Tuesday, October 28, 2008

15. Bi-nationalism ostracized from Zionist organization

After the Biltmore Conference adopted its Program, Ben Gurion went on with his campaign in the United States, for each participating organization in the American Emergency Committee still had to accept the Biltmore Program. In October 1942 the Zionist Organization of America held its annual convention. During this convention the ideas of Bi-nationalism, regional Federalism and partition were rejected as halfway measures and half-hearted efforts, as these ideas all meant the restriction of immigration and Jewish development. The stiff rejection of Bi-nationalism, in spite of the opposition of a few Hadassah leaders who kept supporting Henrietta Szold, was a result of the formation of Ichud, just a month before the convention. The Bentov Report had also played its role.[1] At a joint session with Hadassah, on 17 October, the American Zionist Organizations adopted the Biltmore Program, stating that
…any program which denies the fundamental principles, such as advanced by the Ichud or any other group, is unacceptable to the Zionist Organization of American and Hadassah.[2]
After his return from the United States in October Ben Gurion held a countrywide campaign for the acceptance of the Biltmore Program, emphasizing that maximalist demands would be the best guarantee that after the war the Council of Nations would give in to the maximum of their demands.[3] In America Ben Gurion had told the Zionists that the Palestinian Jews desired the Biltmore Program. In Palestine, however, he told the Jews that the American Zionists wanted it, so in Palestine they should be wise to accept the Program.[4] During this campaign Ben Gurion attacked the Bentov Report violently, hoping to discredit as a supposed solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict the working out of the Bi-national idea. He attacked anyone who favored a Jewish-Arab accord.[5] His single-minded determination succeeded to win over a large majority for his maximalist proposals.[6] In a speech the Inner General Council on October 5, Ben Gurion said:
I was one of those who strongly advocated parity between Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate. But I doubt whether a regime of parity without a mandatory is practicable, or whether a self-governing state can operate at all under such a system, which may mean a permanent deadlock. So far not a single Arab leader has been found to agree to the principle of parity, with or without the Mandate. But assuming that not only Jews but Arabs also will agree to it, it does not in the remotest way solve the only problem that really matters: that of Jewish immigration. The example of Switzerland, where the difficulty between several nationalities was satisfactorily resolved, in not applicable to Palestine, because the crucial problem and the root of all friction between Jews and Arabs is not so much the problem of the Jews and Arabs who are in Palestine, but almost exclusively the problem of further Jewish immigration.[7]
Ben Gurion also rejected the idea of Bi-nationalism on the ground that there is only agreement about parity ‘between Yaari and Magnes’, but not with Arabs.[8] In another meeting of the Inner General Council, on 15 October, Khazan replied to that argument, saying that those who wanted to set up a Jewish state had not found Arabs who agreed with that idea either.[9] He and Yaari then offered a counter proposal in opposition to the Biltmore Program, demanding a Bi-national independent Palestine after the war, with international supervision in order to assure Jewish immigration in accordance with the full absorptive capacity of the country.[10]

