The Hindu right wing’s admiration for Israel and the Zionist ideology is born out of its antipathy to Muslims. By A.G. NOORANI
It is perfectly correct for India to have good relations with the state of Israel. It is demeaning for any Indian to endorse the creed of Zionism. Judaism is an ancient and noble religion. Zionism is a modern political and divisive creed espoused by Theodore Herzl in 1895. To give an analogy, Hinduism is an ancient and noble religion. Hindutva is a poisonous political ideology espoused by V.D. Savarkar in 1923. Devout Hindus denounce Hindutva. Devout Jews denounce Zionism. In cultivating relations with Israel, India should not turn its back on Palestinians, still less condone the moral outrages perpetrated on the land of Palestine.
On July 5, The Times of India reported: “Most importantly [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi actually paid his respects to Theodore Herzl the father of the Zionist movement that created Israel. It is a remarkable moment.”
Very much so, especially given the fact that Modi also said that “[t]he people of Israel have built a nation on democratic principles” and embraced Israel as an ally on secularism. The Arabs in Israel itself are second-class citizens in a Jewish state; Arabs in lands occupied by Israel in 1967, 50 years ago, have no voting rights. Their lands have been grabbed over the years by Israeli settlements, and they are treated shabbily as serfs.
A state created through terrorism
Israel was created through terrorism. Inescapably. How else can you establish a Jewish state on Arab land? According to a British census, the population of Palestine in 1947 comprised 1,157,000 Arab Muslims, 146,000 Arab Christians and 580,000 Jews. Two years later, only 200,000 Arabs remained in the parts of Palestine that had become Israel. Another study showed that Jews owned 12 per cent of the land in 1946 in what became Israel and 77 per cent after the 1948-49 war.
The problem was foreseen as early as in 1936-39 by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. He said against the backdrop of the Arab Revolt of 1936-39: “We must see the situation for what it is. On the security front, we are those attacked and who are on the defensive. But in the political field we are the attackers and the Arabs are those defending themselves. They are living in the country and own the land, the village. We live in the Diaspora and want only to immigrate (to Palestine) and gain possession of (liskosh) the land from them.”
Years later, after the establishment of Israel, he expatiated on the Arab perspective in a conversation with the Zionist leader Nahum Goldmann: “I don’t understand your optimism…. Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural. We have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel. It’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing. We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?” (Benny Morris, 1948; The First Israel War, page 393. Also quoted by James Carrol in International Herald Tribune, September 8, 2010.)
What Henry Siegman, Senior Fellow Council of Foreign Relations, wrote in The New York Review ( February 8, 2001) confirms that: “At a meeting of Israel’s Cabinet, Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami made a most unusual statement to his colleagues. As reported by Akiva Eldar in Ha’aretz on 28 November 2000, the statement was made by Ben-Ami in the course of a Cabinet debate over a document prepared by the Prime Minister’s office which purported to catalogue a long list of Palestinian transgressions. Ben-Ami opposed the distribution of the document on the ground that no one in the West would be surprised that a people under occupation fails to honour agreements with its occupier: ‘Accusations made by a well-established society about how a people it is oppressing is breaking rules to attain its rights do not have much credence.’
“Israelis have found it painful to acknowledge the injustice that the establishment of the Jewish state inflicted on the Palestinian people for fear that such an acknowledgement would de-legitimise the entire Zionist enterprise. They fear it may justify the claim of the most extremist Palestinians that it is not only the Occupied Territories that Israel needs to return but all of pre-1967 Israel as well…. But there can be no disagreement that enabling Palestinians to live as a free people in their own state and compensating the refugees who suffered most from the Nakba are not matters of Israeli magnanimity and altruism, but a sacred obligation to a people that has been greatly wronged, a wrong compounded by keeping the West Bank and Gaza under occupation since 1967.” Israeli settlements have rendered even that almost impossible.
