American Judaism Thinker and Labor Zionist Thinker, Co-Editor of American Zionist Journal
American Judaism Thinker and Labor Zionist Thinker, Co-Editor of American Zionist Journal
Let your clear and courageous voice be heard - for our sake, for your sake, for the sake of the awakening East to which we return. Do that which is in your power to end the venomous anti-Jewish propaganda amid the millions of Mohammedans in India. When Hindus and Mohammedans make murderous attacks upon each other, you declare a fast in protest against fratricide and false piety. I remember the strict solemnity of your three weeks’ fast. I remember also the effect of this particular “dictatorial” measure: the two religious communities made peace under the pressure of your prayer and fast. I am not so naive and egocentric as to assume that you could protest with an equal passion the onslaught on Jewish work and a Jewish future in Palestine. It is not my right to suggest how you should influence Moslem public opinion and particularly the leaders of your National Congress. Do what you can to stop the anti-Jewish agitation for which Islam is being exploited cynically and destructively. I know how greatly you honour Islam and its followers. But all your life you have shown daring and ability to fight against hypocrisy in religious life. As the proven friend of the Moslems, you have a particular right to protest against the particular exploitation of Islam and its institutions for unworthy political ends. [to Gandhi]
I know how small a place the Jewish question must occupy in the consciousness of the Indian intellectual. I know how enormous are your own problems and cares. But the drama now being enacted in Palestine has its direct and indirect repercussions in India. A harmful and thoroughly false propaganda against Jews and Zionism is now being conducted in your Mohammedan communities. The none-too-fastidious agents of the present Arab leaders are spreading malicious lies to the effect that Jews are a menace to Mohammedanism, that they propose to destroy or tamper with Mohammedan mosques and holy places. An intense hated of Jews is being fanned among the millions of Mohammedans in India. Please believe me that I think not only of my own people, when I feel duty bound to warn you against the effects of this incendiary propaganda. Jew-hatred is a dangerous poison not only for the hated but for the haters. For the sake of your country and your people as well as my own, I would not wish the bacilli now undermining the moral foundations of so many European countries, to befoul the air of India. I do not understand why you have taken no note of this kindling of religious fanaticism and blind hate among your Mohammedan fellow-Indians, why you have ignored the effects of Arab incitement which became apparent even in the ranks of the Indian National Congress. You are silent. Your disciple, Nehru, is silent. And, unless I am mistaken, only your poet and noble champion of human rights, Madame Naidu, has raised her voice in behalf of my people. [to Gandhi]
Arab enemies of my people, and, I am convinced, also of their own people, have lately mobilised ignorant and fanatical elements against this Jewish renascence. All impartial observers who have visited Palestine, all honest students of the question, have come to the conclusion that our movement has in no way injured the Arab people, that, on the contrary, the mass of the Arab population has profited socially, economically and culturally from Jewish immigration. If you would care to acquaint yourself with the available data, you would see for yourself that the Arab standard of living has risen significantly due to the peaceful, progressive methods of Jewish reconstruction. In recent history, Zionism is the first instance of colonisation free from imperialist ambition or the desire to rule any part of the population. The present Arab rulers know very well that no danger of Jewish dominion threatens the Arab people through Zionism. However, they fear that the influence of Zionism on the Arab masses will hasten the process of economic and social emancipation in Palestine, and will endanger their selfish caste interests. For this reason, they kindle the savage passions of national hate and religious fanaticism. They have sent poor ignorant wretches to destroy Jewish property, to uproot trees planted by Jews, to set fire to Jewish houses, to murder old and young - men, women and children - to throw bombs into schools and kindergartens, and to shoot down Jewish nurses who tended Arab patients in the hospitals. I am sure that you have heard of the anti-Jewish terror let loose in Palestine for over half a year, and no doubt information has reached you of the Arab leaders’ intention to renew this terror and increase its scope so as to attain their goal - the stoppage of further Jewish immigration and the liquidation of Zionism. Whey then, I dare ask you, have you been silent all this while? Why are you still silent? [to Gandhi]
We Jews strive to redeem ourselves from our state of “untouchability”. We seek bread, work, freedom and human dignity. These we wish to secure by emerging from that anomalous state to which history has doomed us - the state of homelessness and landlessness. For over fifty years, the best of our youth have been devoting the fullness of their energy toward the recreation of our former national centre in Palestine. We need a country for the millions of persecuted Jews, and this country must be the land which cradled the civilisation we once created there. This need is more than economic or political in its origin. Among those who are returning to their ancient fatherland are not only refugees driven by alien might but pilgrims inspired by historic forces - human beings who seek integrity and harmony in a new life of their own. Judaism is not only a religion, a system of abstract thought, or a series of tenets and commandments. It is also, perhaps primarily, a particular way of life, action and self-expression. Our particular genius, our capacity for self-expression is throttled in us because we live amid alien environments and cultures. We are always adapting ourselves to our stronger neighbours, existing in a state of perpetual mimicry dangerous to our spirit. Zionism is not only a movement for the hungry and persecuted. It draws to itself increasing numbers of courageous Jews even in those countries which are free from brutal anti-Semitism and where Jews are not stigmatised as “unclean”. These Jews know - as your great patriot Lajpat once put it - that chains are chains no matter how gilded. You yourself once lived in a strange land, in the small Indian Diaspora of South Africa, and you know how the spiritual energy of a national or racial group which lives as a minority in an alien environment becomes choked. May I, in this connection, quote the lines of the great modern Hebrew poet Hayim N. Bialik, lines which I believe you will not misinterpret as evidence of a materialistic attitude: “Each people has as much heaven over its head as it has land under its feet.”
All the purely intellectual arguments for the equalizsation of the untouchables, all the theological proofs and textual criticism which many progressive Hindus have proffered, pale before your [Gandhi] brief words: “I should not like to be born again, but if I am fated to enter the world once more, let it be among the untouchables.” Even more influential was the courage you displayed through “direct action”, when you adopted a child from among the untouchables and made it a member of your family. This practical example in the breaking down of canonised historical walls proved contagious. Hundreds of others of the highest castes were stirred to a noble defiance which led them to engage publicly in the “base” work to which Pariahs were doomed, in order to expunge the stain of “baseness” through their participation. Your example gave the untouchables self-respect and moral courage; it made them braver and more capable of the bloodless uprisings with which they have several times distinguished themselves. If any concrete proofs were needed to show that not only exceptionally heroic spirits, but also masses of plain, uneducated people are capable, under certain circumstances, of being aggressive without resorting to violence, and that a system of passive resistance may be victorious, the passive fight of the untouchables must be reckoned as among the most persuasive. Of greater historic significance is also the fact that if the two million former untouchables of Travancore may now enter the temples and pray together with members of the higher castes, if they may use the public wells and highways, and send their children to the general schools, the outcome is due to an inner revolution, a spiritual renewal in India itself, rather than to the pressure of European “civilisers”. I remember that for years you were unwilling to use English dominion for reforming the inner life of India. You would not have been content with a reform that came from above or from outside. You waited for a welling up of fighting energy in the degraded masses themselves and for a growing sense of repentance among the higher castes. I rejoiced that you have lived to see the first green sprouting on the hard soil you ploughed and sowed. Without English intervention, without outside pressure, Travancore made its revolutionary beginning. I am sure that the example of Travancore will affect all of India, and that the natural rights of the sixty million untouchables will be restored within our generation.
A true democracy rests on the differences between its citizens, as individuals or as groups.
Every man, no matter how great or small, must be viewed not as a means to an end, but as an end in himself.