Einstein on Israel and Zionism: His Provocative Ideas about the Middle East

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Overview

Albert Einstein thought and wrote extensively not just on the most difficult problems in physics, but also in politics. For the first time, this book collects his essays, interviews, and letters on the Middle East, Zionism, and Arab-Jewish relations. Many of these have never been published in English, and all of them contradict the popular image of Einstein as pro-Zionist. He was offered and refused the Presidency of Israel, but had he taken it, he may have said things the Zionists didn’t want to hear; he favored a non-religious state that would welcome Jew and Palestinian alike.

One person’s letters, even Einstein’s, cannot resolve the crisis in the Middle East, but decades later, when horrors of the conflict in the Middle East are familiar to everyone, the reflections of one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers are a signpost, showing his commitment to social justice, understanding, and friendship between Jew and Arab.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312362287
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/26/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Fred Jerome is senior consultant to the Gene Media Forum, Newhouse School of Communications, Syracuse University. His articles and op-ed pieces have appeared in many publications including Newsweek and the New York Times. As a reporter in the South during the early 1960s, he covered the exploding Civil Rights movement, and has taught journalism at Columbia and New York University.

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Read an Excerpt

Einstein on Israel and Zionism

1

FIGHTING ANTI-SEMITISM

1919-1929

November 2, 1917: The Balfour Declaration, supporting "a national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, is approved by the British Cabinet, in the form of a letter from British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild.

 

1919: The King-Crane Commission is assigned by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson to report on the Middle East. It finds that the majority of Arabs overwhelmingly oppose a Jewish homeland, fearing it will lead to an exclusively Jewish state; also that the Zionist plan would mean "a practically complete dispossession"1 of the Arabs in Palestine. The King-Crane Report is then ignored by England, France, and by Wilson.

 

April 5, 1920: The San Remo Conference of World War I winners, under League of Nations auspices, "assigns" Britain as the Mandatory power over Palestine.

 

1921: The formation of Haganah is announced. The Jewish underground military organization is to become the basis of the Israeli Defense Forces.

 

1922: As "suggested" by the San Remo Conference, the League of Nations gives Britain the Mandate for Palestine. The U.S. Congress and President Warren Harding approve the Balfour Declaration. The first British census of Palestine shows 757,182 people, 11 percent Jewish. The Palestinian Fifth National Congress votes in favor of an economic boycott of Zionists.

 

1924: The United States passes the Immigration Restriction Act, effectively banning immigration from Asia and Eastern Europe.

 

1925: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem officially opens.

 

1928: Britain recognizes the independence of Trans-jordan, which—by arrangement with the British—occupies most of the territory of the Palestine Mandate.

As the SS Rotterdam arrived in New York Harbor from Europe on April 2, 1921, New York State's former governor Jimmy Walker and the city's future mayor Fiorello LaGuardia were among the officials on hand to welcome the ship's celebrity passengers, Albert Einstein and his (second) wife, Elsa. But when the ship docked,dozens of reporters unceremoniously pushed past the reception committee dignitaries and rushed onto the ship, flashbulbs popping, newsreel cameras grinding, and questions flying, mostly about the theory of relativity.

It was Einstein's first visit to the United States. The scientist had become the world's first international media star less than two years earlier (eight years before Lindbergh). In May 1919, during a solar eclipse, British scientists had measured a deflection of starlight around the sun, thus confirming the general theory of relativity. It wasn't long before the media and a war-weary world, hungry for peacetime heroes, discovered Einstein.

On November 7, the London Times announced:

REVOLUTION IN SCIENCE, NEW THEORY OF THE UNIVERSE. NEWTONIAN IDEAS OVERTHROWN.

Three days later, The New York Times joined in:

LIGHTS ALL ASKEW IN THE HEAVENS, EINSTEIN THEORY TRIUMPHS

In the next few years, Einstein would win the Nobel Prize, speak to audiences in scores of countries, and be honored and celebrated throughout the world. One trip would take the Einsteins to China, Japan, Palestine, and Spain, to be cheered by hundreds of thousands of people.

In New York, several thousand people, besides the dignitary-packed reception committee, had come to see and cheer the suddenly famous scientist. The front page of the next morning's New York Times headlined:

EINSTEIN EXPLAINS RELATIVITY Thousands Wait Four Hours to Welcome Theorist and His Party to America2

Einstein had already begun his traveling and speaking—in Leyden, Prague and Vienna—but his arrival in New York marked his first trip outside of Europe, and for the moment, on the Rotterdam, he had his hands full with reporters: "Can you explain the Relativity Theory?" "Is it true that only a dozen people around the world can understand it?"

Einstein denied the "rumor" that only twelve people in the world understood his theory, and did his best to provide a preliminary, popular explanation: "If you will not take the answer too seriously, and consider it only as a kind of joke, then I can explain it as follows: Formerly, people believed that if all material things disappeared from the Universe, time and space would be left. But according to the relativity theory, time and space disappear together with the other things."

When Einstein had some trouble understanding and speaking in English, at first Elsa attempted to help, but when she didn't do too well, either, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Oranization, who was traveling with the Einsteins, volunteered to translate.3 The Zionist leader was coming to the United States to raise funds for a Hebrew University in Jerusalem and to promote Zionism among American Jews,4 and Einstein had been persuaded to accompany Weizmann, although he had some hesitations about it.

