Adam Rovn­er is the author of In the Shad­ow of Zion: Promised Lands before Israel out this week from NYU Press. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

My book, In the Shad­ow of Zion: Promised Lands before Israel, details six mod­ern efforts to cre­ate Jew­ish home­lands beyond the bor­ders of bib­li­cal Israel. Most of these plans were advanced by ter­ri­to­ri­al­ists — Jew­ish nation­al­ists who sought to set­tle a land oth­er than Eretz Israel. While con­duct­ing archival research, I vis­it­ed each of the poten­tial ter­ri­to­ries my work describes: Ango­la, Kenya, Mada­gas­car, upstate New York, Suri­name, and Tas­ma­nia. But there were sev­er­al oth­er plans for Jew­ish states I didn’t exam­ine, either because they nev­er advanced far enough to be con­sid­ered seri­ous pro­pos­als, or because I didn’t want get myself killed. Here’s a list of alter­nate Zions for that sequel I’ll nev­er write: 

Num­ber 5 — Arc­tic Ocean Islands (1931)

The famed Graf Zep­pelin, fresh from its his­toric flight over the Holy Land, depart­ed on a mis­sion to map the polar regions of north­ern­most Europe in 1931. On board was a young jour­nal­ist, Arthur Koestler, who had lived in British Man­date Pales­tine and become an ardent Zion­ist frus­trat­ed with British poli­cies. Koestler plot­ted to drop blue-and-white [flags] with the shield of David in gold in the cen­ter” from the hatch­es of the Zep­pelin over undis­cov­ered Arc­tic islands. The hot-head­ed reporter believed that by doing so, he could claim land in the name of the Jew­ish peo­ple. The con­cept of own­er­less land—ter­ra nullis—was fre­quent­ly invoked in the era of explo­ration, and so Koestler’s idea was not as hare­brained as might be thought. The expe­di­tion did indeed dis­cov­er unchart­ed islands, but Koestler nev­er dropped any flags. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I was unable to find a grant gen­er­ous enough to allow me to char­ter a diri­gi­ble to the Arc­tic. Does the MacArthur Foun­da­tion read this?

Num­ber 4 — New Cale­do­nia (1936)

This French ter­ri­to­ry con­sists of sev­er­al islands in the Coral Sea and lies about 800 miles from the east­ern coast of Aus­tralia. Pho­tographs show it to be a par­adise of white sand beach­es and palm trees reflect­ed in clear blue water. In Novem­ber 1936, the Paris branch of the Free­land League for Jew­ish Col­o­niza­tion — the major ter­ri­to­ri­al­ist orga­ni­za­tion at the time — pushed for mass emi­gra­tion from Europe to French pos­ses­sions. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives met with the French Colo­nial Min­is­ter to dis­close their plans for estab­lish­ing a new Jew­ish cen­ter” for refugees flee­ing Euro­pean anti-Semi­tism. The Min­is­ter was sym­pa­thet­ic to the cause and seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered the Free­land League’s call to inves­ti­gate oppor­tu­ni­ties in New Cale­do­nia, French Guiana, and Mada­gas­car. After study­ing their pro­pos­als, the Min­is­ter announced that Mada­gas­car pre­sent­ed the most favor­able option for a Jew­ish colony. New Cale­do­nia dropped from the ter­ri­to­ri­al­ist agen­da as the Free­landers turned their atten­tion to Mada­gas­car. I exam­ine the Mada­gas­car Plan in my book, and some­times I still dream about a Jew­ish State with lemurs.

