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Posted by on Jul 30, 2014 in International, Religion, War | 16 comments

In 1938: Mahatma Gandhi on the Jewish homeland

mahatma-gandhi-anarchist-libertarian-1‘THE JEWS’, BY GANDHI – FROM HARIJAN, NOVEMBER 26, 1938

(’The Jews’, by Gandhi – From Harijan, November 26, 1938)

Several letters have been received by me asking me to declare my views about the Arab-Jew question in Palestine and the persecution of the Jews in Germany. It is not without hesitation that I venture to offer my views on this very difficult question.

My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends, I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close. Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews.

But 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 the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after 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?

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. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. 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.

The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French. If the Jews have no home but Palestine, will they relish the idea of being forced to leave the other parts of the world in which they are settled? Or do they want a double home where they can remain at will? This cry for the national home affords a colourable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.

But the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. For he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which any inhumanity becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race with unbelievable ferocity. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon or province.

But if there can be no war against Germany, even for such a crime as is being committed against the Jews, surely there can be no alliance with Germany. How can there be alliance between a nation which claims to stand for justice and democracy and one which is the declared enemy of both? Or is England drifting towards armed dictatorship and all it means?

Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism. It is also showing how hideous, terrible and terrifying it looks in its nakedness.

Can the Jews resist this organised and shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and forlorn? I submit there is. No person who has faith in a living God need feel helpless or forlorn. Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, the Mussalmans or the Hindus, though as a matter of fact in essence, He is common to all and one without a second and beyond description. But as the Jews attribute personality to God and believe that He rules every action of theirs, they ought not to feel helpless. If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example.

If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the godfearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep.

It is hardly necessary for me to point out that it is easier for the Jews than for the Czechs to follow my prescription. And they have in the Indian satyagraha campaign in South Africa an exact parallel. There the Indians occupied precisely the same place that the Jews occupy in Germany. The persecution had also a religious tinge. President Kruger used to say that the white Christians were the chosen of God and Indians were inferior beings created to serve the whites. A fundamental clause in the Transvaal constitution was that there should be no equality between the whites and coloured races including Asiatics. There too the Indians were consigned to ghettos described as locations. The other disabilities were almost of the same type as those of the Jews in Germany. The Indians, a mere handful, resorted to satyagraha without any backing from the world outside or the Indian Government. Indeed the British officials tried to dissuade the satyagrahis is from their contemplated step. World opinion and the Indian Government came to their aid after eight years of fighting. And that too was by way of diplomatic pressure not of a threat of war.

But the Jews of Germany can offer satyagraha under infinitely better auspices than the Indians of South Africa. The Jews are a compact, homogeneous community in Germany. They are far more gifted than the Indians of South Africa. And they have organised world opinion behind them. 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. And what has today become a degrading man-hunt can be turned into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah. It will be then a truly religious resistance offered against the godless fury of dehumanised man. The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German gentiles in the sense that they will have converted the latter to an appreciation of human dignity. They will have rendered service to fellow-Germans and proved their title to be the real Germans as against those who are today dragging, however unknowingly, the German name into the mire.

And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it in the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart. The same God rules the Arab heart who rules the Jewish heart. They can offer satyagraha in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them. They will find the world opinion in their favour in their religious aspiration. There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they will only discard the help of the British bayonet. As it is, they are co-shares with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them.

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.

Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth. Every country is their home including Palestine not by aggression but by loving service. A Jewish friend has sent me a book called The Jewish Contribution to Civilisation by Cecil Roth. It gives a record of what the Jews have done to enrich the world`s literature, art, music, drama, science, medicine, agriculture, etc. Given the will, the Jew can refuse to be treated as the outcaste of the West, to be despised or patronised. He can command the attention and respect of the world by being man, the chosen creation of God, instead of being man who is fast sinking to the brute and forsaken by God. They can add to their many contributions the surpassing contribution of non-violent action.

Segaon, November 20, 1938

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  • jdledell

    Brij – Thank You for this contribution. I was never aware of this commentary on Jews by Ghandi. It’s a lot to absorb and think about.

  • dduck

    A lot of hopeful thinking. Was it naive? Certainly foisting a group of people on an existing group and “location” using force, will likely never be forgiven or accepted.