Einstein's mixed feelings about the trip may be seen in two of his letters, written just a few weeks before departing. On March 8, he wrote to Maurice Solovine that he was "not going entirely willingly to America," but only tohelp raise money for the Hebrew University, adding: "I am to play the role of a little tin god and a decoy." And a day later, to Fritz Haber: "Of course, they don't need me for my abilities but only because of my name [which] they hope will have a fair amount of success with the rich kinsmen of Dollar-land. Despite my emphatic internationalism, I believe I am always obliged to stand up for my persecuted and morally oppressed kinsmen."5

Einstein's ambivalence about the trip with Weizmann extended—over the years—to his feelings about Weizmann himself,6 and—more to the point of this book—to Zionism in general.

March 22, 1919

Excerpt from a Letter to Paul Ehrenfest

At present, the political scene disappoints me very much ... . One doesn't know where to look to find any joy in the activities of humankind. The thing that makes me most happy is the realization of the Jewish stateb in Palestine. It seems to me that our fellow tribesmen are after all more sympathetic (or at least less brutal) than these abominable Europeans.7

December 30, 1919

On Jewish Immigration to Germany,8 in Berliner Tageblatt

Among the German public, voices are increasingly heard demanding legal measures against East European Jews. It isclaimed there are 70,000 Russian, i.e., East European Jews, in Berlin alone; and these East European Jews are alleged to be profiteers, black marketeers, Bolsheviks, or elements that are averse to work. All these arguments call for the most sweeping measures, i.e., herding all immigrants into concentration camps or expelling them.

Measures that devastate so many individuals must not be triggered by slogan-like assertions, even less so as objective re-examination has shown that we have here a case of agitation by demagogues. It does not reflect the actual situation and is not a suitable means for counteracting existing wrongs. Agitation against East European Jews in particular raises suspicion that calm judgment is being clouded by strong anti-Semitic instincts and, at the same time, that a specific method of influencing the mood of the people is chosen which diverts from the true problems and from the real causes of the general calamity.

As far as is known, an official inquiry by the authorities that would undoubtedly reveal the invalidity of the accusations has not been conducted. It may very well be true that 70,000 Russians live in Berlin; but according to competent observers, only a small fraction of them are Jews, while the overwhelming majority are of German descent. According to authoritative estimates, not more than 15,000 Jews have immigrated from the East since the signing of the peace treaty. Almost without exception they were forced to flee by the horrible conditions in Poland and to seek refuge here until they are given an opportunity to emigrate elsewhere. Let us hope that many of them will find a true homeland as free sons of the Jewish people in the newly established Jewish Palestine.

It is quite likely that there are Bolshevik agents in Germany, but they undoubtedly hold foreign passports, have at their disposal ample funds, and cannot be arrested by any administrative measures. The big profiteers among the East European Jews have certainly, long ago, taken precautions to elude arrest by officials. The only ones affected would be those poor and unfortunate ones, who in recent months made their way to Germany under inhumane privations, in order to look for work here. Only these elements, certainly harmless to the German national economy, would fill the concentration camps, and there perish physically and spiritually. Then one will complain about the self-made "parasitic existences" who no longer know how to take their place in a normally functioning economy. The misguided policy of suddenly laying off thousands of East European Jewish laborers—who were coerced into coming to Germany during the war—and thus depriving them of their means of livelihood, leaving them with nothing to eat and systematically denying them job opportunities, has indeed forced people into the black market to keep themselves and their families from starving. The German economy, too, is certainly best served if the public supports the efforts of those who try to channel East European Jewish immigrants into productive work (as, e.g., the often mentioned Jewish Labor Bureau does). Any "order of expulsion"—now so vigorously demanded—would only have the effect that the worst and most harmful elements remain in the country, while those willing to work would be driven into bitter misery and despair.

The public conscience is so dulled toward appeals for humanity that it no longer even senses the horrible injusticewhich is here being contemplated. I refrain from going into details. But it is disturbing when even leading politicians do not consider how much their proposed treatment of East European Jews will damage Germany's political and economic position. Has it already been forgotten how much the deportation of Belgian laborers undermined the moral credibility of Germany? And today, Germany's situation is incomparably more critical. Despite all efforts, it is extremely difficult to re-establish damaged international relations; in all nations only a few intellectuals among the peoples of the world are initiating some first attempts; the hope for new economic connections (e.g., the material help of America) is still very weak today. The expulsion of the East European Jews—resulting in unspeakable misery—would only appear to the whole world as new evidence of "German barbarism," and provide it with a pretext, in the name of humanity, to hamper Germany's reconstruction.

Germany's recovery can really not be accomplished by the use of force against a small and defenseless portion of the population.

April 3, 1920

From About Zionism

When an intimidated individual or a careerist among my brethren feels inclined or forced to identify himself as a son of his forefathers, he usually describes himself—provided he was not baptized—as a "German citizen of the Mosaic faith." There is something comical, even tragic-comical in this designation, and we feel it immediately. Why? It is quite obvious. What is characteristic about this man is not at all his religious belief—which usually is notthat great, anyway—but rather his being of Jewish nationality. And this is precisely what he does not want to reveal in his confession. He talks about religious faith instead of kinship affiliation, of "Mosaic" instead of "Jewish" because the latter term, which is much more familiar to him, would emphasize affiliation to his kith and kin. Besides, the broad designation "German citizen" is ridiculous because practically everybody you meet in the street here is a "German citizen." Then, if our hero is no fool—and that is rather rare indeed—there must be a certain intention behind it. Yes, of course! Frightened by frequent slander he wants to assert that he is a good and dutiful German citizen, even though all his life he has been bedeviled—often not just a little—by "German citizens" because of his "Mosaic faith."

