Monday, May 5, 2008

Judah Magnes -- The Forgotten Prophet

There is a series in Haaretz called, "1948 Diaries," which today featured Judah Magnes's Zionist activities to prevent the unilateral establishment of a Jewish state. I have reproduced the article below. Unfortunately, this is a very busy week (month) for me, so I have to be a bit brief on comment.

But one of my occasional readers, bar_kochba132, has asked that even if Magnes was right, what was the alternative? I will let him say it in his words:

A continuation of the British mandate seemed not to be in the cards, because Britain was bankrupt and they were going to pull out of their main base in Egypt anyway, so Palestine had less and less strategic importance to them (once they had to give up the Suez Canal). One possibility was a UN Mandate, but those have been problematic. A unitary state would have likely lead to a Lebanon-type situation with an ongoing civil war, with the Arabs jealous of Jewish economic dominance. So what did Magnes think was the solution?

Oy, I simply can't answer that important question now. And, needless to say, 1948 is not 2008. But here it is in brief:

Magnes was a pragmatist and a tireless diplomat. As I have said before, he should be distinguished from Buber, Simon, and the Brit Shalom crowd. Before the establishment of the state, he pushed for a binational state, and was encouraged by the minority UNSCOP that called for a federal state. The latter solution was also rejected by the Arab States; some of the Arab side were prepared to allow the Jews to have minority rights and a certain degree of cultural autonomy, but not parity of any sort. As the article states, Magnes was prepared for a temporary UN mandate or trusteeship, and he was also in favor of postponing the implementation of partition (as was the US State Department). Following the establishment of the State of Israel, he argued for a federation of several states with a joint army, economic and foreign policies.

The tragedy of Magnes was that his ideas were, I believe, right in principle, but their timing was wrong. Neither the Zionists nor the Arabs were willing to listen, and he understood quite well the logic of their positions.

After the semester is over, I will post a fascinating debate between Aubrey (Abba) Eban and Judah Magnes that appeared in Commentary in 1948. He called then for a United States of Palestine. Who would have thought sixty years ago, and in a much altered situation, that so much of that debate is relevant?

1948 diaries: Saving the Jews from themselves

By Ofri Ilani

Judah Magnes, a founder of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its first president, was in poor health on April 13, 1948. The 70-year-old Magnes knew the end was near, but that didn't stop him from flying to Washington, D.C., in an effort to end the violence in the soon-to-be-born State of Israel. He represented almost no one other than a group of peace-seeking professors, but was nonetheless able to access and influence the American administration.

He had access because the State Department wanted to slow down partition, and they wanted Magnes to influence Truman. It didn't work.

The details of this forgotten period during Israel's struggle for independence are revealed in excerpts of Magnes' diary, published here for the first time, which describe the Zionist leader's attempt to convince the president of the United States to force a cease-fire and prevent both the implementation of the partition plan and the establishment of a Jewish state.

When the United Nations passed the partition plan on November 29, 1947, not all the Jews celebrated in the streets. A group of intellectuals, most of them Hebrew University lecturers, believed that the war that would break out in the wake of the establishment of a Jewish state would bring disaster down on the Jews and the Arabs alike. Magnes, a Reform rabbi, pacifist and anti-imperialist who was known for his opposition to World War I, was one of the most important Zionist leaders of his era. He was a leading figure in the New York Jewish community and was a key liaison between the Zionist leadership and the American administration. He moved to Israel in 1922 and came out in support of the establishment of a single, binational state for Jews and Arabs, with a government comprised of representatives from both peoples.

Magnes' personal diary, which he wrote in English, discusses his despair at the violence as the British Mandate came to an end, intermingling those accounts with descriptions of his worsening health and his nightmares.

On April 12, 1948, Magnes wrote in his diary: "For more than a generation I have been pleading for peace, conciliation, understanding. How can I not and stand before the world and say: 'Friends, stop the bloodshed. Understanding is possible.' This is the moment I have been preparing for all these years."

The American consul told Magnes that if no trusteeship were formed by May 15, Palestine would enter a period full of "very grave danger with bloodshed," Magnes wrote the same day. "Great need of courageous, constructive attitude such as mine," he wrote. "Therefore time come for me and others selected... or me alone to come to U.S. in order to cooperate." Magnes expressed the hope that if a state were declared, the United States would impose sanctions on Israel, saying that there can be no war without money or ammunition.

