Tuesday, October 28, 2008

4. Reaction of the bi-nationalists

Until 1939, Zionists had used Bi-nationalist ideas to convince the British that a minority position for the Arabs would not be ruinous for their position in Palestine. After 1939 the Zionists did not advocate Bi-nationalism or parity any longer, as it did not help in making a Jewish majority more acceptable.

Some Jews in Palestine, however, favored Bi-nationalism not so much for pragmatic reasons, but because of moral principles. For different reasons, they were convinced that parity and Bi-nationalism were the only right way to organize the future independent Palestinian state. Many of them were more positive about the possibilities at the London Conference than the Zionists were. They wanted the Jewish delegation to negotiate with a positive attitude, ready to make concessions for the sake of an agreement. Most of them called for an agreement on the rate and timing of immigration, and all wanted to give the Arabs in Palestine equal political rights. Eventually the future state would join an Arab federation. They differed among themselves however, on what the rate of immigration should be and on what would happen at the end of that immigration period.[1] As these Bi-nationalists belonged to different parties, or to none at all, and as no Bi-nationalist society existed that might unite them, they were not able to present a common proposal to prepare the way for the Bi-national state they hoped for.

Senator, for example, a Bi-nationalist member of the Jewish Agency Executive, wanted to take away Arab fear of continued immigration by negotiating a fixed rate of immigration.[2] In a letter of 7 February 1939 to the Executive, he defended an immigration rate of 25,000 for each of the following ten or twelve years, political parity, an eventual Bi-national state and the participation of Palestine in a future Middle East Federation.[3]

Chaim Margalit Kalvarisky, writing to the Executive on 5 March suggested an increase of the Jewish population to 50% within ten years, after which independence would be given to Palestine.[4] As soon as an Arab Federation would be formed, Palestine would join it as an autonomous part.[5]

Judah Leib Magnes, the American-born president of Hebrew University and the foremost Bi-nationalist, wrote on 1 September 1938 that he thought in ten years time the Jews should make up 40% of the total population of Palestine:[6]
I am convinced […] that an agreement could be secured […] with the Arab Palestine leadership, looking to a Jewish population in Palestine of 40 percent of the total population by the end of ten years. In round numbers this would mean about 800,000 Jews and 1,200,000 Arabs. It would not be easy to achieve this, but [….] it is possible. What would happen at the end of ten years is, of course, a very important matter. If the idea of an Arab Federation could be supported by the Jews, the question of what would happen at the end of ten years would be easier of solution.[7]
Because these and other Bi-nationalists chose for Bi-nationalism principally, they did not change their opinion after the White Paper had seemed to make cooperation with the Arabs even harder. A Bi-national state with political parity remained the only solution they saw to the Palestine problem.

The danger of the war that was expected to overwhelm the world, made many Bi-nationalists optimistically believe that cooperation would be possible between Jews and Arabs against the common enemy of the Semitic race. Magnes hoped to be able to prove to the Arabs that
… the Nazi Nordic race theory is directed against the Arabs as well; and what is of much more importance, the Nazi religious paganism is directed against those religions and ethical ideas which Christianity and Islam have in common with Judaism. Therefore Jews and Arabs ought to have an equal interest in removing obstacles from the path of Great Britain at a time so critical for the world.[8]
The hope that the war would bring rapprochement and the general feeling that the Zionist leaders had completely failed in evolving an adequate policy towards the Arabs and had neglected to promote Arab-Jewish understanding, resulting in the Arab revolt and the anti-Zionist course of the Mandatory as expressed in the White Paper, were the immediate causes for the coming together, for the first time, of practically all the groups supporting Bi-nationalism.[9]

A group of people got together for bringing out a collection of articles and essays on the Jewish-Arab problem to stimulate debate in the Jewish community on the urgency of Jewish-Arab understanding.[10] This booklet was published in March 1939, in Hebrew, and was titled Al Parashat Darkenu (At the Parting of Our Ways).[11] Having a look at the editorial board and the different contributors and their articles gives good insight in the Bi-nationalist movement.

