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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 April 2016


In 1970, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Research Center in Beirut published an Arabic translation of The Zionist Idea, an anthology of classic Zionist texts compiled originally by Arthur Hertzberg in 1959. This article compares how the two versions present the biographies and motivations of key Zionist ideologues. It suggests that, in contrast to Hertzberg, the PLO researchers tended to present Zionism, especially at its roots, as a Jewish religious movement. Attempting to discern what might lie behind this conception of Zionism, the article considers the significance of the religious backgrounds of the leadership of the PLO Research Center and of those involved in the translation project. It argues that the researchers’ concern about the status of Christians as a religious minority among Palestinians and other Arabs and certain deeply rooted Christian ideas about the nature of Judaism may help account for the particular view of Zionism that the Research Center developed in its—and in the PLO's—foundational years.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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Author's note: I am indebted to Sadik al-Azm, Sabri Jiryis, Ahmad Khalidi, Philip Mattar, and Nadim Shehadi for generously sharing memories of Beirut and the PLO Research Center. I am grateful as well to the many colleagues who discussed and debated various aspects of this project with me; some also commented upon drafts of this article. Thanks to Seth Anziska, Leora Batnitzky, Johannes Becke, Lihi Ben Shitrit, Hillel Cohen, Jeffrey Culang, Israel Gershoni, Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Noah Haiduc-Dale, Liora Halperin, Jens Hanssen, Bernard Haykel, Sara Hirschhorn, Ethan Katz, Rashid Khalidi, Akram Khater, Daniel Kurtzer, Nadirah Mansour, Zinaida Miller, Derek Penslar, Ariel Roth, Christian Sahner, Cyrus Schayegh, Matti Steinberg, and the anonymous IJMES reviewers.

1 Hertzberg, Arthur, The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959)Google Scholar; Hertzberg, Avraham, ha-Raʿayon ha-Tsiyoni: Kovets mi-Divrei Rishonim va-Ahronim, trans. Moshe Rosen (Jerusalem: Keter, 1970)Google Scholar; Sayegh, Anis et al, al- Fikra al-Sahyuniyya: al-Nusus al-Asasiyya (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1970)Google Scholar.

2 Hertzberg, ha-Raʿayon ha-Tsiyoni, ix.

3 In a review of the book in the PLO's journal in 1972, Sadik al-Azm noted that “for some reason,” neither the original English edition nor its compiler were mentioned in the Arabic. al-Azm, Sadik, Shuʾun Filastiniyya 9 (May 1972): 152Google Scholar.

4 See, for example, references to the PLO's “secular nationalism” in Mishal, Shaul and Sela, Avraham, The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence, and Coexistence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000)Google Scholar, 15; Cubert, Harold, The PFLP's Changing Role in the Middle East (New York: Routledge, 2014Google Scholar [1997]), 167; Amr, Ziad Abu, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1994)Google Scholar, ix; Armajani, Jon, Modern Islamist Movements: History, Religion, Politics (Oxford: Wiley–Blackwell, 2012)Google Scholar, chap. 3; and Eisenberg, Laura Zittrain and Caplan, Neil, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: Patterns, Problems, Possibilities, 2nd ed. (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2010), 171Google Scholar.

5 Steinberg, Matti, ʿOmdim le-Goralam: ha-Todaʿah ha-Leʾumit ha-Palastinit, 1967–2007 (Tel Aviv: Yediʿot Ahronot, 2008)Google Scholar, 204.

6 Ibid., 207. Steinberg, “The PLO and Palestinian Islamic Fundamentalism,” Jerusalem Quarterly 52 (1989): 41.

7 See, for example, ʿZelkovitz, Ido, Tenuʿat ha-Fatah: Islam, Leʾumiyut ve-Politika shel Maʾavak Mezuyan (Tel Aviv: Resling, 2012)Google Scholar; and Frisch, Hillel, “Nationalizing a Universal Text: The Quran in Arafat's Rhetoric,” Middle Eastern Studies 41 (2005): 321–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 See, for example, Ateek, Naim Stifan, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1989)Google Scholar; Raheb, Mitri, I am a Palestinian Christian (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1995)Google Scholar; and Raheb, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2014).