For brevity's sake, I have used the term "Jewish nationality" above, sensing that it could meet with resistance. Nationality is one of those slogans that cause vehement reaction in contemporary sensibilities, while reason treats the concept with less confidence. If somebody finds this word inappropriate for our case, he may choose another one, but I can easily circumscribe what it means in our case.

When a Jewish child begins school, he soon discovers that he is different from other children, and that they do not treat him as one of their own. This being different is ... in no way based only upon the child's religious affiliation or on certain peculiarities of tradition. Facial features already mark the Jewish child as alien, and classmates are very sensitive to these peculiarities. The feeling of strangeness easily elicits a certain hostility, in particular if there are several Jewish children in the class who, quite naturally,join together and gradually form a small, closely knit community.

With adults it is quite similar. Due to race [Rasse]c and temperament as well as traditions (which are only to a small extent of religious origin) they form a community more or less separate from non-Jews. Aside from social difficulties, due to the changing intensity of anti-Semitism over the course of time, a Jew and a non-Jew will not understand each other as easily and completely as two Jews. It is this basic community of race and tradition that I have in mind when I speak of "Jewish nationality."

In my opinion, aversion to Jews is simply based upon the fact that Jews and non-Jews are different. It is the same feeling of aversion that is always found when two nationalities have to deal with one another. This aversion is a consequence of the existence of Jews, not of any particular qualities. The reasons given for this aversion are threadbare and changing ... . there is no shortage of reasons; and the feeling of aversion toward people of a foreign race with whom one, more or less, has to share daily life, will emerge by necessity.

Herein lies the psychological root of all anti-Semitism, but by no means does it justify the agitation of the anti-Semites. A feeling of aversion may be natural, but to follow it unre-servedlyindicates a low level of moral development. A nobler individual will guide his actions by reason and insight and not by dull instinct.

But how is it with society and with the state? Can it tolerate national minorities without fighting them? There is no state today that does not regard tolerance and the protection of national minorities as one of its duties. Let us hope the state takes these duties seriously. This involves halting its practice of demanding that Jews in many cases abandon principle and abase themselves (Baptism) in order to obtain government employment ... .

The methods used by Jews to fight anti-Semitism are quite diverse. I have already characterized the assimilatory one, that is, to overcome anti-Semitism by dropping nearly everything Jewish and appealing to the civil rights of Jews. This method is not calculated to raise the reputation of the Jewish people in the estimation of the non-Jewish world; besides, it is useless and morally questionable. Another method of combating anti-Semitism, occasionally used by Jews who have not yet broken with everything Jewish, is to draw a sharp dividing line between East European Jews and West European Jews. Everything evil blamed on Jews as a totality is heaped on the East European Jews and, thus, of course granted as an actually existing fact. The result of this not merely bad but also foolish procedure is, of course, just the opposite of what was intended. Anti-Semites have no intention of clearly distinguishing between East European and West European Jews as some West European Jews might wish; instead, they interpret this strange kind of defense as an admission and unfairly accuse those West European Jews of betraying their own people. It is not difficult to prove, inboth general and individual cases, that most West European Jews are nothing but former East European Jews; and vice versa for all East European Jews. And since the major concern of anti-Semites is to prove that Jewish inadequacies and vices have not been acquired during a few generations, but can allegedly be shown to have existed through the entire history of the Jewish people, the inference from East European Jews to West European Jews appears logically justified. And here we do not even take into consideration that East European Jewry contains a rich potential of the greatest human talents and productive forces that can well bear comparison to the higher civilization of West European Jews ... .

It cannot be the task of the Jews to obtain "immunity" from the anti-Semites by accusing any part of their own people. This attitude reveals a severe misconception of judgment on the Jewish people we will never accept. As Jews we know the faults of our people better than others do, and we alone are called upon and able to remedy this. This can only be achieved, however, if we follow our Jewish duty: that we always view the Jewish people as a living whole and that standing shoulder to shoulder with our brethren we work for a Jewish and human future for our people.

April 3, 1920

Excerpt from a Response to an Invitation to a Meeting of the Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith9

... I would gladly attend if I believed that such an endeavor might meet with success. First, however, anti-Semitism and servility among our own Jewish people should be fought through education. More dignity andmore independence in our own ranks! Only when we have the courage to regard ourselves as a nation, only when we respect ourselves, can we win the respect of others, or the respect of others will then follow. Anti-Semitism as a psychological phenomenon will always be with us as long as Jews and non-Jews are thrown together. Where is the harm in that? It may be that our survival as a race is thanks to anti-Semitism; that, in any case, is what I believe.

... I am neither a German citizen nor do I believe in anything that might be described as "Jewish faith." But I am a Jew and am glad to belong to the Jewish people, though I do not regard it in any way as chosen. Let us leave anti-Semitism to the goy, and save our love for kith and kin ... .

March 8, 1921

Excerpt from a Letter to Maurice Solovine

I am not going entirely willingly to America, but am doing so only in the interests of the Zionists, who are obligated to ask for dollars for education in Jerusalem, and on this occasion I am to play the role of a little tin god and a decoy. If our places could be changed, I would willingly let you go in my place.

