It's the year to celebrate Einstein, the man who couldn't tie his own shoelaces

Einstein was an inept and moronic person, declares one historian. He contributed nothing to science

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This being the 100th anniversary of the theory of relativity and, coincidentally - though of course there is no such thing as coincidence - the 50th anniversary of the death of Albert Einstein, those who decide these things have declared 2005 to be the World Year of Physics and the Year of Einstein. Fine by us. We understand none of it, but have no wish to spoil the party, God or nature or whatever you want to call the force that unleashes oceans, having already done that for us. Not that it was science that failed us in South-east Asia. We knew what was afoot. We just couldn't find the telephone numbers of those we needed to warn.

This being the 100th anniversary of the theory of relativity and, coincidentally - though of course there is no such thing as coincidence - the 50th anniversary of the death of Albert Einstein, those who decide these things have declared 2005 to be the World Year of Physics and the Year of Einstein. Fine by us. We understand none of it, but have no wish to spoil the party, God or nature or whatever you want to call the force that unleashes oceans, having already done that for us. Not that it was science that failed us in South-east Asia. We knew what was afoot. We just couldn't find the telephone numbers of those we needed to warn.

But physics is not our theme today. Zionism is. Einstein and Zionism. Was he or wasn't he? I have a suspicion we are going to hear more of this as the year advances, so let's get in early with the answer. He was.

Punch the words Einstein and Zionism into Google and the first entry that comes up - logically enough - is an article entitled "Einstein, Zionism and Israel: Setting the Record Straight" by Dr Mohammad Omar Farooq, associate professor of economics and finance at Upper Iowa University. In the matter of Einstein's being a Zionist or not, Dr Farooq is as unequivocal as I am. He wasn't. It's a "myth", he tells us, a falsehood mobilised by the "mighty Zionist media machinery to constantly propagate what is contrary to the truth ... and suppress any information contrary to what is upheld by that machinery". In support of which claim he recommends we try the internet (that prime example of mighty Zionist media machinery), where "virtually all the apparently relevant entries that appear at the top present Einstein as a pro-Zionism, pro-Israel person". Since it's riding proud on the "top" of this same internet that we've just found Dr Farooq, it would appear that the mighty Zionist media machinery is not doing its job as it ought.

Nor is there any shortage, on the pages that follow, of entries bristling with anti-Zionism, and if that means having to defame Einstein, bristling with that ambition too. "Einstein was an inept and moronic person," declares one historian of science and ideas, "who could not even tie his own shoelaces; he contributed NOTHING ORIGINAL to the field of quantum mechanics, nor any other science. On the contrary - he stole the ideas of others, and the Jew-controlled media made him a hero."

Though he is at home with the Jew-controlled media idea, Dr Farooq is too serious an academic to worry about Einstein's shoelaces. He does not question the great scientist's achievements or humanity. Rather, with the help of an essay by Alfred Lilienthal, inventor of the phrase "Holocaustomania" to describe that form of emotional blackmail known as getting yourself gassed and expecting to be pitied for it - he wishes to show that what Einstein is supposed to have said in favour of Zionism he actually said against it.

On 17 April 1938, Einstein made a speech to the National Labor Committee for Palestine in New York. In it he spoke of the terrible dangers currently facing the Jewish community and expressed the "great debt of gratitude" which Judaism owed to Zionism. "The Zionist movement has revived among Jews the sense of community. It has performed productive work surpassing all the expectations anyone could entertain." This he said and this he reprinted in Out of My Later Years, published in 1950.

But that wasn't all he said. "Apart from practical considerations," he went on, "my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power however modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain, especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks..."

That some of us will be more comfortable with the first of those statements, and that others, like Dr Farooq, will be more comfortable with the second, is obvious. But they were not contradictory for Einstein and I see no reason why they should be contradictory for us. Isaiah Berlin wondered whether Einstein wasn't a touch naive politically; and there may be naivety in the assumption of a Zionism without an armed and bordered Zion.

It must be said, though, that the state of Israel as it has historically evolved, and regardless of how we view it, is not the fulfilment, and never could be the fulfilment, of Zionism's true nature. Zionism grew out of necessities which history cannot obviate. Nor did its essential meaning wait to be disclosed by events. It is as it was conceived. If Israel, out of arrogance or out of fear, has grown narrowly nationalistic, then it has departed from the ideals of Zionism, not expressed their quintessence.

In a letter to the Palestinian Arab newspaper Falastin in 1930, Einstein wrote of his hatred of aggressive nationalism and his hope for a future for Palestine, based on the "peaceful co-operation between the two peoples who are at home in the country". Dr Farooq, bent on establishing that Einstein was no Zionist, highlights this sentence on his study resource page. What he does not highlight is the next. "For this reason I should have expected that the great Arab people will show a true appreciation of the needs which the Jews feel to rebuild their national home in the ancient seat of Judaism."

In the absence of that appreciation - not always easy to sustain, I allow - some explanation of what has followed can be found. The mutual understanding didn't come about, neither did the peaceful co-operation. And what happens now is anybody's guess. But in the Year of Einstein it might be useful to recall the complex of even-handedness which Zionism expressed for him; and how the term has become debased by parties on either side - now to excuse inexcusable depredations, now to justify a revivification of the very virulence which made Zionism a life-or-death necessity in the first place.

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