9 Robson, Laura, Colonialism and Christianity in Mandate Palestine (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2011)Google Scholar; Haiduc-Dale, Noah, Arab Christians in British Mandate Palestine: Communalism and Nationalism, 1917–1948 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 See, for example, Frisch, “Nationalizing a Universal Text,” 326.

11 Owen, John M. IV, The Clash of Ideas in World Politics: Transnational Networks, States, and Regime Change, 1510–2010 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010), 223Google Scholar.

12 See Rubenberg, Cheryl, The Palestine Liberation Organization: Its Institutional Infrastructure (Belmont, Mass.: Institute of Arab Studies, 1983)Google Scholar; and “The Palestine Research Center,” an interview with Jiryis, Sabri, in Journal of Palestine Studies 14 (1985): 185–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Due to its diplomatic status, the Research Center managed to remain in Beirut even after the PLO had been expelled in 1982. Sabri Jiryis, former director general of the Research Center, phone interview with the author, 10 August 2015.

13 On the Ras Beirut neighborhood and culture during this period, see Traboulsi, Fawwaz, A Modern History of Lebanon, 2nd ed. (London: Pluto Press, 2012), 177–81Google Scholar.

14 Sayegh, Anis, Anis Sayigh ʿan Anis Sayigh (Beirut: Riad El-Rayyes, 2006), 215–16Google Scholar.

15 Some in the family use “Sayegh” and others “Sayigh.” During the 1948 war, Fayez was in the United States pursuing a doctorate and Anis was a boarder at the Gerard Institute in Sidon. Their father, ʿAbd Allah Sayigh, intended to bring his wife and daughter Mary to Lebanon and then return, “but on the way to Nazareth they heard that Tiberias had fallen.” Rosemary Sayigh, ed., Yusif Sayigh: Arab Economist, Palestinian Patriot (New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2015), 208. On the conquest of and expulsions from Tiberias, see Abbasi, Mustafa, “The End of Arab Tiberias: The Arabs of Tiberias and the Battle for the City in 1948,” Journal of Palestine Studies 47 (2008): 629CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Morris, Benny, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 181–86Google Scholar.

16 According to his brother Yusif Sayigh, Fayez left the Research Center because of the demands of his position at the American University of Beirut. Sayigh, Yusif Sayigh, 264.

17 Ibid., 232.


18 Sayegh et al., al-Fikra al-Sahyuniyya, 7.

19 Hertzberg later added an afterword.

20 On problems in the translation, see al-Azm's review in Shuʾun Filastiniyya 9 (May 1972): 152–54.

21 In electronic correspondence with me, Sadik al-Azm noted that, in 1970, he had prepared an introduction for this volume but the PLO leadership did not permit its inclusion. I address al-Azm's introduction and the motivations behind its exclusion in my monograph in preparation.

22 Andrew I. Killgore, “In Memoriam: Lutfi Abdul Rahman al-Abed,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (June 1993): 55. On the flight and later expulsion of the Arabs of Safuriyya, see Morris, The Birth, 417.

23 Sayigh, Anis Sayigh ʿan Anis Sayigh, 35. Herzl's diaries, Yawmiyyat Hartzil, ed. Anis Sayigh, trans. Hilda Shaʿban Sayigh (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1968), became a key source for the PLO Research Center's assessment of Zionism. See, for instance, Razzouk, Assʿad [the Latin spelling used by Razzuq, Asʿad], Israʾil al-Kubra: Dirasa fi al-Fikr al-Tawassuʿi al-Sahyuni (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1968), 1928Google Scholar.

24 al-Abid, Ibrahim, Dalil al-Qadiyya al-Filastiniyya: Asʾila wa-Ajwiba (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1969)Google Scholar; al-Abid, A Handbook to the Palestine Question: Questions & Answers, 2nd ed. (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1971 [1969]).

25 See the “Asʿad Razzuq” entry in Muhammad ʿUmar Hamada, Aʿlam Filastin, vol. 1 (Damascus: Dar Qutayba, 1985), 316–17. For obituaries, see al-Watan al-ʿArabi 1569, 28 March 2007, 56; and “al-Mahatta al-Akhira: Asʿad Razzuq al-Mufakkir al-Istithnaʾi,” 11 January 2008, accessed 21 December 2015,الأخيرة+المحطةA+الاستثنائي+المفكر+رزوق+اسعد.html.

