by Professor A. K. Ramakrishnan
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Gandhi's major statement on the Palestine and the Jewish question came forth
in his widely circulated editorial in the Harijan of 11 November 1938, a time
when intense struggle between the Palestinian Arabs and the immigrant Jews had
been on the anvil in Palestine. His views came in the context of severe pressure
on him, especially from the Zionist quarters, to issue a statement on the
problem. Therefore, he started his piece by saying that his sympathies are all
with the Jews, who as a people were subjected to inhuman treatment and
persecution for a long time.
"But", Gandhi asserted, "My sympathy does not blind me to the requirements
of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal
to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and in the tenacity with which
the Jews have hankered after their return to Palestine. Why should they not,
like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are
born and where they earn their livelihood?"
He thus questioned the very foundational logic of political Zionism. Gandhi
rejected the idea of a Jewish State in the Promised Land by pointing out that
the "Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract." The
Zionists, after embarking upon a policy of colonization of Palestine and after
getting British recognition through the Balfour Declaration of 1917 for "the
establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jews," tried to elicit
maximum international support. The Jewish leaders were keen to get an approval
for Zionism from Gandhi as his international fame as the leader of a non-violent
national struggle against imperialism would provide great impetus for the Jewish
cause. But his position was one of total disapproval of the Zionist project both
for political and religious reasons. He was against the attempts of the British
mandatory Government in Palestine toeing the Zionist line of imposing itself on
the Palestinians in the name of establishing a Jewish national home. Gandhi's
Harijan editorial is an emphatic assertion of the rights of the Arabs in
Palestine. The following oft-quoted lines exemplify his position: "Palestine
belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or
France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs...
Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that
Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home."
Gandhi's response to Zionism and the Palestine question contains different
layers of meaning, ranging from an ethical position to political realism. What
is interesting is that Gandhi, who firmly believed in the inseparability of
religion and politics, had been consistently and vehemently rejecting the
cultural and religious nationalism of the Zionists.
What follows then is that he was not for religion functioning as a political
ideology; rather, he wanted religion to provide an ethical dimension to
nation-State politics. Such a difference was vital as far as Gandhi was
concerned. A uni-religious justification for claiming a nation-State, as in the
case of Zionism, did not appeal to him in any substantial sense.
The history of Palestine in the first half of this century has been
characterized by the contention between two kinds of nationalism: Zionism and
Palestinian Arab nationalism-the former striving for creating a Jewish nation in
Palestine by colonizing its land through massive Jewish immigration and the
latter struggling for freedom of the inhabitants of the land of Palestine from
colonial and imperialist control.
Gandhi, in his role as leader of the national struggle and the Indian
National Congress (the organization embodying that struggle), had been actively
engaged during the 1930s and 1940s in moulding the perception of the people of
India to the nationalist and anti-imperialist struggles in the Arab world. The
1937 Calcutta meeting of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) "emphatically
protested against the reign of terror as well as the partition proposals
relating to Palestine" and expressed the solidarity of the Indian people with
the Arab peoples' struggle for national freedom. The Delhi AICC of September
1938 said in its resolution that Britain should leave the Jews and the Arabs to
amicably settle the issues between the two parties, and it urged the Jews "not
to take shelter behind British Imperialism." Gandhi wanted the Jews in Palestine
to seek the goodwill of the Arabs by discarding "the help of the British
Gandhi and the Congress thus openly supported Palestinian Arab nationalism,
and Gandhi was more emphatic in the rejection of Zionist nationalism. The major
political driving force in such a position was the common legacy of
anti-imperialist struggle of the Indians and the Palestinians. Gandhi's views on
the Zionist doctrine and his firm commitment to the Palestinian cause starting
from the 1930s obviously influenced the design of independent India's position
on the Palestine issue.
