A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, April 29, 2016

April 1916: The Easter Rising and its Echoes in Egyptian, Indian, and Zionist Nationalist Thought, Part III: Zionism

Briscoe as Lord Mayor of Dublin
The late, great baseball catcher and folk philosopher Yogi Berra, who sadly died last year, is credited with many quotes, some of which he may actually have said. One goes like this: when Yogi was told in the 1950s that the visiting Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Briscoe, was Jewish, Yogi responded, "only in America."

Robert Briscoe was not only the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin (his son later held the same job): he was a veteran of the original IRA, a gun-runner in the War of Irish independence, but also a fervent Zionist and a friend of Revisionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. When Jabotinsky visited Ireland as part of a European tour in 1938, Briscoe introduced him to Prime Minister Éamon de Valera, and reportedly advised Jabotinsky on how to fight the British.

Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog
Briscoe is just one example of the intersection of Irish nationalism and the Zionist movement. Briscoe during his Irish political career was a member of the Fianna Fáil party, after its split with Sinn Féin, but the Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1919 to 1936, and before that Rabbi of Dublin, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog,  supported the Irish war of independence, spoke the Irish language fluently, and was both an avid Irish republican and committed Zionist. He came to be nicknamed "the Sinn Féin rebbe." When the Free State won independence his appointment as Chief Rabbi was formalized.In 1936 he moved to Palestine, became Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Palestine, and later the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel. One of his sons, Chaim Herzog, became a general, Ambassador to the United Nations, and the sixth President of Israel, while a grandson, Yitzhak or Isaac Herzog, is head of the Labor party/Zionist Union and current Leader of the Opposition in the Knesset.

As World War II approached, the mainstream Zionist movement, including the Haganah, agreed to support British war aims for the duration. The Revisionists and their armed wings, Irgun or the IZL and Lehi or the Stern Gang, continued to resist British rule during the war.Thy were able to point to the Easter Rising of 1916 as a model, since the rebels fought Britain while it was at war with Germany.Avraham Stern, founder of LEHI, arranged to have P.S. O'Hegerty's The Victory of Sinn Féin translated into Hebrew. IZL and Lehi both drew inspiration from the guerilla war in Ireland between 1919 and 1921 and the tactics of Michael Collins, and LEHI underground operative Yitzhak Yezernitsky, who would eventually become Israel's seventh Prime Minister as Yitzhak Samir, adopted the nom de guerre "Michael" after Collins. (Another underground pseudonym was "Rabbi Shamir," from which the would take his Hebrew name.)

There are other  parallels. Irish republican and Land reformer Michael Davitt, mentioned in Part II as an inspiration for Gandhi's nonviolence, famously published an investigation of the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 (then in Russia but today Chisinau in Moldova), and subsequently expessed his sympathies for Zionism. Davitt is said to have been the first to apply the English word  "pale," originally used to refer to the area reserved for English settlement in Ireland, to the Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia.

Not all parallels apply. Arthur James Balfour became a hero to the Zionists for the Balfour Declaration, but as Secretary for Ireland had been a staunch opponent of Home Rule, but as I hope these three posts have shown, the events of Easter 1916 an the war of independence that followed inspired national movements elsewhere; the list could be longer.

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