Tuesday, October 28, 2008

10. Towards a Jewish State

While until 1939 the immediate goal of the Zionists was population growth, Jewish economic independence and Jewish self-defense, after 1939 the immediate goal became a sovereign Jewish state.[1] Of course this Jewish state had been the ultimate aim from the beginning of the Zionist movement, but only during the Second World War did the Zionists abandon any vagueness as to their goals.[2]

Berl Katznelson of MAPAI, and editor of the largest Palestinian Hebrew newspaper, who in the thirties was one of the strongest defenders of Bi-nationalism in his party, wrote in September 1941 that
…if we discouraged the demands for immediate Jewish statehood in the past, it was only because we felt that our achievements to date did not yet justify it. We feared that a premature demand for statehood might cause great harm.[3]
Why did the Zionists not consider the demand for statehood premature and unjustified anymore during the Second World War? The White Paper and its implementation were a very important factor in this formulation of a new political program. The British resistance against immigration and land transfers caused the Jews to realize that they now had extracted maximum from the existing mandate. In order to enlarge the population and land possessions a larger degree of sovereignty was needed.[4]

This larger degree of sovereignty was very important in order that Palestine could be a ‘home for the homeless.’ Many non-Zionist Jews began to appreciate the need for a refuge for the millions of Jews living in Europe, and adopted the new Zionist policy of demanding the maximum, a Jewish state.[5] Although since 1933 the bad situation for the Jews under the Nazis was evident to everyone, it was not known before 1942 that the real extent of their plight would become known.[6]

The peace conference after the first Great War had meant a landmark for the Zionist movement. It was then that the Balfour Declaration was being incorporated into the future policy of the Mandatory of Palestine. The Zionists also hoped the peace conference after the Second World War would be a landmark to Zionism. They thought the best preparation for such a conference would be to redefine their goals unequivocally and to bring these claims to the attention of the Allies.[7]

This new policy, then, was the result of the transfer of the decisive are of concern from Palestine and Jewish-Arab relations to the problems of European Jewry and the international situation.[8] The fact that the Jewish community in Palestine had by then more than 500,000 members was of great psychological importance in propagating the idea that they in fact formed the nucleus of a Jewish state.[9]

Already on 17 December 1939, in a talk with Churchill, Weizmann, always the champion of gradualism and cooperation with the Mandatory, said they wanted to build up a state of three or four million Jews in Palestine, after the war.[10] Churchill’s full agreement with that goal must have given the Zionist leaders encouragement to continue with this policy.[11] Weizmann declared on 29 March 1941, in Chicago, that after the war a Jewish Commonwealth should be set up beside an Arab Federation, while in January 1942 he published an article in Foreign Affairs, stating the goal of the Jews to be establishing a state of their own with a Jewish majority.[12] In that state, Arabs would have full autonomy in their own internal affairs.[13] Weizmann was obviously still more eager to accommodate the Aran than most other Zionist leaders cared to do.

The policy of the Jewish National Fund was centered on the aim of creating a Jewish state. In February 1941 the legal adviser of the Jewish Agency could tell a group of Canadian Zionists that during the first year of the war eight new settlements were set up in places on outskirts of the country, ‘in order to secure, when the day comes, that the whole of Palestine will be Jewish, and not only a part of it.’[14]

In the weekly Zionist Review, articles appeared calling for a Jewish state. The leading article in the issue of 11 October 1940, was titled A State in the Making, while in the same issue, Selig Brodetsky, member of the Jewish Agency Executive, expressed the need to prepare a policy that would lead to a Jewish state.[15] In December in the same weekly it could be read that
…a Palestine must be restored to us which can accommodate all the millions of Jews who are fired with an unquenchable thirst for a free life in a free land. What of the few hundred thousand Arabs how live in Palestine outside the vast under-populated spaces of free Arab States? We cannot say, nor can we be expected to give the answer, for the problem concerns not us alone…In the context of a great world problem, the artificially magnified Arab problem would be seen to be trivial.[16]
Katznelson wrote in September 1941 that though a Jewish state was not of primary importance, it was the only way of being ascertained of free immigration and land purchase, which were of primary importance.[17] Therefore statehood was absolutely necessary.[18] Concerning the Arabs, he wrote:
We should say to the Arab peoples: We are ready to aid your efforts towards unity and independence if you will cease troubling us and if you recognize Palestine as a Jewish state. On such basis it is possible to achieve mutual understanding and cooperation. I do not wish to imply that such a stand would meet with immediate sympathy among the Arabs. They might reject such a proposal many times, but in the end they might accept it.[19]
Of great importance was the decision of the Zionist Organization of America, which had unanimously resolved on 7 September 1941, to demand ‘the reconstruction of Palestine within its historic boundaries as a Jewish commonwealth.’[20]

Because circumstances had dramatically changed after the issue of the White Paper and the beginning of the war, the Inner General Council and the Jewish Agency had since the end of 1939 discussed the future policy that had to be followed. A committee was appointed at the end of 1941, shortly after Lord Moyne had told Weizmann that the proposal for a Jewish Fighting Force under a Jewish Flag had bee rejected. This Committee had to draw up a new statement of aims for adoption by the Inner General Council, the quasi Government of Jewish Palestine.[21] Although the Inner General Council was composed of representatives of the several parties who were present at the 1939 Zionist Congress, and therefore kept alive the democratic process, the newly established committee submitting their proposals to the Inner General Council in Jerusalem.[22]

According to Hurewitz this happened because the future of the Jewish community and the national home had, because of the war, become more dependent of the Jews in America than ever before, the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in the world.[23] It should, however, be kept in mind that a few months earlier the American Zionist Organization had made clear they supported the striving for a Jewish state. The members of the committee who had to submit their proposals to the Inner General Council knew whom they were asking to endorse their proposals. By asking the support of American Zionism for a Jewish state they hoped to take away as much as possible the resistance that existed in the Inner General Council against the new policy that was to be proposed. Resistance could surely be expected, especially from those who after 1939 had stuck to the aim of a Bi-national Palestine, with a constitution based on parity.