Gandhi's prescription for the Jews in Germany and the Arabs in Palestine was
non-violent resistance. With regard to the Jewish problem in Germany, Gandhi
noted, "I am convinced that if someone with courage and vision can arise among
them to lead them in non-violent action, the winter of their despair can, in the
twinkling of an eye, be turned into the summer of hope." His views on Zionism
and his prescription of non-violent action and self-sacrifice to the Jews in
Germany generated reactions ranging from anger to despair. Famous Jewish
pacifists, Martin Buber, Judah Magnes and Hayim Greenberg, who otherwise admired
Gandhi, felt "highly offended by Gandhi's anti-Zionism" and criticized him for
his lack of understanding of the spirit of Zionism. Martin Buber, in a long
reply to Gandhi's Harijan editorial, remarked, "You are only concerned, Mahatma,
with the "right of possession" on the one side; you do not consider the right to
a piece of free land on the other side - for those who are hungering for it."
As mentioned earlier, Gandhi refused to view the Zionist "hunger" for land
in Palestine as a right. Gandhi wrote on 7 January 1939 the following in
response to an editorial in the Statesman, "I hold that non-violence is not
merely a personal virtue. It is also a social virtue to be cultivated like the
other virtues. Surely society is largely regulated by the expression of
non-violence in its mutual dealing. What I ask for is an extension of it on a
larger, national and international scale."
Also, it is significant to note that, as far as Gandhi was concerned,
non-violent action was not pacifism or a defensive activity but a way of waging
war. This war without violence also requires discipline, training and the
assessment of the strength and weakness of the enemy.
According to Paul Power, four factors influenced Gandhi's position on
"First, he was sensitive about the ideas of Muslim Indians who were
anti-Zionists because of their sympathy for Middle Eastern Arabs opposed to the
Jewish National Home; second, he objected to any Zionist methods inconsistent
with his way of non-violence; third, he found Zionism contrary to his
pluralistic nationalism, which excludes the establishment of any State based
solely or mainly on one religion; and fourth, he apparently believed it
imprudent to complicate his relations with the British, who held the mandate in
Gandhi withstood almost all Zionist attempts at extracting a pro-Zionist
stance from him. G.H. Jansen wrote about the failure of Zionist lobbying with
"His opposition [to Zionism] remained consistent over a period of nearly
20 years and remained firm despite skilful and varied applications to him of
that combination of pressure and persuasion known as lobbying, of which the
Zionists are past masters."
Apart from responses to Gandhi's anti-Zionism from Jewish pacifists such as
Buber, Magnes and Greenberg, Jansen points out at least four separate instances
of Zionist attempts to get a favourable statement from Gandhi. At first, Hermann
Kallenbach, Gandhi's Jewish friend in South Africa, came to India in 1937 and
stayed for weeks with Gandhi trying to convince him of the merits of the Zionist
cause. Then, in the 1930s, as requested by Rabbi Stephen Wise, the American
pacifist John Haynes Holmes, tried "to obtain from Gandhi a declaration
favourable to Zionism". In March 1946, a British MP from the Labour Party,
Sydney Silverman, an advocate of Indian independence in Britain, attempted to
change Gandhi's mind. At the end of their heated conversation, Gandhi stated
that "after all our talk, I am unable to revise the opinion I gave you in the
beginning." The fourth Zionist attempt to change Gandhi's mind was by Louis
Fischer, Gandhi's famous biographer, to whom Gandhi reported to have said that
"the Jews have a good case."
Later, Gandhi clarified in one of his final pieces on Zionism and the
Palestine question on 14 July 1946 that "I did say some such thing in the course
of a conversation with Mr. Louis Fischer on the subject." He added, "I do
believe that the Jews have been cruelly wronged by the world."
Gandhi went back to his initial position by categorically stating that "But
in my opinion, they [the Jews] have erred grievously in seeking to impose
themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain and now with the aid
of naked terrorism... Why should they depend on American money or British arms
for forcing themselves on an unwelcome land? Why should they resort to terrorism
to make good their forcible landing in Palestine?"
There were an influential number of Jews who thought that force, only force,
could ensure the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. They
adopted terrorism as the method to achieve their national goal. This policy of
subjugation of the Palestinians by Zionist terror was totally rejected by Gandhi
in no uncertain terms.
