Commentary Magazine


Israel: The Establishment of a State, by Harry Sacher; Israel, by Norman Bentwich; and The New State of Israel, by Gerald de Gau

Three Views of Israel

Israel: The Establishment of a State.
by Harry Sacher.
London, George Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 332 pp. 25 sh.

Israel.
by Norman Bentwich.
McGraw-Hill. 224 pp. $3.75.

The New State of Israel.
by Gerald De Gaury.
New York, Frederic A. Praeger. 259 pp. $3·95.

 

Harry Sacher and Norman Bentwich are both prominent English Zionists of long standing, and either might have been expected to offer us that intimate and yet realistically detached account of the Zionist movement which is still so wanting. Both were at one time or another high in the councils of Zionism but neither was personally implicated in the drama that unrolled on Palestinian soil. Mr. Sacher is an impulsive and passionately political mind, an advocate who pleads his cause formidably. Mr. Bentwich, member of a celebrated Anglo-Jewish family, is inclined rather to consider both sides of a question; his approach is highly ethical, Quaker-like, and does not fail to take into account the human element in every political struggle.

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Although he devotes relatively little space to this period in his life, Sacher was an important member of the Manchester group that helped Weizmann win British support for Zionism during the 1914-18 war. During the 1920′s he was a lawyer in Palestine and a member of the Zionist Executive in Jerusalem. Returning to London in 1929 to direct a large business enterprise, he became one of Weizmann’s closest friends and advisers, and occasionally took part in negotiations with political authorities—which may explain the furious outbursts against Ernest Bevin that fill the political half of his book. But his indictment of Bevin adds little to the already publicized official Zionist arguments, and he does not search for the deeper causes of that unfortunate episode in Anglo-Jewish relations. It would have been more enlightening to examine the Palestine problem in relation to the general political situation of the day and against the background of Britain’s general Middle East policy. Bevin is severely criticized for his attitude towards Truman, yet his view that the latter’s Palestine policy was to a great extent affected by domestic American politics has been confirmed by Forrestal’s diaries. Undoubtedly Bevin made a tactical blunder by antagonizing the President, but this is only one aspect of the matter. The whole story of the conflict between Britain and the United States over Palestine has still to be written.

The second part of Mr. Sacher’s book is purely military history and describes at length the battles of the Jewish-Arab war of 1948. Inevitably, the question of authenticity arises, since Mr. Sacher does not reveal his sources, apart from acknowledging the assistance of Colonel Alon, one of the Israeli commanders. At least some of the second-hand information would appear controversial. The story itself adds up to an unqualified glorification of the Jewish conduct of the war in which there is more than a tinge of self-righteousness. Mr. Sacher bluntly justifies any territorial claim based solely on military conquest, and seems to be fed up with that moralizing hypocrisy which colors so much of modern political oratory.

On the whole, the author follows the line of Hagana historiography, and refrains from criticizing Jewish political or military action, except for some disapproving remarks about the Irgun. In connection with the hanging of British soldiers by Jewish terrorists, he admits that the British troops showed notable self-restraint in the aftermath, and says that “No body of troops from any other country would, in the circumstances, have conducted itself better, and probably none as well”—a remark directed possibly against American criticism of British behavior in Palestine. On the other hand, the statement that the Arab inhabitants of Ramie and Lydda “chose evacuation” does not seem an adequate description of events.

About the future Mr. Sacher is rather vague. in his short concluding chapter he gives a mere sketch of the problems that confront the new state. He is comfortably convinced, however, that the United States will continue to “give more” to Israel.

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Mr. Bentwich’s book is very different from Mr. Sacher’s. Before 1948, Bentwich, like Judah Magnes, advocated a bi-national state for Palestine in which Jews and Arabs could live together. Somehow baffled by the course of history, he now accepts the accomplished facts, but at the same time does not silence his own conscience.

Bentwich is convinced that the Diaspora will continue and will need Israel. He argues against Koestlerian “defeatists” who deny the possibility of Jewish existence outside Israel, as well as against “Israeli zealots” with their “sense of superiority” to all other Jews. With all his admiration of Israel, Mr. Bentwich does not refrain from criticism, especially in regard to Jewish-Arab relations. Speaking of the “ethical teaching” of the Jewish religion, he somewhat naively (or ironically?) expresses surprise that the Religious Bloc in the Knesset has not proposed its application to relations with the Arabs. He explains the omission by Israel’s “prepossession with security,” which makes her regard the Arabs as a “suspect minority.”

The hardships of the Arab refugees and others are due to the refusal of the Arab states to make peace with Israel; therefore, says Bentwich, peace should be made. He does not fully take into account the nature of modern secular nationalism, one of the fundamental factors dominating the situation.

Mr. Bentwich, liberal idealist that he is, sometimes succumbs to the temptation to substitute wishful thinking or optimism for the facts. We all want peace with the Arabs, but the real question is how it is to be achieved, and what kind of peace it is to be. That peace can be achieved only through compromise is often obscured by neat formulas. As it happens, the question is complicated in Israel’s case by the fact that she is physically unable to make most of the concessions demanded by the other side; such concessions would undermine her very existence. A solution of this problem within a system of nationalist states seems impossible. Yet, if Mr. Bentwich does not tackle the question realistically, he at least stresses its importance.

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Colonel De Gaury, a Gentile Englishman, is known as an expert on Middle East affairs. His book is intended to be a reference work, a compendium of information based on material derived mainly from official Israeli publications. It could not be exhaustive, and it is not free from errors. It is at a disadvantage, furthermore, insofar as it is bound to be made obsolete by events. For a Jewish reader, de Gaury’s most interesting chapter is his introduction, in which he ventures to give his own views. He does not agree with the Arabs that Israel, for lack of Lebensraum, will necessarily seek expansion. Many parts of Israel’s present territory are undeveloped and can be made fertile so as to sustain a larger population. To him, Israel is “an unequalled example of the ability of man to overcome the seemingly impossible in colonization,” and many hidden possibilities may radically change her position almost overnight. De Gaury also points out that “the character of the Jews in Israel is changing and will probably continue to do so,” and therefore assessments made under present circumstances may soon be out of date.

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