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Gandhi, the Jews & Zionism: Interview to The Jewish Chronicle, London

(October 2, 1931)

I have a world of friends among the Jews. In South Africa I was surrounded by Jews, and I have had a Jewish shorthand writer and typist who was regarded more as a member of the family.

I cannot, however, say that I have made a proper study of the Jewish religion, but I have studied as much as a layman can. I think the Jewish religion is a very fine religion, being so closely allied to Christianity in many respects. For example, the Prophets of the Old Testament are all Jews, and Jesus himself was a Jew.

I visited the Synagogue at Johannesburg during the Festival of the Passover, and you can almost say I was keeping the Passover with my Jewish friends, because I went to their house every night and I heartily enjoyed, what do you call them now?

“Matzos”, interjected our representative.

Yes, matzos. I think matzos are very nice and crisp.

I have, however, attended two or three Jewish services, which I think are very impressive; but my own feeling is that “the heart was lacking”. That is to say, the spirit was lacking. They were too ceremonial, although I must say the ceremony was very nice. The Jewish Rabbi was a celebrated scholar, and he delivered a learned discourse, but it did not touch my heart.

My attitude towards Jews is one of great sympathy. I am very much attracted to the Jews, firstly, because of selfish motives, since I have very many Jewish friends; secondly, for a far deeper one - they have got a wonderful spirit of cohesion. That is to say, wherever you find Jews there is a spirit of comradeship among them. Moreover, they are a people with a vision, if I may put it without impertinence, they do not themselves realise.

I am sometimes asked whether I regard Jews as the Chosen People, and I say, well, in a sense, yes. But then all peoples consider themselves to be chosen.

Zionism in its spiritual sense is a lofty aspiration. By spiritual sense I mean they should want to realise the Jerusalem that is within. Zionism meaning reoccupation of Palestine has no attraction for me. I can understand the longing of a Jew to return to Palestine, and he can do so if he can without the help of bayonets, whether his own or those of Britain. In that event he would go to Palestine peacefully and in perfect friendliness with the Arabs. The real Zionism of which I have given you my meaning is the thing to strive for, long for and die for. Zion lies in one’s heart. It is the abode of God. The real Jerusalem is the spiritual Jerusalem. Thus he can realise this Zionism in any part of the world.

Mr. Gandhi added that unfortunately he had not been to Palestine yet, but that he hoped to go there some day.

I should love to go, for I have read so much about the Holy Land. Anti-Semitism is really a remnant of barbarism. I have never been able to understand this antipathy to the Jews. I have read Zangwill’s Children of the Ghetto, and when I read it, I realised what unmerited persecution Jews had already gone through and I felt then as I feel now that this persecution is, if I can again say so in all humility, a reflection upon those who, in the name of Christianity, have persecuted this long-suffering race.

The remedy? My remedy is twofold. One is that those who profess to be Christians should learn the virtue of toleration and charity, and the second is for Jews to rid themselves of the causes for such reproach as may be justly laid at their door.

Sources: GandhiServe Foundation - Mahatma Gandhi Research and Media Service (reprinted with permission)