In a terrorist campaign in the 1930s the Jews sabotaged public installations, dynamited government offices, raided military stores, and shot, killed, abducted and flogged British soldiers and government officials. Jewish terrorism was then severely condemned by Viscount Samuel, who was himself a Zionist Jew and the first British High Commissioner of Palestine, in the following terms: “The Jewish people have always taken pride in the good deeds performed and the distinctions won by their members; in the number of scientists, writers, musicians, philosophers and statesmen, who have come from the Jewish ranks. …Today these same people have given birth to a set of assassins, who, disguised in false uniforms, waylay soldiers and policemen, hurl bombs promiscuously, blow up trains. …I feel bound to say… that the Jewish population of Palestine and the Jewish Agency are blameworthy for not having … extirpated this curse which has brought shame upon all members of the Jewish community, on 23 April 1947.”
The Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe’s book The Forgotten Palestinians (Yale University Press, 2011) and his earlier work The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006) documented the plans made by Ben Gurion and his men to arrange the expulsion of the Arabs from their hearths and homes and get them decimated.
Judaism & Israelism
Moshe Menuhin, a devout Jew—father, incidentally, of Yehudi Menuhin—wrote in anguish in a scholarly work entitled The Decadence of Judaism in Our Time (1965, with a Postscript in 1969). He wrote in the Preface: “I have entitled this book The Decadence of Judaism in Our Time, but I almost prefer an earlier title, ‘Jewish’ Nationalism: A Monstrous Historical Crime and Curse. Please take your choice. Both titles mean the same thing to me. …As a conscientious Jew, I feel it necessary to set forth my views on Jewish history after studying and observing for many years the lofty and dignified Judaistic past of pure ethics, philosophy and religion, on the one hand, and the current decadent, tragic and revolting perversion of it into boisterous ‘Jewish’ nationalism—Judaism turned into rampant Israelism—on the other. …
“Advancing, evolving, universal and spiritual Judaism, which was the core of the Judeo-Christian code of ethics, is now becoming the tool, the handmaiden, of ‘Jewish’ nationalism, so that the ethical injunctions Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet have been transformed into the unethical, primitive and tribalistic ‘Covenant of the Chosen People’ and ‘Israel First’. So much so that Israelis regard themselves today as Israelis only, an elite, and not, God forbid, as Jews, who in their eyes are a lower breed of humans, traitors to the sacred cause of ‘Jewish’ nationalism unless they emigrate to the ‘sacred-secular Jewish Homeland’.”
Moshe Menuhin recalls how, on September 17, 1948, the highly respected United Nations Mediator Court Folke Bernadotte was murdered by the Israelis along with the French Observer Colonel Andre´ Se´rot. He made his will before flying from Stockholm to Tel Aviv: “Finally, after two months, the Israeli government’s atrophied conscience was awakened by world consternation and indignation over the crime. The principal Stern Gangster, Nathan Friedman-Yellin, and his aide, Matityahu Shmulevitz, were arrested. In December, Yellin and Shmulevitz were brought to ‘trial’ in an Israeli court at Acre. They posed smilingly for photographers and their ‘guard’ laughed brazenly. At his ‘trial’ in Acre Yellin whitewashed himself by delivering a harangue in which he attacked Court Bernadotte as an enemy of Israel. One of his condemnations of Bernadotte was this: ‘He stood in the way of Jewish absorption of the Kingdom of Transjordan as well as the whole of Palestine.…”
“Murderer Nathan Friedman-Yellin was soon amnestied, and in 1950, the Israeli government allowed the murderer to stand for election to the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) of which he became a member.”
Israel exists, and India is entitled to deal with it. But India’s leaders do worse than convert affairs of the state into affairs of the heart and wilfully ignore history. Modi was tutored to laud Herzl only because he was the founder of Zionism, and at one remove, of Israel. He was born in Budapest; after an unsuccessful career as a playwright he became a journalist in Vienna.
Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897. Zionist ideologues from all over Europe not only discussed the making of a Jewish Athens but also expressed a desire for a Zionist Sparta. It became clear to the leaders of the movement that a vast array of national traits had to be acquired before the Jews could “retake” Palestine and build their own homeland there. Moreover, there was a need to confront quite a few Jewish personalities and organisations that stood against Zionism. Many traditional rabbis forbade their followers to have anything to do with Zionist activists. They viewed Zionism as meddling with God’s will that the Jews should remain in exile until the coming of the Messiah.
David Fromkin wrote in his book A Peace to End All Peace ( 1989, pages 272-273): “The Zionist or Basle Programme was the main product of the first Zionist Congress. The manifesto explained that ‘the Zionist movement aspires to create an asylum for the Jewish people in Eretz Israel which would be guaranteed by international law’. The second Zionist Congress, in 1898, added the imperative of colonising Eretz Israel (Land of Israel) for that purpose. At the third Congress, in 1899, Herzl suggested replacing the search for international legitimacy with a chartered lease from the Ottoman sultan. He believed that money and European pressure would induce the sultan.”
In 1903, David Lloyd George, the future Prime Minister, was retained as lawyer for the Zionist project. He was a biblical Zionist like Arthur Balfour. “When Herzl, an assimilated Jew, conceived the idea of political Zionism, his notion had been that Jews needed to have a national state of their own—but that its location was not of primary importance. Of Jews and Judaism Herzl knew next to nothing. He was a fashionable journalist, the Paris correspondent of a Viennese newspaper who had forgotten his Jewish origins until the shock of French anti-Semitism in the Dreyfus case convinced him of the need to rescue the world’s Jews from their historical plight.
“As a man of the world, he knew how political business was transacted in the Europe of his time and began by establishing a Zionist organisation. He then commenced negotiations on its behalf with officials of various governments. Only after he had come into working contact with other Jews, and with Jewish organisations that for years had been fostering settlements in the Holy Lands, did he come to recognise the unique appeal of the country that the world called Palestine—the Land of the Philistines—but that Jews called the Land of Israel.…
“In 1902 Herzl held an important meeting with Joseph Chamberlain, the powerful Colonia Secretary in the Salisbury and Balfour Cabinets and the father of modern British imperialism. Chamberlain, too, believed in a national solution to the Jewish problem and listened sympathetically to Herzl’s fall-back proposal that a Jewish political community should initially be established across the frontier from Palestine, in the hope that Palestine would eventually become available, somehow or other. Herzl was talking in terms of either Cyprus or the El Arish strip at the edge of the Sinai Peninsula, next to Palestine, both areas nominally parts of the Ottoman Empire but in fact occupied by Britain. Chamberlain ruled out Cyprus but offered to help Herzl obtain the consent of the British officials in charge of Sinai.
“To apply for this consent, Herzl, through his British representative, Leopold Greenberg, decided to retain the services of a politically knowledgeable lawyer, and chose David Lloyd George, who personally handled the matter on behalf of his London firm, Lloyd George, Roberts & Co. The proposal foundered as a result of opposition from the British administration in Egypt and the Foreign Office sent letters to Dr Herzl on 19 June and 16 July 1903 informing him that his proposal was not practical.
“Chamberlain then suggested that he could offer an area for Jewish settlement within the jurisdiction of his own department and offered the prospect of settlement in Uganda.” The upshot was the Balfour Declaration and—Israel.
At odds: Gandhi & Savarkar
Mahatma Gandhi’s position was clear: “My sympathies are all with the Jews…. 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 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 of 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 as England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The Mandates have no sanction but that of the last war” (Harijan, 1938).
