Tuesday, October 28, 2008

14. Founding of Ichud

Parallel to the forming of the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation, Judah L. Magnes asked in 1939 a few of his like-minded friends to form a religious society. Buber, Kohn, Bergman, Simon, and Weltsch were amongst its members. The name of this group was Ha’ol (the Yoke), as they felt the yoke of God to live according to the message of Judaism to be on their shoulders.[1]

This group aimed at religious socialism, guided by the principles to endeavor to live in accordance with the ‘God within’ each and that ‘the absolute ethical or metaphysical values must be the real forces determining and directing life.’ They stressed the high calling of the Jews to live according to Judaism and to serve the world with the social ideas of justice and righteousness of the Hebrew prophets.[2] Magnes wrote: ‘We believe in a life of faith which carries a commitment to social action and practical political work, and we reject any attempt to separate the two dominions, which are one in theory and practice.’[3]

This Bi-nationalist group did not survive its foundation very long, and in fact only its monthly Be’ayot Hayom (Problems of the Day), lived on, appearing between August 1940 and November 1942. Weltsch was its editor, struggling with financial and organizational problems beside the troubles with the British censor. In October 1941 Weltsch left the periodical, disillusioned with the troubles and because there was not the large public for their old liberal humanistic message as he was used to address in Germany, before the Jewish Community was destroyed.[4] Although Ha’ol as a group did not succeed to survive, the members individually did not forget their yoke and came together as a group again in extended form in 1942, under the new name of Ichud (Union) and publishing the same periodicals, but since November 1942 being called Be’ayot (Problems).[5]

After Hashomer Hatzair, the Socialist League and Poale Zion Smol became members of the League as parties in June 1942, Magnes took the initiative to organize the independent members of the League in a distinct group. Therefore a committee was set up, whose membership included Buber, Kalvarisky, Smilansky, Magmes, and Henrietta Szold, director of the Medical Organization of Hadassah (Myrtle Tree), the American Women Zionist Organization of which she was the founder.[6] Ernst Simon and Gavriel Stern also cooperated in establishing this community. The first meeting of the Ichud Association took place on 11 August 1942, with about a hundred participants. Its members, though relatively few in numbers, represented a prestige group, because of social standing and intellectual achievement, expressing an ‘upper middle class liberalist approach’. Magnes was elected as President.[7]

At the first meeting of 11 August, Magnes repeated the same message as he expounded in Ha’ol, of the merging in Judaism of the political and the religious. The political problem for the Jews in Palestine was they had to create either ‘a public life based on justice and mercy’ or that they should, ‘like all the nations, obtain their aims and by any and all means.’[8] He stated amongst other matters some reasons for opposing the setting up of a Jewish state. The warfare that would surely follow might destroy the Jewish community in Palestine, and would certainly breed hatred for generations. It would be the ‘way of the nations,’ not of Judaism, and could only lead to a pagan state, not to a Jewish state. Magnes did not want to create another center of strife for the New World after the war.[9]

Both the Arab and the Jewish press dealt extensively with Ichud. There was much feeling that this new group was anti-Zionist. In Jewish public bodies Ichud’s aims were being discussed.[10] All slander and half-truths about Ichud caused it to publish a Declaration on 3 September 1942, to refute all misconceptions. This Declaration stated the same Bi-nationalist ideas as were being expressed in the Bentov Report, the Jewish Agency Committee Report and in the League’s Program:
(1) The Association “Union” adheres to-
(a) the Zionist Movement in so far as this seeks the establishment of the Jewish National Home for the Jewish people in Palestine;
(b) The struggle throughout the world for a new order in international relations, and a union of the peoples, large and small, for a life of freedom and justice, without fear, oppression, and want.
(2) The Association “Union” therefore regards a union between the Jewish and Arab peoples as essential for the up-building of Palestine and for meeting its basic problems. The Association “Union” will strive for cooperation between a Jewish world and the Arab world in all branches of life – social, economic, cultural, political – this making for the revival of the whole Semitic world.
(3) The main political aims of the Association “Union” are as follows:
(a) Government in Palestine based upon equal political rights for the two peoples.
(b) The agreement of the steadily growing Jewish Community in Palestine and of the whole Jewish people to a federative union of Palestine and neighboring countries. This federative union is to guarantee the national rights of all peoples within it.
(c) A covenant between this federative union and an Anglo-American union, which is to be a part of the future union of the free peoples. This union of the free peoples is to bear the ultimate responsibility for the establishment and stability of international relations in the new world after the war.
The Association “Union” is to cooperate with the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement, containing, as it does, representatives of organizations with varying points of view. It is also prepared to cooperate with other organizations and groups in specific pieces of work.[11]
The reason why Ichud was established was not, as some of Magnes’ adversaries claimed, that he might have an organization in the name of which he might speak.[12] This he could have done easily as a member of the League. Its founder probably hoped to strengthen the position of the many individual members of the League, who, after Hahomer Hatzair, the Socialist League and Poale Zion Smol became members as parties, were in danger of losing any influence in the League.[13] A related reason was exposed by Hirsch who said that ‘we were fed up with being called in the League “the intellectuals”, so we decided to belong to the League as a block.’[14]

