Arnold Toynbee, noted British historian who has provoked considerable criticism among Jews for anti-Jewish and anti-Israel assertions in his “Study of History,” reiterates his views in a letter to the “Jewish Frontier,” organ of the Labor Zionist movement in the United States. The letter is a reply to criticism of him voiced in the publication by Marie Syrkin, American Jewish authoress.
“Being neither an Arab nor a Jew,” Prof. Toynbee writes, “I have no personal reason for being prejudiced either for or against either of these two parties. I do believe that, in the issue between the Palestinian Arabs and the Zionists, the Palestinian Arabs are in the right and the Zionists in the wrong. My opinion on this issue is, like Miss Syrkin’s, open to challenge; but, for what it is worth, it is based on nothing but the facts as I see them.
“I see the whole story as a tragedy, and I do not see the tragedy as beginning with the outbreak of fighting in Palestine in April 1948. Much of the responsibility for the actions of both the Zionists in Palestine and the Palestinian Arabs in 1948 falls, as I believe and have said, upon Great Britain, because, as mandatory, she used her power to make possible an immigration of Jews into Palestine on a scale that would never have been accepted voluntarily by the Arab inhabitants of the country, and because, at the same time, Great Britain always refused to face the truths that she was pursuing simultaneously two incompatible policies and that, in refusing to choose between them, she was steering Palestine toward a disaster by creating a situation in which it was becoming more and more difficult for Jews and Arabs to live together in Palestine side by side.
“But the tragedy, as I see it, goes back far further than the date of the Balfour Declaration. I see earlier stages of it in the conversion of both the Zionists and the Arabs to a Western secular ideology, Nationalism. The fanatical spirit in Nationalism comes, as I see it, from Christianity; and Christian and Muslim fanaticism, as well as Christian and Muslim charity, comes, I believe, from Judaism.
THINKS JUDAISM IS “TRAGIC MIXTURE OF GOOD AND EVIL”
“I think Judaism is like every other human institution in being a tragic mixture of good and evil. What is peculiar about Judaism is not this; it is the potency, in Judaism, of both the two conflicting elements and the conversion of half the human race–the Christian-Muslim half–to the Jewish spirit, so that the extremes of good and evil in Judaism have been reproduced in Christianity and Islam. All three religions have two incompatible visions of God. They see God both as Love and as Jealousy.
“When we Christians, Muslims, and Jews think of God as being jealous and of ourselves as being a chosen people, we are tempted to despise other religions and to suppress them when we can, and the first ‘bigots’ in history that I know of are, as I have said, not my barbarous Teuton Kinsmen and Christian co-religionists the Visigoths (from whose name the word is derived), but the Maccabees, if ‘bigot’ means, as I believe it does, not just any persecutor, but one who persecutes people of another religion on account of his difference from them in religious practice. The Maccabees forcibly converted Idumaea and Galilee to Judaism and thereby brought it about that Herod and Jesus were Jews, not Gentiles. The effects of fanaticism are often tragically ironical.
“It is, in fact, tragic to be either guilty of fanaticism or to be the victim of it, and the Jews have been alternately guilty of it and victims of it since the second century B.C. The irony of Jewish history surely is that the Jews have been the chief sufferers from a spirit which they themselves originally kindled. The tragedy of recent Jewish history is that, instead of learning through suffering, the Jews should have done to others, the Arabs, what had been done to them by others, the Nazis.
“Though I was careful to bring out the Zionists’ innocence of the Nazis’ cold-blooded, systematic ‘genocide,’ and the disparity in numbers between the Jewish victims of the Nazis and the Arab victims of the Zionists, I am sure I am right in holding that degrees of sin and tragedy are not determined by the numbers of the souls concerned. Sin and tragedy are done and suffered by each of us individually; they are not, and cannot be, collective. Nor is the tragedy of the Palestinian Arabs’ sufferings at the hands of the Israelis a peculiarly Jewish tragedy; it is a common human tragedy, like the Jews’ own sufferings at the hands of the Nazis. To fail to learn by suffering, and to inflict on others some of the wrongs that have been inflicted on oneself, are sins into which all human beings are prone to fall. This is one of the most odious and most desperate characteristics of our common human nature.
SAYS ISRAEL WAS “CARVED OUT” BY FORCE
“Everything has its price as well as its compensation. The compensation for the tragic position of being a member of a persecuted diaspora is that, as such, one has the beau role. The price of the tragic position of being a citizen of a sovereign independent state of Israel, carved out, by force, first of British and then of Israeli arms from a country previously inhabited by other people, is that, as such, one has exchanged roles with one’s former persecutors. Today Israel is politically like all the nations (a formidable fate). But the Jews are still spiritually a peculiar people in having had a greater experience of suffering than any of the rest of us and in having learnt from their sufferings those deep spiritual lessons that they have communicated to the Christian-Muslim half of Mankind. And that is why I feel that the tragedy of Zionist Israel’s sins is greater than the tragedy of Nazi Germany’s.
“The measure of tragedy is not statistical but spiritual, and my German fellow-Gentiles, when they sinned as they sinned against the Jews, had not had either the intense experience of suffering or the intense spiritual enlightenment that the Jews have had. ‘Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.’ I am sure that this piece of insight is Jewish, because it is attributed to Jesus; I am sure it is true; and I am sure it is preeminently true when what has been given is suffering and enlightenment and what is required is mercy and charity.
“Israel’s spiritual, as well as her political, future is bound up with the future of the Palestinian Arab refugees. The righting of the wrongs that these refugees have suffered is, I believe, Israel’s supreme duty and interest. Being human, one is always tempted to minimize the wrong that one has done and the suffering that one has inflicted. But, of all Man’s spiritual infirmities, this is the one that brings the surest nemesis. The only way of ending a tragedy is to break the fatal chain of sin and suffering; and the only way of breaking this is to recognize one’s sin and to do everything possible to atone for it. This is the only way for Israel, as well as for Britain and for Germany, because it is the only way for any of us,” Mr. Toynbee concludes.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.