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Prof. Toynbee Rebuked by U.S. Scholar for Renewed Attack on Jews

December 1, 1961
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Professor Arnold J. Toynbee, noted British historian who has for many years been charged with tendentious attacks against the Jewish religion and against Israel, was accused today by an American Jewish scholar here of having once more attacked the Jewish people and Israel in “ex-cathedra statements, punctured with half truths and inspired with the eloquence of bias and prejudice.”

A renewed attack by Professor Toynbee, in the forthcoming issue of the Jewish Quarterly Review, organ of the Dropsie College, was answered in the same issue by the co-editor of the publication, Dr. Solomon Zeitlin, professor of rabbinical literature at the college.

Professor Toynbee had been invited by the Quarterly to present his views “in a scholarly manner.” Instead, Professor Zeitlin charged, the English historian, in a new article, entitled “Jewish Rights in Palestine,” has sent in an essay “not conforming to scholarly standards either in form or in substance.” The new Toynbee article, Professor Zeitlin pointed out, “bears no documentation; none of the allegations is based on primary sources, and it is marred by numerous historical inaccuracies of an elementary character.”

Professor Toynbee maintained, among other contentions, that the Jewish people have neither historic nor legal claims to Palestine. There, he stated, the Arab “population’s human rights to their homes and property over-ride all other rights in cases where claims conflict.” He did concede that the Jews, “being the only surviving representatives of any of the pre-Arab inhabitants of Palestine, have a further claim to a national home in Palestine.” But that claim, he held, is valid “only in so far as it can be implemented without injury to the rights and to the legitimate interests of the native Arab population of Palestine.”


In reply, Professor Zeitlin, in his article in the Quarterly, entitled “Jewish Rights in Eretz Israel,” pointed out, with careful, scholarly attribution, to basic historical materials–Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Roman and Arabic–that:

1. The Christians never considered Palestine as a whole of importance to their religion, restricting their claim of holiness only “to the places of Jesus’ birth and burial.” The Mohammedians hardly mention Judea or Palestine in the Koran, focusing their religion on Mecca. Only the Jews have consistently, throughout the ages, considered Palestine as “the center of their religion.” For the Jews, he noted, all of the Eretz Israel cities “are considered holy, even those which were built after the destruction of the Second Temple.”

2. As to the Jewish people’s historical claims, Prof. Zeitlin proved that the Jewish people had never left Palestine totally, were recognized even by the Roman conquerors as the rightful citizens of the land, continued to maintain recognition of their rights to the land under the Turkish rule, and regained full recognition of their right to the Palestinian homeland under the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and under the British Mandatory power, until they declared there-birth of Israel in 1948.

“The rights of the Arabs and the Turks to Palestine,” Dr. Zeitlin noted, “were based on possession, but not on title. They never conquered Palestine from the Jews, and the Jews never gave up title to the land of Judea.”


Professor Toynbee, in his article, also stated that the United Nations had no jurisdiction to partition Palestine, as it did in 1947, claiming that, when the UN voted partition, its act constituted “an interference with its (Palestine’s) internal affairs.”

In response, Dr. Zeitlin traced the entire history of the period from the Balfour Declaration to 1947, proving that the UN did have the jurisdiction for voting Palestine partition. The Jewish scholar charged that “Dr. Toynbee’s animus toward Israel leads him from illogical positions to absurdity.”

In regard to Prof. Toynbee’s insistence that he is not anti-Semitic, Dr. Zeitlin stated: “Perhaps so. But he certainly has a distaste for Hebrew, and he has no interest in Hebrew literature.” Dr. Zeitlin quoted Prof. Toynbee as admitting that the British historian is “ignorant of the rabbinical Jewish literature and of the Jewish philosophy that flourished in an early Islamic and a medieval Western cultural environment.”

Professor Zeitlin concluded his critique by stating: “Professor Toynbee’s approach to history is fundamentally unsound. His writings are conditioned by personal bias, which may make them attractive as art. But they are dangerously misleading.”

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