Num­ber 3 — Baja Cal­i­for­nia (1933)

In the ear­ly 1930s, Amer­i­can rab­bi and Zion­ist George Richter struck up a friend­ship with the pow­er­ful press mag­nate William Ran­dolph Hearst. At the time, Hearst pos­sessed large land hold­ings along the Baja Penin­su­la south of Cal­i­for­nia. Richter, con­cerned about Hitler’s rise to pow­er, worked to con­vince Hearst to cre­ate set­tle­ments for Jew­ish refugees on his lands. Richter raised funds and pro­mot­ed the plan with the help of Amer­i­can Zion­ists and ter­ri­to­ri­al­ists. But the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment had no inter­est in ced­ing con­trol over its ter­ri­to­ry to impov­er­ished Jew­ish refugees, even if they had Hearst’s tac­it sup­port. Like­wise, at least accord­ing to one his­to­ri­an, Amer­i­can power­bro­ker Rab­bi Stephen Wise opposed the scheme in the mis­tak­en belief that Hitler would soon fall from pow­er. I end­ed up trav­el­ing to Baja while writ­ing In the Shad­ow of Zion, but that was for the book photographer’s bach­e­lor par­ty in Los Cabos. No archival research ensued.

Num­ber 2 — Guyana (1938)

Just two days after Kristall­nacht, America’s Ambas­sador to Great Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy — yes, that one — went to Down­ing Street to dis­cuss the cri­sis with Prime Min­is­ter Neville Cham­ber­lain. The idea of set­tling Jew­ish refugees in British Guiana (now inde­pen­dent Guyana) orig­i­nat­ed with Kennedy. The Ambas­sador sought a way to help Cham­ber­lain sal­vage peace in our time” and also aid his patron, Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt, whose advi­sors had spent months debat­ing what to do with the waves of emi­grants flee­ing the Reich. Amer­i­can, British, and Yid­dish news­pa­pers got wind of their efforts and report­ed on the Anglo-Amer­i­can pro­pos­al to set­tle 50,000 Jews in British Guiana. Chaim Weiz­mann opposed the plan, but momen­tum gath­ered and in Jan­u­ary 1939 an expe­di­tion was dis­patched to the South Amer­i­can colony. Their report was cau­tious­ly opti­mistic about set­tling Guyana’s teem­ing jun­gles, but there was lit­tle enthu­si­asm for the scheme and no funds were forth­com­ing. I did make it to Guyana for a few days of pre­lim­i­nary research and I’m hap­py to report that they have excel­lent, and potent, rum.

Num­ber 1 — Libya (1908)

In 1905, after the 7th Zion­ist Con­gress reject­ed the idea of an African Zion in Ugan­da” (actu­al­ly today’s Kenya), British author and promi­nent Zion­ist Israel Zang­will formed a rival move­ment, the Jew­ish Ter­ri­to­r­i­al Orga­ni­za­tion (ITO). Zangwill’s ITO reject­ed the idea of cre­at­ing a Jew­ish nation­al home in Ottoman Pales­tine as imprac­ti­cal. ITO sup­port­ers exam­ined a host of oth­er ter­ri­to­ries, includ­ing Aus­tralia, Mesopotamia (Iraq), and Libya, specif­i­cal­ly the east­ern coastal region of Cyre­naica. In 1908, the ITO sent a sci­en­tif­ic com­mis­sion to explore Cyre­naica and con­sult with local Ottoman author­i­ties. They trav­eled by camel over the course of sev­er­al weeks from the east­ern city of Der­na west to Beng­hazi. Their report was dis­ap­point­ing: the land was both less fer­tile and more pop­u­lat­ed than had been thought. And so, the plan was still­born. I had orig­i­nal­ly hoped to trace the route of the 1908 expe­di­tion for my book despite hav­ing two strikes against me: I’m a dual Amer­i­can-Israeli cit­i­zen. What would have been unwise in 2010 became sui­ci­dal after Libya plunged into chaos in 2011. Per­haps one day I’ll get there. Maybe if the pho­tog­ra­ph­er for my next book throws a bach­e­lor par­ty in Benghazi.

To learn more vis­it www​.adam​rovn​er​.com

Relat­ed Content:

Adam Rovn­er is Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Den­ver. His arti­cles, essays, trans­la­tions and inter­views have appeared in numer­ous schol­ar­ly jour­nals and gen­er­al inter­est pub­li­ca­tions. Rovn­er’s short doc­u­men­tary on Jew­ish ter­ri­to­ri­al­ism, No Land With­out Heav­en, has been screened at exhi­bi­tions in New York, Paris, and Tel Aviv.