Chaim Arlosoroff, Zionism, and Israel

    June 1999         
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Chaim Arlosoroff


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Chaim Arlosoroff

By Jermy Rosner

Have you ever been in Israel? If you have you probably noticed that in each city there is always a street that is called Arlosoroff. It is always in the old established part of town and is always a main street.

Who was Arlosoroff? No one today really remembers. But if we were to go back time to Israel before the state of Israel was formed, even before World War II, we certainly would know who was Arlosoroff. A deep and tragic story accompanies this man who name adorns the motorways of almost all cities in this tiny state. A story of an assassination that shocked the Jewish yeshuv (settlement), and whose reverberations are still apparent in today's politics.

Chaim Arlosoroff was the grandson of the Rabbi Eliezer Arlosoroff, the Rabbi of Romny in the Ukraine, who was the author of numerous books on Jewish law. His father was a wealthy merchant in the Ukraine, but during the anti-Jewish rioting in 1905, fled with his family to Germany. Young Chaim was six years old at the time.

The Arlosoroff family took with them to Germany a family rich in the Russian Jewish tradition and lore. Chaim was enrolled in the local schools and soon became known as a serious and brilliant student. His German secular education was supplemented with a private tutor from whom he explored the Jewish world of learning and ideas.

When World War II broke out, the Arlosoroff's, being of Russian citizenship were threatened with deportation. The father trying to salvage his business traveled to Russia via Sweden, but was unable to return during the war and subsequently died in Russia, never seeing his family again. Chaim tried to join the German army, but being a foreign citizen, was not accepted. This non-acceptance and rejection created a desire to be with his own people The family then moved to Berlin. It was here that Chaim Arlosoroff began his deep interest in politics and Zionism that eventually brought him to Israel.

During this time the various social philosophies abounded, socialism, Marxism, Zionism, all were heated subjects for debate. Chaim was known for his sharp mind and keen abilities to discern the various lackings in each of the various movements. He realized that communism would never benefit the Jew; communism was based on a relation of the worker to his country, that he has a connection to his country and that the country is connected to him. Arlosoroff reasoned that the Russian communism could not work for the stateless Jew who had no connection to the Russian soil.

He set his eyes towards Zion and envisioned the return of the Jewish people to their soil. There, and only there, could the Jew prosper and grow. Like other Zionists of that time, a Jewish culture was envisioned as supplanting the goyish (non-Jewish) culture in whose midst they dwelt.

During this period, he went off to study economics at the Berlin University. He wrote many poems during this period of Jewish themes. He was aquainted with the Jewish Zionist thinkers and activists as well as philosophers. He was very active in the various Jewish worker groups. He supported the kibbutz movement to develop the land of Israel. Without a strong agricultural base, the Jewish state would have no connection to the land. Although he was offered an assistantship in the University on the basis of his doctorate on Marxism, he turned it down, in favor of traveling to Israel.

In 1923, he was appointed to serve on the Zionist activist committee. In 1926, he was among those sent to represent the Zionists to the League of Nations. He was chosen to go to America to raise funds for the Zionists. In 1930, he brought together two large Zionist groups; the Marxist Poalei Zion together with the A. D. Gordon influenced Hapoel Hatzair creating the Mapai party. He became the editor of its journal. He was elected to the Mapai executive and became the head of the Jewish Agency.

Through his influence the Jewish Agency grew and many of the early ideas of the Jewish State, in terms of government land ownership, socialistic form of the government and the inherent social structures were instigated by him. He was one of the most popular personalities in the Mapai political party and was slated to be the first Prime Minister of the new state.

One of his beliefs was that of recognizing the Arab national desire to become a people. Zev Jabotinsky, who was the mentor of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was opposed to recognizing the Arab desire to achieve nationhood in Israel. On this point there was much disagreement and bitter feelings. Although Arlosoroff lived during many of the Arab riots during that period, he still felt that communication between the Zionists and the Arabs was possible, even if a Zionist compromise was needed. Jabotinsky, who headed the opposing Revisionist Zionists, saw Israel as the homeland for the Jews and not for the Arabs.

On a balmy Friday evening in June 1933, after his Shabbat meal, Arlosoroff was walking in the Tel Aviv streets near the ocean. Two men came up to him and asked him in Hebrew for the time. As he looked into his watch, a flashlight was shone in his face, followed quickly by two shots from a revolver. The two assailants ran away, leaving a thirty-four year old man dying in the arms of his wife.

Two men were arrested for the shooting and a third man for the plotting of the assassination. These men, who strongly denied the allegations, were followers of Jabotinsky. The subsequent trial brought out inter Jewish hatred that continues until this day. The men were finally acquitted for lack of evidence, but this brought a serious rift in the Zionist groups. Even today, there are various theories about the murder, was it Arabs from neighboring Jaffe in search of robbery or rape, or was it someone from inside the Mapai leadership that envied the young Arlosoroff's ability to reach the workers, or was it the opposition Revisionists? We will never know.

A decision from the Zionist groups was made to come together and much negotiations were needed to come to agreements that would heal the rifts and soothe the wounds of the various sides. Finally an agreement was reached, but at the last minute, David Ben Gurion, who was to become the first Prime Minister, refused to several demands. The Zionist unity scheme met a bitter death.

This was the situation in the 1930's; this is the situation of the 1990's. We find that the type of clothing worn has changed, yes the outside facade has undergone a facelift. Yet underneath we still have the same leaders who in absence of positive ideals, use hatred to further their goals. Will we ever learn the lessons of history?

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