What follows below is reprinted from the Atlantic
Monthly from February 1947. It is reprinted here with permission.
THE ZIONIST ILLUSION
by W. T. STACE
W. T. Stace is a philosopher who knows by experience the problems of the
civil servant. On his graduation from Trinity College, Dublin, he entered
the British civil service in Ceylon and served for a time as the mayor
of Colombo. Then the urge of the pen became irresistible and he resigned
to resume his studies and his writing. He is today the author of many
books and Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University.
Palestine is a little country. But what is being, done in Palestine is
symptomatic of the entire state of the world. It is the methods of settlement
being used in Palestine, rather than the particular settlement which may
be reached, to which I wish to direct attention. These methods, I will
try to show, are disastrous; and if we persist in using them elsewhere
in the world - and there is every indication that we shall -the result
can only be violence and war.
So far as World War II had a moral issue, it concerned the question whether
international relations are to -be governed by force or by law. Law means
the . application of principles of justice to disputes. So the issue is
really between force and justice. We have swung out of the war, and we
suppose that justice has defeated force. But are we, now in peacetime,
pursuing the methods of justice or the methods of force? On the answer
depends the future of the world, the issue of war or peace. It is better
to take a particular current case and analyze it in detail, to find out
what the trend is, than to make general statements. Palestine is
an excellent testing ground.
Mens opinions on political and international questions are almost
always formed on the basis of their emotions and partisan feelings, and
scarcely at all on the basis of reason. This is the prime cause of the
wars and bloodshed which fill the world. For emotion and partisan feeling,
untempered by reason, issue necessarily in violence. Reason is the principle
of democracy and Justice. It weighs the issues impartially in the balance.
A competent judge reaches a decision by arguing the case, not by flying
Off the handle about it. Reason, not emotion, much less. self-interest,
must be his guide. Not until men learn to govern their opinions and actions
in international affairs by unbiased and impartial justice, based on reason,
will wars end.
Palestine is a case in point. Not only are Jews and Arabs inflamed by
passions, which they call patriotism, but the greater nations concerned,
who at least ought to be impartial, are making no attempt to judge the
dispute between Jews and Arabs impartially instead each of them is concerned
with self-interest, and they have made of the question either a struggle
for national power or, worse still, a catch-bag for votes for a particular
domestic party *
Any attempt to apply to Palestine the rule of justice is fraught with
grave difficulties. In the first place, it is met with a solid wall of
prejudices. Apart from that, the very attempt is decried. Since justice
is a moral concept, one cannot consider it without raising questions of
"right" and "wrong." Then the cry is raised that one
is talking academically, that one is trying to settle practical questions
by "abstract" moral rules which have no application and are
not "realistic." But how else is the world ever to advance to
any sort of international justice - an avowed aim of the UN inserted in
its charter at the instance of Americans - except by applying to concrete
situations principles which are in themselves abstract7 The principles
which law courts apply to mens actions are, as stated in lawbooks
and statutes, abstract; and further, they are, in the last analysis, the
product of "moral" ideas.
The scene in Palestine shifts so rapidly that it may seem impossible to
say anything about it which will not become out of date in a month. But
the principles of law and Justice do not change, or at least change very
slowly. Now the main principle of international justice is that which
was laid down in the Atlantic Charter. - Nations should have the right
of determining their internal affairs without aggression from outside
nations. This is nothing new, invented by Roosevelt or Churchill. It was
implicit in Wilsons policy and pronouncements. It was the idea on
which the League of Nations was supposed to be built. It has always been,
for that matter, the fundamental idea of democracy. For the self-determination
or democracy of a nation means that its affairs are governed by the wishes
of its own people. And since the wishes of a people are never unanimous,
it means in practice that they are governed by the wishes of the majority.
That one nation should by force or threats compel another nation to act
contrary to its own will, contrary to the wishes of the majority of its
people, is "aggression." It is contrary to the principles justice,
democracy, and self-determination in their external or international application.
That a minor within a nation should forcibly impose its will the majority
- this is likewise aggression, but is generally called " tyranny."