... I am not a jingo, and I firmly believe that the Jews, given the smallness and dependence of their colony in Palestine, will be immune from the folly of power.

March 9, 1921

Letter to Fritz Haber

Dear friend Haber:

What happened to me with regard to this journey to America, which can't be canceled anymore under any circumstances,is this. A couple of weeks ago, when no one even thought about any political entanglements, a local Zionist appreciated by me visited me and brought along a telegram by Prof. Weizmann informing me that the Zionist Organization asks me to join several German and English Zionists on a trip to America to deliberate about school affairs in Palestine. Of course, they don't need me for my abilities but only because of my name, whose advertising powers they hope will have a fair amount of success with the rich kinsmen of Dollar-land. Despite my emphatic internationalism, I believe I am always obliged to stand up for my persecuted and morally oppressed kinsmen as far as it is in any way in my powers. I thus happily agreed without pondering it for more than five minutes, even though just before I had declined all offers from American universities. So this was much more an act of loyalty than one of disloyalty. Most of all, the prospect of the creation of a Jewish university fills me with particular joy, after I have recently seen innumerable examples of the perfidious and unloving treatment of superb young Jews over here, truncating all their educational possibilities. I could also mention some other events during the last year that must push any Jew with self-esteem to take Jewish solidarity more seriously than would formerly have seemed indicated and natural. Just think of Röthe, Wilamowitz-Möllendorff and the infamous Nauheim brigade, which got rid of the fool Weyland only for opportunistic reasons.d No rational person can accuse meof infidelity with regard to German friends. I have turned down many alluring calls to Switzerland, to Holland, to Norway, and to England without even in a single case pondering whether I should accept them. Incidentally, I did this not out of attachment to Germany, but rather to my dear German friends, of whom you are one of the most excellent and benevolent. For me as a pacifist, an attachment to the German political entity would be unnatural. But on the other hand there are considerations of tact dictated by the moment; at the present moment, these bring about a conflict-ridden situation which it was, however, impossible to predict.

The situation is aggravated by the fact that a couple of weeks ago, I accepted an invitation for a lecture at the University of Manchester, which, incidentally, leaves the choice of the date pretty largely to me. A few weeks ago, no rational German would have endorsed a rejection; today, my acceptance looks like a provocative act against Germany,e but certainly without any guilt on my part. Should the cloudy political situation continue, I would perhaps be able to abstain from the visit to Manchester; I would certainly meet with the understanding of the colleagues there if I explained the reasons to them as friendly and as honestly as possible. I should also add that a scientific corporation is not at all identical with the state. If scholars took their own profession more seriously than their political passions, they would organize their actionsmore in accord with cultural than with political considerations. It must even be said that the English behave much better than our colleagues here with regard to this. They are mostly Quakers and pacifists. How excellent a stand they took with regard to me and the theory of relativity!

... All this is cura posterior. But there is no way around going to America, since I have definitely agreed and the places on the steamship have already been procured. It is only a self-evident duty I fulfill with this ... .

Yours,

Einstein

June 18, 1921

Letter to Paul Ehrenfest

Dear Ehrenfest,

The journey to America and England was so exhausting that all I'm able to do right now is just vegetate. My activities for the Jerusalem University were very successful. Zionism really represents a new Jewish ideal that can give the Jewish people a renewed joy in its existence. Financially, the university seems secured to such an extent that the medical faculty, which is particularly important for the construction work, can be started soon. It was not the rich, but members of the middle class who have made this possible, the 6,000 Jewish doctors in America in particular. I am very glad to have followed Weizmann's invitation. In several places, however, a high-tensioned Jewish nationalism shows itself that threatens to degenerate into intolerance and bigotry; but hopefully this is only an infantile disorder. For the reestablishment of international relations among scientists my journey has also been positive. Everywhere I went Ifound alacrity, affectionate reception, and a peaceful disposition. England in particular has made an excellent impression on me in every regard; as long as this country retains the leadership, everything will go relatively well.

Affectionate regards to you all, including the Malt-schickes [kids].

Yours,

Einstein

June 21, 1921

"How I Became a Zionist," in Jüdische Rundschau10

Until a generation ago, Jews in Germany did not regard themselves as part of the Jewish people. They simply thought of themselves as members of a religious community, and many still do today. In fact they are far better assimilated than Russian Jews. They have attended mixed schools and have accommodated themselves to both the everyday and cultural life of the Germans. Yet in spite of the equal rights they enjoy formally, strong social anti-Semitism remains. Especially the educated class supports the anti-Semitic movement. They have even constructed a "science" of anti-Semitism, while the intellectuals of Russia, at least prior to the war, were usually philo-Semitic and made frequent and honest attempts to fight the anti-Semitic movement. This has a number of causes. To some degree, the phenomenon is based on the fact that Jews exert an influence on the intellectual life of the German people altogether out of proportion to their numbers. While in my opinion the economic position of the German Jews is vastly overestimated, Jewish influence on the press, literature, and science in Germany is very pronounced and obvious to eventhe casual observer. There are many individuals, however, who are not anti-Semites and are honest in their argumentation. They regard Jews as a nationality distinct from Germans and feel that increasing Jewish influence threatens their national character. Although the percentage of Jews in England, for instance, is perhaps not much less significant than in Germany, English Jews certainly do not exercise a comparable influence on English society and culture. Yet the highest civil-service positions are accessible to them there, and a Jew can become Lord Chief Justice or Viceroy of India, something almost unthinkable in Germany.