Rabbi Binyamin based his Bi-nationalism on Pan-Semitic ideas, believing in the fundamental unity of Jews and Arabs as one race. He was a member of the editorial board and contributed an article.[12] Kalvarisky contributed an article on his many important negotiations with Arabs and his many speeches on the subject. He was also one of the editors.[13] Robert Weltsch, who until 1938 edited the German-Zionist magazine J├╝dische Rundschau was in the editorial board too.[14] Martin Buber contributed an article.[15] He had written much on the Arab issue in the past, and urged immediate action against defeatism:
To be sure, the situation has become much more difficult; conditions of activity have greatly worsened. We shall certainly have to choose a path along which there will be no shining successes. But it will be the right way.[16]
Article upon article articulated that the Arab factor should not be neglected. Many articles contained strong criticism of the Zionist policy towards the Arabs and the attitude of the majority of the Jewish population.[17]

Shlomo Kaplansky defended Bi-nationalism on pragmatic grounds.[18] ‘Palestine cannot be exclusively Jewish. Agreement with Britain is not the only way. Even if we become a majority in Palestine, we shall always remain a drop in the Arab world.’[19] Persitz, of General Zionists B, concluded that
Jewish return to Palestine can only be approached from one standpoint – to achieve this goal without harming the Arabs. The Arabs claim that] in exchange for the economic prosperity which the Zionists bring, [they] are liable to lose [their] country. […] The first step is the creation of mutual trust. At first the Jews should agree to limit immigration to 45 percent of the population.[20]
Senator stressed that negotiating means to give and take. He wanted the negotiations not only to include Palestinians but also Arab leaders of neighboring states, as the problem of Palestine had to be solved within the wider Middle East context.[21]

Ernst Simon, also one of the editors of the book, demanded a permanent Arab-Jewish Advisory Council to study the basis of government in Palestine, regulations concerning land purchases and a guarantee from Britain that any political strike or violence would be equal to breaking the agreement.[22] He asked for defense of the Arab farmers and the organization of Arab labor, schools to spread knowledge and understanding, cooperation on a non-political plane, and the spread of these ideas by the press in Arabic. According to Simon,
Zionism must work towards gaining Arab sympathy to the creation of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Their agreement must be obtained for a Bi-national state to enter, under British protection, into a larger Arab confederation. The fear over the continued existence of the Jewish people must be overcome. Zionism must recognize the validity of Arab nationalism. […] The Jewish-Arab conflict is basically national-political and only secondly economic. The problem should be tackled on the National plane and not the class plane.[23]
Simon ended his article with three basic principles. First, the Jewish side is with the democracies, while power politics is the motto of the enemies. Secondly, the Zionists themselves are partly responsible for the Arab leaders’ movement. Thirdly, giving shelter to masses of Jewish refugees would only be possible with Jewish-Arab agreement.[24]

Yaakov Khazan, a leader of Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guard), did not want a Jewish state, and wanted the Zionists to declare that their aim was a Bi-national state based on parity. He asked for political cooperation with the Arabs in the Middle East on the basis of economic activity, to develop the Arab states and to deepen cultural and social cooperation. He was convinced that the British were against a Jewish-Arab understanding, in order to be forced to stay in Palestine.[25]

Yaakov Peterzeil, leader of the Poale Zion Smol (Left Workers of Zion) party was an editor of the book, while his co-leader in the party, Moshe Erem, contributed an article.[26] Erem saw the problems in terms of the Arab worker. ‘We have an historical alternative: either the Arab worker will be organized with us by us for us, or he will be organized against us by our enemies. There is no third possibility’.[27]

Of these writers of The Parting of Our Ways, Rabbi Binyamin, Kalvarisky, Weltsch, Buber, Senator and Simon had all been associated with Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace) since the 1920s.[28] Brit Shalom was a Bi-nationalist association aiming to ‘arrive at an understanding between Jews and Arabs as to the form of their mutual social relations in Palestine on the basis of absolute political equality of two culturally autonomous people.’[29]

Brit Shalom was founded in 1925, by those responsible for Zionist colonization from the earliest days.[30] At no time did their number of members pass 200.[31] These were mainly intellectuals from Jerusalem, many with a German liberal background. The liberal, intellectual climate of Brit Shalom was probably an important reason for the organization never to reach a very wide public.[32] In 1933 it disappeared because of a lack of funds and the gradual desertion of many of its members. Probably the pre-occupation with the fate of the Jews in Europe made some members put more trust in the official Zionist policy than in the ‘Zionist minimalism’, as Simha Flapan calls the attitude of some members of Brit Shalom who were prepared to remain a minority in Palestine.[33] Another reason might be that gradually Brit Shalom became more involved in concrete politics. Some members resisted this involvement as they wanted to remain a debating club. Others thought Brit Shalom was not enough involved in politics.[34] Those who agreed with the ideals of Brit Shalom in 1925 could easily disagree with the direction of the club in the early 1930s so many intellectuals left Brit Shalom.[35]

