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M.K. Gandhi and the Birth of Israel

March 25, 2010 by  


By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Gandhi1 Oakland–My Pakistani friends have no great respect for the “great soul,” because they are of the opinion that his great political skills dominated his moral authority, but it must be remembered that, although a Hindu, he supported the Caliphate Movement (the Sultan of Turkey as the temporal leader of Islam) during the 1920s.  Further, he gained the ire of international Zionism’s claims to Palestine which was an exacerbating point to South Asian Islam, in addition.  Therefore, your essayist has decided to write about the ideas of this great man on Palestine.  It must be remembered that he spoke up for the welfare of Muslims as well as Hindus in India.  If many of his ideas had been incorporated at the birth of an independent South Asia, there may not have been a Partition, nor would we be staring down a nuclear “gun” in that region, too.

Your author starts his composition with a remembered reading of “The Jews in Palestine” (Harijan of November 26, 1938: Collected Works, Volume 74).   As remembered, it permitted some room for a one-State solution in Israel-Palestine, but reading it closely again, there is not; yet, in a comment to a reporter, shortly before his death the profound man gave a suggestion for a solution to resolve the conundrum.  If that proposal had been taken seriously, the crisis in the Middle East might not be before us today.

Gandhi’s mind was a curious mixture of the practical and impractical.  His ideas on the Abrahamic “Holy Land” bear this out.  “I cannot…say…I have made a…study of the…religion [Judaism], but I have studied as much as a layman can…” (Interview in The Jewish Chronicle, London, Oct. 2nd, 1931).  In fact, he makes no references of the traditional Indian Jewish communities — the Cochin, the Bombay and the Baghdadi.  He seems to have known little about them.  In fact, as he states in his article we shall be discussing, he knew “…the Jews…in South Africa…” (“The Jews in Palestine,” the Harijan Nov. 26th 1938).  Incidentally, South Africa was where he developed his methodologies on non-violence.

Although he states that he will be talking about the “Jewish Question” in relation to Palestine and Germany, he knows very little about European Jewry and Palestine itself.  He states in the same commentary as mentioned above:  “I should love to go… [to]…the Holy Land…”  Much of what he does know about contemporary European Jewry and Palestine comes from Central European (German) and Zionist itself propaganda.

The whole question of a one-State resolution of the Israeli issue, which I do not personally hold, came in a conversation I had with Richard Falk, the United Nations’ Human Rights Rapporteur to (Israel’s) Occupied territories (Palestine) [Muslim Observer, March 19, 2009].  The Legal Doctor stated “The two-State solution is being undermined…because of the expansion of the Settlements and house demolitions…” Although some Palestinian intellectuals themselves are beginning to come to this position, too, such as Ali Abunimah who founded and maintains the Electronic Infitada (see his One Country).  A one State solution would not work well in my opinion because the Israeli right would repress it due to the fact that Israel would cease to be a Jewish State.  Within Israel itself, it has support within their Left, though.

Curiously, Falk had not read Gandhi’s central essay which we shall look at, and he made a note to do so.  In other collections of what M.K. Gandhi said and in Zionist replies to the piece the subject is often called the “Jewish Problem.”  Most scholars who discuss it today note this is not how we speak of it today.  No way is Judaism a “problem,” but a perversion of it, Zionism, is.  Most politicized aspects of all religions do have a “perverted” wing, also.  Politics and religions make devious bedfellows.

First I shall go through an exegesis of his text “The Jews in Palestine.”  He refers to it as the “Arab-Jewish” question – not the Palestinian issue.  Moreover, in accord with my statement above, when Gandhi applies the words “Jew” or “Jewish,” etc., please mentally replace it with ”Zionist” or “Zionism” to avoid the sectarianism of the time.  The founding and maintaining of the State of Israel was a Zionist project that involved only a small part of the Jewish people.  Furthermore, the function of Christian Zionism cannot be ignored although it is not relevant to this paper; and, thus shall be ignored in this paper.

Mohandas Gandhi, ever the adroit politician, states, “My sympathies are…with the Jews,” Then, he switches his position “…my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice.”  He points out the “mythical” basis for the demand for homeland for the Jews in Palestine within the text of the Bible itself.  Clearly, he states his opposition to a Jewish State with these famous words, “Palestine belongs to the Arab…[as]…England belongs to the English or France to the French.  It is wrong and inhuman to…impose the Jews on the Arabs.”  Further, the Mahatma, as in his struggle in India, appeals to his readers’ ethical sensibility:  “What is going on…cannot  be justified by any code of conduct.”  It is quite apparent here that Gandhi’s perceptions are still relevant in this century.
More importantly, “It would be a crime against humanity to reduce the…Arabs…that Palestine can be restored to the Jews…”  This is a pretty strong attack upon the Zionists of the time since the principle of “crimes against humanity” had not been established in International Law.  Strangely, Gandhi had accused Zionists of collaboration with the Nazis as Lenni Brunner’s book (Zionism in the Age of Dictators), written in our generation, does.  Gandhi states in the essay under discussion, “…a cry for a national home affords a…justification for the German expulsion of the Jews…” to which, curiously, the archives of the Third Reich, that Brenner utilizes in his book, attest. 