At Ben Gurion’s initiative, the American Emergency Committee called together an Extraordinary Zionist Conference in May 1942, in Hotel Biltmore in New York. All shades of Zionist opinion were represented by the six hundred delegates. Both Weizmann and Ben Gurion were present. Weizmann, always the proponent of gradualism and patient negotiating with Britain, was not able to withhold the conference from voting unanimously for the drastic reversal of Palestine policy that Ben Gurion had proposed.[24]

In one of the speeches Ben Gurion emphasized two points on Arab-Jewish relations. First, he strongly denied the rumor that Zionist policy contemplated a forcible transfer of Palestine Arabs to other lands. Such a transfer would be unjust and not necessary, because in his opinion mass immigration and colonization on the largest possible scale could be effected without displacing the Arab population of Palestine. Secondly, Ben Gurion emphasized the fact that a mass immigration program could not be achieved with Arab consent, as the Arab nationalists would never agree to Jewish immigrations as a priority, but only acquiesce in it when it becomes and established face. He spoke of an unbridgeable gulf between those who believed that Jewish immigration into Palestine was an inalienable right which did not need Arab consent, and those who thought that Arab opposition and prejudices should be taken into account. With this last group Ben Gurion clearly had the Bi-nationalism in mind, for he attacked the ideas of parity and Bi-nationalism. Without a Mandatory, a state with a government based on parity would be in a permanent deadlock. Beside that, there were no Arabs willing to agree with the principle of parity.[25] This attack on Bi-nationalists ideas was the result of a report Ben Gurion had received from Palestine, which had been sent to some two hundred Jewish personalities in the United States, proposing to set up a federal, Bi-national Palestinian state.[26]

Although of course differences of opinion existed, there was consensus on fundamental objectives. All compromise plans such as partition, Bi-nationalism, or the keeping of the Mandatory status quo, were abandoned. This resolve was certainly strengthened by the fate of the S.S. Struma, that sunk three months before, and the refusal of Britain to allow the Jews to form a Jewish Fighting Force, bearing its own flag. Not to be underestimated is the impact of the news that gradually came in about the mortal plight of the Jews in Europe, although the real extent of the Holocaust was still a ‘terrible secret’ to them. They still had the illusion Palestine should be a home for millions of refugees after the war.[27] On 11 May 1942 the so-called Biltmore Program was adopted by the Extraordinary Zionist Conference. After starting with expressing readiness for full cooperation with the Arab neighbors, the Program called for
…the fulfillment of the original purpose of…the Mandate to afford [the Jews] the opportunity to found [in Palestine] a Jewish Commonwealth. The Conference affirms its unalterable rejection of the White Paper of May 1939 and denies its moral or legal validity… The policy of the White Paper is cruel and indefensible in its denial of sanctuary to the Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution; and at a time when Palestine has become a focal point in the war front of the United Nations, and Palestine Jewry must provide all available manpower for farm and factory and camp, it is in direct conflict with the interests of the allied war effort.[…] Recognition must be given to the right of the Jews of Palestine to play their full part in the war effort and in the defense of their own country, through a Jewish military force fighting under its own flag and under the command of the United Nations. […] The Conference urges that the gates of Palestine be opened; that the Jewish Agency be vested with control of immigration into Palestine and with the necessary authority for up-building the country, including the development of its unoccupied and uncultivated lands; and that Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth integrated in the structure of the new democratic world.[28]
[1] Haim, Abandonment of Illusions, p. 50.
[2] Arthur Herzberg, ‘Ideological Evolution’, in Zionism (Jerusalem, 1973), p. 50.
[3] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 157.
[4] Kirk, Survey, p. 13; Katzburg, ‘The British and Zionist Perspectives 1939-1945’, in Almog (ed.), Zionism and the Arabs, p. 197.
[5] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1079.
[6] Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (London, 1980), p. 159.
[7] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1021; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 156.
[8] Israel Kolatt, ‘The Zionist Movement and the Arabs’, in Studies in Zionism No. 5 (Tel Aviv, 1982), p. 151.
[9] Kirk, Survey, p. 250.
[10] Weizmann, Trial and Error, pp. 418-9; Taylor, Prelude to Israel, p. 54.
[11] Taylor, Prelude to Israel, p. 54.
[12] Ibid., p. 56; Kirk, Survey, p. 242.
[13] Kirk, Survey, p. 244; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 157.
[14] Kirk, Survey, p. 233.
[15] Ibid., p. 242.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid., p. 243 note 1. Kirk wrongly writes that Katznelson wrote this on 14 November 1941. This mistake is easily explained as the second footnote also mentions the date of 14 November 1941.
[18] Ibid., p. 243.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid., p. 243 note 2.
[21] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 158.
[22] Ibid., pp. 157-8.
[23] Ibid., p. 158.
[24] Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel, p. 258. Whereas Weizmann had always been the typical elitary gradualist, Ben Gurion was the labor populist. The differences between these two are further described in Michael Cohen, Palestine: Retreat, pp. 130-5, and Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians, pp. 281-6.
[25] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, pp. 1081-3.
[26] The so-called Bentov Report which will be discussed below.
[27] Laqueur, Terrible Secret, pp. 157-8.
[28] This Biltmore Program is published in Laqueur, Reader, pp. 77-9; Sophie A. Udin (ed.), The Palestine Year Book: Review of Events July 1945 to September 25, 1946 Vol. II (New York, 1946), pp. 424-5.

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