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The New International, November 1946


Notes of the Month

The Jews of Europe and Immigration to Palestine


From New International, Vol.12 No.9, November 1946, pp.259-261.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The problem of Europe’s surviving Jews can no longer be discussed apart from the question of Palestine. The two problems have become indissolubly linked by the mere fact that Palestine is the goal closest to the hearts of the homeless Jews of Europe. When the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry polled the inmates of the displaced persons’ camps, not only did the overwhelming majority list Palestine as their first choice, but thousands answered the question of a second choice by writing the word “crematorium.”

The desire of the remaining Jews to leave their old homes, even the very continent associated with their tragedy, need perplex no one. What would be hard to understand would be a desire to remain. How can Jews look upon countries like Poland, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Rumania as anything other than the cemeteries of their people? How can a survivor of Polish Jewry (one of the 80,000 that remain of three million) look forward to rebuilding his life amidst surroundings where even the most insignificant landmark must remind him of the bitter fate of friends and relatives, not to mention his own harrowing experiences? There is hardly a Jew in Central and Eastern Europe to whom the horrible statistics of the death camps do not represent a close personal loss.

But memories of the charnel houses are not all. The virus of anti-Semitism remains everywhere. For the surviving Jews it warns of charnel houses to come. The Committee of Inquiry reports that the testimony of the new “democratic” leaders of Austria was so shockingly anti-Semitic that they decided not to divulge it. Even the remaining three per cent of Polish Jewry is subjected to pogroms. The deluge of Nazi propaganda left its effects even in countries like Hungary, where the Jews were relatively well adjusted to the social and cultural fabric of the nation. The evil legacy of Nazism remains even in the snarled property rights that prevent expropriated Jews from reclaiming what was once theirs, above all in view of the absence of energetic measures on the part of the occupying authorities.

These conditions add up to form an overwhelming desire on the part of the Jews to flee the scenes of their past horrors and current indignities, to flee to a place where life can really begin anew.

But why Palestine? is it only this tiny country, rent by violent antagonisms, that offers hope for a future life to Europe’s Jews? Are there not scores of other places in a wide world that offer as good, if not better, prospects? Is not the effort to pose Palestine as the solution of the refugee’s plight merely a device of Zionism to capitalize upon the catastrophe of Jewry in order to achieve their own narrow political aims: a Jewish majority in Palestine and a Jewish state? Is not the link that has been forged between the future of Europe’s surviving Jews and the future of Palestine an artificial creation?

Tired of Flight

Such reasoning reveals a superficial grasp of the facts involved and of the resulting state of mind of Europe’s Jews. In a sense, Jews have been in constant flight since the Dispersal. It was always flight to a country less inhospitable than the one they were fleeing. The prospects for an end to flight were ushered in by the French Revolution, which brought liberation from the ghetto and the promise of peaceful and equal co-existence with their neighbors. The 150-year dream that bourgeois democracy was the road to final freedom and the door to assimilation was rudely shattered by the hell of Nazism, the worst catastrophe visited upon the Jewish people in their long history. The surviving Jews are not only tired in the sense of physical and spiritual exhaustion; they are tired in a historical sense – tired of flight. After Belsen and Buchenwald, the prospects of finding a home in surroundings that promise to be merely less inhospitable evoke little enthusiasm from those who must build anew their shattered lives.

But given even this state of mind of Europe’s Jews, the question remains: But why Palestine? Because it is the one place where they expect – not the freedom and equality they yearn for – but a fair chance to fight for it.

Few of Europe’s Jews have any illusions about Palestine. They certainly know they are entering an armed camp. They know that the end of their journey may not even be Tel Aviv, but Cyprus. They know that for most of them the new life will be hard; that they will live by the sweat of their brow in the most literal sense. They know that their coming is opposed by the Arab majority and that their presence is resented. They know that settlers have fallen victim to Arab terrorist groups in the past.

What promise is there in this tiny country of toil and danger that should cause the Jews of Europe to want literally to fight their way in, suffering hunger and thirst en route? It is the promise that they will fight as part of a nation – no longer the hounded individuals of an unaccepted minority. That is why the Jews are prepared to face British bayonets and Arab opposition in Palestine but shrink from the possibility that they may again wear the yellow “J,” either literally or figuratively, as subjects, or even citizens, of a hostile state. To put it succinctly, they prefer to guard their settlements at night, arms in hand, rather than read rent ads that say “restricted” or employment ads that say “Christians only.”

It is not the desire to cut themselves off from the non-Jewish world that attracts them to Palestine. It is rather that they feel they will meet the non-Jewish world on more equal terms. The large Jewish communities of Poland permitted the Jew to live an intense cultural life of his own. But it still was culture in the ghetto. The great difference is that in Palestine the Jewish community has a measure of power, most certainly those basic prerequisites for state power – a police force of its own and an army, which though illegal is none the less real.

True, the Jewish “state within a state” is a feeble force when matched with the military might of Britain or even the combined forces of the surrounding Arab world. However, the Jew sees in the organized community of Palestine the opportunity of fighting under a common banner; a source of strength felt by every people of Europe under the Nazi heel except the Jews.