26 Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, 104.

27 Ibid., 109--10.


28 As Shlomo Avineri argues, the nationalist thought of “traditionalists” such as Alkalai and Kalischer was “imbued with ideas derived from the general European experience,” not “merely from their religious background.” Avineri, Shlomo, “Zionism and the Jewish Religious Tradition: The Dialectics of Redemption and Secularization,” in Zionism and Religion, ed. Almog, Shmuel, Reinharz, Jehuda, and Shapira, Anita (Hanover, Mass.: Brandeis University Press, 1998)Google Scholar, 3.

29 Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, 46. Emphasis in the original.

30 Razzouk likely took this narrative from Alex Bein's biography of Herzl, which he cites in Israʾil al-Kubra of 1968. Cf. Bein, Alex, Theodore Herzl: A Biography of the Founder of Modern Zionism (New York: Atheneum, 1970), 11, 13–14Google Scholar, where Bein notes two Jewish religious-themed anecdotes concerning Herzl.

31 Razzouk, Greater Israel: A Study in Zionist Expansionist Thought (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1970), 16.

32 On the degree to which Herzl was influenced by religious ideas, see, for example, Adler, Joseph, “Religion and Herzl: Fact and Fable,” in Herzl Year Book: Essays in Zionist History and Thought, vol. 4, ed. Patai, Raphael (New York: Herzl Press, 1961–62), 271303Google Scholar.

33 Sayegh et al., al-Fikra al-Sahyuniyya, 59. Cf. Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, 159.

34 Sayegh et al., al-Fikra al-Sahyuniyya, 59.

35 Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, 443.

36 Sayegh et al., al-Fikra al-Sahyuniyya, 317-18.

37 Ibid., 429-31.


38 Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, 562. Excerpted from Jabotinsky, V., Evidence Submitted to the Palestine Royal Commission, House of Lords, London, 11 February 1937 (London: New Zionist Press, 1937), 913Google Scholar. The speech was delivered in English; I thank Brian Horowitz for his consultation on this matter.

39 Sayegh et al, al-Fikra al-Sahyuniyya, 434. The translators also removed Jabotinsky's claim that Palestine's Arabs represent only a small “fraction” or “branch of that [Arab] race.”

40 Cf. Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, 562; Sayegh et al, al-Fikra al-Sahyuniyya, 434. For “hold,” the translators use the term tastawʿab, a verb that can mean “to contain” or “to hold,” but can also mean “to uproot” or “to exterminate.” As this verb is applied here both to Arabs and Jews, it seems that the translators intended the former sense.

41 See, for example, the answer to “Did the Zionists plan to expel the Arabs from Palestine?” in al-Abid, Dalil al-Qadiyya al-Filastiniyya, 98–100; and al-Abid, A Handbook to the Palestine Question, 81–82. The answer begins: “From its inception Zionism has worked towards emptying Palestine of its original inhabitants.”

42 Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, 16.

43 Ibid., 16.


44 Ibid., 17.


45 Ibid., 18.


46 Ibid., 21–22.


47 Anis Sayegh, preface to Razzouk, al-Dawla wa-l-Din, 7. The apparently dismissive quotation marks appear in the original. (Sabri Jiryis, who took over as director general of the Research Center in 1977, told me in an interview on 28 July 2015 that once he assumed this role he issued a directive that the word Israel would no longer appear in quotation marks in PLO Research Center literature.) Elsewhere, in the wake of the 1967 war, Razzouk contends that Zionism is “based on the principles of religious irredentism.” Razzouk, Israʾil al-Kubra, 12.

48 Razzouk, al-Dawla wa-l-Din, 18, quoting Herzl, Theodor, The Jewish State, trans. D'Avigdor, Sylvie, 4th ed. (London: Rita Searl, 1946), 54Google Scholar.