On April 13, Magnes was informed that 34 Hebrew University and Hadassah hospital employees were killed in an attack on a convoy to Mount Scopus. All told, 77 people were killed in the attack, many of them Magnes' friends. But Manges was no less shocked by the massacre than he was by the circumstances that preceded it: Four days earlier, the Irgun and Lehi pre-state Jewish underground militias killed more than 100 Palestinians at Deir Yassin.

At the funerals of those killed in the convoy attack, Magnes condemned the cruelty of both sides, and was denounced as a traitor by many members of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine).

"Unlike other Zionist leaders, like [David] Ben-Gurion, Magnes' diaries are not just a political document," says Hebrew University Prof. Aryeh Goren, who is researching and editing Magnes' writings. "His writing is very personal - he shares and talks about his misgivings and his weaknesses."

Magnes considered himself to be a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and the prophet Jeremiah, and opposed all forms of nationalism that are based on military force. The Ihud (Unity) association he established with several others is seen as the flagship group of left-wing Zionists regarding all that pertains to Jewish-Arab relations. Its members were attacked by nearly all the political parties in the pre-state period, and were described as defeatists, ghetto-like and anti-patriotic.

A long study of the Ichud was published by Prof. Joseph Heller in Hebrew a few years ago. Unfortunately, it is only in Hebrew, and the author can't afford to have it translated into English. (I should mentioned in passing that the author does not share Magnes's views, or thinks that they would have worked.)

"Magnes predicted that even if we win the war, there would then be another war, and another one. It would never end," says Goren. "When the battles of the War of Independence began, he tried to halt the implementation of the UN decision and advance the idea that was promoted then by the American State Department, that the UN would freeze the partition decision and in the interim force both sides into a trusteeship with a temporary government, until the conditions suit another arrangement. Magnes thought that this was an opportunity to stop the turn of events, in the hope that in the meantime there would be understanding and it would be possible to talk."

Magnes died several months after the establishment of the state. His loss was not only a great loss to the Jewish people but to Zionism and the State of Israel. He is virtually a forgotten figure. And the reason for that, aside from the obvious one that he went against the master narrative, is that, as an American and a reform Jew, he was an outsider in a country founded by Russian Jewish nationalists on a European socialist model. In a sense, the failure of Magnes was the first of countless failures of liberal Zionist American Jews to have an impact on the country. His writings have never been translated into Hebrew, and, aside from Heller's book, very few have studied him.

But his time will come


Anonymous said...

How will "Magnes' time come"? Do you think we Jews will give up our state and live as dhimmis in a larger Muslim-majority state? What did Magnes think was the alternative to partition? If there had been a unitary state, we might have ended up like Lebanon with an never-ending civil war varying between hot and cold. A UN Trusteeship wouldn't be able to keep the peace, if fighting broke out, since eventually those countries who sent troops would face pressure at home to withdraw them (e.g. Iraq today). Magnes was totally wrong...the choice wasn't between partition and "peace". War was inevitable in any event. Don't forget this is three years after the Holocaust. There were a lot of angry Jews then who were prepared to take action.

Jerry Haber said...

1) Binationalism is not "living like Dhimmis."

2) The alternative to partition was some form of federalism or binationalism.

3) There are other binationalist or federation enterprises that do not end up like Lebanon. But frankly, binationalism worked pretty well in Lebanon until the civil war, and that was exacerbated by outside forces, including the Palestinian refugees, Israel, and Syria. Those forces are still at play. Anyway, the Lebanon model is not really relevant.

4) The question before Magnes was: what was the best political arrangment between the two peoples that would maximize security and cooperation. He believed that partition would lead to war. It is true that he, like many others underestimated the strength of the Zionists, and he was fearful of the bloodshed that would ensue.

5) Magnes was against unilateralism and haste. War was inevitable only because both sides thought they would get more through war. His was a voice crying in the wilderness. But this much should be said: I don't know any of the early Zionists who thought that the conflict would go on for decades much less a century. And there is no end in sight.

6) Magnes was deeply affected by the holocaust and by the plight of the Jewish refugees. This really tore him apart, because he was willing to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine, which was the demand of the Arabs.