Due to the general circumstances in the world and the direction that Zionist policy was taking, Magnes and his associates evidently wanted to establish a Bi-nationalist association that would be more effective than the League. At that moment opposing the idea of founding a Jewish state, as expressed in the Biltmore Program, seemed more necessary than every before. The experience of the League, as expressed by Stern, one of Ichud’s founders, was ‘of much running around and little activity.’[15]

In fact, Hashomer Hatzair, the most important member of the League, saw Ichud as a rival to the League. They feared it would fragmentize the movement for Jewish-Arab cooperation.[16] This fragmentizing was indeed a danger, as Ichud would cooperate with the League, as it was prepared to cooperate with other groups and organizations in specific pieces of work.[17] Like the League Ichud wanted to be a platform for like-minded people and groups, and in spite of the fact that no groups became members if Ichud, it had much in common with the League:
It is not a political party. It is a group of individuals belonging to different parties and of independents belonging to no party. Though members of Ichud may have varying views on details, they are united in the firm conviction that there is but one way of meeting the Palestine problem – that of Jewish-Arab cooperation.[18]
It would be wrong, however, to see Ichud as duplication. Its intellectualist leadership was especially interested in influencing public opinion, while the League had many other aims and activities.[19] More important, however, the future society as was being envisaged by Ichud differed markedly from the League’s visions of that society, which were strongly dictated by Hashomer Hatzair. Especially the willingness of Ichud to negotiate with the Mufti and other representatives of the feudal Arab leaders was rejected by Hashomer Hatzair, as it believed close cooperation of the working classes of both nationalities offered most hope of reaching an agreement.[20] Whereas Hashomer Hatzair held maximalist Zionist convictions as regards immigration and land settlement, Ichud was prepared to accept a situation of permanent numerical parity.[21] For most members of the League the Bi-nationalism Palestine should be a ‘home for the homeless’, but Ichud’s Zionism aimed at the creation of an ethical Jewish society, as an example to the other nations. It viewed the Arab question as the touchstone of the moral integrity of Zionism. Returning to Zion was a spiritual renewal, building the just society, in obedience to the yoke of God resting on their shoulders.[22]

Whereas the Zionist leaders did not like the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation, they disliked Ichud even more and vehemently attacked it, although Ichud was but a small group without a large popular following in Palestine.[23] First, Ichud was vague concerning matters of immigration.[24] Secondly, and more important, was the Zionist leaders’ fear that Magnes and Szold, both enjoying a substantial backing in the United States, might influence the American Jews against the ideas being expressed in the Biltmore Program. The New York Times usually featured Magnes’ political statements, as he was a leader of American Liberal Jewry. Szold exerted much influence on Hadassah, the American Women Zionist Organization, which she had founded and presided. This Organization was the second largest Zionist body in the United States with close to 90,000 members.[25]

The Executive of the Inner General Council met on 9 September 1942, to discuss Ichud. Some right-winged members wanted to exclude Ichud adherents from the Zionist Organization, because Ichud’s position on immigration was not clear.[26] Hirsch, Senator, Yaari, and Kaplansky defended Ichud in the discussions. It was decided to invite the leaders of Ichud to a joint meeting with representatives of the Executives of the Inner General Council and the Jewish Agency. Magnes, Hirsch, Buber, Szold, Smilansky, and Kalvarisky were present at that meeting. Magnes assured those present that no one in Ichud wanted the Jews to remain a minority in Palestine, and he defended the right to have contacts with Arabs to search for a way to an agreement.[27]