M.K. Gandhi goes on to damn the National Socialist regime in Berlin.  He asks “Is England drifting towards armed dictatorship….?”  Here he is  equating his struggle in British India and the conflict in West Asia.  He makes assumptions that often are inaccurate because he cannot get away from his Indian environment.  He applies the Jewish concept of God with his Hindu perception of the Divine:  “…Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, Mussalmans [another word not used much anymore because it is in bad taste] or the Hindus.”  Gandhi’s theology is quite mistaken here.  Muslims and Christians look to a most personal God, too.  All three religious systems deriving from the Numen of Abraham share this principle.  Therefore, for Mohandas Gandhi “…the Jews ought not feel helpless.”  Further, “The same God rules the Jewish heart…[that]…rules the  Arab heart.” 

M.K. Gandhi felt that the Jews (Zionists] were going about it the wrong way.  He does not say that they cannot emigrate there, but they have to do so under Palestinian law. “The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract.”  This is, also, true for non-indigenous Muslims and Christians — except for their sacred places.  Thus, it is mere a locality “…in their hearts.”

“…it is wrong [for the Zionists] to enter it under the shadow of the British bayonet…”  Here Gandhi is speaking in terms of the Indian reality again, and, I believe, does not fully understand the crisis in the Levant of his period in history!

“ They can settle in Palestine …by the goodwill of the Arabs.”  That is under their law and permission, and it follows that they can only buy the land that the Arabs may alienate – not grabbing it violently from the Palestinians as they have proceeded to do!  He advises them to “…seek to convert the Arab heart.”  Further, he emphasizes the commonality between the two peoples, “…there are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they [the Zionists] discard…the…British bayonet.”  (Again he is in looking at Palestine from the perspective of India once more, and considers the two resistances as one against the same Imperialism,) but the Mahatma accuses the Zionists that “…they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling…people who have done [them] no wrong…”  For the Mahatma his interest and attraction for Palestine is that they are both English “possessions,” which is only partly accurate.  For him what pushes this view askew is the Zionist factors that are actively plotting to steal the land when the Colonialist leaves.  Fortunately, this was not true in South Asia where the dominant demand was just as disrupting – a homeland for the Muslims.  Gandhi seems to have envisioned Palestine as a Muslim majority Mandate, which in actuality it was not so.  Although the United Kingdom invented the census for British India, they never had a chance to apply it to their Middle Eastern jurisdictions.  The best estimates are that before 1948, 45% of the population were native Christians; next the Muslims; then Palestinian Jews. 

It was a multi-sectarian State or Province that worked!  There was little tension between the three groups.  The establishment of the State of Israel lowered the Christian population to 7%; the Muslims now dominate the Occupied Territories, and the Arab Jews there were forced into Israel proper where they are treated rather shabbily for being “Oriental.”  Historically, the Jews were treated better in Islamic dominated areas than in Europe.  The Christian less so probably because of the mistrust generated from the Crusades.  After the establishment of Israel, unfortunately, Jews in other Islamic lands became highly resented.  Israel itself, also was perceived as a European neo-colony in the midst of Arab territory, and a threat to all of Islam.

Although Gandhi did not approve of the ferocity of the Arab defiance, for he wishes they had chosen non-violence, under the circumstances, “…nothing can be said against the Arab resistance…”

M.K. Gandhi concludes his important essay by urging the Jews to employ non-violence in Germany since it had been effective in India, but, realistically, would not in Germany.  Unfortunately, Zionism itself was entwined within the fascist goals by destabilizing the British Empire in the Middle East.  In his last paragraph Gandhi says “[The Jews] can command…[the] respect of the world by being [truly] the chosen creation of God instead of the brute beast…forsaken of God.”

Shortly before the end of his life, when it was likely that a State of Israel would be formed, a Doon Campbell of Reuters (the news gathering agency) asked our subject, “What is the solution of the Palestine problem?  Gandhi replied, It “… seems almost insoluble.  If I were a Jew, I would tell them:  Do not…resort to terrorism [in which the Zionists were engaged at the time].  The Jews should meet the Arabs, make friends with them, and not depend on British [non-players now]…or American aid.” (A.K. Ramakrishnan, The Wisdom).  How much different would the world be if we followed Mohandas Gandhi’s words, and that includes the Islamic world in the Middle East! 

M.K. Gandhi, a South Asian thinker has had a tremendous influence worldwide during the last century into this century.  Although his solutions were or seemed impractical, many of them can be re-examined now to see if we can extract anything practical for our times.  Though he had never been to West Asia, if his suggestions had been factored into the equation, the crisis that presently threatens a World War, which, most assuredly, would bring in the West, would never have unfolded in such a dangerous manner.  Still, what he replied to Doon Campbell’s question is even now applicable.  Washington should step aside from acerbating the conflict, and let the two parties negotiate amongst themselves.  At this point both sides should follow non-violence to allow the talks to proceed, and the West can enforce non-violence only if it has to do so.  M.K. Gandhi even at this time has much to say to our world.

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