Kalvarisky as founder and Rabbi Benyamin as publicist were important in Kedma Mizraha (To the East), an association founded in 1936, shortly after the Arab revolt began. Many saw this group as a continuation of Brit Shalom. In their own words, it was ‘a non-party association whose aims are knowledge of the East and the creation of cultural, social, and economic ties with Oriental peoples, and the proper presentation of the Jewish people’s work in Palestine.’[36]

In order to avoid the troubles into which Brit Shalom fell, Kedma Mizraha refrained from formulating a detailed policy about reaching peace with the Arabs. This extreme vagueness as to its goals made that beside most former members of Brit Shalom, people from almost al parties became member. The proposals of the British Peel-Commission for the partitioning of Palestine, published in 1937, caused many Jews to loose interest in striving for understanding between Arabs and Jews as political goal, as now a Jewish state seemed possible, even without having reached agreement with the Arabs.[37] The same vagueness as to its goals that in 1936 could lead to growth could in the totally changed circumstances of 1938 result in the dissolution of the organization. Lack of funds was another reason.[38] In the end, Kedma Mizraha was nothing but the activities of Kalvarisky. As he was a Bi-nationalist, his organization became Bi-nationalist too, but little was heard of it anymore.[39]

Khazan was a member of Hashomer Hatzair, the only Bi-nationalist party at the end of the thirties. As a doctrinaire socialist party, Hashomer Hatzair esteemed the upbuilding of a socialist commonwealth in collaboration with the Arab workers as one of its primary aims. Therefore they rejected the ultimate aim of a Jewish state. Another aim was mass immigration of the Jews with the object of establishing a majority, but taking into consideration the fact that Palestine already had a large Arab population, the ultimate form of government was to be based on Bi-national structures with absolute parity as between Jews and Arabs.[40] In 1930, Meir Yaari, leader of Hashomer Hatzair had said that
…the final aim is the setting up of a Bi-national socialist society in Palestine and the neighbourhood. […] Why does one not speak of a Jewish State? Because Marxism sees in the state only a transitory stage. […] We want a national majority but we are in favour of complete equality between the two nations, which live in the country, in the future society.[41]
Hashomer Hatzair thought the London Conference to be nothing but an imperialist British attempt to further its own ends. An agreement with the Palestine Arab leaders would be impossible, because they were under fascist influence and acted in their own class interests. This lack of agreement ascertained colonialist Britain a prolonged stay in Palestine. After the publication of the White Paper the party did not adjust its views. It still foresaw an Arab-Jewish socialist society in a Bi-national state, through the organization of the Arab-Jewish masses, in opposition against their rulers.[42]

Hashomer Hatzair drew much of its support from the collective villages which were represented in Hakibbutz Haartzi (National Kibbutz), founded by Hashomer Hatzair in 1927, with a membership of about 4,500.[43] A smaller part of its support came from its urban branch, the Socialist League, which had about 1,000 members.[44]

Peterzeil and Erem were both leaders of the Poale Zion Smol party. This party was only a little smaller but much less influential than Hashomer Hatzair, due to its extreme Marxist viewpoints. Their support came mainly from the urban proletariat.[45] In fact they were not Bi-nationalists, as for them nationality hardly meant anything. Their unmodified socialism did not allow for Zionism. They wanted narrow-minded nationalism to be replaced by a broad Internationalism, uniting all proletarians in Palestine for the final class struggle. Therefore they aimed at creating a single labor organization for both peoples without any national, or Bi-national, features.[46]

Weltsch and Simon were both active in Aliyah Hadasha (New Aliyah, or New ‘Immigration’).[47] Although that party only came into existence in 1942 under this name, it was preceded long before by a more or less similar group, the Association of German and Austrian Immigrants. Most members were recently immigrated Germans.[48] Most of the leaders had been active in Brit Shalom in the 1920s. This party called for complete dedication to the British war effort, although they rejected the White Paper. Unrestricted immigration and settlement were among their aims, while they ultimately wanted a Jewish state in Palestine.[49] This liberal, social-democratic party made a particular appeal to writers, scholars and teachers, and received a considerable vote, especially from the large German-Jewish population of Palestine.[50]

