Tuesday, October 28, 2008

5. League for Arab-Jewish Rapprochement and Cooperation

The contributors to At the Parting of Our Ways and sympathizers with it, met on 1 April 1939, for further discussion of the Arab problem, while a second meeting took place op 15 April.[1] In May it was decided to found a League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation.[2] The organizing committee included Kalvarisky, Rabbi Binyamin, Simon and Peterzeil. Also on this committee was Jacob Thon, who had been one of the founders of Brit Shalom and who was a member of MAPAI.[3] Another member of the committee was Sali Hirsch, member of Aliyah Hadasha.[4] Kalvarisky became President of the League while Peterzeil was its Secretary until the spring of 1942.[5]

This newly founded League sponsored the printing of a second booklet on Jewish-Arab relations, prompted by what its editors deemed to be the totally wrong response of the Zionist leadership to the White Paper of May 1939. In August 1939 Darkenu, Our Ways was published, just before the outbreak of the war.[6] The major thesis of this book is that the Jews should never have relied on the British power to attain their goals but should have sought above all to find understanding with the Arabs. According to Buber, ‘our error lay in acting within the scheme of western colonial policies. […] We received the stamp of the agent of imperialism.’[7] The events of 1939 had driven Buber and other Bi-nationalists to be more openly engaged in politics. Buber admitted his mistake in a lack of political involvement in the past.
Everything I say here has already been said by me twenty years ago, partly in public, but the greater part in the committees of the Zionist Congresses and in the councils of Zionist groups. Nothing has been done. Today I accuse myself for being deceived then by prejudice against publicity, a common prejudice among us. It is probable that if at that time we, my friend and I, have overcome that prejudice, we would have been more influential. We held the decree of Zionist discipline higher than that of our own political understanding. That has proven to be a grave error.[8]
During the year 1939, those people and groups who held Bi-national ideas and who strove for mutual understanding between Jews and Arabs, united for the first time to influence public opinion. Some individuals set aside their intellectualist prejudice against partaking in the political game because of the problems of the day. Others, for the same reason, did not let their Marxist conviction separate them any longer from those ‘bourgeois’ individuals who also held Bi-nationalist ideas.

About sixty political leaders, scientists and writers who were known to believe in the possibility of Jewish-Arab understanding, were invited by the League for a conference at the beginning of October 1939. They passed a resolution stating the aim and desired activities of the League:
The League Unites all those who recognize the need for Jewish-Arab rapprochement and strives for cooperation between the two nations – the Jewish and Arab – and also all of those who consider it necessary that the Palestine question be solved on the basis of economic and social development of both nations together.
1) Carrying on investigations for concrete plans to materialize this aim.
2) Information and propaganda by organizing lectures, discussions, meetings and publication of suitable information material for rapprochement and cooperation between the two nations.
3) Explanation of the importance of studying Arabic in the Jewish schools and the Hebrew languages in the Arab schools.
4) Organizing lessons, seminars, lectures etc. in order to get to know about the life of one nation by the other, the study of its language, culture, tradition, economic and social life, its history, needs, ambitions etc.
5) Opening clubs of the League in various settlements in the country.
6) Negotiations and getting in touch with various institutions and groups of both nations in order to awaken them to act in the direction of the aims of the League, such as in the performing of joint activities in all the spheres which have been set as the aims of the League.
7) Encouragement and development of economic and cultural ties between Palestine and the neighbouring countries.[9]
It was decided at this conference to invite the Jewish Agency for a talk with some representatives of the League, to demand the appointment of the Commission of Inquiry to study Jewish-Arab relations, that had been promised less than two months before, at the Twenty-first Zionist Congress.[10]

On 25 October 1939, Buber, Rabbi Binyamin, Hirsch, Peterzeil, Kalvarisky and Mordechai Bentov, a member of Hashomer Hatzair, met with a delegation of the Jewish Agency.[11] Among them was Ben Gurion, the Agency’s Chairman. Besides asking for the setting up of the promised Commission, criticism was directed at the Agency for lacking initiatives to promote Jewish-Arab understanding.[12] Ben Gurion was not open to criticism regarding the Agency’s policy towards the Arabs. He told the League that they had no more answers to the problem of relations with the Arabs than anyone else. He also opposed the goal of Bi-nationalism and parity of the League. That shows that, though the resolutions of the October meeting of the League never mention these political goals, it was clear to all that Bi-nationalism was the aim of the League. Ben Gurion said in 1930 that he believed in the possibility of a constitution based on parity, but
[the] Arabs did not want to hear about it. [...] There is no example in history, that a nation opens the gates of its country, not because of necessity […] but because the nation which wants to come in has explained its desire to it. My prognosis is that agreement will be reached, because I believe in our power which will grow, and if it will grow the agreement will come.[13]
A few weeks later the Commission that had been demanded, was created. Its first meeting took place on 16 January 1940. The League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation aspired to unite all Bi-nationalists behind a single program, and both individuals and parties could join. The League had a slow start. Only gradually a united front was forming. Hurewitz is mistaken in writing that Poale Zion Smol and Hashomer Hatzair had joined in 1939, probably because the leaders of those parties joined the League.[14] But for those Marxist parties it was too great a leap to formally join the League in 1939. Until 1942 they remained formally unaffiliated.[15]

The year 1939 witnessed a parting of the ways within the Jewish community regarding the question of how the Jewish Homeland should relate to the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. The split would continue to widen until, in 1942, Bi-nationalist ideas would formally become anathema in the Zionist movement. How that split widened until 1942, is the topic of the next part of this thesis.

[1] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 220.
[2] Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 134, states that it was decided to found the League on 16 April while Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 300, speaks of May. Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1161, tells us it happened in August, while Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 160, has October as the starting time. As Aharon Cohen was the Secretary of the League and therefore had access to all papers, there is a fair chance that his date can be followed with confidence. The founding was before October anyhow, as the book they published in August was bearing the name of the League.
[3] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 297 note, 319.
[4] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1088.
[5] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 300 note; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 224.
[6] Darkenu (Our Ways), A Collection of Articles on the Problem of Zionist Policy and Jewish-Arab Cooperation (Jerusalem, August 1939); Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 137.
[7] Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 139.
[8] Ibid., p. 141.
[9] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 222.
[10] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 300.
[11] Mordechai Bentov (1900-?) was a member of the Histadrut Actions Committee and of the Zionist Actions Committee. He was the one who pressed the twenty-first Zionist Congress to install a Committee to study Jewish-Arab relations. For the Histradrut, see below.
[12] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 222-3.
[13] Ibid., p. 223-4.
[14] Ibid., p. 214; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 160-1; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 301-2.
[15] Israel Kolatt, ‘The Zionist Movement and the Arabs’, in Studies in Zionism No. 5 (Tel Aviv 1982), p. 150.

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