A few months before his assassination, Gandhi answered the question "What is
the solution to the Palestine problem?" raised by Doon Campbell of Reuters:
"It has become a problem which seems almost insoluble. If I were a Jew, I
would tell them: 'Do not be so silly as to resort to terrorism...' The Jews
should meet the Arabs, make friends with them and not depend on British aid or
American aid, save what descends from Jehovah."
Dr. Ramakrishnan is a senior lecturer, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala,
India. He presented this paper on June 13, 1998 at a seminar organized by the
Institute of Islamic and Arab Studies. The seminar was inaugurated by the chairman
of India's National Minorities Commission, Prof. Tahir Mahmoud, who highlighted the
traditional Indian support for the Palestinian struggle against Zionist Occupation.
The United States walked out of the September 2001 World Conference Against
Racism because it included two contentious issues: Zionism as racism, and
reparations for slavery and colonialism.
[Using Jewish texts, we demonstrate that this concept is against the Torah and has been
opposed by rabbis in all generations.--"What is Zionism?,"
Enver Masud, "Holocaust Remembrance Veils Criminal
Policies," The Wisdom Fund, April 22, 2001
[Tim Wise, an activist, writer and lecturer based in Nashville, Tennessee,
writes that "it is difficult to deny that Zionism, in practice if not theory,
amounts to ethnic chauvinism, colonial ethnocentrism, and national oppression."--Tim
Wise, "Reflections on Zionism
From a Dissident Jew," Media Monitors Network, September 6, 2001]
["In the last decade the two countries have built up extensive military
collaboration, involving arms sales, equipment upgrades, the transfer of technology
and joint weapons development programmes. The latest multi-billion dollar defence
agreements are seen as another watershed in the Indo-Israeli strategic
partnership."--"Closer ties for India and Israel," Jane's
Intelligence Digest, July 27, 2001]
Rabbi Dovid Weiss, "Judaism: An
Alternative to Zionism," Neturei Karta International, April 1, 2002
Carol Giacomo, "American Jews Are Key Advocates of U.S.-India Ties," Reuters, July 9, 2003
[Long before his 50th birthday, he had headed the World Zionist Organization and
served as speaker of the country's Parliament.
But four years ago Burg not only walked away from politics. He pretty much walked
away from Zionism. In a book that came out last year, and has just been translated
and released in the United States, he said Israel should not be a Jewish state, that
its law of return granting citizenship to any Jew should be radically altered, that
Israeli Arabs were like German Jews during the Second Reich and that, in fact, the
entire society felt eerily like Germany just before the rise of Hitler.--Ethan
a Zionist in Israel went from leader to scourge," International Herald Tribune,
December 19, 2008]
[He notes that museums devoted to the Jewish Holocaust have sprouted up across the
West. And that the North American native peoples and the non-Jews who suffered under
the Nazis are not deserving of the same reverence, that their suffering is somehow
less tragic. We must deny the concept of the Holocaust even if the most fantastic
inventions of Wiesel were abolutely true. The technical discussions of how many Jews
died, and how they died, are perfectly legitimate but superfluous--Eric Walberg, "Book Review:
'Masters of Discourse' by Israel Shamir," axisoflogic.com, December 22, 2008]
["Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you
have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation."--Stephen Moss, "Arundhati Roy: 'They are trying to keep me destabilised. Anybody who says
anything is in danger'," Guardian, June 5, 2011]
[More than 40 years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted the controversial Resolution
3379 by a vote of 72-35 (with 32 abstentions), determining "that Zionism is a form of
racism and racial discrimination". . . .
In the end, we should appreciate that neither Zionism nor BDS is racist, and the real
focus should be on the behaviour of Israel as a member of the UN obliged to respect
international law.--Richard Falk, "The Zionism debate as a shield for Israeli policy,"
middleeasteye.net, June 5, 2016]
["To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to
criticize."--Chuck Baldwin, "Zionism, Not Islam, Is America's Biggest Threat,"
chuckbaldwinlive.com, July 27, 2017]