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Brit Shalom Definition

Brit Shalom - (Hebrew, Meaning "Covenant of Peace) Jewish peace group founded in 1925, primarily inspired by German Zionists, to seek coexistence with the Arabs of Palestine by advocating a binational state  rather than a Zionist state. The idea arose primarily in opposition to the Iron Wall concept and seemingly uncompromising stance of  Ze'ev (Valdimir) Jabotinsky and in an effort to head off Arab opposition that was evident in the riots of 1921.

Martin Buber, Robert Weltsch, Hans Kohn and Hugo Bergmann are credited with being the originators of the idea. They were followers of Achad Haam and stressed the spiritual importance of a Jewish national home and the effect of Zionism on renewal of individuals. They found an ideological home in Hapoel Hatzair. In these circles, the idea for a binational state had been discussed long before the foundation of Brit Shalom, They did not consider it practical to oust Arabs by force, and did not believe Arabs would agree to live in a Jewish state. They discounted the importance of political power and amassing of material possessions and land.

Their credo was already formulated in 1921 if not before. "Palestine cannot be a nation state, not only because this is not a step forward, but also because it is impracticable. It must be bi-national rather than Eretz Yisrael." (1921 letter from Kohn to Weltch, quoted in Lavsky p. 652). Supposedly, Chaim Weizmann agreed with this idea as well, at least at one time in his career. The formation of the Brit Shalom movement in 1925 was catalyzed by Jabotinzky's formation of the Revisionist party in that year. The issues at stake were not only the question of relation with Arabs, but also the means of development of Palestine. The Fourth Aliya peaked in 1925, and brought with it a large number of people opposed to workers ownership and public development, who wished to develop the land based on private enterprise.

An open split occurred at the Fourteenth Zionist Congress between the confrontational approach of Jabotinsky and the conciliatory approach of mainstream Zionism to the Arabs. Chaim Weizmann said:

In true friendship and partnership with the Arabs we must open the Near East to Jewish enterprise... Palestine must be built in such a way that legitimate Arab interests are not impinged upon in the slightest...- we must take Palestine as it is, with its sands and stones, Arabs and Jews as they are. That is our work. Anything else would be deception.,,, We shall rise or fall by our work alone. (Protocols of Fourteenth Zionist Congress pp 328-329, translated by Lavsky, and cited in Lavsky, p. 664)

Arthur Ruppin agreed:

... there is the possibility... to establish in Palestine a community where both nations, with no ruling advantage (Vorherrshcaft) to the one, nor oppression of the other, shall work shoulder to shoulder in full equality of rights towards the economic and cultural development of the country. (Protocols of Fourteenth Zionist Congress p 438, translated by Lavsky, and cited in Lavsky, p. 664)

Brit Shalom was organized at an initial meeting in Ruppin's house in mid-November of 1925. The founders, especially Weltsch, believed they had the support of Weizmann, but that perhaps Weizmann found himself unable to speak out because of the duties of office.

Yehuda Magnes, President of the Hebrew University,  was a friend and mentor of the Brit Shalom movement but was not a founder or member. Though initially successful and long influential in German Zionist circles, Brit Shalom lost the support of Ruppin and many others who were disillusioned by the brutal Arab riots and massacres of 1929.

Brit Shalom apparently never had more than a hundred members, but its binational State  state platform was adopted by Mapam, the leftist "United Workers Party in the 1940s.

Byt he time of the Arab uprising of 1936, it became obvious to at least some in Brit Shalom that the binational state was impractical.

Arthur Ruppin admitted on May 16, 1936:

The peace will not be established in this land by an agreement with the Arabs, rather it will come in due time, when we are strong enough so the Arabs will not be so certain in the results of the struggle and be forced to accept us as an existing fact. ref

That was not so different from the original thesis of Jabotinsky in The Iron Wall . In August, Levi Billig, a member of Brit Shalom was brutally murdered. ref The movement lost most of its adherents.

However, in 1942, perhaps in reaction to the Biltmore Program, Brit Shalom adherents and sympathizers including Yehuda Magnes, Martin Buber, Ernst Simon and Henrietta Szold founded the small IHUD (Union) party that advocated a binational state. They presented their case to various international commissions and continued to function until 1948.   

A different version of Brit Shalom was created recently. It seems to have little relation to the former group. Brit Tsedek VeShalom, an American non-Zionist Jewish peace group also based on the original name evidently.

Ami Isseroff

September 7, 2009


Lavsky, Hagit, German Zionists and the Emergence of Brit Shalom, translated from the Hebrew, reprinted in Reinharz, Jehuda and Shapira, Anita eds. Essential Papers on Zionism, New York University Press, 1996, pp. 648-670.

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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