The representative of Poale Zion Smol also submitted an alternative proposal on behalf of his party, stressing its hope that Palestine would become a socialist workers and farmers territorial unit, composed of Jews and Arabs who should not dominate each other. Like in the proposal of Hashomer Hatzair, the right for Jews to immigrate and to settle in Palestine was demanded, based on mutual understanding and cooperation between the two peoples of Palestine.[11] Kaplansky of MAPAI also expressed his opinion that accepting the Biltmore Program would be neither just nor wise:
Naturally even if we demand the whole thing for ourselves, the Arab demand for the whole thing will appear no less moral and right…I do not believe, that is I do not see the international forces which after this war will be willing to use force, military force, to enter a long war with the whole Arab East with all its countries because of the setting up of a Jewish government here in the country.[12]
The conflict came to a climax in the meeting of November 10, 1942, of the Zionist Inner General Council. It was the last opportunity for the Bi-nationalists to fight their cause within the Zionist Organization. Reacting to Sali Hirsch of Aliyah Hadasha, who asked for a Bi-national Palestine under a third force, which had to assure the functioning of the constitution. Ben Gurion attacked Bi-nationalism, Hashomer Hatzair and the Bentov Report. Because the Jewish Agency Committee Report was not being delivered to the Inner General Council for discussions, Ben Gurion did not mention it. About Bi-nationalism he said that
…there is no solution, this is an abstract invention which is not taken from reality, which has no base in reality but in the difficulty that you cannot find a solution….I shall touch on another matter; Hashomer Hatzair was asked to say what a Bi-national state is…but [they] did not answer…For a long while this remained a secret. Recently Hashomer Hatzair circulated the answer, it was given in a big book: ‘A Committee on the Question of Constitutional Development, Report, Volume 1’. It was circulated by Hashomer Hatzair. Its author is Bentov, and here Bentov sits. He is a member of the Actions Committee and he is an expert on the Bi-national state and can define for us what a Bi-national state is. Why is he silent? But he is silent only here in the country. There is a book also in the country; here it is marked: ‘strictly secret.’ In America I got the book… There is an explanation by Bentov what a Bi-national state is, and the explanation was sent to America…I asked the people [in the U.S.] who spoke of a Bi-national state, ‘What is a Bi-national state?’ they said: ‘here, you have an essay about it.’ And it reaches the hands of reactionary circles, those who at the Hadassah Conference received 20 votes, they walk around with it….all the talk of a Bi-national state, and even these districts – they are the sick phantasmagoria of Jewish boys sitting and confusing their brains and wishing to be believed. The Arabs will not believe all of Bentov’s sophistry, that the Jews will come to one district and will not come into the other districts. The Arabs do not even want to agree with the White Book. And you stand before a situation, which you do not dare see as it is. The Arabs are unwilling to allow the Jewish immigration.[13]
Ben Gurion spoke in harsh words about the content of the Bentov Report and its writers’ intentions. He called it an anti-Zionist plan.[14] He said the plan was written on the basis of the White Paper, as it forbade the Jews to immigrate into and purchase land in Palestine.[15] Ben Gurion also criticized the projected Jewish Region, as this would be very small.[16]

It is true the Bentov Report suggested restrictions on immigration. Ben Gurion, however, totally disregarded the fact that this restriction was proposed for only ten years so as to arrive at better relations with the Arabs and in order to ascertain that immigration and settlement would continue after the short interim period. The Report envisaged a Jewish majority in Palestine ultimately.[17] Furthermore, it should be born in mind that the Bentov Report wanted the Jewish population to grow in this interim period of ten years to numerical equality with the Palestinian Arabs. This means it was being proposed to let the enormous number of about 75,000 Jews enter Palestine annually.[18]

Bentov himself also defended the Report’s proposal of two Regions. As the Regions would only be formed after the transition period, when the number of Jews would be very large, the Jewish Region would not be as small as Ben Gurion suggested. Moreover, the Report was only a draft, submitted to certain people for their opinion and comments, only offering guidelines for negotiations.[19]

When it finally came to voting, on 10 November 1942, of the twenty-eight members 75 percent voted for accepting the Biltmore Program as the official Zionist Program. As could be expected, the two representatives of Hashomer Hatzair and one of Poale Zion Smol opposed it.[20] Aliyah Hadassah also voted against the Program, although they held no Bi-nationalist convictions. They neither wanted to take any steps that might hamper the British war effort, nor wanted to make the Jewish-Arab relations worse.[21] They felt that without prior Mandatory sanction the Zionist demand for a Jewish state was precipitate.[22]

Three representatives of MAPAI abstained from voting. They were the spokesmen for MAPAI’s Faction B, the left wing in the party. This faction, opposed to the conservative Faction C of Ben Gurion, favored the indefinite continuation of the mandate, as open striving for a Jewish state could only lead to partitioning of the country.[23] Because they adhered to the idea of a Jewish state in the whole of Palestine they preferred stressing the right to free immigration and settlement in the whole country as this would eventually lead to Jewish political self-government in the whole of Palestine.[24]

This decision of the Inner General Council was being taken a few days after the German troops of Rommel had been crushed at al-Alamein.[25] This meant great relief for the Jews in Palestine, who had feared they would have to struggle for life in Palestine against the Germans. It also took away a reason to stand closely by Britain.

