Remembering My Grandfather, Chaim Arlosoroff

In May of 1921, the small Jewish Yishuv was rocked by disturbances whose victims included the writer Yosef Haim Brenner, killed by "Arab rioters".

At the time, a young student in economics at the University of Berlin was on his first visit to the country. He, too, was shocked, but he also was eager to study the situation and concluded that this was not rioting but rather a nationalist confrontation.

In Eretz Israel, he said, there are two peoples with national aspirations, and it will be impossible to realize Zionist aspirations without coming to an agreement with the country's Arab inhabitants. He was only 22, yet he was able to step back and see what none of the Zionist leaders at the time saw. That student was my grandfather, Chaim Arlosoroff.

A few years later, despite a doctorate in economics and the offer of a university job in hand, Arlosoroff decided instead to leave everything behind and immigrate to Mandatory Palestine. A poet and a philosopher, at 25 he had already published Zionist and socialist essays.

He was fluent in six languages and steeped in German culture. Arlosoroff became an instant star among the leadership of the Yishuv, second only to David Ben-Gurion.

His vast knowledge and superior strategic analytic abilities transformed Arlosoroff overnight into one of the strongest leaders the Zionist movement had ever seen. He was the first to speak about the Zionist enterprise in practical terms, not just as a dream. He repeatedly warned against trampling the rights of the Arabs and was accordingly the most vocal and aggressive critic of the right wing of the Zionist movement. It was therefore understandable that the right directed its incitement at Arlosoroff and not at Ben-Gurion.

Arlosoroff fought for socialist ideals using economic means, but also worked to transform socialism into a genuine economic enterprise. He led efforts to forge relations with the British high commissioner as well as contacts with leaders of the Arab states in an attempt to lay the ground for the state in the making.

Arlosoroff, who grew up with German culture and admired it greatly, was the first to warn, at the beginning of 1933, of the extreme danger posed by the Nazis' rise to power. He therefore initiated a plan to bring German Jewry to Palestine in exchange for their property. Some people believe that it was this plan, which came to fruition in the Fifth Aliyah (1929 to 1939), that led to his murder.

In June 1933, when he was only 34, Arlosoroff was murdered on the Tel Aviv seafront. His murder rocked the Yishuv and threatened to tear it apart. In contemporary terms, it was even more profound an event than the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. In retrospect, the murder and its aftermath are the most important legacy to the national memory of Arlosoroff's image, and that is a shame.

My grandfather, Chaim Arlosoroff, should be remembered for what he was, not just because of how he died.