Anti-Semitism is frequently a question of political calculation. Whether or not somebody admits to his anti-Semitism is often merely a question of which political party he belongs to. A socialist, even if he is a convinced anti-Semite, will not admit to or act on his conviction because it does not fit into the program of his party. Among conservatives, however, anti-Semitism often stems from the desire to exploit instincts that already exist in the population. In a country like England, where Jewish influence is less and the sensitivity of non-Jews is therefore far less, it is the existence of old, deep-rooted liberal traditions that hinders the rapid growth of anti-Semitism ... . I say this without knowing the country personally. Nevertheless, the attitude toward my theory adopted by English science and the press has been characteristic. In Germany, for the most part, a newspaper's political orientation dictated its judgment of my theory; the attitude of English scientists on the other hand demonstrated that their sense of objectivity is not clouded by a political point of view. I should add that the English have actually influenced the development of ourscience to a great degree and have gone about testing the theory of relativity with great energy and with remarkable success. While anti-Semitism in America assumes only a social guise, it is political anti-Semitism that is far more common in Germany. The way I see it, the racial particularity of Jews will necessarily influence their social relations with non-Jews. I believe the conclusion which Jews should draw from this is to acknowledge their particular lifestyle and cultural contributions. For the time being they should display a certain dignified restraint and not be so eager to mix socially, which non-Jews desire only a little or not at all. On the other hand, anti-Semitism in Germany also has consequences that, from a Jewish point of view, should be welcome. I believe German Jewry owes its continued existence to anti-Semitism. Religious forms, which in the past hampered Jews from mixing with and integrating into their surroundings, are now in the process of disappearing due to growing affluence and improved education. Thus, nothing which leads to separation in social life remains but this antagonism to the surroundings called anti-Semitism. Without this antagonism, the assimilation of Jews in Germany would proceed quickly and unimpeded.

I have observed this in myself. Until seven years ago I lived in Switzerland, and as long as I lived there I was not aware of my Jewishness, and there was nothing in my life that would have stirred my Jewish sensibility and stimulated it. This changed as soon as I took up residence in Berlin. There I saw the plight of many young Jews. I saw how anti-Semitic surroundings prevented them from pursuing regular studies and how they struggled for a secure existence. This is especially true of East European Jews, who are constantlysubject to harassment. I do not believe they constitute a large number in Germany. Only in Berlin are there perhaps a greater number. Yet their presence has become a question that occupies the German public more and more. Meetings, conferences, newspapers press for their quick removal or internment. The housing shortage and economic depression are used as arguments to justify these harsh measures. Facts are assiduously overstated in order to influence public opinion against East European Jewish immigrants. East European Jews are made the scapegoats for the malaise in present-day German economic life, which is in reality a painful after-effect of the war. Opposing these unfortunate refugees, who have escaped the hell that is Eastern Europe today, has become an effective political weapon that is successfully used by demagogues. When the government contemplated measures against East European Jews, I stood up for them in the Berliner Tageblatt, where I pointed out the inhumanity and irrationality of these measures.

Together with a few colleagues, Jews and non-Jews, I held university courses for East European Jews, and I would like to add that our activity met with the official recognition and full support of the Ministry of Education.

These and similar experiences have awakened my Jewish-national feelings. I am not a Jew in the sense that I call for the preservation of the Jewish or any other nationality as an end in itself. I rather see Jewish nationality as a fact, and I believe every Jew must draw the consequences from this fact. I consider raising Jewish self-esteem essential, also in the interest of a natural coexistence with non-Jews. This was my major motive for joining the Zionist movement. Zionism, to me, is not just a colonizing movement directedtoward Palestine. The Jewish nation is a living fact in Palestine as well as in the Diaspora, and Jewish national feelings must flourish everywhere that Jews live. Under today's living conditions members of the same clan or peoples must have a lively awareness of their kinfolk in order not to lose their sense of self and their dignity. It was the unbroken vitality of the masses of American Jewry that first made it clear to me how sickly German Jewry is.

We live in an age of exaggerated nationalism and, as a small nation, must take this fact into account. But my Zionism does not preclude cosmopolitan views. My point of departure is the reality of Jewish nationality, and I believe that every Jew has an obligation toward his fellow Jews. Zionism has a varied significance. It opens the prospect for a dignified human existence to many Jews who presently languish in Ukrainian hell or degenerate economically in Poland. By leading Jews back to Palestine and restoring a healthy and normal economic existence, Zionism represents a productive activity that enriches all of society. The main point, however, is that Zionism strengthens Jewish dignity and self-esteem, which are critical for existence in the Diaspora. Moreover, in establishing a Jewish center in Palestine it creates a strong bond that gives Jews a sense of self. I have always found repulsive the undignified addiction to conformity of many of my peers.

The founding of a free Jewish community in Palestine will again put Jewish people in a position where they can bring their creative abilities to fruition without hindrance. The establishment of the Hebrew University and similar institutions will not only allow the Jewish people to bring about its own national renaissance, it will also give it theopportunity of contributing to the spiritual life of the world on a freer basis than ever before.

June 27, 1921

Address to a Zionist Meeting in Berlin

For the last two thousand years the common property of the Jewish people has consisted entirely of its past. Scattered over the wide world, our nation possessed nothing in common except its carefully guarded tradition. Individual Jews no doubt produced great work, but it seemed as if the Jewish people as a whole had not the strength left for great collective achievements.

