Monday, June 7, 2010

A Jewish Argentinean Homeland considered

            One of the many books I have in my "to be read" bookcase is Ronald Sanders' The High Walls of Jerusalem, A History of the Balfour Declaration and the Birth of the British Mandate for Palestine.  I decided to see if Helen Thomas' recent comments about Israel, that they should return from whence they came (those not already living in Palestine presumably) might at last inspire me to read it.  In some respects this book is like so many I have: I sort of know this stuff already, but this is the definitive book on the subject so I ought to read it.
            I would have sworn that one of the places Herzl considered for the Jewish homeland was in the South-American Guianas, perhaps the British Guiana.  But Sanders writes that it was Argentina Herzl was considering, and that Goldsmid talked him out of it.  ". . . for Goldsmid had recently spent a year in Argentina, administering Baron de Hirsch's colonies. . . Goldsmid rejected Argentina out of hand and insisted 'that only Palestine can be considered.'  He argued that 'the pious Christians of England would help us if we went to Palestine.  For they expect the coming of the Messiah after the Jews have returned home.'"
            At the time, 1892, there was no nation called Palestine.  It was merely a sparsely populated region belonging to the Ottoman Empire.  Even after World War I it wasn't a "nation" but a "mandate."  The Turks didn't want any more Jews colonizing the region, but Turkey was weak; so many of the Jews, as they were driven out of the nations Helen Thomas would send them back to, fled to Palestine.  After Britain took over, it attempted to accommodate both the Jews and Arabs who lived in the region, with what success we have all seen.
            I have attempted to imagine a "counterfactual."  Suppose Goldsmid had not talked Herzl out of Argentina.  Suppose that with the help the Baron de Hirsch, "Israel" was developed in Argentina rather than in the Middle East.  Could the Argentinean "colonies" have become an independent nation?  These colonies of Hirsch exist to this day, which is interesting, but they are part of Argentina and have not sought independence.  The following is from :
            "Excepting certain settlements of Jewish farmers in Brazil referred to elsewhere (pp. 265, 266), agriculture among the Jews in South America has been confined to the Argentine colonies established by the Jewish Colonization Association of Paris (of which the late Baron and Baroness de Hirsch were the founders and practically the sole stockholders). In August, 1891, by the direction of Baron de Hirsch, some 3,000 square leagues of land were purchased in various parts of the Argentine Republic, for $1,300,000 (£260,000). In all, over 17,000,000 acres were acquired. At first the project of settling Russian refugees on a large scale in Argentina met with a protest from the government, but the matter was amicably arranged. As early as 1889, independent attempts had been made by certain Jewish immigrants from Russia to establish colonies in Argentina, but this was not done on a well-ordered plan, and later these colonies and colonists were absorbed by the Jewish Colonization Association. The colonies were named for Baron and Baroness Maurice de Hirsch. At first two tracts were set apart for colonization: one, 9 leagues square, situated in the province of Buenos Ayres and called Mauricio; the other, 4½ leagues square, in the province of Santa and called Moïseville. Colonists began to arrive in the summer of 1891 in such numbers that by the end of the year they numbered 2,850. The central administrative office was established in the city of Buenos Ayres; but considerable friction arose between the colonists and the non-resident executive officers, with the result that the very existence of the colony was threatened. There were other difficulties: the locusts, which were very numerous, destroyed the growing crops, and water was scarce. Although the colonies received constant accessions, it was necessary to deport so many discontented colonists to the United States—800 were deported within about two years—that in October, 1893, only 2,683 persons remained. Since then the executive office has been reorganized, and although there have been many desertions, due to discontent or to the damage done to the holdings by locusts and drought, as well as to the distance of the farms from the railroad stations and markets, the number of inhabitants has been slowly but steadily increasing, and the condition of the colonists has become fairly comfortable."
            3,000 square leagues translates into about 9,000 square miles.  Present day Israel is three times larger at 27,000 square miles; so unless much more land were acquired, it could not have accommodated the population that Israel has.  The above article goes on to describe the most successful colonies, Moiseville and Maurico.  The former has 81 colonists consisting of 168 families comprising 825 persons.  The latter contains 164 colonists of 211 families comprising 1045 persons; so we are not talking big numbers here.  The colonies are still farming communities and the article goes on to describe what it is they produce.  It is hard to imagine that if somehow the Hirsch colonies were trebled in size to 27,000 square miles, the size of Israel, that the land could have supported an equivalent population to Israel's.           But let's look at the Hirsch venture a little more closely.  One should be reminded that the impetus for Hirsch philanthropic activities originated in Russia:  The Russians engaged in about 200 pogroms in 1881/82.  Jews were being killed and driven out of Russia in large numbers.  It was not save to be a Jew in Russia.  Hirsch was looking for some place where they could go.  Many went to the U.S. The Jewish population in the U.S. doubled within 10 years,  but Hirsch thought the numbers involved were too large for America to accommodate.  
            Edgardo Zablotsky wrote an essay in 2005 entitled "The Project of the Baron de Hirsch, Success or Failure?"  (available on line)  Historians, Zablotsky tells us, usually consider the project a failure.  In 27 pages Zablotsky attempts to argue that the project was a success.  I wasn't convinced.  Hirsch hoped to draw millions of Jews to Argentina, but that didn't happen.   Jews fleeing Russia, looking for some place to go, had either never heard of Argentina, or thought it a wild desolate country, which wasn't far from the truth.  The mortality rate of those who first arrived in Argentina was very high.  And at the height of the whatever success there was, there were never more than 33,000 colonists in the areas that had belonged to Hirsch.
            The site listing the Jewish Population of the World, lists Argentina 7th with 184,500 -- hardly the numbers that Hirsch envisioned.  Israel is first with 5,313,800 Jews and the U.S. right behind her with 5,275,000.  The numbers drop way down after that: France 491,500, Canada 373,500, the UK with 297,000 and Russia with 228,000.  But Russia could have been number one if it hadn't been so interested in killing its Jews or driving them out of the country.  Russia was like Germany in that respect, which by the way follows Argentina with 118,000 Jews today.  I was a little surprised that even that many wanted to live there.
            After my brief investigation, I agree with Goldsmid.  Argentina wouldn't have worked.   Of course there are people today -- like Helen Thomas who say Palestine didn't work either.  The theory of Palmerston and others that the economic know-how of the Jews could turn the Middle-East into an economic powerhouse might  have succeeded -- if it weren't for the racist hatred of the Arabs -- a hatred they share with the Russians, Poles, and Germans who drove their Jews out -- those they didn't kill, but Helen Thomas would send them go back.   There's never a Liberal around when you need one.

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