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The Little Country Far Away
In forgotten Palestine during the 1930-1940 decade, while “The Chief” and “Der Fuehrer” reigned in Washington and Berlin, matters went from bad to worse and at the end a British government was about to abandon the hopeless task foisted on it by Mr. Balfour (who died in 1930 after a deathbed leave-taking from Dr. Weizmann) when, on the eve of another war, a Mr. Winston Churchill recommitted his country to it. Thus the British people, believing that their business was solely with Hitler, once more went into war under sealed orders, among which was the purpose, unsuspected by them, that had brought them to the brink of defeat in 1918.
Successive British governments, in this affair, found themselves in the plight of the circus clown who cannot rid himself of the fly-paper; each time they thought they had shaken it off, Dr. Weizmann affixed it in a new place. In Palestine the British administrators and soldiers, on whom “the Mandate” had been thrust, could not do their duty. The Arabs obdurately rebelled; the Zionists in London importuned the government there to use force against the Arabs; if the men on the spot tried to act impartially between the parties orders from home restrained them.
British history overseas is probably vindicated by results in every case but this. It produced free overseas nations in empty lands, and in conquered ones populated by others the oft-proclaimed (and ever-derided) intention to upraise the conquered and then depart is being carried out; India is only one proof of that. In the case of Palestine all the rules previously followed by Britain overseas were broken and all experience set at naught, under the “pressure” exercized in London, or from other capitals if London ever baulked.
Thus the British officials and troops sent to Palestine were the unluckiest in British history (characteristically, the only man among them who was publicly honoured after their departure was a traitor). They knew how to administer a genuine “protectorate”; the word has an honest meaning as well as the false one mockingly given to it by Hitler in Czechoslovakia. Occupation with the consent, or at the invitation of native inhabitants can be an admirable thing. I have travelled in one such genuine “protectorate,” Basutoland. The British went there at Basuto request and the consequence was that the Basuto survived as a free nation, where they would otherwise have been enslaved by stronger neighbours. Their lot and prospect today are better than they could have become in any other way and they realize this, so that a few dozen white administrators govern 660,000 Basuto in mutual esteem.
The British in Palestine, for the first time in their nation's history, were required to repress the people they had come to “protect” and to protect others who were in fact invaders from Russia. The corruption of “the civil power” in England, from Mr. Balfour's time on, achieved this result. The supreme maxim
of Western constitutionalism is that “the civil power” must always be superior to the military one, so that militarist regimes may not arise. But if the civil power yields to the dictates of a secret third party with military aims, it becomes in fact inferior to a military power, though not to its native generals. In this way the supreme maxim is stood on its head, because a nation's armed forces can then be put at the service of interests alien to, and destructive of, its own. This happened in Palestine.
The repression of native Arabs as “rebels” did not help Zionism in Palestine. At the start of the 1930-1940 decade the rise of Hitler strengthened its position in the lobbies of London and Washington, but this improvement was counterbalanced by the further deterioration which occurred in Palestine itself as the decade wore on. During this later period Dr. Weizmann, who from 1904 to 1919 had concentrated his efforts on the British government extended his activities to two new places; his orbit covered “Jerusalem, London and New York” and he dealt with British prime ministers like a man whittling sticks.
His next victim was, once more, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, who after desertion by his Socialist colleagues became prime minister of a coalition government of all other parties. Young Jimmy Macdonald from Lossiemouth, Scotland's poor boy made good, was by this time Mr. Ramsay Macdonald of the graying, floating hair. He made his son, Mr. Malcolm Macdonald, Under-Secretary for the Colonies, and therewith both Macdonalds left the happy dreamland of Socialist platform oratory for the cold, hard world of “irresistible pressure.” Mr. Macdonald again set out to stop the endless fighting and rioting in Palestine, which by this time had claimed many British lives, and soon announced that his government would suspend Zionist immigration, regulate Zionist land purchases, and punish incitements to disorder “in whatever quarter they may originate .”
Mr. Macdonald at once became the object of violent attack and began to wear the bewildered mien for which he became famous (and which I observed when I met him in 1935). He received the visit of Dr. Weizmann and three Zionist associates and was accused of “dealing rather frivolously” with “the moral implications of promises given to Jews” (Dr. Weizmann). Leading politicians in his own country, America and South Africa began a furious campaign against him. Intimidated a second time, he appointed a special Cabinet Committee to reconsider the oft-considered “Palestine policy.” A Socialist minister, Mr. Arthur Henderson, was chairman and Mr. Malcolm Macdonald was secretary; Dr. Weizmann and six leading Zionists formed “the committee”; the Arabs, as usual, were not represented.
