons was a Christian and seasoned explorer; Kaiser had converted to Islam during years of research spent in Africa.
Meanwhile, Kaiser complained about the loss of scientific equipment. The unhappy trio took weeks to travel from Mombasa to Nakuru. Once they arrived in Uasin Gishu, they split up to cover more ground. Wilbuschewitz wandered without a compass and became lost. His guides absconded with food. Eventually he decided to await the others from what he called the “Promised Land camp” near
Clockwise from top left: train on the Uganda Railway; Jerusalem store on Uasin Gishu plateau; near the Promised Land campsite; Rongai, along the Uganda Railway; Adam in a cornfield near the Promised Land campsite; Adam in Uasin Gishu region
Mount Sirgoit. There he began composing a damning report of the territory.
Wilbuschewitz’s field notes reveal inconsistencies: he sees herds of animals, but remarks that the region is barren; he stumbles across human habitations, but claims that the land supports no people; he suggests that dairies could profitably be established, but concludes that no agricultural development is possible in Uasin Gishu. These contradictions led me to dig further into the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, where I discovered evidence that Wilbuschewitz had joined the expedition as an agent of the rejectionists. Ussishkin reported to an ally at the time: “I am informing you in secret that I have received a letter from Wilbuschewitz in Uganda . . . his letter informs me that . . . the Uganda question is over and done with.” His goal, it seems, was to sabotage the settlement scheme from within.
St Hill Gibbons insisted in his report that there was “no healthier country in Africa” than Uasin Gishu. But the Seventh Zionist Congress of 1905 instead accepted Wilbuschewitz’s inexpert conclusions and rejected the British offer, leading to a break within Zionist ranks. Zangwill formed the rival Jewish Territorial Organisation, and only returned to the Zionist fold after the Balfour Declaration.
Lloyd George, who had helped draft the charter for New Palestine, became prime minister in 1916. His foreign secretary was none other than Arthur James Balfour. Balfour had, of course, served as prime minister during Chamberlain’s initial overture to Herzl in 1903. And it was Balfour who later issued his famed Declaration to establish “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. Israel, we might say, came out of Africa.
And what became of Uasin Gishu, the territory proposed for New Palestine? When I visited the precise coordinates Wilbuschewitz marked as his Promised Land camp in 2009, I found a thriving region. One of the largest wheat farms in sub-Saharan Africa surrounds Mount Sirgoit. Striped gazelles leap through green fields. Maize grows lushly along freshwater streams. The region is Kenya’s breadbasket. Nothing would have prevented Uasin Gishu from becoming a thriving Jewish territory – nothing, that is, except for the historical, spiritual, and imaginative connection that Jews have with the land of Israel. n
Adam Rovner is Associate Professor of English and Jewish Literature at the University of Denver, Colorado. He is the author of In the Shadow of Zion: Promised Lands before Israel, NYU, 2014.
E A S T
A F R
OCTOBER 2016 JEWISHRENAISSANCE.ORG.UK 17
Under African skies… We trek through desert landscapes and remote mountains to uncover the history and culture of Jewish East Africa. Our stories – from ancient Ethiopian communities (p24) to a thriving Rwandan village (p22) – give astonishing insights into this exotic but harsh land.
East African Zion Adam Rovner uncovers how a plan to establish a Jewish homeland in East Africa was destroyed by sabotage.
Entebbe: 40 years on Former Israeli soldier Noam Tamir recalls the deadly rescue mission.
Damascus dreams One of Syria’s last Jews reflects on his escape from the country and his new life in Sweden.
Shul with a pool Michelle Huberman reports on a London synagogue for the Adeni community that has an unusually tropical view (above).
From Persia – with love Iran’s Mashadi Jews lived double lives until coming to London, where life was – often startlingly – different.
A desert childhood Sudanese Regina Ishkenazi recalls her life growing up by the Nile.
The merchant’s long journey André Tchaikowsky’s opera of the Merchant of Venice has its premiere this autumn. David Conway explores this remarkable Shakespeare tribute.
Where are you? Novelist Adam Foulds finds Jonathan Safran Foer’s new novel Here I Am disappointingly evasive on the Big Questions.
The Left’s Jewish problem Colin Shindler on a new book that explores the background to the Labour Party’s current antisemitism row.
Beauty queen blues Sarit Yishai-Levi’s bestselling saga paints a warts ‘n’ all picture of Sephardi family life, says Maureen Kendler.
46 UNEXPECTED ISRAEL
Snow Excerpt from Ruth Corman’s book on the Israel you never hear about.
54 WHAT’S HAPPENING
Listings Our three-month guide to art, books, film, music, theatre and other cultural events in the UK, Europe and Israel.
Family Looking for a Chanukah gift? We round up the best children’s books.
Try this! Caroline Porter’s Hebrew class guide will have you speaking like a sabra.
OCTOBER 2016 JEWISHRENAISSANCE.ORG.UK 3
C O N T E N T S