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Labor Action, 26 May 1947


Miriam Evans

Finds Anti-Semitic Approach
in Koestler’s Palestine Novel


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 21, 26 May 1947, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


>(Several weeks ago Labor Action and the New International carried reviews of Arthur Koestler’s recent novel on Palestine, Thieves in the night. These reviews produced the following critical comments on the reviews and the book itself, comments which relate to the great world problem of Palestine and Arab-Jewish relations.

We are publishing these comments not only because of our policy of free discussion, but also because of the importance of the material contained therein. It contributes to the discussion of the general question.Ed.)

After, reading not one, but two reviews of Arthur Koestler’s Thieves in the Night in the New International, I feel compelled to write a few comments relating to some significant omission in both reviews. Both Avel Victor in Labor Action and Brooks in the New International fail to point out the anti-Semitism of Koestler as he demonstrates it in this novel.

Victor, shows an over-concern with culture, that is, in proportion to the rest of his review. Koestler’s primary importance for us in this book is not the cultural niche in which his writing belongs but what political significance his writing has. That Victor did not wholly appreciate the political significance of Koestler’s writing is shown by his failure to point out the anti-Semitism of Koestler plus the fact that he, calls Koestler “an accurate reporter.” Even Victor contradicts himself when he disputes some of the things that Koestler has to say on the Arab peasants. Koestler is above all not an accurate reporter. Koestler slants and propagandizes in every sentence for Koestler and for the Revisionists. Sometimes openly and sometimes by innuendo Koestler says that the Arabs in Palestine have only benefited by the arrival of the Jews in Palestine. Not one word is said about the wage differentials in Palestine between the Jew and the Arab. Here is a chart that amply illustrates a cause for resentment on the part of the Arab worker and the growth of reactionary Arab nationalist political parties.

Average Daily Wage Rates (mils)*




% Increase of Jewish
Wage over Arab













Hand compositor (news)
















* Economic Survey of Palestine, Horowitz (directed by Jewish Agency)
taken from Wage Rate Statistic Bulletin, Government of Palestine, 4,
1937, pp. 11–14.

Mention on these wages might show cause for Arab-Jewish trade unions.

Koestler never mentions the fact that Haganah was used by the British Colonial Office to quell an Arab revolt in Iraq. Mention of that might make his reader see the necessity of joint political action by both national groups. A workers’ and peasants’ army made up of Arabs and Jews fighting for an independent Palestine is not what Koestler seeks to propose. Koestler wants always to present the jews as nationals in the right. He does not want to show class distinctions among the Jews. I.n the same way Koestler wants to lump all Arabs together regardless of class distinctions.

I think Brooks adequately demonstrates how Koestler propagandizes by combining political views and personal characteristics. Brooks, as is his right, criticizes the book from the standpoint of his pro-Arab position on Palestine. This accounts in part for his failure to mention the anti-Semitism of Koestler.

I am not concerned with Koestler as an artist in this letter. I am concerned with the political ideas he presents and propagates in this book. Here he presents the prejudice of anti-Semitism and propagates the political program of Revisionism. Revisionism has been well analyzed in Labor Action. I think both the Victor and Brooks reviews have discussed the problem of Zionism, at the expense of discussing anti-Semitism.

Koestler’s Anti-Semitism

First, before I quote on the anti-Semitic parts of Koestler’s novel, I would like to illustrate his chauvinism which is the other side of the medal of his anti-Semitism. “Ay, don’t we know the Bottle and what it does to the goy – the songs at the top, the sentimentality in the middle, and the pogrom at the bottom.” “But I don’t want to be reasonable; I have had enough of being reasonable for 2,000 years while the others were not,” No class distinctions, are presented. All non-Jews are lumped into one group of oppressors. Anti-Semitism as an instrument of the feudal landlords, church hierarchy, and capitalists to be used in deflecting the class struggle is an explanation that the bewildered Koestler could not think of.

On page 55 “Joseph was struck by the ugliness of the faces around him ... It was not the first time that he noticed it, but tonight his revulsion against this assembly of thick, curbed noses, fleshy lips and liquid eyes, was particularly, strong. ... But it was no good denying to himself that he disliked them, and that he hated even more the streak of the over-ripe race in himself ... The others girls made him shudder in incestuous revulsion. Their flesh had lost its innocence from birth or before ...”

