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by Dusty Sklar
IT WAS my daughter-in-law, Nikki Pusin, who brought it to my attention, just as her father, Max Pusin, had brought it to hers years before — that the world-revered Gandhi had a puzzling relationship to the Holocaust. In 1947, interviewed by Louis Fischer, author of The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi said: “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves in the sea from cliffs.... It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany.... As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.”
But Gandhi, I argued with Nikki, was here merely expressing his philosophy of non-violence.
She pointed out that Gandhi had also been pretty vehemently anti-Zionist. In November of 1938, responding to Jewish requests that he champion the Zionist cause, he set out in writing his reflections.
My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close. Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews.
But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood? Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.... Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.
The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred....
Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth. Every country is their home, including Palestine, not by aggression, but by loving service.
Here is Nikki’s rebuttal to Gandhi:
The “English” of today are mostly the descendants of individuals, tribes and nations who migrated to or invaded the British Isles over the course of two millennia and settled there. Same with France and the French. And as for the U.S., white Europeans colonized this continent, declared themselves its owners (without sanction from any international body such as the UN), corralled its native inhabitants into ever-smaller “reservations,” exploited them, warred with them, gave them deadly diseases, and in some cases deliberately exterminated them as though they were a species of vermin. If the U.S. were to say that no one of Native American ancestry were permitted to enter or settle here, I expect that civilized people would find that unacceptable. We would consider it unacceptable for any civilized country to exclude people on the basis of cultural identity. So why is it acceptable to exclude the Jews from Palestine?
With all due respect to Gandhi, he has no business deciding for the Jews whether their Biblical homeland is geographical or merely metaphysical. And I’m sick of people using that wretched phrase “chosen people” to justify applying a different standard to the Jews than to the rest of the world.
If “every country” were the Jews’ home, there would never have been the impetus for political Zionism. The fact is that for three thousand years the Jews were never permitted to live peaceably in the diaspora; they have been oppressed, marginalized, ghettoized, persecuted and murdered. And of course, life in the diaspora does not satisfy the yearning for national self-determination which seems to be acceptable in every people of the earth except the Jews. The Jews would have loved to have a home in Palestine by “loving service” rather than having to fight for it. They came looking for a haven, not for a fight.”
NIKKI IS IN illustrious company. Among Zionists, Gandhi’s posture was troubling. Martin Buber, who had himself emigrated to Israel from Germany a short time earlier, in a letter to Gandhi in 1939 pointed out that “in the five years I myself spent under the present [Nazi] regime,
I observed many instances of genuine satyagraha [nonviolent resistance] among the Jews, instances showing a strength of spirit in which there was no question of bartering their rights or of being bowed down, and where neither force nor cunning was used to escape the consequences of their behaviour. Such actions, however, exerted apparently not the slightest influence on their opponents. All honor indeed to those who displayed such strength of soul! But I cannot recognize herein a watchword for the general behavior of German Jews that might seem suited to exert an influence on the oppressed or on the world. An effective stand in the form of non-violence may be taken against unfeeling human beings in the hope of gradually bringing them to their senses; but a diabolic universal steamroller cannot thus be withstood.
Buber also noted that Arabs had themselves come to possess Palestine “surely by conquest and, in fact, a conquest by settlement,” and appealed to Gandhi to recognize the responsibility for violence and unrest that was shared by Palestinian Arabs.
Rabbi Judah Magnes, like Buber a supporter of a binational state in Israel-Palestine, also faulted Gandhi for giving advice that was not appropriate for German Jews. “How can Jews in Germany offer civil resistance?” Magnes asked. “The slightest sign of resistance means killing or concentration camps or being done away with otherwise. It is usually in the dead of night that they are spirited away. No one, except their terrified families, is the wiser. It makes not even a ripple on the surface of German life. The streets are the same, business goes on as usual, the casual visitor sees nothing.” Magnes went on to emphasize the strength of Jewish bonds, historical and spiritual, to the land of Palestine.
And Hayim Greenberg, an American Labor ZIonist leader who admired Gandhi, felt “highly offended by Gandhi’s anti-Zionism,” and criticized him for his lack of understanding of Zionism’s spirit. “Gandhi demands that we practice super-heroism in Germany,” Greenberg wrote, yet “he requests that in Palestine we should renounce the most elementary rights which every people may and should claim.”
In 1946, Gandhi acknowledged that the “Jews have been cruelly wronged by the world,” but a few months before his assassination, when asked about the solution to the Palestinian problem, answered: “It has become a problem which seems almost insoluble.”
Dusty Sklar is a contributing writer to our magazine and the author of Gods and Beasts: The Nazis and the Occult, as well as numerous stories and articles. Her most recent articles for us dealt with American corporate collaboration with Nazism and the American eugenics movement’s influence upon Nazism.