Drowning in the Red Sea

At the end of August 1929, after months of argument over Jewish access to the Western Wall, Arab riots began in Jerusalem and then spread to other parts of the country. The murder and maiming of over 400 Jews, most of them yeshiva students in Hebron and Safed, reminded Jewry both in Palestine and elsewhere of the Ukrainian pogroms a decade earlier. Jewish organizations throughout the world, including in America, began mobilizing what political protest they could on behalf of the Jews of Palestine, and the Yiddish press sprang into action.

The first response of the New York Communist Morgn Freiheit was only slightly more muted than that of other New York Yiddish dailies, the nominally Socialist Forverts, the moderately Zionist Morgn-Zhurnal, and the mildly traditional Tog. The Freiheit's headlines on August 25 and 26 read: "20 Dead, 150 Wounded in Battles between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem" and "Over 100 Dead in the Fighting in Palestine." The paper's editorials blamed the British for permitting Arab violence and failing to protect the Jewish victims. But the following day, in a dramatic reversal, the Freiheit redefined the murders as the start of an "Arab Revolt against England."

Now, according to the Freiheit, the Arabs were demanding an independent worker-and-peasant land for the masses, and were legitimately opposing the "Jewish fascists" who had provoked the riots. An editorial explained that whereas the Russian and Polish pogroms had targeted innocent Jews, this Arab uprising was provoked by Zionist imperialism: Arabs were said to have been victimized by Jews, just as the Jews had once been by the tsars. The new line had been dictated to the Freiheit by the Soviet Communist International, or Comintern.

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About the Author

Ruth R. Wisse is Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard University. She is the author, most recently, of Jews and Power (Schocken), and editor of The Glatstein Chronicles (Yale University Press).


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