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Full Text of Dr. Judah L. Magnes’s Pamphlet, “like All the Nations?”

January 24, 1930
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Zionist Congress was convened at Carlsbad. This letter and a speech delivered on May 20, 1919, reprinted from a volume of my “Wartime Addresses,” are being included here in order to show that my present attitude is not new , and that it is the result of a view of life and a conception of the ethical function of Judaism, and does not just spring from tactical or strategic motives. Were I writing the letter and the speech today, I should perhaps have phrased this or that differently or more precisely. But the general idea remains the same: A Palestine where the Jews will be guaranteed as of right and not on sufferance these three things: Immigration, settlement on the land, Hebrew life and culture.

I am also publishing an English translation of the Preface by Ahad Haam to the 1921 edition of his four volumes of “Al Parashat Derahim” (At the Crossways). I do not know that this has been translated into English or that many who call themselves Ahad Haam’s disciples have read this—his political testament—with sufficient care. This humble, strong man’s clarity of mind and his ethical idealism would be of decisive importance for us in Palestine today, just as, if I may add one more personal word, would be the powerful mind and ethical personality of Louis Marshall. Jerusalem, December 5, 1929. no serious practical policy can be built up upon them, and it is a practical policy for the next 10-20-30 years we are after.

The above-mentioned three fundamental rights are bound up with practical problems which political wisdom should envisage in all their complications before paying the price required.


Immigration is in the words of the White Paper of 1922 to be permitted in accordance with the economic capacity of the country to absorb it. As a matter of course; but who is to determine the economic capacity of the country and in what manner? This cannot surely be left simply to a legislative body with an Arab majority, and it is therefore necessary not only to reserve the question of immigration constitutionally as being beyond the province of the legislative to interfere with, but also to become clear as to the machinery that will actually determine the economic capacity of the country. It is not my province in this paper to go into any details of machinery. The best possible expert opinion must be secured, if it has not already been. But this is one of the questions where in my humble judgment the League of Nations, through the Mandated Commission or the International Labor Bureau, or some other expert commission, should have a direct say.


Settlement on the soil involves, among other things, the purchase of land. This is a particularly complicated question in every Oriental country, and in the old Turkish lands not less so than elsewhere. Grave charges are made against the Jews as having driven peasants from the soil. I do not pretend to final knowledge in this matter. But I have tried to inform myself, although I know that without speaking Arabic to Fellaheen themselves, the information one gets is about as correct as third or fourth hand information usually is.

There seems to be no doubt that a small number of Fellaheen families have suffered hardship. But this was not because the Jews paid low prices for the land. On the contrary, they have paid in many cases extravagant prices, and this is probably one of the causes of the high cost of living in Palestine. It is the absentee Effendi landlord who had pocketed the money, with little or nothing for the dispossessed Fellaheen. I am told that in the vast majority of instances the Jewish purchasers have compensated the Fellaheen in money or in other land beyond the price paid to the absentee Effendi. Moreover, the law formerly stipulated that no sale of land occupied by an agricultural tenant was valid unless provision was made for the retention of land somewhere in Palestine sufficient for his living.

The new ordinance of August, 1929 provides that an agricultural tenant cannot be dispossessed except after notice of over a year, and he is entitled to compensation to be established by a Board, and to additional compensation amounting to a year’s rental if he had occupied the land for at least five years. The reverse side of the picture should not be omitted. It is that many an Arab village is poverty-stricken not only because they are in an infertile or difficult farming region, but because they are half-enslaved to an absentee Effendi landlord or to Arab usurers, both Christian and Moslem.


The situation of the Fellaheen is one of the cardinal problems of the country. Here is a field for a great constructive program in which both Jews and Arabs should combine. The country can never be prosperous and happy with the Arab peasants half-serfs. I know there are some who think that if the Arab peasant rises in the scale, the Jews will have no more chance; and not all Arab Effendis are altogether keen about having the kindly but easily inflamed fellah freed from his burden of ignorance and debt. But if the Jewish position here is dependent upon keeping the fellah down, the Jew has no right here. It is, however, not true in fact that the fellah must be kept down. The higher he rises in the scale, the greater will be his consuming and producing power, and the greater therefore the agricultural, industrial and labor turnover for the whole country.

The higher in the agricultural scale he rises, the less will his need be of large numbers of dunams farmed primitively for the needs of one family. With better and more intensive methods he will need less land for his subsistence, and as a consequence there will be more land for new settlement. If he rises in the cultural scale, he will be less easily inflamed by such gross lies as to Jewish designs on the mosque and he will be harder to arouse to massacre and plunder. Is it not the case everywhere that with the rise in the economic and cultural scale of oppressed elements in the popula political and in all democratic institutions. I have no illusions about the magnitude of the difficulties here. But it is of much greater danger to let the old sore rankle and form into an abscess again. The best excuse both for home and for foreign consumption that the extremist now has, is the truth, namely, that the people have no share in their own government. I suppose no experiment in democracy was ever made except that there was controversy between those who said the people were not “ripe” and those who said, trust the people and thus make them ripe.