Now all that is changed. History has set for us a great and noble task in the shape of active cooperation in the building up of Palestine. Eminent members of our race are already at work with all their might on the realization of this aim. The opportunity is presented to us of setting up centers of civilization which the whole Jewish people can regard as its work. We nurse the hope of erecting in Palestine a home of our own national culture which shall help to awaken the Near East to new economic and spiritual life.

The object which the leaders of Zionism have before their eyes is not a political but a social and cultural one. The community in Palestine must approach the social ideal of our forefathers as it is laid down in the Bible, and at the same time become a seat of modern intellectual life, a spiritual center for the Jews of the whole world. In accordance with this notion, the establishment of a Jewish university in Jerusalem constitutes one of the most important aims of the Zionist organization.

During the last few months I have been to America in order to help raise the material basis for this University there. The success of this enterprise was a natural one. Thanks to the untiring energy and splendid self-sacrificing spirit of the Jewish doctors in America we have succeeded in collecting enough money for the creation of a Medical Faculty, and the preliminary work is being started at once. After this success I have no doubt that the material basis for the other faculties will soon be forthcoming. The Medical Faculty is first of all to be developed as a research institute and to concentrate on making the country healthy, a most important item in the work of development. Teaching on a large scale will only become important later on. As a number of highly competent scientific workers have already signified their readiness to take up appointments at the University, the establishment of a Medical Faculty seems to be placed beyond all doubt. I may add that a special fund for the University, entirely distinct from the general fund for the development of the country, has been opened. For the latter, considerable sums have been collected during these months in America, thanks to the indefatigable labors of Professor Weizmann and other Zionist leaders, chiefly through the self-sacrificing spirit of the middle classes. I conclude with a warm appeal to the Jews in Germany to contribute all they can, in spite of the present economic difficulties, for the building up of the Jewish home in Palestine. This is not a matter of charity but an enterprise which concerns all Jews and the success of which promises to be a source of the highest satisfaction to all.

July 1, 1921

"On a Jewish Palestine," in Jüdische Rundschau

Rebuilding Palestine is for us Jews not merely a matter of charity or a colonial issue but rather a problem of paramount importance for the Jewish people. Palestine is not primarily a refuge for East European Jews but rather the incarnation of a reawakening national feeling of community of all Jews. Is it opportune and necessary to revive and strengthen this feeling of community? I believe I must answer this question with an unqualified "yes," based not only on spontaneous emotions but on sound reason.

Let us briefly cast a glance at the development of German Jews during the last one hundred years. A century ago, our ancestors, with few exceptions, lived in the ghetto. They were poor, politically disenfranchised, separated from non-Jews by a wall of religious traditions, daily lifestyle, and legal restraints. In their intellectual development they were limited to their own literature, and only faintly influenced by the tremendous revival that European intellectual life experienced during the Renaissance. For the most part ignored, these modestly living people had one advantage over us: every one of them belonged with every fiber of his being to a community that completely absorbed him, in which he felt himself a fully-fledged member, and in which no one demanded anything of him that ran counter to his natural way of thinking. Our ancestors were physically and intellectually rather atrophied, but in social respects they enjoyed an enviable spiritual equilibrium. Then came emancipation. Suddenly an individual had undreamed-of opportunities of development. Individuals rapidly established contact with the higher economic and social strata.Eagerly they absorbed the magnificent achievements that the arts and sciences had created in the West. They threw themselves with ardor into this development, making lasting contributions of their own. In the process they appropriated the external forms of life of the non-Jewish world, and increasingly turned a blind eye to their religious and social traditions, and adopted non-Jewish habits, customs, and ways of thinking. It seemed as if they would be absorbed into the numerically larger, politically and culturally better organized host nations, so that after a few generations no visible trace would remain. Complete dissolution of the Jewish nation in Central and Western Europe appeared inevitable.

Things turned out differently. There seem to be instincts in racially distinct nationalities that counterbalance their assimilation. The accommodation of Jews in language, morals, and even religious forms to the European nations among whom they live could not extinguish the alienation that exists between Jews and their European host nations. In the last analysis this instinctive feeling of alienation is the source of anti-Semitism. Well-meaning tracts thus cannot eradicate it. Nationalities do not want to mix; they prefer to go their own way. A satisfactory situation can only be achieved through mutual tolerance and respect.

Toward this end it is especially important that we Jews again become conscious of our nationality and that we regain the self-respect that we need for a prosperous existence. We must learn to rededicate ourselves to our forefathers and to our history, and as a people we must accept those cultural duties that serve to strengthen our feeling of community. It is not enough to take part as mere individuals in thecultural development of mankind, we must also tackle tasks that only national unity can solve. This is the only way that Jewry can become socially sound.

I ask you to view the Zionist movement from this perspective. Today, history has delegated to us the task of actively participating in the economic and cultural rebuilding of the land of our fathers. Enthusiastic and highly gifted men have laid the groundwork, and many admirable kinsmen are prepared to devote themselves completely to this labor. May every one of you fully appreciate the importance of this task and contribute to its success to the best of your abilities!

May 1, 1923

"My Impression of Palestine," in New Palestine

I cannot begin these notes without expressing my heartfelt gratitude to those who have shown so much friendship toward me during my stay in Palestine. I do not think I shall ever forget the sincerity and warmth of my reception—for they were to me an indication of the harmony and healthiness which reigns in the Jewish life of Palestine.