It is the negation of the principles of justice, democracy, and self-determination
in their internal or domestic application. This is the only "abstract"
or "moral" principle which is needed for the adjudication of
the Palestine controversy. And no changes in the local scene, nothing
the kaleidoscope of shifting events, will alter it. It I not be outdated
a year from now or in fifty years. How does it apply to the controversy
between Jews and Arabs?
The Arab case is, in essence, this. The Arabs constitute a large majority
of the inhabitants of Palestine. This is not only true now, but it has
been true since somewhere near the beginning of the Christian era
that is to say, for nearly two thousand years. The Arabs, in Palestine
are opposed, rightly or wrongly, to any mass immigration of Jews. Therefore
the majority of the inhabitants of Palestine are opposed to such a mass
immigration. But according to the principle of self-determination, which
is the accepted principle of international justice, the affairs of a country
must be governed by the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants, and
any attempt of an outside country to override by force the wishes of such
a majority is "aggression." Therefore the actions of Zionists,
of Great Britain, and of America, seeking to force on Palestine a mass
immigration of Jews contrary to the wishes of the Arab majority, constitute
acts of aggression and are contrary to the principles of international
justice, self-determination, and democracy.
It will not do to answer that the Arab majority in Palestine is acting
"wrongly" in objecting to Jewish immigration, or that, owing
to the sufferings of the Jewish people, the Arabs "ought" to
welcome them. For according to the principle of justice quoted, it is
the majority of the people of Palestine themselves who are entitled to
decide what they ought to do. That is the essence of the principle. Our
attempt to tell them what they ought to do, and to impose our opinion
in the matter by force or threats, constitutes aggression.
We can see this principle more clearly if we apply In a case nearer home.
The majority of the inhabitants of the United States object to the mass
immigration of non-Caucasian peoples, and they exclude such peoples by
law. Suppose some outside nation were sufficiently powerful to try to
force the United States to admit non-Caucasian immigrants in hundreds
of thousands against our will. We should certainly regard this as an act
of aggression, notwithstanding that a good case might be made out for
saying that our objection to non-Caucasian peoples is "wrong."
We must therefore allow to the majority of the inhabitants of Palestine
the same right of determining such questions of right and wrong for themselves
as we claim for the majority of the inhabitants of the United States.
It might be argued that although the democratic doctrine of majority rule
applies very well to a country with a reasonably homogeneous population,
like England or the United States, it cannot be applied in a country in
which a permanent religious or racial minority is faced by a hostile and
permanent racial or religious majority, as is the case in Palestine, and
also in India. It is true that such a situation creates grave difficulties
for democratic government. It may be used as an argument for partition
or for what has been called in India "communal representation."
It shows that in applying democratic principles to such a country some
special arrangement must be devised to protect the minority from oppression.
But I do not see how these considerations, though they may prove the necessity
of special constitutional devices, can affect the question before us.
It cannot be argued that since majority rule is difficult in the absence
of a homogeneous population, therefore minority rule ought to be allowed
to apply, at any rate in some particular cases such as immigration laws.
And this is what the argument we are considering would amount to. This
objection to the Arab case must therefore be dismissed.
Thus it will be seen that the Arab case rests squarely on the admitted
principles of international, justice. It is a direct application of them
to Pales-. tine. And the logic of the argument appears on the face of
it conclusive and unanswerable. Let us see, however, what case the Zionists
can make against it.
THE ZIONIST case rests upon five main arguments. They are not usually
tabulated and kept distinct. They are, like most arguments on most subjects,
often presented to the public mixed together in a confused heap. But if
they are to be properly analyzed and assessed, they must be kept separate
and taken up for consideration one by one. Any other procedure can only
result in muddled thinking.
The first argument is that Palestine was a Jewish land in ancient times.