In direct opposition was V.D. Savarkar’s stand. He said in a statement on December 19, 1947: “I am glad to note that the overwhelming majority of the leading nations in the world should have recognised the claim of the Jewish people to establish an independent Jewish State in Palestine and should have promised armed assistance to get it realised. After centuries of sufferings, sacrifices and struggle the Jews will soon recover their national Home in Palestine which has undoubtedly been their Fatherland and Holyland.…
“Judging from the Indian press in general our public seems to be misinformed by a sinister pro-Moslem propaganda regarding this Palestine issue. It must be emphasised therefore that speaking historically, the whole of Palestine has been, from at least two thousand years before the birth of the Moslem Prophet, the National Home of the Jewish people. A long line of their great prophets and kings, of Abraham and Moses, of David and Solomon, has endeared that country to them as their Fatherland and Holyland. The Arabian Moslems invaded Palestine only a few decades before they invaded our Sindh, and just as their fanatical fury exterminated the ancient Egyptians or Persians, they attempted to wipe out with fire and sword the Jewish people too. But they failed in this unholy ambition. The Fatherland or the Holyland of the Arabian Moslems lies in Arabia and not in Palestine.
“In justice, therefore, the whole of Palestine ought to have been restored to the Jews. But taking into consideration the conflict of self-interests of the powerful nations in the UNO, their support to the resuscitation of the Jewish state in a part of Palestine at any rate, wherein they still happen to be in majority and which includes some of their prominent Holy Places, constitutes an event of historical justice and importance.
“It is consequently to be regretted that the delegation which represented our Hindusthani government in the UNO should have voted against the creation of the Jewish state. The speeches of Shrimati Vijayalaxmi in particular were justly ridiculed when she declaimed melodramatically that the Indian government refused to stab the unity and integrity of the Palestine state in the back by carving out a separate Jewish state.” This is the outlook which the Sangh Parivar inherited.
In his magisterial work One Palestine, Complete, Tom Segev of the Israeli daily Ha’aretzwrote: “There is no basis for the frequent assertion that the state was established as a result of the Holocaust.” A.J. Balfour, the author of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, confided in 1918: “My personal hope is that the Jews will make good in Palestine and eventually found a Jewish state.” The arch imperialist Winston Churchill was complicit in the plan. (Churchill’s Promised Land by Michael Makousky, Yale University Press, 2007.)
Israel and Indian politics
As Minister for External Affairs, Jaswant Singh said in Tel Aviv on July 2, 2000, that the Muslim vote could not be ignored: “India’s Israel policy became a captive to domestic policy that came to be unwittingly an unstated veto to [sic] India’s larger West Asian policy.” Some writers blamed Maulana Azad as the prime culprit.
Archival disclosures have demolished these myths sedulously fostered by the Jana Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the decades. It is the documents which record the truth. A Jawaharlal Nehru who could rudely snub Maulana Azad on Urdu, on March 12, 1954, would not have brooked any poaching on his prized turf, foreign affairs. He had invited the Jewish agency to the Asian Relations Conference in 1947.
It is well known that he was all for inviting Israel to the Bandung Conference in 1955. A threat of boycott by the entire Arab bloc defeated Nehru’s intentions. This is a matter of record. Why did he not cite the real reason—Kashmir?
Nehru’s policy paid handsome dividends in terms of realpolitik. Nehru was very conscious of it. From 1948 until 1957, Kashmir was a live issue internationally. Pakistan could not even contemplate taking it out of the Security Council, stalled by the Soviet veto, to the General Assembly. The Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser would not have supported it. Nor would some other Arab friends of India. Among the Colombo powers who mediated between India and China in 1963, Egypt was India’s staunchest supporter.
Conceived in “the national interest”, this policy was exploited by the Congress to seek Muslim votes on this, as on other equally false grounds.
Was it love for Israel or antipathy towards Muslims that inspired the Hindu right-wing supporters of Israel? Significantly, some noted Muslim-baiters have been the loudest fans of Israel. As a Persian saying goes, Na ba hubi Imam, valey be zidde yazid (Not for the love of Imam Hussain, but out of hatred for his opponent Yazid).
Do not be surprised if the Prime Minister of Israel reciprocates and on his next visit to India pays tributes to Savarkar to please Narendra Modi.