The Jews

Published date01 April 2018
Date01 April 2018
Subject MatterArticles
The Jews:
Revisiting Mahatma
Gandhi’s November 1938
P. R. Kumaraswamy1
Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English
or France to the French.’ This remark made in November 1938 has been the
most widely statement of Mahatma Gandhi on foreign policy, especially on Israel,
Palestine and wider Middle East/West Asia. This was seen as the epitome of
Gandhi’s ‘consistent’ opposition to the formation of a Jewish national home in
Palestine. However, a closer reading of the article published in the 26 November
issue of Harijan presents a more complex picture and depicts Gandhi’s unfamili-
arity with Judaism and his limited understanding of Zionism. Furthermore, while
demanding Jewish non-violence even against Hitler, he was accommodative of
Arab violence in Palestine.
Mahatma Gandhi, Palestine, Jews, Zionism, Hitler, Non-violence, Jewish National
Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the
English or France to the French’. This November 1938 remark has been the most
widely quoted statement of Mahatma Gandhi on foreign policy (CWMG, vol.68,
pp. 137–141). Indeed, it is impossible to have any scholarly discussion on India’s
policy towards Israel, Palestine, Arab–Israeli conflict or the wider West-Asian
region without this. Gandhi’s observation figures prominently in the works of
International Studies
55(2) 146–166
2018 Jawaharlal Nehru University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0020881718768345
1 Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University,
New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
P. R. Kumaraswamy, Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal
Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
Kumaraswamy 147
Professor M. S. Agwani, the doyen of the region in the country (Agwani, 1971,
p. 448; 1973, p. 54; 1976, p. 68). The statement has become an obligatory refer-
ence for political leaders and can be noticed even after the normalization of rela-
tions wi th Israe l (MEA, 2 014, 201 5; Mukherjee, 2007). The same is true for The
Domestic Roots of India’s Foreign Policy, a seminal work by A. Appadorai (1981,
p. 149) as well as in the writings of Aijaz Ahmad (2014, p. 184), A. K. Ramakrishnan
(2014, p. 37), Bansidhar Pradhan (2004, p. 5), Shamir Hasan (2008, p. 100) and
others (Jansen, 1971; India, MEA (n.d); A Student of West Asian Studies, N.D;
Jansen, 1971; Heptullah, 1991; Hariharan, 2014; Faleriio 2015).
Likewise, many former diplomats cite Gandhi without even trying to link the
1938 statement with the post-1992 Indo-Israeli bonhomie (Abhyankar, 2007, p. 324;
Sikri, 2009, p. 144). Even the communists who criticized Mahatma Gandhi for
being a ‘bourgeoisie agent’ do not hesitate to seek refuge under his 1938 remake
(People’s Democracy, 2004; Prashad, 2003, p. 12). Critics of the Indo-Israeli rela-
tions often flag Gandhi either to question normalization of relations or criticize the
pace (Aiyar, 1993; Chakravorti, 2008; Dasgupta, 1992; G. Gandhi, 2017; R. Gandhi,
2017; Varadarajan, 2005). International scholars also cite Gandhi to explain the
prolonged absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries (Abadi, 2004;
Blarel, 2014; Shimoni, 1977; Ward, 1992).
Despite such an extensive citation, not many questioned or challenged some of
Gandhi’s assumptions, observations and understanding. For long, to explain,
justify and rationalize the absence of relations with Israel, scholars often used
Gandhi. If India’s recognition came in September 1950, normalization had to wait
until January 1992. Hence, the recognition-without-relations policy was depicted
as Gandhian: moral and principled. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s decision to
establish full diplomatic relations in the wake of the end of the Cold War and
Madrid Peace Conference, should have transformed this trend. This, however, was
the case and Indian leaders, diplomats, scholars and the intelligentsia continue
to cite Gandhi’s 1938 statement as if nothing has changed. If non-relation with
Israel was ‘Gandhian’, then normalization naturally becomes unGandhian.
While squaring this circle is a challenge, a modest attempt is made here to closely
examine Gandhi’s article on The Jews published in the 26 November 1938 issue of
Harijan. Actual quotes from the article are in italics, and for clarity and continuity,
the entire article is reproduced at the end.
The Context
Gandhi’s forays into the Arab–Jewish conflict began during the Khilafat phase
when he located Palestine within the context of Jazirat-ul-Arab. Meaning the
island of Arabia, it denotes the Arabian Peninsula and comprises of present-day
Saudi Arabia and its neighbours on the Western shores of the Persian Gulf.
However, in the 1920s, the leaders of the Khilafat movement adopted a far wider
canvas for it and according to noted historian Mushirul Hasan, Jazirat-ul-Arab
included ‘Constantinople, Jerusalem, Medina and, above all, Mecca with its

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