Kaplansky belonged to MAPAI (Mifleget Poalei Eretz Israel, or Land of Israel Worker’s Party), the left-of-center labor party.[51] In the early 1930s there was much talk in MAPAI about Bi-nationalism and parity, as a result of the disturbances of 1929 and the following Passfield White Paper that urged the restriction of immigration and of land sales to Jews.[52] According to Susan Lee Hattis, during the early 1930s MAPAI ‘undoubtedly advocated a Bi-national state’ in Palestine.[53] Aharon Cohen only speaks of a ‘trend towards the idea’ of Bi-national parity.[54] Although some addresses were indeed delivered in Bi-nationalist fashion, this was never fully worked out in a political program.[55] In 1939 MAPAI, the largest party in Palestine, had totally renounced any Bi-nationalist idea. According to Kaplansky, ‘the Hitler catastrophe, the disturbances of 1936-1939, the Peel-commission and the partition plan, the growth of pro-Nazi ideas among the Arab leaders: All these put an end to the crystallization of positive and constructive Zionist thinking.’[56] Aharon Cohen, himself at that time a member of Hashomer Hatzair, criticizes MAPAI for its subordination of foreign policy to internal party politics:[57]
At that time, the influence of the Revisionists was increasing, their nationalistic propaganda was spreading in Palestine and the Diaspora, and the Zionist labor movement was not strong enough to swim against the stream in defense of the basic common values to all its components.[58]
Finally, Persitz belonged to General Zionists B, a conservative union, championing private enterprise. Any Zionist not already owing allegiance to a particular party automatically became a General Zionist. In Palestine this group was divided in A’s and B’s, the latter being more conservative.[59]

The publishing of At the Parting of Our Ways brought together leaders from Hashomer Hatzair, Poale Zion Smol, members from Aliyah Hadasha and ex-Brit Shalom and Kedma Mizraha members, besides individuals from MAPAI and General Zionists B. The only meeting point of many of these people was their common belief in the concept of Bi-nationalism. All Bi-nationalist societies and parties were represented.[60]