Dr. Weizmann violently attacked the undertaking to punish incitements to disorder from whatever quarter; disorder, violence and massacre, he said, originated only with the native Arabs. Mr. Macdonald again surrendered in a letter to Dr. Weizmann, under the terms of which Zionist immigration to
Palestine in 1934 and 1935 exceeded all previous figures. Having dealt with Mr. Macdonald Dr. Weizmann undertook the grand tour. As the Second War approached he was everywhere, in South Africa, Turkey, France, Italy, Belgium and other lands. In France he met “every premier between the two wars” and of these he found M. Leon Blum, a co-religionist, to be especially sympathetic. M. Aristide Briand, the Foreign Minister, was also well-disposed “although a little vague as to what was going on” (Dr. Weizmann often refers in such terms to the Western politicians who did his bidding). He saw Mussolini three times. He spoke to distinguished audiences about the iniquities of Hitler and told them it was “the responsibility of the civilized world” on this account to expel the Palestinean Arabs (he did not put it so plainly).
Nevertheless, by the later 1930's Zionism in Palestine was disintegrating again. But for the Second War it would have faded into oblivion, an Arabian Jameson Raid undertaken in irresponsibility and ignominiously ended.
In 1936 Arab rioting became even more violent. By then successive British governments for fourteen years, at Zionist behest, had refused to allow the Arabs to hold elections. With time Dr. Weizmann's argument that this refusal was of the essence of “democracy” lost appeal and the British government found itself in an increasingly difficult dilemma. Mr. Stanley Baldwin (after succeeding Mr. Macdonald) resorted to the old “pending-basket” procedure; he sent one more commission of investigation (the fifth?) to Palestine, and at this point the thing became plain farce.
Mr. Macdonald had been cowed by Dr. Weizmann and his bodyguard into cancelling a “Palestine policy” announced after full consultation with his responsible advisers. Now that Mr. Baldwin sent a commission to Palestine to discover an alternative policy it was received by Dr. Weizmann! With agility he hopped from London to Jerusalem and back, telling the British government in London what to do, their Commissioners in Palestine what to report, and the British government in London, again, what it should do with the report when it arrived. (Betweenwhiles he visited New York to arrange for more “pressure” from that quarter).
This Peel Commission received from some quarter a proposal that the eternal dilemma might be solved by partitioning Palestine, and promptly consulted Dr. Weizmann. Until that moment the pretence had been kept up, all through the years, that the Zionists did not claim a Jewish state, only the “national home.” Dr. Weizmann knew that if a British government could once be brought to support “partition” it would at last be committed to a separate Jewish state.
His Asiatic mastery of the art of negotiation compels admiration. By invoking the Old Testament he firmly nailed down the idea of partition without committing himself to any boundaries. He said that he might be able to make some concession about the actual area to be taken for his Zionists, as Jehovah had not indicated precise frontiers in his revelations to the Levites. This accepted
the offer of territory while leaving the entire question of boundaries open so that even “partition,” obviously, was to be no solution. The words with which Dr. Weizmann supported partition are of interest in the light of later events: “The Arabs are afraid that we shall absorb the whole of Palestine. Say what we will about the preservation of their rights, they are dominated by fear and will not listen to reason. A Jewish state with definite boundaries internationally guaranteed would be something final; the transgressing of these boundaries would be an act of war which the Jews would not commit, not merely because of its moral implications, but because it would arouse the whole world against them.”
The Peel Commission recommended partition and stated that “the Mandate” was unworkable. Had the British Government acted on that report and promptly withdrawn from Palestine much might have been spared mankind, but within two years the Second World War reinvolved it in the insoluble problem.
As it approached Dr. Weizmann continued to beleaguer the Western politicians with the argument that “the Jewish National Home would play a very considerable role in that part of the world as the one reliable ally of the democracies.” By this he meant that the Zionist demand for arms for the forcible seizure of Palestine, which was about to be made, would be presented in that way, through the politicians and the press, to the public masses of the West. In 1938 he then proposed to Mr. Ormsby-Gore, British Secretary for the Colonies, that the Zionists should be allowed to form a force of something like 40,000 men. This presupposed that the unnecessary war would come about (an anticipation in which the leading men behind the scenes apparently were all agreed), and Dr. Weizmann did all he could to ensure this, using the case of the Jews as his sole argument. After the murder of von Rath and the anti-Jewish disorders in Germany he told Mr. Anthony Eden:
“If a government is allowed to destroy a whole community which has committed no crime … it means the beginning of anarchy and the destruction of the basis of civilization. The powers which stand looking on without taking any measures to prevent the crime will one day be visited by severe punishment.”