But the objection to a legislative assembly at the present time goes much deeper than that. The argument makes an important distinction between the basic nature of the Arab and the Jewish communities. For the Arab peoples, so the argument runs, this is but a small province in the great Arab world, and for this reason is not of vital and decisive importance for the Arab Nation. Palestine is, to be sure, of vital and decisive importance for the Palestinian Arabs who happen to lie here. But it is not the Homeland, the source and origin of the Arab Nation.

Without Palestine, the Arab Nation would still have its millions of Arabs on genuine Arab territories that cover vast stretches of the globe. Therefore, although the Jews recognize the full and equal claims of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine to an equal share in all rights and duties attaching to the land, nevertheless the Arab on his side ought to recognize the fact that the Jews have no other Homeland, no other territorial center, and that if they are deprived of the right of free settlement and life here by a legislative assembly whose majority was Arab, this sole fatherland would be taken from them and this would be an historical crime. It would mean, so some declare, that the Jewish people is doomed to perish, because, in their view, the one chance of Jewish survival is a large Jewish concentration in Palestine.

The distinction is therefore made between the right of the Jewish People or Nation to Palestine and the right of the Arab inhabitants. Inasmuch as a People or Nation with historical connections with the Land is of greater consequence than a mere community of inhabitants who have their historical center elsewhere, this fact should balanc- the advantage which the Arab inhabitants have by reason of their greater number. In other words, the two groups should be regarded as equals, the deeper claim of the Jewish Nation offsetting the actual Arab majority.


Although I cannot agree with all the premises in this argument, as I hope to show, it does contain a deep truth. It is a fact that cannot be denied that the Jewish People has and can have no other historical center than the Land of Israel, and it is a fact that Palestine is of much less importance in every way to the Arab Nation than Syria with Damascus, Iraq with Bagdad, the Nejd—the source of Arab vitality—and the Hedjaz with Mecca and Medina. The Arabs of Palestine are probably the descendants of all the myriad conquerors and conquered who have ruled and passed through and tilled this land. Moreover, this is a land sacred to three religions, which is not true of other Arab lands. And, quite frankly, has there ever been such a yearning known to history as the century long yearning of Israel for this sacred soil? Was there ever another people that turned three times a day in its prayers over hundreds, now almost thousands of years, from all points of the compass towards the land from which it was exiled? Was it not a Hebrew singer who said: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may the tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth”?

Let us grant therefore the peculiar and profound and exceptional connection of this Jewish People sui generis with this Land sui generis. But is this a sufficient reason to withhold a Legislative Assembly until the Jews become at least as numerous as the Arabs? This is not logical, because the very hypothesis above described would, if its acceptance could be secured, make the Jewish People and the Arab community equals now, at this very moment, despite the disparity in their numbers. Why therefore wait with political concessions until the Jews are in the position not only of being a favored nation in relation to Palestine as their sole homeland, but of being a numerical majority as well?


I am no expert in political science, nor have I the responsibility of having to decide as to the practicability or workability of this or any other proposal for the new governmental structure. I have gone through fourteen different projects, and an expert commission should be charged with digesting this and all the available material, and, in consultation with all parties, making its recommendations. If however. I may interject a personal predilection in this connection it would be for the creation of two Houses, the Lower Chamber elected by the whole population, which would give a large Arab majority, and an Upper Chamber, to be elected or appointed upon the basis of the equality of the three nationalities, Jewish, Arab, British. This is similar to the United States where the Senate is composed of two representatives of each State of the Union large or small, populous or sparsely peopled, thereby expressing the equal rights of the states constituting the Union, whereas the House of Representatives represents the individuals of the population as individuals.


But my point here is, that whatever be the scheme adopted; there is no validity in the reasons of those who, holding the theory of two equal nationalities, would do nothing now and would under all circumstances retain the present status quo. They ought to say, and this is what I should say with them, that because of the intense and peculiar relationship of the scattered Jewish People to Palestine, every possible care should be exercised to safeguard the rights and privileges of the Jewish People in any constitutional changes that may be made. The discussion should really be not on whether this should be done, but rather on how to exercise this care, and what safeguards to devise, and what constitutional changes to recommend in order that for the Jews there may be guaranteed the rights of immigration, of settlement on the Land, and of a Hebrew culture.

Without contesting the validity of the point that the Jews have a very special relationship to Palestine, I would subject some of the premises above outlined to a brief examination; and I do this because it is here perhaps, that I seem to differ from so many Zionists, and why some of my friends say that, although I live in Zion, I am not a Zionist at all. I wonder where the ecclesiastic authority as to who is and who is not a Zionist rests. At any rate the company of the banned is varied and long, and, if I remember right, it at times even includes some of the Faithful themselves. But perhaps these friends are right. It may not be “Zionism.” But even they will admit that it is the undying, traditional “Hibbat Zion,” the Love of Zion.


Whether through temperament or other circumstances, I do not at all believe, and I think the facts are all against believing that without Palestine the Jewish People is dving out or is doomed to destruction. On the contrary it is growing stronger; and what is more, it should grow stronger, for, Palestine without communities in the Dispersion would be bereft of much of its significance as a spiritual center for the Judaism of the world.

