Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Jews and Gandhi: Then and Now

Several academics have been discussing the suggestion made in 1938 by Gandhi [“The Jews”, Harijan 26 November 1938 (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi vol. 74, p. 240] what Jews should do in response to Nazi Germany's anti-Semitic state policies.

If you do not know, well

In 1938 he recommended nonviolent resistance against Nazi persecution in Germany, and seemed convinced that if Jews willingly offered their lives, this would result in a moral reformation of the German people.

He was also opposed to Zionism, partially on the grounds that the Jews should prefer to be citizens of the countries where they lived (England, France, Germany) and should fight for their rights in those places. (Obviously at the time this would not have worked in Germany!) He also thought that Zionism was unjust to the Arabs of Palestine. One curious part of his position was that although he opposed the Jewish use of violence in Palestine against Arabs, he did not object to the Arab use of violence against Jews. He says: "I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds." It is very curious, in my opinion, that he would so fiercely condemn Jewish use of violence without at the same condemning Arab use of violence. He does not recommend that the Arabs use satyagraha against the British or Jews in Palestine. (The context for this article was the 1936-39 Arab Revolt against British rule and Jewish settlement in Palestine).

One noted that he is in the process of editing the second volume of excerpts from Mordecai M. Kaplan's diary, 1934-1941.  It seems that Kaplan happened to be in Jerusalem when the Gandhi letter was published and was present at the drafting of the response to Gandhi. Here is the entry in his diary:

March 8, 1939

I came a little while ago from the meeting at Magnes. Buber and Magnes read the statements they have worked out...Buber's statement was worked out very carefully and effectively. Magnes' on the other hand was very weak and shamefully apologetic. Among those present were Benjamin, Bergman, Sholem, Baer, Koebner, Gutterman, Miss Szold, Schlesinger and quite a few others.

Thursday, March 9, 1939

The session at Magnes' home last night had a depressing effect on me. In the first place, that a man of Gandhi's reputation and influence should have permitted himself to advise Jews in their present tragic plight to immolate themselves, this is what his message amount to, and to charge them at the same time with being usurpers in that they try to recover their homeland, without as much as an attempt to hear the Jewish side of the case, helped to weaken my faith in human goodness...he allowed himself to be influenced by the politicians in his entourage who are interested - as are the British - in courting Mohammedan good will. Secondly, the allusions to Jewish suffering, past and present, in both Buber's and Magnes' statements, and the sad pass to which we have come to that we have to be continually fingering our wounds and exposing our miserable lot to no purpose whatever. The mischief Gandhi's article set on foot is potent, far reaching and enduring...And finally the self-degradation to which we submit for fear of hurting the feelings of one who so shamefully wrongs us as to condemn us without even giving us a hearing. I was especially disgusted by the tone and contents of Magnes' letter. It was most unmanfully apologetic and most childishly put together.

If any of Kaplan's bemoaning seems to you to reflect miserably on current Jewish opinions and actions, you are sharing my thoughts.

See here for some reference, here, too.  And here.  And here.


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