7) Still the best introduction to Magnes is Magnes himself. Dissenter in Zion is still available on Amazon, and is a collection of his writings, correspondence, et.

Peter H said...

Bar_Kochba132 also favors a "unitary state" in Israel/Palestine, just one where Israeli Jews have all the power & Palestinians in "Judea & Samaria" & Gaza have no rights.

Anonymous said...

In a previous thread, you asked me about the Arabs of Hevron who claim the anarchists and other Leftist militants are opposed by them. I found in Makor Rishon a link to an article written in January that talks about it. Unfortunately, the URL is very long so I will give Makor Rishon's

Look on the right side for a box that has "most recommended articles" and click on the one that says:

"Hasmol neged ha'anarchistim"

Anonymous said...

Canada is a successful bi-national multicultural state.
However as Americans cant understand anything but a uninational unicultural state so they must create a barrage of propaganda about how we have failed (just as they do about our successful health insurance).

That obscures Israelis taking a good look at our cobbled together, NON UTOPIAN solution, based on impractical compromise by incompetent politicians, and a desire to eschew violent solutions (except while playing hockey) or spend money on security walls which could be better spent on beer.

Anonymous said...

To Peter H.

Your statement is incorrect. I advocate a condominium arrangement in Judea/Samaria with Jews under Israeli rule and the Arabs citizens of an Arab entity that would most likely be associated with Jordan (under whatever gov't, Hashemite or other). Israel would have overall security control which would hopefully be drawn down as the security situation improves. This is what the current situation is evolving to in any case. It will be a de-facto and not de-jure situation since the Arabs could never formally agree to any such thing, just as they can't accept any peace agreement with Israel, as Arafat proved and is being proven again as part of the phony "Annapolis process". It is inevitable that this will prove to be the long-term arrangement.

Ben Bayit said...

Your belief in Magnes' time coming is almost messianic. sort of like a gush emunim for Magnes.

Jabotinsky saw decades of conflict with the Arabs. So your statement is incorrect - unless you don't view Jabotinsky as an early Zionist leader. Since you are an anti-zionist you really shouldn't be stooping to the low level of the mapai willful ignorance of all things Revisionist. For you the WZO and the NZO are flip sides of the same rusty coin.

Jerry Haber said...

Jabotinsky believed that the Arabs would eventually accept the Jewish State. Hence, the "Iron Wall" thinking which eventually was adopted by Mapai. Magnes made no such prediction. "Decades" is overly optimistic in my book. "

As for being an anti-Zionist, if Magnes was an anti-Zionist, so am I. And so was Ahad ha-Am.

Frankly, I dont see much difference between Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky. Otah geveret be-shinuy aderet.

Ben Bayit said...

Here's a "federal state" success story for you

I can really see the Arabs being even friendlier to us than the French and the Flemish are to each other.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever post the Eban Magnes debate?

YMedad said...

Magnes met with Marshall on May 4 and with Truman May 5 1948. The Yishuv he told them was an artificial development, he asked the State Dept to stop the flow of donations to the state, he rejected staehood and opted for trusteeship. He suggested the US send troops to halt the implementation of statehood which is just causing bloodshed. When Sec of State Marshall said he knew what lay in the future and that the Jews would win the war, Magnes said he was wrong and that time was on the side of the Arabs.

This is a Zionist?

here are the scanned documents.

Alan said...

>> Canada is a successful bi-national multicultural state

horse-poop. Canada has a unitary central government, a unitary military, and a unitary national police.

And a bunch of Anglos and Frogs who talk shit about each other behind the other's backs. And they both have little-to-nothing- good to say about the stone-age indigenii. Well, they ==are== excellent customers for the alcohol dealers..... I can prove that with facts and figures.

Canadians are allegedly bi-lingual. Interesting allegation. One wonders how many kids in Whitehorse can give a Parisian taxi driver directions. Are you willing to stake your next (5 months from now) scheduled appointment-with-a-endocrinologist on it?

Immigrants? Let's see: SE-Asians fleeing poverty; Dutch fleeing Eurabia; HongKong'nikkim fleeing Beijing-control; Israelis fleeing a bad economy and Established-religion-racketeering.... where ==are== all the Swiss and Finn immigrants to Canada?!?

Nice attempt at "hockey hasbara", buddy, but you're only fooling the children....

YMedad said...

You never responded to my comment