No one who has come into contact with the Jews of Palestine can fail to be inspired by their extraordinary will to work, and their determination which no obstacle can withstand. Before that strength and spirit there can be no question of the success of the colonization work.

The Jews of Palestine fall into two classes—the urban workers and the village colonizers. Among the achievements of the former, the city of Tel Aviv made a singularly profound impression on me. The rapidity and energy which has marked the growth of this town has been so remarkablethat Jews refer to it with affectionate irony as "Our Chicago."

A remarkable tribute to the real power of Palestine is the fact that the Jewish elements which have been resident in the country for decades stand distinctly higher, both in the matter of culture and in their display of energy, than those elements which have only recently arrived.

And among the Jewish "sights" of Palestine none struck me more pleasantly than did the school of arts and crafts, Bezalel, and the Jewish workingmen's groups. It was amazing to see the work that had been accomplished by young workers who, when they entered the country, could have been classified as "unskilled labor." I noted that beside wood, other building material is being produced in the country. But my pleasure was tempered somewhat when I learned of the fact that the American Jews who lend money for building purposes exact a high rate of interest.

To me there was something wonderful in the spirit of self-sacrifice displayed by our workers on the land. One who has actually seen these men at work must bow before their unbreakable will and before the determination which they show in the face of their difficulties—from debts to malaria. In comparison with these two evils the Arab question becomes as nothing. And in regard to the last I must remark that I have myself seen more than once insurance of friendly relations between Jewish and Arab workers. I believe that most of the difficulty comes from the intellectuals and, at that, not from the Arab intellectuals alone.

The story of the struggle against malaria constitutes a chapter by itself. This is an evil which affects not only the rural, but also the urban population. During my visit toSpain some time ago, we submitted to the Spanish Jews a proposition that they send, at their expense, a specialist on the subject of malaria to Palestine, and that this specialist should carry on his work in connection with the work of the University of Jerusalem. The malaria evil is still so strong that one may say that it weakens our colonization work in Palestine by something like a third.

But the debt question is particularly depressing. Take for instance the workers of the colony of Degania. These splendid people groan under the weight of their debts, and must live in the direst need in order not to contract new ones. One man, even of moderate means, could, if he were large-hearted enough, relieve this group of its heartbreaking burden. The spirit which reigns among the land and building workers is admirable. They take boundless pride in their work and have a feeling of profound love for the country and for the little localities in which they work.

In the matter of architectural taste, as displayed in the buildings, in the town, and on the land, there has been not a little to regret. But in this regard the engineer, Kaufmann, has done a great deal to bring good taste and a love of beauty into the buildings of Palestine.

To the government considerable credit must be accorded for its construction of roads and paths, for its fight against malaria and, in general, for its sanitary work as a whole. Here the government has no light task before it. One can hardly find another country which, being so small, is so complicated by virtue of the divisions among its own population as well as by virtue of the interest taken in it by the outside world.

The greatest need of Palestine today is for skilled labor.No academic forces are needed now. It is hoped that the completion of the Technical College will do a great deal toward meeting the need of the country for trained workmen.

I am convinced that the work in Palestine will succeed in the sense that we shall create in that country a unified community which shall be a moral and spiritual center for the Jewries of the world. Here and not in its economic achievement lies, in my opinion, the significance of this work. Naturally we cannot neglect the question of our economic position in Palestine, but we must at no time forget that all this is but a means to an end. To me it seems of secondary importance that Palestine shall become economically independent with the greatest possible speed. I believe that it is of infinitely greater importance that Palestine shall become a powerful moral and spiritual center for the whole of the Jewish people. In this direction the rebirth of the Hebrew language must be regarded a splendid achievement. Now must follow institutions for the development of art and science. From this point of view we must regard as of primary importance the founding of the university which, thanks largely to the enthusiastic devotion of the Jewish doctors of America, can begin its work in Jerusalem. The university already possesses a journal of science which is produced with the earnest collaboration of Jewish scientists in many fields and in many countries.

Palestine will not solve the Jewish problem, but the revival of Palestine will mean the liberation and the revival of the soul of the Jewish people. I count it among my treasured experiences that I should have been able to see the country during the period of rebirth and re-inspiration.

February 8, 1924

Letter to Erich Mendelsohn

Dear Mr. Mendelsohn,

On Saturday 16, this month, at 8:30 P.M. sharp Mr. Blumenfeld will give a speech in my apartment on the mental, political, and economic preconditions for the colonization of Palestine by the Jews.

After the speech, we want to have tea together and enter into a thorough discussion with Mr. Blumenfeld.

With the highest esteem,

A. Einstein

February 17, 1925

Excerpts from "Mission," in Jüdische Rundschau

The existence of different nationalities and consequently of mutually antagonistic nationalisms, both within and without Europe, must be considered a misfortune in my opinion. Must we state again that a certain type of nationalism represents a real danger for peace and an inexhaustible source of injustice and sorrow?

On the other hand, there is a fact that cannot be ignored: The Jews are almost everywhere treated as members of a group that is clearly characterized nationally. This seems regrettable to Jews, like myself, who consider membership in the human species as the ideal, possible to attain, even though difficult ... .

The Jews must also put their nationality to use. May they do it so as to further the welfare of all!