Hitler's persecution of men was ignored in these private, fateful, interviews in political antechambers; the plight of one “community” alone was advanced as the argument for war. The Zionists, as events have shown, were intent on destroying “a whole community which had committed no crime” (the Arabs of Palestine, who knew nothing of Hitler) and the arms they demanded were used for that purpose. Significantly, Dr. Weizmann put his argument in terms of the Christian creed; under that teaching the destruction of a community innocent of crime is itself a crime which will bring “severe punishment.” Under the Levitical Law, however, which Dr. Weizmann invoked as the basis of his demand for Palestine, it is the chief “statute and commandment,” to be rewarded by power and treasure, not punished.
In the last twelvemonth before the Second War the secret arbiters of power
exerted their maximum effort to gain control of men and events. Mr. Roosevelt was “committed” but could only be made use of at a later stage. In England Mr. Baldwin, the Worcestershire squire and manufacturer, gave way to the Birmingham business-man, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, in whom a serious obstacle to the exercise of “irresistible pressure” behind the scenes arose.
Mr. Chamberlain's name is linked with the final, fatal act of encouragement to Hitler: the abandonment and enforced surrender of Czechoslovakia at Munich. For a few weeks the public masses thought he had saved the peace by this deed and at that moment I, in Budapest and Prague, first understood what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said, “I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens who, reading newspapers, live and die in the belief that they have known something of what has been passing in the world of their times.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Chamberlain may have calculated that he was compelled to do what he did by the state of British weakness and unpreparedness which his predecessor, Mr. Baldwin, had allowed to come about. I believe he was wrong if he so calculated; even at that late moment firmness would have saved the day, because the German generals were ready to overthrow Hitler; but he may have been honestly convinced that he could not act otherwise. Where he unforgivably erred was in depicting the deed of Munich as something morally right and in bolstering up this contention with allusions to “a small country a long way away with which we have nothing to do,” or similar words.
However, he was at least consistent in this last attitude. He wanted to disentangle England from its imbroglio in another small country far away where it had found only tribulation bequeathed to it by Mr. Balfour. What he did incurred the bitter enmity of those who were powerful behind the political scenes, and in my opinion the true source of his overthrow may have been the same as that of Mr. Asquith in 1916.
1938, when the word “partition” rang out, was the bloodiest year in Palestine up to that time; 1500 Arabs were killed. The Peel Commission had recommended partition but could not suggest how it might be effected. Yet another body of investigators was sent out, this time in search of a means of bisecting the infant without killing it. This Woodhead Commission reported in October 1938 that it could not devise a practical plan; in November the von Rath murder and the anti-Jewish disorders which followed it in Germany were used by the Zionists to intensify their incitements against the Arabs in Palestine.
Mr. Chamberlain then did an extraordinary thing, by the standards prevailing. He called a Palestine conference in London at which the Arabs (for the first time since the Peace Conference of 1919) were represented. From this conference emerged the White Paper of March 1939 in which the British government undertook “the establishment within ten years of an independent Palestine state” and “the termination of the Mandate.” In this state the native Arabs and immigrant Zionists were to share the government in such a way as to ensure that
the essential interests of each community were safeguarded. Jewish immigration was to be limited to 75,000 annually for five years and the irrevocable land-purchases were to be restricted.
This plan, if carried out, meant peace in Palestine at last, but no separate Jewish state. At that moment the figure of Mr. Winston Churchill advanced to the forefront of British affairs. He had for ten years been in political eclipse and the future student may be interested to know what contemporaries have already forgotten: that during this period he was a highly unpopular man, not because of any specific acts or quality, but because he was consistently given that “bad press” which is the strongest weapon in the hands of those who control political advancement. This organized hostility was made particularly plain during the abdication crisis of 1937, when his pleas for time received much more bitter attack than they inherently deserved and he was howled down in the House of Commons. His biographers depict him as suffering from depression during these years and thinking himself “finished” politically. His feeling in that respect may be reflected in his published words (privately written) to Mr. Bernard Baruch early in 1939: “War is coming very soon. We will be in it and you will be in it. You will be running the show over there, but I will be on the sidelines over here.”