It was for long ages the national land and home of the Jews. It may reasonably
be said to have "belonged" to the Jews. Moreover, they did not
leave it of their own free will. They were forcibly dispossessed. And
this gives them a claim to re-enter it now and to make of it again a national
What force, if any, is there in this contention? The, question can only
be answered after we have first decided what are the grounds of right
by which any nation can claim the country which it occupies.The answer
is clear. No nation has any right to the land it occupies except long
possession. What right have Americans to live in, occupy, and control
these United States? No right whatsoever except the fact that they have
actually lived here for two or three hundred years. It is true that there
were cases of so-called purchase from the Indians. But no one will claim
that the general right of the American people to occupy this country is
founded on such purchases. By and large we just seized the land by any
means that seemed at the time most convenient. The Indians were, in most
cases, forcibly dispossessed. The American claim is thus based on what
lawyers call long possession or "prescription."
The same is true of every other people in the world. In most cases there
was not even the pretense of purchase which we find in America. The British,
the French, the Germans, the Japanese, the Zulus, have no claim to the
countries in which they live except long possession.
Judged by this principle, which is the only possible principle to apply,
the Arabs have a far better claim to Palestine than the Americans have
to America. For they have effectively occupied the country for nearly
two thousand years. There may have been always a small Jewish minority
in Palestine, just as there has been in America a small Indian minority
from the time of its white occupation until now. This would give the Jews
in Palestine a right to vote and to proper treatment, just as it gives
the same rights to Indians in America. But that is all.
These considerations make it clear that the fact that Palestine was a
Jewish land in ancient times cannot possibly give Jews a right of mass
entry there now. No matter how a people came originally into possession
on of a country, whether by aggression, war, or in any other way, we have
in the end that is to say, after a sufficiently long period to
admit their exclusive right to it, which means of course that all prior
claims are extinguished. For that is the only basis on which any people
can ever claim the country which it inhabits. What is a "sufficiently
long period"? Certainly two thousand years is. Thus the first Zionist
argument is entirely without force.
The second argument is that Palestine has for the Jews a peculiarly sacred
religious significance. Can we admit religious feelings as giving any
sort of claim to mass immigration into a country? Would we allow
such a claim in any other case? Obviously not. Thailanders could not assert
a right to migrate into India because they are Buddhists and India, where
the Buddha was born and lived, has a special religious significance for
them. And Britishers and Americans, who are Christians, could not claim
a right of mass settlement in Palestine on the ground that it has for
them, just as much as for the Jews, a deep religious significance. "Oh,
but Thailanders, Englishmen, and Americans have already national homes
of their own, whereas the Jews are homeless. And therefore the cases are
not parallel." But this is an example of the muddled thinking which
comes of mixing distinct arguments together. The question whether the
homelessness of the Jews in any way alters the case is a separate question
which I will consider in its place.
The third Zionist argument is that the British Government in 1917 promised
the Jews that the should have a national home in Palestine. A moral claim
is here based on the general principle of the sanctity of promises. On
this ground the Arab claim to self-determination and the Jewish claim
under the Balfour Declaration have been described by a British commission
as "fundamentally a conflict of right with right." This is a
very interesting piece muddleheadedness. It admits, in the first place,
that moral criteria of "right" and "wrong" should
have application to the controversy. This is correct. It admits, secondly,
that the Arab claim is based on the principle of self-determination and
is therefore "right." This is also correct. It implies, thirdly,
that the Zionist claim, based on the British promise gives the Jews a
moral right. But all this last suggestion proves is that the royal commissioners
were grossly incompetent as ethical analysts. The position here taken
is widely accepted because neither the average Zionist, nor the average
man of any sort, nor it now appears the average royal commissioner,
is capable of making more than the first step in such an analysis. They
think "promises ought to be fulfilled, and the recipients of promises
have a moral right to demand their fulfillment. Therefore the Jews in
this case have such a right."
This is a crude piece of ethical analysis. Wrong and unjust promises ought
not to be carried out and give no rights to demand that they be executed.
For instance, you cannot claim a moral right to enforce a promise to steal.