  • slamfu


    But the Jews of Germany can offer satyagraha under infinitely better auspices than the Indians of South Africa. The Jews are a compact, homogeneous community in Germany.
    They can offer satyagraha in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them.

    Um…yea. What was a winning move in British controlled India does not work so well against Nazi’s.

  • The_Ohioan

    A discussion about the reply to Gandhi from a Dr. Magnes. I cannot find the original source, so read with reservations. Perhaps someone else can chase this down if they are interested.

    When I reported this conversation to Dr. Magnes, he said, “It may be that Gandhi is right in thinking that if the Jews had committed suicide they might have impressed the world more deeply than the loss of six million lives has done. Yet I do not see how in the world such an action would be physically possible

    For the context read:

  • BRIJ KHINDARIA, Foreign Affairs Columnist

    Thank you all for thinking about Gandhi’s words. Perhaps, lesser violence and more understanding of people’s attachment to their homes and personal dignity may be useful paths to find a way out of this human tragedy’s maze.

    JD, I carefully read your comments on my previous contribution. I was trying to point out the new looming tragedy of epidemic diseases caused by untreated sewage and rotting bodies in warm weather and conditions of war. I also tried to note new difficulties in getting to a truce. Cairo, which has always mediated truce in the past, has less traction now because Sisi loathes Hamas, which this time is fighting for its political existence. For a truce to happen, Egypt will have to reduce Gaza’s strangulation since Netanyahu may refuse concessions just for a truce, as Israel too is fighting for its political existence as an explicitly Jewish State. I thought these points were worth making on TMV since they have not received wider attention yet. I apologize for having disappointed you (and Dorian) but I wrote in good faith (and extensive travels to analyze international negotiations).

  • sheknows

    I think they should kidnap Netanyahu, and Abbas, put them in a suite with members of Israeli’s for Peace, Muslims for Peace and Palestinians for Peace. They are not allowed to leave until a peace agreement is reached.

  • jdledell

    “I think they should kidnap Netanyahu, and Abbas… They are not allowed to leave until a peace agreement is reached.”

    sheknows – WE AGREE!!!!!!!! Hurrah!!!!!!!

  • jdledell

    Brij – I apologize for my opening sentence in your previous article – it was uncalled for and counterproductive. In my discussions with Palestinians, including some Hamas members, I have heard many times about their lack of affinity for the Egyptians. This was even during Morsi’s tenure. I would categorize Palestinian feelings about Egypt as ” if they can be useful to us fine, but if not screw them” They have no desire to be beholden to Egypt any more than Israel – they want to be independent of both countries.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Thank you, Brij, for (parenthetically) addressing my comment.

    Although I did not comment on it, I also read and appreciated your post on Ghandi.

    Thank you.

    For whatever it’s worth, on your “Gaza and Israel: new disasters but no end in sight,” I was taken a little aback by your initial focus on what appeared to be the immediate sanitary effects and intermediate-term health impact of Israel’s bombing on Gaza’s only power generating plant on the Gaza population, rather than on the horrible loss of innocent life, the human tragedy, the nearly total destruction of the infrastructure of that already miserable strip of land bursting with almost two million human beings, on the root causes of the conflict, on what will certainly be the horrific, catastrophic long-term effect on the economy –if there was one to begin with –on the already abominable standard of living and welfare of the Palestinians.

    And perhaps, jdledell was confused by this too, that’s why perhaps the initial sentences of his comment — which he now has retracted.

    But thank you for clarifying, following up, and perhaps continuing to stay in the back-and-forth that is sure to come.

  • jdledell

    Here is Stratfor’s analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict . I usually agree with their analysis on Global issues but here I think they left out an important possibility. That being the Palestinians abandoning their own sovereignty and asking the world to support their effort to gain Israeli citizenship. If Statfor is correct that there is no viable 2 state solution then my guess is that within 10 years the Palestinian will go to the UN and say “Divide the Land” or “give us citizenship”.

    I think the Palestinians will have a fairly strong case, probably supported by 14 of the Security Council members. The UN resolutions gave life to Israel in the first place. Of course, Israel will object to both a division and citizenship. This will put the US in a very awkward position of having to veto the Security Council resolution or totally alienating Israel and many Jews.

