Was Gandhi Anti-Semitic?

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the Cape Cod Times

Was Gandhi Anti-Semitic?

Imagine if some radical black revolutionary blew up a cafe back in the 1950s amid calls for the destruction of white America in response to a string of lynchings.

Now imagine the U.S. Army occupying a city full of blacks, imposing curfews on all blacks and bombing several black neighborhoods in "retaliation" for the cafe bombing.

I think most Americans would recognize the injustice of such a policy. Why collectively punish all blacks for the actions of a violent extremist?

Righteous indignation notwithstanding, this hypothetical bombing scenario is still a terrorist act, as are Palestinian suicide bombings. But the illegal occupation and violent repression of Palestinian areas is terrorism too - state terrorism.

Ever notice whenever some desperate Palestinian commits a suicide bombing newspapers all over the country have these front page stories about the "terrorism" Israelis are up against? But when Israel commits brutal acts of terrorism against Palestinians, it is called a "retaliatory attack" or "self-defense."

Of all places, it's in Tom Clancy's book "The Sum of All Fears," where the blueprint for how Palestinians can achieve liberation from Israeli occupation can be found.

There is a scene in the book where a nonviolent demonstration by Palestinians is ruthlessly crushed by the Israeli military, sparking an international public relations crisis for the Israeli government.

Clancy's hero, CIA agent Jack Ryan, is asked by his wife: "What's it mean?" - referring to news of the Israeli attack on the Gandhi-inspired Palestinians. "It means the Arabs just figured out how to destroy Israel."

Ryan's colleague, Charles Alden, briefs the CIA director. "Marcus, the only thing that has held Israel together for the past 30 years has been the stupidity of the Arabs. (They've) never recognized that Israeli legitimacy is based entirely on their moral position... . If (Israel) really is a democracy that respects the rights of its citizens, they have to grant the Arabs broader rights."

So Clancy's book got me thinking about Gandhi - the spiritual father of nonviolent struggle. Having studied his life for years, I decided to dig a little deeper and see what I came up with. Among the many new insights I gained, one was particularly striking.

According to the litmus test being used by most Americans and Israelis today, Gandhi, one of the most revered religious figures of 20th century, is an anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian nut.

Gandhi's major statement on the issue can be found in an editorial he wrote in the Harijan on Nov. 11, 1938, a time when the nationalist struggles of Palestinians were coming into severe conflict with the nationalist dreams of Zionism.

Gandhi was being pressured by Zionist leaders to promote the British Balfour Declaration of 1917, which called for the "establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jews."

He began his editorial expressing his sympathy for the Jewish people and what he described as their having been "cruelly wronged by the world."

However, he wrote, "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 in the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after their 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?"

He rejected the idea of a Jewish state in the Promised Land, pointing out that the "Palestine of the biblical conception is not a geographical tract," which ironically happens to be the argument made by some ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Israel right now.

Dr. A.K. Ramakrishnan, senior lecturer and professor at Mahatma Gandhi University in India, explains that Gandhi "was not for religion functioning as a political ideology; rather, he wanted religion to provide an ethical dimension to nation-state politics... . A uni-religious justification for claiming a nation-state, as in the case of Zionism, did not appeal to him in any substantial sense."

Gandhi's final piece on the Israel-Palestine question came on July 14, 1946. "In my opinion, they (the Jews) have erred grievously in seeking to impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain and now with the aid of naked terrorism... . Why should they resort to terrorism to make good their forcible landing in Palestine?"

"It has become a problem which seems almost insoluable. If I were a Jew, I would tell them: 'Do not be so silly as to resort to terrorism...' The Jews should meet the Arabs, make friends with them and not depend on British aid or American aid, save what descends from Jehovah," he wrote.

What does it mean when even Gandhi is considered anti-Semitic for criticizing the Israeli government?

Sean Gonsalves

Sean Gonsalves is a columnist and editor with the Cape Cod Times. He can be reached at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com

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