[1] Haim, Abandonment, pp. 145-6.
[2] Ibid., pp. 137-8.
[3] Ibid., p. 152 note 102.
[4] Kalvarisky (1868-1948) had come to Palestine in 1895, aiding the agricultural settlement of Lord Rothschild. He was one of the first Zionists to establish close links with Arabs. He founded Brit Shalom in 1925, and Kedma Mizraha in 1936, and he was President of the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation since 1939.
[5] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, pp. 1173-4; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 227.
[5] Magnes (1877-1948) was an ordained American reform rabbi. He had been of great importance in organizing the Jewish community in New York until he emigrated to Palestine in 1922. From 1925 he was President of Hebrew University.
[6] Letter of Magnes to Benjamin V. Cohen, written 1 September 1938 and published in Arthur A. Goren, Dissenter in Zion: From the Writings of Judah L. Magnes (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 353-6.
[7] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 211.
[8] Ibid., p. 212; Hurewitz, Struggle from Palestine, p. 160.
[9] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 212; Paul R. Mendes-Flohr (ed.), A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs (New York, 1983), p. 134.
[10] Al Parashat Darkenu, A Collection on the Problems of Zionist Policy and Jewish-Arab Cooperation (Jerusalem 1939).
[11] Rabbi Binyamin (1880-1958) was the pen-name of Yehoshua Redler-Feldman, who wrote a great deal on the subject of Jewish-Arab relations. He had been in Palestine since the first decade of the century.
[12] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 215; Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1160.
[13] Robert Weltsch (1891- ?) had been a long time advocate of Arab Jewish cooperation.
[14] Martin Buber (1879-1965), famous for his studies and publications in Hassidism, stressed the concept of the relationship between Israel and the gentiles as some of the Biblical prophets had done. The Jewish nation had a moral mission, and to fulfill this task, Judaism had to be transformed. A society of socialist communities would be the basis for this renewal. Since 1938 he was a teacher at Hebrew University.
[15] Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, pp. 135-6.
[16] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, pp. 215-6.
[17] Kaplansky (1884-1950) was an engineer, and had been the Principal of the Technion in Haifa since 1932. In 1912 he had immigrated to Palestine. Though member of MAPAI, he held Bi-nationalist ideas.
[18] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 216.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid., pp. 216-7.
[21] Ernst Simon (1899-?) was a philosopher, educator and writer. He was deeply influenced by Buber’s teaching. In 1935 he became professor of the philosophy of education.
[22] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 218.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid., pp. 218-9.
[25] Peterzeil (1889-1954) was the foremost leader of Poale Zion Smol, a Marxist labor party
[26] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 219.
[27] Goren, Dissenter, pp. 533, 538-9; Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, pp. 73, 76; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 46.
[28] Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 74.
[29] Simha Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians (London 1979) p. 163.
[30] Hattis, Bi-National Idea, p. 38; Flapan, Zionism, p. 163 note 2.
[31] Esco, Palestine Vol. I, pp. 578-9; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 298.
[32] Flapan, Zionism, p. 183; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 57. Flapan was to become a well known Israeli writer and peace activist who was the National Secretary of Israel's MAPAM, and the director of its Arab Affairs department.
[33] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 298.
[34] 18 March 1936 Arthur Ruppin wrote to Robert Weltsch, saying he disagreed with the fact that Brit Shalom published suggestions for an understanding with the Arabs, as the Jews were in Ruppin’s opinion not ready for it yet. This letter is published in Bein, Alex (ed.), Arthur Ruppin: Memoirs, Diaries, Letters (London, 1971) pp. 276-7. Magnes reacted to this letter, writing to Ruppin on 18 April 1936 that ‘Brit Shalom remained a discussion circle and therefore was condemned to die’ This letter is published in Goren, Dissenter, pp. 312-4.
[35] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 57.
[36] Esco, Palestine Vol. I, p. 583.
[37] For the relevant parts of the findings of this Peel Commission, see ‘From the Report of the Palestine Royal Commission (Peel Commission, 1937)’ in Laqueur, Reader, pp. 62-63.
[38] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 298.
[39] Ibid., pp. 298-300.
[40] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, pp. 138-144.
[41] Esco, Palestine Vol. I, pp. 575-6; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 45.
[42] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 72.
[43] Haim, Abandonment, pp. 137, 146.
[44] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 45.
[45] Ibid.; Esco, Palestine Vol. I, p. 576 note 89.
[46] Esco, Palestine Vol. I, p. 577.
[47] Buber, M., J.L. Magnes, E. Simon (eds.), Towards Union in Palestine. Essays on Zionism and Jewish-Arab Cooperation (Jerusalem, 1947), p. 123; Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1105 note 32
[48] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1105; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 215; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 300 note; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 159.
[49] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 159.
[50] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1105.
[51] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 75 note 94.
[52] Ibid., pp. 94-5. Hattis writes that Ben Gurion, leader of MAPAI, was extremely disappointed with the way the British authorities handled the disturbances and feared that the British would desert the Jews and their National Home. He hoped to appease al communities with the idea of parity, as the Jews were not strong enough yet to withstand the Arabs. See also Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 259-60; Laqueur, Reader, p. 50.
[53] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 97.
[54] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 259-60.
[55] Ibid., p. 261.
[56] Ibid., p. 262.
[57] At the time Aharon Cohen was preparing his book Israel and the Arab World for publication in Hebrew, in 1958, he was arrested on a charge of giving information to a foreign agent. What actually happened was that he came in touch wit the Russian Scientific Mission in Jerusalem, to obtain a copy of a Russian magazine which was not available in Israel. As he used to do in public to anyone who asked about it, he shared his private opinions about Israel’s Middle East policy. Martin Buber spoke in Cohen’s defense but could not withhold the judge from sending Cohen to jail. He served two years. Cohen himself believed he had been arrested in order to stop the publication of his book, as everyone knew it would be very critical of the official point of view, as personified by Prime Minister Ben Gurion. Ernst A. Simon, ‘Buber or Ben-Gurion’, in New Outlook Vol. 9 No. 2 (Tel Aviv, 1966) pp. 13-4; Aubrey Hodes, Martin Buber: An Intimate Portrait (New York, 1971), pp. 62-6.
[58] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 261-2.
[59] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, pp. 46-7.
[60] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 212.

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