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Gandhi, the Jews & Zionism: Statement by Dr. Stephen Wise on Gandhi

(October 30, 1931)

From The Jewish Chronicle, London

[Dr. Stephen S. Wise, Rabbi of the Free Synagogue, and Chairman of the Political Committee of the Zionist Organisation of America, speaking at the Dinner of the Friends of Gandhi in New York, in honour of his sixty-second birthday, made the following statement. As far as can be ascertained, Dr. Wise was referring to the interview with Mr. Gandhi, published in The Jewish Chronicle of October 2nd, a somewhat inaccurate version of which was circulated in America by a news agency. -The Jewish Chronicle.]

Jews throughout the world cannot but help regretting the word of Gandhi spoken concerning Zionism. It is strange to find Gandhi alluding to Zionism as if it might mean the “re-occupation of Palestine”, with all of the sinister military meaning which “occupation” and “re-occupation” convey. Is re-occupation to be added to the vocabulary of misunderstanding, which already includes such terms as “landless Arabs”, having reference to Arabs who will to dispose of their land holdings at unreasonably high prices to Jewish settlers? Gandhi is right in saying that “Zionism, in its spiritual sense is a lofty aspiration”, but such a Zionism, if it remain an aspiration, can little help those Jews who must re-establish themselves in Palestine because the world has, for the most part, shut its doors. It is not easy to understand the paradox of Gandhi, “I understand the longing of the Jew to return to Palestine. He can do so.” But Gandhi adds, “provided it is done without the help of bayonets belonging either to Britain or the Jews.” The answer might be made that British bayonets freed the Arabs of Palestine and gave to the Arabs of Palestine and neighbouring countries the freedom which they today enjoy. But it is more important to say and Gandhi is so hospitable to truth that he ought to know, and if he does not know, he will wish to know - that there were virtually no British bayonets in Palestine until Arab bayonets perpetrated the massacre of August-September 1929. As for the Jewish settlers in Palestine, no one can sanely and honestly accuse them of resting their case on bayonets. Their title is immemorial, and they have returned to Palestine not to hurt and to wound, but to serve to enrich and to bless the land and all its people. This have they done from every point of view, economically, culturally, morally and spiritually.

Gandhi closes his beautiful message with the thought, “The real Jerusalem is a spiritual Jerusalem. That is true, but what would Gandhi say if that answer were made to him by the British Government respecting India. If “the Jew can realise this Zionism in any part of the world”, then the people of India do not need the physical abode of India in which to work out the problems of life and peace. Would that Gandhi knew that what he claims is the suffering and denial of his people in India is the status of the largest number of Jews in the world, that Jews have no desire for military occupation or forcible re-entry into Palestine, that they seek peaceably and, in a very real sense non-resistently, to live and labour and serve and to sacrifice for Palestine, which means to many Jews exactly what India means to Gandhi! There is no loftier nor nobler spiritual enterprise among the sons of men than the undertaking to re-establish Jewish life in Palestine. This purpose should have the furtherance and blessing of Gandhi, as Gandhi’s hope for his people’s freedom has the goodwill of all men who believe in peace and freedom for all peoples.

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