Very soon after he wrote this Mr. Churchill's political fortunes took a sudden turn for the better and (as in the case of Mr. Lloyd George in 1916) his attitude towards Zionism appears to have had much to do with this, to judge from what has been published. His record in this matter suggests that Mr. Churchill, the product of Blenheim and Brooklyn, is something of “a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma,” to use the words employed by him about the Communist state in 1939. In 1906, as has been shown, he was among the earliest of the politicians who supported Zionism on the hustings, so that a Zionist speaker said any Jew who voted against him was a traitor. However, in office during the First War he took little part in that affair and Dr. Weizmann only mentions him once at that period, and then not as a “friend.” Then, as Colonial Secretary in 1922, he gave offence to Zion by his White Paper, which Dr. Weizmann calls “a serious whittling down of the Balfour Declaration.” It proposed for Palestine “a Legislative Council with a majority of elected members,” and this would have meant, not only holding those elections which Dr. Weizmann to the end forbade, but allowing the native Arabs of Palestine to govern their own country!
Thus Mr. Churchill's ten years in the political wilderness, 1929-1939, were also ones during which he was in disfavour with the Zionists and Dr. Weizmann's narrative never mentions him until the eve of the Second War, when he is suddenly “discovered” (as the playwrights used to say) in it as a most ardent champion of Zionism. This is the more curious because, as late as October 20, 1938, Mr. Churchill was still talking like the author of the White Paper of 1922: “We should … give to the Arabs a solemn assurance … that the annual quota of Jewish immigration should not exceed a certain figure for a period of at least
ten years.” Very soon after that he re-emerges in Dr. Weizmann's account as a man implicitly and privately agreed to support a Zionist immigration of millions.
Quite suddenly Dr. Weizmann says that in 1939 he “met Mr. Winston Churchill” (ignored in his story for seventeen years) “and he told me he would take part in the debate, speaking of course against the Proposed White Paper.” The reader is left to guess why Mr. Churchill should have undertaken “of course” to speak against a document which, in its emphasis on the need to do justice to the Arabs, was in accord with his own White Paper of 1922 and with his speeches for seventeen years after it.
Then, on the day of this debate, Dr. Weizmann was invited to lunch with Mr. Churchill “who read his speech out to us” and asked if Dr. Weizmann had any changes to suggest. The reader will recall that editors of The Times and Manchester Guardian wrote editorial articles about Zionism after consultation with the chieftain of one interested party; now Mr. Churchill approached a debate on a major issue of state policy in the same manner. He was renowned for the quality of his speeches, and became so in America on account of the strange fact (as it was considered there) that he wrote them himself. However, in the circumstances above described by Dr. Weizmann, the point of actual penmanship appears of minor importance.
At that moment Mr. Churchill's “championship” (Dr. Weizmann) was vain; the great debate ended in victory for Mr. Chamberlain and his White Paper by a majority of 268 to 179. It was substantial, but many politicians already smelt the wind and their sail-trimming instinct is reflected in the unusually large number of abstentions: 110. This gave the first warning to Mr. Chamberlain of the method, of dereliction within his own party, by which he was to be overthrown. The debate showed another interesting thing, namely, that the Opposition party by this time held Zionism to be a supreme tenet of its policy, and, indeed, the ultimate test by which a man could prove whether he was a “Socialist” or not! The rising Socialist party had long forgotten the wrongs of the working man, the plight of the oppressed and the sad lot of “the underdog”; it was caught up in international intrigue and wanted to be on the side of the top-dog. Thus Mr. Herbert Morrison, a Socialist leader, pointed accusingly at Mr. Malcolm Macdonald (whose department was closely identified with the White Paper) and mourned the heresy of a man who “was once a Socialist.” Socialism, too, by this time meant driving Arabs out of Palestine, and the trade union notables, with their presentation gold watches, did not care how poor or oppressed those distant people were.
The Second War broke out very soon after the issuance of the White Paper and the debate. At once all thought of “establishing an independent Palestine” and “terminating the Mandate” was suspended, for the duration of the war (and at its end a very different picture was to be unveiled). At its start Mr. Roosevelt in America was “publicly and privately committed” to support Zionism (Mr. Harry
Hopkins). In England Mr. Chamberlain was an impediment, but he was on his way out. Mr. Churchill was on his way in. The people wanted him, because he was “the man who had been right” about Hitler and the war; they knew nothing of his talks with Dr. Weizmann and the effects these might produce.