Brith Shalom’s uniqueness reconsidered: Hans Kohn and autonomist Zionism
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Most studies dealing with Kohn (1891–1971), a central Zionist figure in Prague, emphasize his resistance to the idea of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine and his consequent binationalism as indications of an exceptional position with respect to the contemporary Zionist mainstream. This representation is embedded in one of the fundamental conventions of Zionist historiography that the movement was intended exclusively to create a Jewish nation-state in Palestine. This convention, however, is the outcome of the misleading, teleological tendency to observe pre-1948 Zionist history through the retrospective lens of the establishment of the State of Israel. In fact, pre-state sources show that Kohn’s binationalism was not exceptional. Kohn, the radical members of “Brith Shalom,” and even the Zionist mainstream shared a basic outlook regarding Palestine’s future political complexion, which I call autonomist Zionism and which rested on an autonomist interpretation of national self-determination. Statehood in Palestine was envisaged within a confederational political framework embracing both a Jewish and an Arab autonomous entity. A common governing body would deal with civil and territorial matters, but would refrain from intervening in purely national-cultural matters that would be the exclusive perview of the respective autonomous authorities.