Haim Arlosoroff: From Visionary to Leader

 Dr. Haim Arlosoroff was born to a family of prominent Rabbis in the city of Romny in the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine) on February 23rd 1899. At the age of six Arlosoroff and his family fled across the German border to East Prussia after their home was attacked during one of many violent pogroms against Jewish communities across the Russian Empire in 1905. Seven years later, the family settled in Konigsberg where Arlosoroff became fluent in German and Hebrew. When World War I broke out in 1914 the Arlosoroff family did not yet possess German citizenship and were threatened with deportation. Eventually obtaining permits to stay, the family moved to Berlin where Arlosoroff attended the University of Berlin, studying economics and obtaining a doctorate in the field.

During his studies, Arlosoroff became a key leader in Hapoel Hatzair (Hebrew for “The Young Worker”) a Zionist-socialist political party attracting many intellectuals of the time. As a result of his affiliation with the party, Arlosoroff was appointed editor of the German journal “Die Arbeit” (German for “The Labor”) in which many of his writings were published. Arlosoroff’s first major written contribution to Zionism was in his treatise “Jewish People’s Socialism”, discussing nationalistic hope for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Arlosoroff believed that the Jewish people would only be able to revive and preserve their unique cultural identities within a Jewish national homeland. Furthermore in his treatise, Arlosoroff predicted the resurgence of the Hebrew language and the use of biblical agricultural traditions such as the “Year of Jubilee” that would accompany the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.

Arlosoroff first arrived in the Land of Israel, then Mandatory Palestine, in the spring of 1921. Shortly after his arrival, the Jaffa riots broke out. These events drew Arlosoroff’s attention to the importance of better relations between Jews and Arabs in the region, imploring on the Zionist establishment to no longer deny the reality of an Arab nationalistic movement existing in Mandatory Palestine. This view was not widely accepted and even criticized within his own party, Hapoeal Hatzair. Soon after, Arlosoroff returned to Berlin to complete his doctorate, and only in 1924, he finally moved to the Land of Israel and would later be chosen to represent the Yishuv (The Jewish establishment in Mandatory Palestine) at The League of Nations in Geneva in 1926.

Although Arlosoroff viewed prospects for unification of the two major Zionist-socialist political parties with skepticism, he was influential in 1930 in unifying the two parties: the Poale Zion (Hebrew for “The Workers of Zion”) and the Hapoel Hatzair. This merger brought about the establishment of the Mapai Labour Party. Mapai would later become a dominant force in Israeli politics until its merger into the modern day Israeli Labor Party in 1968. In addition, in 1931 Arlosoroff was named Political Director of the Jewish Agency for Mandatory Palestine, a prominent position he filled until his assassination in 1933.

In response to Adolf Hitler’s 1933 rise to power in Germany, Arlosoroff focused on the plight of German Jewry. Arlosoroff decided to visit Nazi Germany to negotiate the controversial Ha’avara (Hebrew for “The moving”) Agreement with the Nazi government, an agreement which allowed for the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel along with most of their property. In his attempt to help Jews escape the Nazis, Arlosoroff would face staunch opposition from the Revisionist ranks within his own Zionist movement who opposed any negotiations with the Nazis. Ultimately, over 60,000 German Jews escaped persecution by the Nazis directly or indirectly through the Ha’avara Agreement. In addition, through the Ha’avara Agreement an approximate $100 million were transferred to the Yishuv, which helped establish an industrial infrastructure for the soon-to-be Jewish nation. Ha’avara Agreement funds were also utilized for purchasing land and developing many new Jewish settlements, which now help define the current borders of Israel.

Dr. Haim Arlosoroff was murdered in June 1933, while walking on the beach in Tel Aviv with his wife, Sima. The identity of his attackers is the subject of much controversy, is left unsolved to this day. Arlosoroff was a true Zionist who dedicated his life to the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. He believed that only in their ancestral homeland, the Jewish people could prosper and preserve their unique culture. Thanks to Jewish Zionist such as Arlosoroff and other non-Jewish Zionists that supported and helped, the Jewish state was established.