To me it seems that there are three chief elements in Jewish life, in the following order of importance. The living Jewish People—now some 16000,000; the Torah, in the broadest sense of this term, i. e., all our literature and documents and history, as also the great religious and ethical and social ideals the Torah contains for use and development in the present and the future; and third, the Land of Israel. My view is that the People and the Torah can exist and be creative as they have existed and have been creative without the Land; that however the Land is one of the chief means, if not the chief means, of revivifying and deepening the People and the Torah.


The living Jewish People is primary. It is the living carrier and vessel of good with the money thus accumulated. Sometimes he never grows rich—he fails. And if he does grow rich under those circumstances, his power of doing good has been atrophied from long lack of use. In other words, it is not only the end which for Israel must be desirable, but what is of equal importance, the means must be conceived and brought forth in cleanliness. If as a minority we insist upon keeping the other man from achieving just aims, and if we keep him from this with the aid of bayonets, we must not be surprised if we are attacked, and what is worse, if moral degeneration sets in amongst us.

The anti-Semite has accused us of being democrats and liberals and radicals everywhere on the ground that we are not deeply rooted in any soil. He has charged us with having no conservative instincts because we have no real hearth and home, boundaries and property of our ancestors to defend. We are spectators, onlookers, bystanders, he says. We have always answered, that should we have the opportunity of exercising statecraft on our own soil, we would as participant and not as bystander uphold our prophetic traditions.


Now, here we are, and it seems to be harder for us as a minority than we had pictured it as a majority. It is as though Providence itself was putting us to the test. We, the great democrats of the world, are trying to find every kind of reason to justify the denial of even the beginning of democracy to ourselves and other. I am afraid of this demoralization. For the Jewish People no high end will ever justify low means. We have been nurtured too long in the Rabbinic tradition for that. This may be disappointing to some. It may even excite the contempt of those two Englishmen and that Jew who told me not so long ago that, as the history of all conquest and colonization shows, the only possible hope of success is by the Joshua method. Perhaps so. At least I do not believe it, and I know that plain Jews everywhere, and the plain Jews who have come here to live and work, do not believe it. But if it be so, the Jewish People, thank God, will never be successful conquerors and colonizers. Neither the hostile world nor their own soul will let them.


I have no illusions about the Jews here becoming a Quaker community. That would be too good to be true. Nor do I see the possibility, in Palestine or elsewhere, of doing without adequate police protection. This ought to be given everywhere by any government worthy of the name, and if a future government be as helpless as this, we might have to take measures which all the world should know about. What I am driving at is to distinguish between two policies. The one maintains that we can establish a Jewish Home here through the suppression of the political aspirations of the Arabs, and therefore a Home necessarily established on bayonets over a long period—a policy which I think bound to fail because of the violence against us it would occasion, and because good opinion in Britain and the conscience of the Jewish people itself would revolt against it. The other policy holds that we can establish a Home here only if we are true to ourselves as democrats and internationalists, thus being just and helpful to others, and that we ask for the protection of life and property the while we are eagerly and intelligently and sincerely at work to find a modus vivendi et operandi with our neighbors.

The world—not in Palestine alone—may be bent upon violence and bloodshed. But will not my opponent agree that there is a better chance of averting this tendency to bloodshed, if we make every possible effort politically as well as in other ways to work hand in hand—as teachers, helpers, friends—with this awakening Arab world?


You ask me do I want to quit? No, I do not. The Jew will not abandon the Land of Israel. He cannot abandon it. I have said that Palestine is of value by and of itself—its rocks, its hills, its ruins, its beauty—and that it is of value to Judaism even if our community here be small and poor. I am afraid the first of the quitters will be those who say it is useless except we be in the majority. But I also know that we cannot establish our work as it should be established if it be against the determined will of the “good European” world on our side.

Palestine means so much in the Jewish scheme of things that I am sure that if the experiment fails, Heaven forbid, this time (due, as always, partly “to our own sins”) there will be another time. But I do not want it to fail, and the only way it can succeed, so it seems to me, and that success is worth having, is if we overcome all obstacles through all the weapons of civilization except bayonets: spiritual, intellectual, social, cultural, financial, economic, medical…brotherly, friendly weapons. The Jew may have to be prepared to face for a further period the hostility of a section of Arabs and of English and others. Provided our own attitude is just and fair, we should face that opposition and not abandon the struggle. Our goal must be to have our enterprise rest upon the conviction of all concerned that it is right and just.

Palestine is holy to the Jew in that his attitude towards this Land is necessarily different from his attitude towards any other land. He may have to live in other lands upon the support of bayonets, but that may well be something which he, as a Jew, cannot help. But when he goes voluntarily as a Jew to repeople his own Jewish Homeland, it is by an act of will, of faith, of free choice, and he should not either will or believe in or want a Jewish Home that can be maintained in the long run only against the violent opposition of the Arab and Moslem peoples. The fact is that they are here in their overwhelming numbers in this part of the world, and whereas it may have been in accord with Israelitic needs in the time of Joshua to conquer the land and maintain their position in it with the sword, this is not in accord with the desire of plain Jews or with the long ethical tradition of Judaism that has not ceased developing to this day.

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