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Jews in Modern Europe Study Group

The Nazi-Zionist Agreement and Jewish Public Culture: on ‘Rational’ and ‘Emotional’ in Politics


March 22, 2018
4:15pm - 6:00pm
Hoffmann Room, Busch Hall Directions
March 22, 2018
4:15pm - 6:00pm
Hoffmann Room, Busch Hall Directions

The lecture focuses on the emotional aspects of the public debate in the Yishuv, in the mid-1930s, over the Ha’avara (transfer) agreement with Nazi Germany, which enabled Jews to leave the country and take some of their assets with them, in the form of German goods to be sold in Palestine. In this my project departs from previous studies that focused on the political aspects. Drawing on contemporary media and archival sources and comparative studies about boycotts and “buy national” campaigns, I will place the Ha’avara controversy in the context of the “buy Jewish” (Totzeret Ha’aretz) campaigns of the interwar Yishuv.

The Ha’avara agreement violated the campaign (principally by Americans and by Jews throughout the world) to boycott German products. One of its less noticeable consequences—the inundation of Palestine with German manufactures—provoked harsh emotional reactions among supporters of the boycott, of course, but also among “buy national” campaigners and other advocates of economic nationalism. Those who defended the agreement supplemented their realpolitik arguments with humanitarian statements about the fate of German Jews. As the latter came to dominate the Yishuv’s public discourse, anti-German feeling was channeled into a boycott of the Templers, a small German community whose roots in Palestine went back to the nineteenth century. Whatever its political utility, this ostracism enjoyed consensus support among the Zionists and even the British, who in 1940 deported the Templers to Australia. The affair thus exemplifies the power of emotional language in politics and political economy.

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