    Whether it is 10 years or 25 years down the road, eventually a solution will emerge. Israel can either come up with it’s own, or wait for others to impose one. An imposed solution will obviously not be done militarily but sanctions can devastate Israel’s economy and emigration will soar.

  • sheknows

    JD…you left out all the organizations working so hard for peace in the region. Their input would be invaluable to such a discussion between the leaders.

  • jdledell

    sheknows – I truncated my quote of your comment to just make it clear who I was referring to, not because I don’t believe in those organizations. The Peace process is so difficult that every helping hand is important. For example, I’m a charter member and contributor of JStreet and I regularly participate in the NYC and teleconferences of the Israel Policy Forum.

  • sheknows

    Oh my, but you are everywhere. A very busy person.
    I knew you omitted the peace organizations deliberately. I truly believe
    the answer to peace can best be realized by those who espouse it.

    This letter by Gandhi strikes a deeper chord in me than in you I fear.
    You are still trying to “settle the score” and ” get what my side wants” in your imaginary peace talk….I am not.

  • jdledell

    sheknows – Yes I am busy but Israel, next to my family, is the most important aspect of my life. That may explain my explosion of comments on TMV whenever Israel is the subject. I have no score to settle other than my prime objective that Israel stays forever as the Homeland of the Jewish people. I really believe that we both have the same objective but we differ in tactics and strategy in ensuring the objective is met. I believe Netanyahu and his current governing coalition is making some significant mistakes

    Remember we have been tossed out of Israel several times over the past few thousand years. I want to be buried in Israel near my grandfather and know that I am residing in the Jewish homeland for ETERNITY. To that end, whether I am in Israel or the U.S. I will continue to aggressively advocate my position. I believe it is balanced and if you mapped out my Peace plan, I think you will see that I have tried to be fair to all parties. We will probably continue to disagree on Israel but that makes neither one of us a bad person.

  • adelinesdad

    As admirable and sometimes effective as is the principle of non-violent resistance, there is also time and place for self-defense and preservation. For one thing, it doesn’t seem to me that the Nazi movement cared much what the world thought, which takes away the leverage of non-violence.

    Secondly, I’m not sure how you resist, violently or not, a gas chamber, or what difference it would make. What does resistance, violent or non-violent, look like from outside the gas chamber, or the concentration camp, or outside Germany?

    Thirdly, while those who confront violence with non-violence should be commended for taking the higher moral ground, no one can tell a man, woman, or child that they should not resist. The fact that the non-violent actor would be justified in violent resistance, but chooses otherwise, is exactly what makes their choice commendable.

    As for Palestine, the issue is complicated but I don’t think this conclusion is warranted: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs”

    Why? Because the Jews were mostly immigrants? At the time of that immigration and Gandhi’s writings, the land of Palestine had been occupied by foreign powers for centuries. I think it’s reasonable that when the people finally obtain their right to legitimate self-governance, anyone living in that place has equal right to claim ownership and participation in it. If the people are not able to cooperate in governance, then the land should be split, with each side governing the areas where they are settled to the extent possible. I don’t think it makes any sense to try to delineate which people have legitimate claims to the land, and which don’t, based on what happened while illegitimate powers ruled. You might as well try to put all the leaves back on the trees after a tornado hits.

    I think the Palestinians were wrong to not accept a two state solution long ago, but Israel also has overstepped in its oppression, violence, and encroachment of the Palestinians under the guise of defense. I think the facts support the conclusion that both sides share the blame for the conflict, but that also happens to be the only conclusion that can lead to peace. You cannot hold the view that one side is 100% right and simultaneously claim to be in favor of peace. I think that goes in our time as well as Gandhi’s.

  • jdledell

    Here is a link to an interview with Henry Siegman who puts a lot of things in perspective on this issue. Siegman is not only a rabbi but also with the Council on Foreign Relations. Interestingly, Henry’s family and my family crossed paths once. When Henry’s family was on the run from the Nazis, his entire family (he was just a boy) managed to get smuggled into Vichy France. Henry’s father was famous in the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement and they stayed with my Grandfather in Aix-en- Provence for a couple weeks while figuring out something more permanent. My grandfather was the one who used his shipping connections in Marseille to get on a boat that would eventually take them to America. The following year my grandfather used the same connections to flee to Israel.

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