Should the Jews, as Gandhi counselled, have submitted willingly to their Nazi oppressors?by Salil Tripathi / February 29, 2008 / Leave a comment
Sixty years ago, on 30th January, Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi. In May, Israel will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its controversial creation. These two narratives got unintentionally intertwined last month, raising questions about the universality of Gandhi’s message as well as his views about Jews, the nature of the state and the limits of freedom of expression.
The vehicle for this reflection was Gandhi’s grandson, Arun, a mild-mannered 73-year-old writer and peace activist, who until recently ran the MK Gandhi Institute of Peace and Non-Violence at the University of Rochester, New York state. Early in January he wrote on On Faith, a Washington Post/Newsweek blog: “[The Holocaust] is a very good example of how a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends… It seems to me the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty, but the whole world must regret what happened… When an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on, the regret turns into anger.” Gandhi blamed “Israel and the Jews” for being the biggest players in creating “a culture of violence.”
Predictably—given the disproportionate space the Palestine issue commands—all hell broke loose. Gandhi apologised, and later resigned from his post at the institute. Israel’s critics were quick to blame the so-called “Israel lobby,” which is supposed to control public opinion in America. Gandhi instantly became a martyr for Palestine activists—even though Palestinians have, on the whole, steadfastly refused to adopt Gandhian non-violence against their Israeli occupiers. Moreover, Gandhi’s carelessly written blog post would probably have made his grandfather blush.
Or would it? Gleaning through the elder Gandhi’s remarks, the picture that emerges is complex. This much is known: when asked what the Jews should do when they were taken to concentration camps, Gandhi said they should go willingly, their forced mass suicide itself constituting an unanswerable critique of the Nazis. John Lloyd, writing recently on Prospect’s blog First Drafts, said, “To attempt to overthrow tyranny, or even to oppose genocide, became for Gandhi an act almost as bad as tyranny or genocide itself.”
This position has been characterised as passivity bordering on cowardice. But it is subtler than that. Gandhi expressed great sympathy for the historical persecution of the Jews. He called antisemitism “a remnant of barbarism.” He supported German Jews’ right to be treated as equal citizens, and admired…