49 Razzouk, al-Dawla wa-l-Din, 18.

50 Ibid., 19, citing Herzl, The Jewish State, 60.


51 Razzouk, al-Dawla wa-l-Din, 19.

52 Ibid., 19.


53 Elsewhere, concerning various forms of Zionism, the terms that Sayegh and Razzouk use are: istithmār, istighlāl, and ikhtizāl. See, for example, Razzouk al-Dawla wa-l-Din, 7–9.

54 Talmon, Jacob, The Unique and the Universal (New York: G. Braziller, 1965)Google Scholar, 288. Cited in Razzouk, al-Dawla wa-l-Din, 33.

55 Talmon, The Unique and the Universal, 287–88. Cited in Razzouk, al-Dawla wa-l-Din, 33–34.

56 Razzouk, al-Dawla wa-l-Din, 34.

57 Ibid., 17.


58 Ibid., 19–20. Compare this to the pre-World War I argument against Zionism articulated in Muhammah Ruhi al-Khalidi's manuscript, “al-Sayunizm ay al-Masʾala al-Sahyuniyya.” See Gribetz, Jonathan Marc, Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2014), 5469CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59 Razzouk, al-Dawla wa-l-Din, 19.

60 Ibid., 23.


61 Razzouk, Assʿad, al-Majlis al-Amriki li-l-Yahudiyya: Dirasa fi al-Badil al-Yahudi li-l-Sahyuniyya (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1970)Google Scholar.

62 See my forthcoming article “The PLO's Rabbi: Reform Judaism and Palestinian Nationalism,” in Jewish Quarterly Review. See also Kolsky, Thomas A., Jews against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism, 1942–1948 (Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University Press, 1990)Google Scholar; and Ross, Jack, Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2011)Google Scholar. Berger published numerous anti-Zionist tracts and Memoirs of an Anti-Zionist Jew (Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1978).

63 Razzouk, al-Majlis al-Amriki li-l-Yahudiyya, 9–10.

64 Sabri Jiryis told me that the Center published between 2,000 and 2,500 copies of each of its books and sent them to leading intellectuals, officials, activists, libraries, think tanks, and other interested parties. Sabri Jiryis, phone interview with the author, 10 August 2015.

65 Sayegh, Anis Sayigh ʿan Anis Sayigh, 37.

66 Sayigh, Yusif Sayigh, 25. See also pp. 52, 161.

67 Sayegh, Anis Sayigh ʿan Anis Sayigh, 21.

68 Ibid., 20–38.


69 I thank Sadik al-Azm for noting that he and Razzouk were classmates at the Gerard Institute.

70 On this period in Lebanese history, see El-Khazen, Farid, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, 1967–1976 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000)Google Scholar; Harris, William, Lebanon: A History, 600–2011 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)Google Scholar, 219–31; and Traboulsi, A Modern History of Lebanon, 139–89. On the lessons Palestinian Christians learned from “the disaster of sectarianism in Lebanon,” see Lybarger, Loren D., “For Church or Nation? Islamism, Secular-Nationalism, and the Transformation of Christian Identities in Palestine,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 75 (2007): 786CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

71 Sayegh, Anis, Palestine and Arab Nationalism (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1970), 10Google Scholar. Sayegh originally published this book in Arabic as Filastin wa-l-Qawmiyya al-ʿArabiyya (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1966).

72 Ibid., 11. On Christian participation in the 1936–39 Revolt in Palestine, see, for example, Haiduc-Dale, Arab Christians in British Mandate Palestine, 146–52.

73 Sayegh, Palestine and Arab Nationalism, 11–12.

74 Ibid., 12. On Arab nationalism in AUB, where Anis Sayegh studied, see Anderson, Betty S., The American University of Beirut: Arab Nationalism and Liberal Education (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2011), 129–38Google Scholar.

75 Cf. Antonius, George, The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1938)Google Scholar.

76 Sayegh, Fayez, “Do Jews Have a ‘Divine Right’ to Palestine?” (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1967), 3Google Scholar.

77 Sayegh, Anis Sayigh ʿan Anis Sayigh, 37.

78 Sayegh, “Do Jews Have a ‘Divine Right’ to Palestine?,” 4.

79 See Guillaume, Alfred, Zionists and the Bible: A Criticism of the Claim That the Establishment of an Independent Jewish State in Palestine Is Prophesied in Holy Scripture (New York: Palestine Arab Refugees Office, 1956)Google Scholar. On Guillaume, see Smith, Sidney, “Obituary: Alfred Guillaume,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 29 (1966): 478–81Google Scholar. Guillaume's study was reproduced in Christians, Zionism and Palestine (Beirut: The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1970), 3–8.

