Letter to Jawaharal Nehru
PM of the Indian Govt, New Delhi, India
My dear Mr. Nehru:
May I tell you of the deep emotion with which I read recently that the Indian Constituent Assembly has abolished untouchability? I know how large a part you have played in the various phases of India’s struggle for emancipation, and how grateful lovers of freedom must be to you, as well as to your great teacher, Mahatma Gandhi. Men everywhere felt freer and stronger because of the act of liberation which has taken place in India.
I read that the curse of the pariah was about to be lifted from millions of Hindus in the very days when the attention of the world was fixed on the problem of another group of human beings who, like the untouchables, have been the victims of persecution and discrimination for centuries.
Those with a sense of history-and I know how eloquently you have written on this them-could not fail to be aware of the dramatic coincidence by which the plea of the Jewish people for equality was being heard by the UN at the very time when a revolutionary measure of redemption was being passed in your country. And because you have been the consistent champion of the forces of political and economic enlightenment in the Orient, I address myself to you in regard to the rights of an ancient people whose roots are in the East.
I should like to discuss only one problem with you-the ethical issues involved in the Zionist effort to recreate a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The legal aspects of the question, the precise commitments contained in the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate, are not the elements I propose to stress, though I appreciate their significance. I shall therefore not review a chapter of contemporary history with which you are familiar. But as a person to whom considerations of morality in international relations are not indifferent, I should like to dwell on the factors of justice and equality which are involved, and whose violation I would protest equally with you.
Long before the emergence of Hitler, I made the cause of Zionism mine because through it I saw a means of correcting a flagrant wrong. I refer to the peculiar disability suffered by the Jewish people by which they were deprived of the opportunity to live on the same basis as other peoples. The bigotry of the chauvinists and racists, whose doctrines have brought so much evil to mankind, has always been alien to me. Were the vision of an international society, a true parliament of man, ever to be realized, I venture to say I should be among its most sympathetic supporters. But even in the interests of this ultimate ideal, the preliminary steps are surely the removal of the stigma of inferiority from every group and people in the world. The Jewish people alone has for centuries been in the anomalous position of being victimized and hounded as as people, though bereft of all the rights and protections which even the smallest people normally has. Jews have been persecuted as individuals; the Jewish people has been unable to develop fruitfully as a cultural and ethnic group. The spirit of the people as well as the bodies of its members have been assailed. Zionism offered the means of ending this discrimination. Through the return to the land to which they were bound by close historic ties, and, since the dispersion, hallowed in their daily prayers, Jews sought to abolish their pariah status among peoples.
The Advent of Hitler underscored with a savage logic all the disastrous implications contained in the abnormal situation in which Jews found themselves. Millions of Jews perished not only because they were caught in the Nazi murder machine but also because there was no spot on the globe where they could find sanctuary. I need not remind you what the Nazi extermination program cost my people, nor of the tragic plight of the survivors. India, I am sure, mourned not only for six million men, women and children killed in gas-chambers and crematoriums, but also for a civilization which permitted this horror to take place. And I believe that wherever men dream of justice and struggle for its presence, the cry of those who escaped from the Nazi charnel-house must be heard.
The Jewish survivors demand the right to dwell amid brothers, on the soil of their fathers. Their need is so desperate, their longing so natural that it is superfluous to elaborate the point. There is, however, a legitimate and relevant question which must be answered. Can Jewish need, no matter how acute, be met without the infringement of the vital rights of others? My answer is in the affirmative. One of the most extraordinary features of the Jewish rebuilding of Palestine is that the influx of Jewish pioneers has resulted not in the displacement and impoverishment of the local Arab population, but in its phenomenal increase and greater prosperity.
There has been much talk lately of a Zionist “invasion”. Surely, a consideration of the facts must reveal how irresponsible and dishonest is such an accusation. Jews settled in Palestine on the basis of international agreements entered into by Arabs as well as the nations of the world. They bought every inch of the land on which they settled. Furthermore, and most important for this phase of the argument, the Arab population of Palestine doubled in size since the Balfour Declaration, whereas in the adjoining independent Arab states, the population remained static. Jewish colonization has not only raised the standard of life and the wage level of the Palestinian Arab, it has the highest rate of natural (population) increase in the world. This hardly constitutes “invasion”.
However, I shall not pretend to misunderstand the nature of Arab opposition. Though the Arab of Palestine has benefited physically and economically, he wants exclusive national sovereignty, such as enjoyed by the Arabs of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon or Syria. It is a legitimate and natural desire, and justice would seem to call for its satisfaction. At the close of world war 1, 99% of the vast, underpopulated territories liberated from the Turks by the Allies were set aside for the national aspirations of the Arabs. Five independent Arab states have since been established in these territories.Only 1% was reserved for the Jewish people in the land of their origin. The decision which led to the proclamation of the Balfour Declaration was not arbitrary, nor the choice of territory capricious. It took into account the needs and aspirations of both Arab and Jew, and certainly, the lion’s share did not fall to the Jews. In the august scale of justice,which weighs need against need, there is not doubt as to whose is more heavy. The “small notch” in the land of their fathers, granted the Jewish people, somewhat redresses the balance.
I believe there is still another factor which must weigh heavily in any consideration of the Zionist case, namely what Jews have actually in Palestine, and the fashion of their accomplishment. I find profoundly gratifying the fact that the reconstruction of Palestine has taken not through the exploitation of native workers-the usual pattern of imperialism-but through the heroic toil of Jewish pioneers. The once malaria-ridden swamps, the stony mountain slopes, the salt shores of the Dead Sea, now fertile and blooming, are evidence of a creative impulse whose thwarting would make mankind, as well as Jew and Arab, the poorer. Jewish labor has created living space; it has made Palestine bigger, and the world richer. Nor can I ignore the new concepts of economic equality which Jewish workers have brought to the Middle East. Their network of flourishing cooperatives, their vigorous trade-union movement, are token of a social idealism which is an organic part of their striving for national regeneration. Through the force of this social vision, both Arab and Jew will go forward.
I know that the rivalries of power politics and the egotism of petty nationalist appetites seek to stifle the glorious renaissance which has begun in Palestine. May I appeal to you, as the leader of a movement of social and national enfranchisement, to recognize in Zionism a similar movement whose realization will add to the peace and progress of the Orient. Free Jewish immigration to Palestine, and the right of the Jews to continue the upholding of their ancient homeland without artificial restrictions, will increase the sum of well being in the world. It is time to make an end to the ghetto status of Jews in Palestine, and to the pariah status of Jews among peoples. I trust that you, who so badly have struggled for freedom and justice, will place your great influence on behalf of the claim for justice made by the people who for so long and so dreadfully have suffered from its denial.
Yours very sincerely,