Shertok expressed his fear that a group like Ichud would justify the Arabs and the British in taking a less serious view of the demands of the Zionist Organization for a Jewish state. In his opinion the Ichud Program was ‘an anti-Zionist document.’ According to him ‘the impression has been created amongst the Arabs and the British that a group of substance has been formed…who are willing to make fargoing concessions, first of all in the sphere of immigration, and this is harmful.’[28]

Shertok therefore asked Ichud to explain its view of immigration, the main point of criticism of their program. Ichud published an addition to its original program as an answer to this request on 5 October 1942:
(1) Immigration. In the Ichud Declaration it was stated that the Association Ichud adheres to the Zionist movement in so far as this seeks the establishment of the Jewish National Home for the Jewish People in Palestine, and also, that Ichud stands for a continuation of immigration and is opposed to fixation of the Jewish Community in Palestine as a permanent minority. Ichud’s aim is the creation of a political and economic situation enabling the absorption of the greatest number of Jewish immigrants in Palestine, and this in complete cooperation with the Arabs – economic, social, cultural, and political. Ichud is of the opinion that a political program based upon equal political rights for the two peoples of Palestine and the inclusion of Palestine in a Federal Union with neighboring countries guaranteeing the basic right and essential interests of all factors, is the effective and most helpful way of securing an enlarged immigration. From this point of view Ichud as an Association is to join the League for Jewish Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation on the basis of the principles agreed upon by the League.
(2) Zionist Discipline. The recognized National Institutions alone have the right to enter upon binding political negotiations with extraneous factors. On the other hand, Ichud declares that every citizen and every Zionist group has the right of entering into direct contact with Jews an non-Jews for the purpose of clarifying the situation and of exchanging views as to possibilities and of preparing the ground for proposals and plans, which are then to be brought before the recognized Institutions.[29]
Ichud had decided now to join the League; Beside the formal reason that they agreed to the aims of the League, which they already did before, they may have decided to take this step in order to show the Zionist leaders that Ichud was not the extreme anti-Zionist group they thought it was. The danger of fragmentation of the Bi-nationalist movement had been averted, while Ichud had even strengthened the movement by joining the League. In October 1942 the Bi-nationalist movement had reached the highest measure of organizational unity it has ever had. On the other hand, the Zionist opposition against Bi-nationalism was also better organized than at any time before.

[1] Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 112.
[2] Ibid., pp. 111-2; Goren, Dissenter in Zion, pp. 50-1.
[3] Goren, Dissenter in Zion, p. 50.
[4] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, pp. 264-5.
[5] Ibid., p. 264; Be’ayot had a print run of 500, according to Magnes before the Anglo-American Inquiry Committee in 1946. Arab-Jewish Unity: Testimony before the Anglo-American Inquiry Commssion for the Ihud (Union) Association by Judah Magnes and Martin Buber (London, 1947) p. 65.
[6] Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 148; Goren, Dissenter in Zion, p. 541.
[7] Ichud, meaning ‘union’, had a few hundred members in 1946, according to the testimony of Magnes before the Anglo-American Inquiry Committee in 1946. Arab-Jewish Unity, p. 65; Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 148; Goren, Dissenter in Zion, p. 370; Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1015.
[8] Goren, Dissenter in Zion, p. 51.
[9] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 259.
[10] Ibid., pp. 261-2.
[11] Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 149; Arab-Jewish Unity, p. 40.
[12] According to Golomb, a Zionist, Magnes decided to found Ichud after Awni abd el-Hadi, an Arab leader with whom Magnes had much contact for finding common ground, asked Magnes in whose name he was speaking. Hattis, Bi-national Idea, pp. 262-3.
[13] Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 148.
[14] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 258.
[15] Ibid., p. 259.
[16] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1101. Maybe this is the reason why Aharon Cohen does not spend more than 7 lines in his voluminous book on Ichud.
[17] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 307, and Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 163, contradict each other. Probably this is due to the fact that Ichud did not join the League immediately after its foundation.
[18] Arab-Jewish Unity, p. 10.
[19] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1100.
[20] Ibid., p. 1102.
[21] Kolatt, ‘The Zionist Movement and the Arabs’, in Studies in Zionism 5 (1982), p. 153.
[22] Ibid.; Goren, Dissenter in Zion, p. 38.
[23] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 163.
[24] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, pp. 1101-2.
[25] Goren, Dissenter in Zion, p. 54; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 163.
[26] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 163.
[27] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 268.
[28] Ibid., pp. 269-70.
[29] Ibid.

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