They must develop those virtues and faith which are indispensable to one who wishes to serve all of humankind. Since, at least for the present moment, the Jewish nationalityis not going to vanish, Jews must justify their existence. They must, without being ridiculously arrogant, restore their awareness of the human values which they embody. They must re-learn the mission that they can accomplish, re-learn it through studying their past and through a better understanding of the spirit of their race.f

By remembering a past filled with glory and sorrow and by opening their eyes to a healthier, dignified future, Zionism teaches self-knowledge and instills courage. It restores the moral force which allows Jews to live and act in dignity. It frees the soul from the unforgivable future of exaggerated modesty which only oppresses and makes one unproductive. Finally Zionism reminds Jews that the centuries they have lived through in sorrow together enjoins upon them the duty of solidarity.

Inspired by the mystique of Zionism, perhaps they will finally be able to fulfill the tasks that are incumbent upon them, and which demand the high-principled exertions and single-minded labor of Israel. Only at this price will those who believe in fraternal bonds among people of all nations be able to usefully spread words of wisdom and humanity, which are needed more today than ever.

For this reason, I cannot see the Zionist movement as an outgrowth of the poisonous views that destroy the enjoyment and thinking of life.

A Jew who strives to impregnate his spirit with humanitarian ideals can call himself a Zionist without contradiction.

One must be thankful to Zionism for the fact that it is the only movement that has given many Jews a justified pride, that it has once again given a despairing race the necessary faith, if I may so express myself, given new flesh to an exhausted people ... .

Zionism is in the process of creating in Palestine a center of Jewish intellectual life, and for that reason we will always be thankful to its leaders. This moral homeland will, I hope, succeed in bringing more vitality to a people that does not deserve to die. I have already observed the first signs of this moral resurgence.

Thus, I can assert that Zionism, which appears to be a nationalistic movement, has, when it comes down to it, a significant role to play for all mankind.

March 20, 1926

Letter to Kurt Blumenfeld in Berlin

Dear Mr. Blumenfeld:

Before I decide in the matter touched upon in your letter, I would like to have a piece of information categorically necessary for my good conscience: an annual balance sheet of the Zionist Organization, which should show:

1. How much money was collected in the individual countries?

2. How much of this money was spent outside of Palestine?

3. How much of it in Palestine?

4. How is the money consumed in Palestine split between management, land acquisition, and other needs?

You know how much I appreciate the educational achievements of Zionism. As an enterprise, I don't know it well enough to support it with a good conscience.

Respectfully yours,

AE

April 9, 1926

Excerpt from Einstein's Response to Don Levineg

Although I believe that it is only in Palestine that work of lasting value can be achieved, and that everything that is done in the Diaspora countries is only a palliative ... nevertheless ... the efforts being made to colonize Jews in Russia must not be opposed because they aim at assisting thousands of Jews whom Palestine cannot immediately absorb ... . On this ground, these efforts seem worthy of support.

1927

"The Jews and Palestine," in About Zionism (Published in 1930)

The Palestine problem, as I see it, is twofold. There is first the business of settling the Jews in the country. This demands external assistance on a large scale; it cannot be successfully accomplished unless the national resources of Jewry are laid under contribution. The second task is that of stimulating private initiative, especially in the commercial and industrial spheres.

The deepest impression left on me by Zionist work inPalestine is that of the self-sacrifice of the young men and women workers. Gathered here from all sorts of different environments, they have succeeded, under the influence of a common ideal, in forming themselves into closely-knit communities and in working together on lines of systematic co-operation. I was also most favourably impressed by the spirit of initiative shown in the urban development. There is something here that almost suggests an avalanche. One feels that the work is being borne along on the wings of a strong national sentiment. Nothing else could explain the extraordinarily rapid advance, especially on the sea-coast near Tel-Aviv.

At no time did I get the impression that the Arab problem might threaten the development of the Palestine project. I believe rather that, among the working classes especially, Jew and Arab on the whole get on excellently together. The difficulties which are as it were inherent in the situation do not rise above the threshold of consciousness when one is on the spot. The problem of the rehabilitation and sanitation of the country seems incomparably more difficult.

It is a common thing for Jews to miss the significance of the Palestine question: they do not see what it has to do with them. It is indeed easy to ask what it matters to a scattered nation of so many millions whether a million or a million and a half of them are settled in Palestine. But for me the importance of all this Zionist work lies precisely in the effect that it will have on those Jews who will not themselves live in Palestine. We must distinguish in this connection between internal and external effects. The internal effect, in my opinion, will be a healthier Jewry: that is to say, the Jews will acquire that happiness in feeling themselvesat one, that sense of being self-sufficient, which a common ideal cannot fail to evoke. This is already evident in the younger generation of our day—not among the young Zionists only—and distinguishes it, greatly to its advantage, from earlier generations, whose endeavours to be absorbed in non-Jewish society produced an almost tragic emptiness. That is the internal effect. The external effect I see in the status which a human group can attain only by collective and productive work. I believe that the existence of a Jewish cultural centre will strengthen the moral and political position of the Jews all over the world, by virtue of the very fact that there will be in existence a kind of embodiment of the interests of the whole Jewish people.

EINSTEIN ON ISRAEL AND ZIONISM. Copyright © 2009 by Fred Jerome. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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  • Posted May 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Dissapointing

    The author of the book clearly has a anti Israel agenda. Throuout the book, he interprets Einsteins sayings to fit that agenda. He also talks about ongoing Israeli attrocities, but ignores those committed by the Arabs/Palestinians.

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