A letter by Arthur Koestler used by the New Statesman to draw simple comparisons

From the New Statesman archive, 16 August 1947 – http://www.newstatesman.com/200701150050. Robert Taylor’s commentary observes what he seems to find ironic – that “The argument to explain Jewish terrorism in 1947 could be applied equally to Arab terrorism in Palestine today.” If we take this literally, then he’s right. But – and Arthur Koestler lost half his friends to Stalin and half his family to Hitler so when he describes himself as a ‘sympathiser with terrorists’ I recoil but I at least listen – these are different times and the argument to which Taylor wishes to draw our attention cannot as he suggests be applied wholesale on behalf of Palestinian terrorists.

Firstly, Robert Taylor calls the murderous acts ‘Jewish terrorism’ as if they were sanctioned by Jews as a whole – but this act was perpetrated by the Irgun, an urgently Zionist organisation which was publicly disowned by the Zionist establishment. Secondly, the murdered soldiers who prompted the letter were captured and hanged as a reprisal for the Royal Navy’s interception and detention of the Exodus, a ship which was carrying Jewish refugees who had boarded in Marseilles without papers and illegal immigrants under British Mandate terms in the hope of finding refuge in the Jewish National Home promised in the reneged-upon Balfour Declaration. They were Holocaust survivors – traumatised, severed of their roots, bereaved, dispossessed and desperate. The Navy eventually – inhumanely – returned them to Germany and DP camps. The Labour government’s policy was to block partition and immigration at that time, in its attempts to protect Britains interests in the Arab region. Members of the Irgun were not the only ones to be incensed by the callousness of the British Government with respect to Jewish immigration, particularly since the late ’30s – there or in the other countries it controlled. Thousands or millions might have survived had this policy been otherwise.

When the manner of the soldiers’ deaths became known, there were riots against Jews in Britain, heavily reminiscent of Kristalnacht, which sent Arthur Koestler into a consternation and prompted his advocacy of the Irgun.

The arguments Robert Taylor suggests can be taken from Arthur Koestler’s letter can be summarised as follows:

  • Anyone can be brutalised into becoming a terrorist – all Palestinian terrorists have lost family to genocide

The first part may not be true (Jenny Tonge fell foul of making a similar point), and the second is not the case. Claims of Jewish-perpetrated genocide in the War of Independence which followed the end of the Mandate in 1948 are widely rejected – a number of deplorable village massacres does not amount to ethnic cleansing.

  • Palestinians are denied a homeland to appease Jews

75% of Israelis (according to OneVoice) are in favour of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But while Hamas, Hezballah and Ahmedinejad (to name a few names) dispute Israel’s right to exist then there are good reasons for Israel to go slow on this. Unless Robert is implying that the UN persists in recognising the existence of an illegitimate Jewish stated which overlays the legitimate Palestinian state to appease the Jews – that’s another reading to the above but even I find it far-fetched.

  • Partition is “hard luck” on Jews, but don’t worry because they’re used to hard luck – and look, they’re really thriving on it

When Arthur Koestler wrote his letter in 1947, the Jews were not thriving on their hard luck – they had been decimated by the Holocaust. Many people believe that the establishment of Israel was the best thing that happened to Jews in thousands of years. For most Jews (occupied territory settlers aside) the creation of Palestine, which doesn’t on the whole involve partition of territory claimed as Israel’s, but the ceding of the Occupied Territory (and the seriously thorny issue of Jerusalem), is more a matter of security and ongoing existence than of rights to land. And these are times when antisemitism is on the rise (see the Parliamentary Committee on Anti-Semitism report – http://www.thepcaa.org/), and with the ominous suggestion that the homes Jews have found in their countries of residence are only temporary perches.

The fact that this letter is worth revisting notwithstanding, if Robert Taylor wants to draw comparisons, he should not set up straw man arguments. It panders to what is already wrong with public opinion about the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.


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