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Weltsch, Robert

(1891–1984), Zionist activist, journalist, and essayist. Robert Weltsch was born in Prague to one of the oldest and most respected Jewish families in the city. His father, attorney Theodore Weltsch, was active in local Jewish public affairs and at the turn of the century served as director general of the Centralverein zur Pflege Jüdischer Angelegenheiten (Central Society for Handling Jewish Affairs), founded in Prague in 1885.

In 1910, having graduated from the German gymnasium of the Alt-Stadt (Staré Mĕsto), and after he began studying law at the Karl-Ferdinand German University of Prague, Robert Weltsch joined the Zionist student association Bar Kochba, then the focal point for Zionist activity in the Bohemian capital, and served as its chair in 1911–1912. From 1910 to 1914 he published articles in German-language Zionist newspapers such as the Prague-based weekly Selbstwehr, as well as in Die Welt. Even while serving as an officer of the Austrian army on the Russian front during World War I, Weltsch was involved with the German-language Zionist press.

Shortly after the war, Zionist leaders in Germany invited Weltsch to Berlin to serve as editor in chief of Jüdische Rundschau, the official journal of the Zionist Federation of Germany and one of the most widely read interwar publications in the Jewish world. During the early 1920s, Weltsch, with Hugo Bergmann and Hans Kohn (who had been his close friends from the Bar Kochba association) as well as Martin Buber, began advocating within the Zionist Federation a binational concept for the future of Palestine, a plan that called for the establishment of a joint Jewish–Arab commonwealth while rejecting, in principle, the concept of a Jewish nation-state. Because of his consistent adherence to the binational cause and his critical approach toward the policies of the mainstream Zionist movement, Weltsch often faced attempts to depose him as the editor of Jüdische Rundschau. Nevertheless, he held this post until 1938 without ever backing away from his political principles.

Weltsch’s reservations about the establishment of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine constituted just one component of his larger critical outlook toward the very principle of self-determination of national groups within multiethnic territories. He regarded the actual implementation of this principle in East Central Europe after World War I as a fateful mistake, whose origin he traced to the “unnatural,” external intervention of the United States.

Following his immigration to Palestine in September 1938, Weltsch wished to distribute Jüdische Rundschau, but he encountered vigorous opposition from the Hebrew newspaper establishment. Most of the Hebrew papers in Palestine published heated articles and manifestos, some of which were blatantly worded, that denounced Weltsch for what they regarded as a malicious attempt by a controversial figure, and questionable Zionist, to damage the Hebrew identity of the nascent polity. After the storm had passed, Gershom Schocken, editor of the Hebrew newspaper Ha-Arets, invited Weltsch, in 1939, to become a regular commentator on international affairs. In 1946, Weltsch became the paper’s London correspondent. From that time until his return to Jerusalem in 1978, he made a substantial contribution to the newspaper as a political journalist, analyzing politics and even producing critical book reviews.

Suggested Reading

Hillel J. Kieval, The Making of Czech Jewry: National Conflict and Jewish Society in Bohemia, 1870–1918 (New York, 1988); Hagit Lavsky, Before Catastrophe: The Distinctive Path of German Zionism (Detroit, 1996); Herbert A. Strauss, “Robert Weltsch und die Jüdische Rundschau,” in Berlin und der Prager Kreis, ed. Margarita Pazi and Hans Dieter Zimmermann, pp. 31–43 (Würzburg, 1991); Robert Weltsch, Be-Naftule ha-zemanim (Jerusalem, 1981).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann