Native Sons, Native Settlers: The 'Union of the Sons of the Yishuv,' 1939-1965

By Liora R. Halperin
Submitted to Session P6635 (Global Jewish History, Zionism, and Palestine: Complex Entanglements, 2021 Annual Meeting
Hist
Israel; Palestine;
19th-21st Centuries; Arab-Israeli Conflict; Colonialism; Historiography; Identity/Representation; Israel Studies; Judaic Studies; Nationalism; Ottoman Studies; Palestinian Studies; Zionism;
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Jews lived in Palestine before Zionist colonization formally began, in 1901, with the creation of the Jewish National Fund. They included urban Sephardi Jews, urban Ashkenazi Jews, and the first private Jewish settlers, Ashkenazim who formed agricultural colonies in the late nineteenth century in the hopes of “productivizing” Jews. The first two of these groups, the urbanites, are typically regarded as “pre-Zionist” or “non-Zionist” populations; the third has been regarded, retroactively, as the “First Aliyah,” the first wave of proto-Zionist rural settlement. Meanwhile, the Sephardi Jews are typically regarded as “Middle Eastern Jews” or “native Jews” and the latter two groups as “European.” The line between “native” and “settler” Jew, variously defined, runs through and bisects these communal groupings.
These historiographic commonplaces are productively challenged by the organization at the heart of my paper. The Union of the Sons of the Yishuv (Hitahdut Bnei ha-Yishuv), was founded in Mandate Palestine in 1939 to serve and unite Palestine Jews whose families had been in the country since at least the late nineteenth century. Despite their fathers’ prominence in agricultural, commercial, and religious institutions, individuals in all three of the groupings listed above now found themselves on the margins of the largely immigrant, Zionist-controlled organized Jewish community (Yishuv), albeit for different reasons. Organizing on the basis of having preceded the Zionist movement but also, implicitly, on shared financial interests and conservative mores anathema to the hegemonic Labor Zionists, they nonetheless sought recognition and resources from Zionist institutions. They did so both by asserting their native status and by claiming the mantle of the Jewish settler “firstness.” In articulating the identity of native settlers, or settler natives, across the typical subethnic or linguistic categories, the case suggests an intervention in debates about whether settlers can become native, recently complicated by Yuval Evri and Hagar Kotef’s suggestion (2020) that natives (in this case Sephardi and Oriental Jews in Palestine) can also become settlers. The paper shows the making of identity categories in retrospect through a survey of over 500 newspaper articles that record the activities of the Union; the “Library of the First Ones” biographies that it published between 1942-1967, and personal archives of leaders. As an organization devoted to collective memory, it also lends insight into the uses of the past not only under the British but also amidst Palestinian displacement and new mass Jewish immigration to Israel after 1948.