Nationalism a Step Backward

We may argue that the national consciousness awakened among Europe’s Jews by the Nazi persecutions is a long step back from the advanced internationalist consciousness and assimilationist aims that predominated among Jews in pre-Hitler Europe and therefore constitutes a political retrogression for the Jews. True enough; but the same must be said about all the other peoples of Europe who underwent a resurgence of national consciousness as the result of German oppression. Yet we did not deny the validity of the struggles for national liberation on the part of the European nations. We based our socialist perspectives in large measure upon them.

But the other peoples of Europe had a territory to fight for; the Jew has none. The Jew cannot solve his problem fundamentally by fleeing to Palestine. He should seek to stay and become part of the proletarian class struggle in whatever nation he resides. Only the fight for socialist freedom for all of mankind can achieve freedom for the Jew. With all of this no Marxist can differ. More, it is incumbent upon the Marxist to offer this perspective to the Jewish people and seek to convince them of it. But what shall be our attitude toward those Jews who do not heed our advice and pursue their national aims, which, rightly or wrongly, they relate to joining the Jewish community in Palestine? Can we refuse to recognize this as a democratic right and a legitimate national aspiration? Are only Jews to be denied the right to have national consciousness and national aims?

True enough, no people has the right to realize its national aims at the expense of another nation. Jewish national aims cannot be realized at the expense of the Arabs. But is this the implicit and inevitable result of Jewish immigration to Palestine? The mere immigration of Jews to Palestine no more deprives Arabs of their rights than the continued residence of the Jews in Germany or Poland deprives Germans or Poles of their rights. The Arabs’ rights would be jeopardized only if a “Jewish state” in Palestine were the only possible result of Jewish immigration. An infringement of the Arabs’ rights is no more implicit in the fact of immigration itself than is abuse of a Jewish minority – let the Zionists note! – implicit in the fact of an independent Palestine under an Arab majority. (This thought is developed further in the resolution of the National Committee of the Workers Party published in this issue.)

To deny the right of the Jews today to immigrate to Palestine on the grounds of the possible consequences it will have upon the Arabs is to deny them the right to go anywhere. A larger percentage of the population of Palestine is prepared to welcome and assist them than is the case in any other nation. The doors are everywhere shut tight on the grounds that the entry of large numbers of Jews will have evil consequences for the present populations. Barriers either reduce all immigration to a trickle or specifically make Jewish immigration all but impossible in each of the large under-populated countries.

In such a “democracy” as Canada, Jewish immigrants are placed at the very bottom of the “least desirable” category. In the United States, the notorious quota system effectively blocks immigration from the European countries containing the largest number of Jews. In Argentina and Brazil, preference is given to immigrants from the Latin countries of Europe and Jews are considered particularly undesirable. In Mexico, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand it is the same story with only minor variations. Russia shows neither a desire to accept the Jews of Europe nor do the latter show any eagerness to go there. Tens of thousands of them who escaped or were forced into Russia from Poland are now drifting back across Europe to enter the American and British zones of Germany, most of them regarding the latter as a way station to Palestine.

The Jews of Europe face a world of walls. It is this condition that also turns their face toward Palestine. Not that the wall around Palestine is less formidable. But behind the Palestinian wall the most powerful Jewish minority of any country in the world reaches out a hand of welcome and succor. (In contrast, a public opinion poll reveals that only five per cent of the population of the United States favors a liberalization of immigration laws.) The Jews of Europe feel that it they must batter down the walls of a nation to enter, they prefer to do it with help from the inside.

The fight for the right of the Jews to go to Palestine cannot be considered as a substitute for the need to fight against all reactionary restrictions upon immigration wherever they occur. The struggle to open the doors of their own country to the refugees is an obligation which the workers of each nation must place in the forefront of their demands on behalf of European Jewry. However, the need to open the large, under-populated nations of the world cannot, in turn, become a substitute for the need to take a forthright position in support of the immediate and pressing struggle raging around the right to enter Palestine.

In this respect, a special duty devolves upon the revolutionary socialists of the United States. No other country is in so favorable a situation to admit large numbers of immigrants and provide them with a high standard of living as the United States. Both the wealth of American economy and the vastness of its territories make it possible to admit a million immigrants without the slightest impression upon its economic or political institutions. Yet it is precisely in the United States that the greatest hypocrisy has been demonstrated on the Jewish question. Here, as with all American political questions, the Jewish question has in the past been debased to its lowest and most vulgar level – an angling for the Jewish vote in election campaigns. Beginning with the 1922 resolution of Congress on behalf of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, and continuing with repeated declarations of this character by Congress and state legislatures (above all those with large Jewish constituencies), the politicians have engaged in a cheap gesture to the Jewish people – a gesture about which they were not serious and about which nothing was ever done. Since the recent war even the gestures have become more sparing as a result of American interest in Saudi Arabian oil and, as a result, a growing concern on the part of the military authorities and State Department not to antagonize Arab opinion. The hypocrisy of the American authorities was dramatically exposed in a recent speech by Bartley C. Crum, member of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, when he said:

... when we got on the Queen Elizabeth, the secret files of the State Department were disclosed to us. We found that for every promise made by our Presidents from 1920 onwards, for every practically unanimous resolution passed by Congress, and for the planks in the 1944 platforms of both the Republican and Democratic parties, our State Department advised the Arabs that nothing would be done.

The main content of the struggle of American socialists on behalf of the Jews of Europe must be to “Open the doors of the United States!” But together with the international working class movement they must throw their support behind the equally important and pressing demand of “Open the doors of Palestine!”

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