80 Sayegh, “Do Jews Have a ‘Divine Right’ to Palestine?,” 6. In an earlier volume by Sami Hadawi, the question “How does the ‘Divine Promise’ apply to present-day Israel?” is answered similarly, followed by: “The ‘miracle of Israel's restoration’ in 1948, was not ‘God's will’—as the Zionists allege—but was an un-christian act of uprooting the Moslem and Christian inhabitants of the Holy Land.” Emphasis mine. Hadawi, Sami, Palestine: Questions and Answers (New York: Arab Information Office, 1961), 1112Google Scholar.

81 Sayegh, “Do Jews Have a ‘Divine Right’ to Palestine?,” 6.

82 Ibid., 7. Compare this claim to that of David Ben-Gurion, Yizhak Ben-Zvi, and other Zionists that Palestine's contemporary Arab masses (especially rural Muslims) were descendants of ancient Jews. See Zerubavel, Yael, “Memory, the Rebirth of the Native, and the ‘Hebrew Bedouin’ Identity,” Social Research 75 (2008), 315–52Google Scholar; and Gribetz, Defining Neighbors, 123–26. This theory has been repopularized in the work of Shlomo Sand and has been embraced by certain Palestinian Christian thinkers, including Mitri Raheb. Sand, Shlomo, The Invention of the Jewish People (New York: Verso, 2009)Google Scholar; Raheb, Mitri, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2014), 1114Google Scholar.

83 Sayegh, “Do Jews Have a ‘Divine Right’ to Palestine?,” 7–8. See Starr, Joshua, Khazars,” Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 6 (New York: Universal Jewish Encyclopedia Co., 1942), 375–78Google Scholar. The theory of Khazar conversion to Judaism as the ethnic source of significant portions of Ashkenazic Jewry has been the subject of scholarly and polemical debates for decades. See, for example, Stampfer, Shaul, “Did the Khazars Convert to Judaism?,” Jewish Social Studies 19 (2013), 172CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

84 Fayez Sayegh, “Do Jews Have a ‘Divine Right’ to Palestine?,” 8.

85 Ibid., 9.


86 Ibid., 10. Cf. the 18 June 1967 memorandum of four Beirut-based Christian theologians who cite “the universal vocation of the Jews.” “What is Required of the Christian Faith Concerning the Palestine Problem,” in Christians, Zionism and Palestine, 75.

87 Sayegh, “Do Jews Have a ‘Divine Right’ to Palestine?,” 11.

88 Razzouk was especially keen to distance Palestinian nationalism from antisemitism. See Razzouk, Assʿad, al-Talmud wa-l-Sahyuniyya (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1970), 1415Google Scholar.

89 Fayez Sayegh, “Do Jews Have a ‘Divine Right’ to Palestine?,” 12.

90 Ibid., 13.


91 Parkes, James, “Judaism and Zionism: A Christian View,” in Some Religious Aspects of Zionism: A Symposium, ed. Baeck, Leo (London: Palestine House, 1947), 8Google Scholar.

92 Razzouk, Assʿad, The Partisan Views of Reverend James Parkes (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1970), 10Google Scholar.

93 Ibid., 9.


94 Ibid., 24.


95 Ibid., 10–11. Elsewhere, Razzouk points to Parkes's successful pursuit of the financial support of other wealthy Jews as well, including the Warburg family and Simon Marks. See ibid., 18-19.

96 Ibid., 28.


97 Ibid., 32.


98 The charge that someone's ideology concerning Zionism is actually driven by that person's economic self-interest has a long and diverse history; indeed, it might be understood as a trope in debates concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. For an early precedent, see Gribetz, Defining Neighbors, 231–32.

99 Razzouk, The Partisan Views, 31.

100 See, for example, Almog et al., Zionism and Religion; and Novak, David, Zionism and Judaism: A New Theory (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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