Sunday, January 27, 2008

Peace in our time

Arun Gandhi, grandson of the famous Mohandas Gandhi, has resigned from the "Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence" after his comments about Jews and Israel led to extensive criticism. The head of the ADL called it "shameful that a peace institute would be headed up by a bigot." Due to the perception that Arun Gandhi was a bad fit for an organization bearing Mohandas' name, Arun was pressured to resign.

However, knowing the older Gandhi's positions on Jews and Israel gives a different - and more disturbing - perspective to his grandson's comments. It seems the younger Gandhi, in his comments, does not so much betray his grandfather's ideals as follow them faithfully.

Regarding the Holocaust, Mohandas Gandhi once speculated that "if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre... could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant." That is to say, the "deliverance" Jews should wait for is the privilege of being massacred.

As a young lawyer in South Africa around 1900, Mohandas Gandhi worked to eliminate discrimination against Indian migrants, but did nothing for the native blacks who were discriminated against to a much greater extent. In fact, he often made apparently derogatory comments about them, for example discussing the "raw kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness". "Kaffir", of course, is the South African equivalent of the American word "nigger".

So it's no surprise that the younger Gandhi thinks the Jews are overplaying the significance of the Holocaust. After all, the older Gandhi thought the Holocaust was a positive experience for them, not a disaster. Nor is it surprising that the younger Gandhi says the Palestinian experience is ten times worse than apartheid. We should be reminded of how little sympathy the older Gandhi had for the suffering of South African blacks.

There is a clear continuity between the Gandhis' positions, and it does not speak well for either of them.

What's intriguing is that the Gandhis ignore Nazi barbarity and simply call on Jews to accept its consequences, while regarding Israel, they are outraged by Jewish decisions yet never consider that Palestinians might protest them non-violently. Shouldn't nonviolence work for Palestinians at least as much for Holocaust victims? Doesn't Nazi extermination deserve at least as much disgust as Israeli occupation? But I guess antisemites in every generation have had, for whatever reason, focused pathologically on Jews and Jewish actions and responses, to the exclusion of any honest moral appraisal involving both sides.


goyisherebbe said...

In the '30s after Gandhi made these and other statements, specifically the suggestion that the Jews should non-violently resist the Nazis, Martin Buber, later known in Israel as a peacenik leftist and an advocate of a binational state (with Magnes), responded. Buber, corresponding with Gandhi, replied that there was a fundamental difference between Britain and Nazi Germany. A British military officer or government official who was responsible for an atrocity would ultimately be called on the carpet because government policy is subject to review by Parliament. Hitler, OTOH, had dismissed the Reichstag and ruled by fiat. A German officer committing an atrocity would and did receive a medal! In addition the world judges the Jews differently than it does others. On both counts Gandhi was found wanting. I participated in an off-campus study group of Hebrew U. students in 1972 who read this correspondence. In 1987/8 at the beginning of the first intifada there was a character named Mubarak Awad who claimed to be carrying on the Palestinian struggle based on Gandhi's methods. It was bogus. The struggle included throwing potentially lethal rocks at cars as well as giving moral support to the "armed struggle" in parallel. My friend David Bedein, who was in the same study group, interviewed Awad, who said that the Jews should not have come to Palestine but should have resisted the Nazis in Europe. David responded with the reply of Buber. Awad gave a satanic grin and said the Jews still should have followed Gandhi. Six million were not enough.

Beisrunner said...

well said, thank you.