Here he lends himself to the anti-Semite who says the Jews have typical physical characteristics, a fallacy long ago exploded by scientists in general and Kautsky in particular.

An American reporter says on page 221 “... I’ve seen their settlements. I’ve been down the Jordan valley and in the Huleh swamps. Those are some guys. They’re a new type. They’ve quit being Jews, and become. Hebrews.” This is a reaction that the Jew Joseph wants to see in the Gentile. It comes more from a Jewish self-hate than anti-Semitism. Jews among themselves who measure everything they do. by “what will be the reaction of. the Gentile world?” express this perfectly.

On page 228 Joseph is thinking “... But twenty years ago land in those savage marshes had been cheap and each square yard of the country had. to be bought for hard cash; and the National Fund’s only sources of income were charitable donations and the blue collection boxes which the jet-eyed, curly-haired children of the race jingled in the East Ends from Warsaw to New York; begging bowls for the purchase of a kingdom. The face proverbial for its financial genius, had to buy its national home by acres on the installment plan, and native speculation soon drove the price of an acre of desert up to the level of q building plot in an industrial town. If this was Jehovah’s punishment of the money-changers the old desert god had once more proved his vindictive ingenuity.” (Emphasis mine – M.E.)

Jewish “Characteristics”

Once again Koestler speaks of physical characteristics. And he speaks simply of the “face proverbial for its financial genius.” The Jews are known as financial geniuses by those who promote or accept one of the stock-in-trade of anti-Semitism. The Jewish “financial geniuses” or capitalists, few in number as they are, can be accounted for in the same way as all of the rest of the capitalist class. They exist only as a result of the capitalist system of production. The actual percentage of Jews in the capitalist class throughout the world is very small and its size, is not worthy of discussion in relation to Koestler. There are Jewish capitalists. The fact that they are Jewish doesn’t make them any different; nor does it make the revolutionist’s relation to them any different. The disproportion of Jews in the middle class can be accounted for by the advantage they offer capitalism in the form of scapegoat for injustices and crimes of capitalism. Capitalism has excluded jews from factories and farms by law and by practice. But that is a discussion that I can’t go into now. Koestler in no way tries to explain this phrase loaded with prejudice and so must bear responsibility for furthering this prejudice.

On page 261 Joseph says, “But the flaws in other races are diluted, while with us (Jews) you get them in concentration. It’s the long inbreeding, I suppose ... Sometimes I think the Dead Sea is the perfect symbol for us. It is the only big inland lake under sea level, stagnant, with no outlet, much denser than normal water ...” Koestler accounts for the “flaws” In humanity in general and the Jews in particular, not by their environment, capitalist society with all its incumbent evils, but by heredity. If that is so, Koestler Is really having a hard time whipping up a cure for the evils of mankind. Joseph goes on, “Marx and Freud and Einstein and so on. They are the crystallized products of the brine.” The development, of International culture, according to Koestler, had nothing to do with producing these three geniuses. This totally irrational chauvinism is, as I have pointed out before, a necessary accompaniment to Koestler’s anti-Semitism.

Another illustration of the pattern that Koestler follows is on page 279: “Constant segregation would thwart the healthiest race; if you keep slinging mud at people, they will smell. Persecution has not ceased for the last twenty centuries and there is no reason to expect that it will cease in the twenty-first, it will not cease until the cause is abolished and the cause is ourselves.” (Emphasis mine – M.E.)

“But Jewry is a sick race; its disease is homelessness and can only be cured by abolishing its homelessness.” Once more Koestler says anti-Semitism is not only to be expected but is justified by something inherent in the Jews. After that follows the illogical apology about homelessness. [Once more Koestler says anti- before the non-Jew, hie himself off-to Palestine – (garbled text)] in the hope that he will be accepted by – the reactionary, miseducated anti-Semite or the fascists. Not one proposal for fighting anti-Semitism in Europe or America as revolutionary socialists should.

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