This was also the time that the Jews in Palestine began to believe the stories and testimonies they heard about Hitler’s endlösung. Their ‘frantic search for rays of hope’ had induced them not to believe the horrible things that were being told, though the all knew what was being told. Only after the Palestinian Jewish leaders on 18 and 19 November had debriefed a small group of Polish women and children, who were being exchanged against a group of Germans, they finally accepted the horrific truth of the Holocaust.[26] There must have been an increasing awareness, however, even before this moment that these stories were true, so the decision of 10 November 1942 of the Inner General Council will have been greatly influenced by it.[27] Kirk summarizes the situation of the time, saying that
…as the war reached the ‘end of the beginning’ and the leaderless Arabs were vaguely thinking of the ‘day of reckoning’, the Zionists were being irrevocably impelled along the path of political self-assertion by the moral plight of their kinsmen and co-religionists in Axis-occupied Europe, and the realization that Britain would not compel the Arabs to submit to further Jewish mass immigration into Palestine. The Zionists could not be expected to appreciate a situation in which, while thousands of Greek, Polish, and Czechoslovak refugees from Axis Europe had found temporary sanctuary in Palestine, these Jews who succeeded in escaping from the Nazis, at whose hands they were suffering more atrociously than any other people, were being denied admission to the very land which they had been promised a National Home.[28]
Agreeing with the Zionist that these refugees should be admitted immediate entrance into Palestine, as they favored immigration up to the full economic absorption capacity, the Bi-nationalists did not agree with the demand for a Jewish state. The decision of the Council, however, in the absence of a Zionist Congress during the war, made the Biltmore Program the World Zionist Organization’s official policy. Thus it also became the stated policy of the Jewish Agency.[29] This meant that Bi-nationalism, which until then had been a respected branch of Zionist thought, had been banned from the Zionist Organization.[30]

In fact, in 1942 the Bi-nationalist idea was ostracized from the Zionist Organization, and the Zionist movement had adopted the Revisionist position, of aiming at setting up a Jewish state, irrespective of the attitude of the Arabs. The ideological conflict between the ‘official’ interpretation of Zionism and its ‘dissident sect’ of Bi-nationalism had by no means ended, however, but was strengthened because the Bi-nationalists had a greater unity than ever before, and those who aimed at a Jewish state were now speaking on behalf of the Zionist movement. Only after the State of Israel had been founded, did most Bi-nationalists convert their striving for Bi-nationalism into struggling for more general ideas of justice and peace for the Arabs in and around the State of Israel.

[1] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 163; Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1085-7.
[2] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1087.
[3] Sachar, History of Israel, p. 245.
[4] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 295-6.
[5] Ibid., p. 308.
[6] Michael Cohen, Palestine: Retreat, p. 135.
[7] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 251.
[8] Ibid., p. 252; Yaari was a leader in Hashomer Hatzair.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1102.
[11] Margalit, ‘Bi-nationalism’, in Studies in Zionism 4 (1981), pp. 299-300. Poale Zion Smol, as a Marxist party, did not like the use of the word ‘state’, so they spoke of a ‘territorial unit’.
[12] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 253.
[13] Ibid., pp. 254-5.
[14] Margalit, ‘Bi-nationalism’, p. 288.
[15] Ibid., p. 284.
[16] Ibid., pp. 284-5.
[17] Ibid. p. 285.
[18] Based on data of the Palestine government, the Arab population would have grown to 1,460,000 by 1950, if normal circumstances had prevailed. Without immigration the Jewish population would be 547,000 by then. The Jewish Agency had slightly different figures, and spoke of 1,392,000 Arabs and 597,000 Jews. To attain numerical parity by 1950 would have required an annual immigration of 72,000 based on the figures of the Jewish Agency, and 84,000 if the figures of the Palestine government were correct. These high numbers of immigrants were only reached in the best years of immigration between 1948 and 1959. Margalit, ‘Bi-nationalism’, pp. 289-90.
[19] Margalit, ‘Bi-nationalism’, p. 285.
[2o] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1016.
[21] Ibid., pp. 1016, 1105.
[22] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 159.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, pp. 1104-5.
[25] Kirk, Survey, p. 13.
[26] Laqueur, Terrible Secret, pp. 180-195.
[27] Kirk, Survey, p. 249; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 289.
[28] Kirk, Survey, p. 249.
[29] Taylor, Prelude to Israel, p. 58; Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1015.
[30] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 256.

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