And if you do, you are an accessory to the theft. Therefore the question
which has now to be asked is whether the British had any right to make
promises about the disposal of Palestine contrary to the wishes of the
majority of the inhabitants of that country. It is plain that according
to the principles of democracy and determination, which are the accepted
principles of international justice, they had not. Their action in doing
so was an act of aggression. Therefore the Balfour Declaration gives Zionists
no moral claim, and if they insist on its fulfillment, they are accessories
WE NOW COME to the question whether the homelessness of the Jews, to which
we must add the frightful sufferings which they have undergone and are
undergoing, the persecutions, the pogroms, and all the other horrors,
can be made the basis of claim to mass immigration into Palestine. We
may list this as the fourth Zionist contention.
No humane person can view these facts without profound feelings of pity
and shame pity for the victims, shame for the cruelty and wickedness
of our human kind. But we have to ask what moral claims can be founded
upon it. There arises, most certainly a claim to generous treatment by
every country the world. But just because the facts yield equal claim
against all civilized countries (except that the claim is stronger against
those countries which have been most responsible for the sufferings),
they cannot yield any special claim against Palestine. The claim is against
England, America, Russia, France, and Palestine too (if Palestine is a
humane and civilized country), but not more against Palestine than any
In domestic law we should at once admit this principle. If an individual
citizen of a country is homeless, oppressed, and starving, he has a claim
be rescued from these conditions. But the claim is against the community
as a whole, not against any individual private citizen (unless it is this
citizen who has wrongfully caused his misery). His condition does not
give him a claim to make his home in the house of Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones
or to demand food from them. Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones have indeed duties
and responsibilities in the matter, but only as members of the community,
along with and equally with all other citizens. Thus too humanity at large
has a plain duty to find a solution to the Jewish problem and to put an
end to the persecutions and misery of the Jews. But the solution is not
Palestine. What the proper solution is I shall discuss later. What the
considerations which have just been adduced show is that the fourth argument
of the Zionists has no more force than the others. It is what lawyers
call a "plea ad misericordiam."
The last argument commonly put forward for Zionism is the fact that Jewish
immigrants into Palestine have already enormously improved the country,
and that further immigration will result in further benefits to it. This
fact is to be admitted, and it is unnecessary to go into any details here
regarding economic and cultural improvements made in Palestine by the
Jews. They are well known. The question to be asked is whether they constitute
a valid argument for Zionism.
The hole in the argument is that it can be used to justify almost any
aggression whatever at any rate, any aggression by an advanced
and highly .civilized nation against a more backward one. Hitler might
have argued that he would run France, England, and even America more efficiently
than the present rulers of those countries. And the claim might not be
entirely lacking in truth. He might have argued and indeed did
that his conquests would in the end benefit the world. And if we
consider such claims in this case fantastic, consider some others. The
British have always justified their position in India by the benefits
which they have brought to it. And this claim to have improved the country
is, in spite of Congress Party propaganda, true in some respects even
if it is not true in others. Mussolini justified his conquest of Ethiopia
by claiming that he would abolish slavery and introduce in general more
civilized modes of life. And there can be little doubt that he would in
fact have done so, given time.
These are all no doubt highly controversial cases. But the principle is
clear. A highly civilized people, by conquering a backward people, will
nearly always improve their country. And therefore, if this argument justifies
Zionism, it will justify any aggression of a more civilized against a
more backward people. And this we cannot admit without undermining and
in the end destroying the conception of international justice to which
we profess to adhere. Moreover, if we accept that conception, we cannot
deny that peoples (which means in fact the majorities in any people) have
a right to run their own affairs badly and to resist all attempts by foreigners
to run them well.
There is indeed a danger of becoming academic here. Perhaps it was "wrong"
for Caesar to subjugate the Gauls. But can we really regret that the Pax
Romana civilized Europe? Perhaps we did "wrong" to rob the Indians
of their country. But would it have been "right" for a sprinkling
of half-civilized people to exclude forever from this vast continent those
who were more competent than they were to make use of its opportunities?
Nevertheless it seems to me that the principle that a people have a right
to force an entry into another country if they can show they are improving
it which is the real basis of the Zionist contention, though this
is not the way they put it is so dangerous in the present state
of the world that it ought not to be allowed. It is better to err
on the side of overzealousness against aggression, and to refuse to countenance
even what might be regarded as a sort of justifiable aggression
what a dangerous phrase! than to adopt into our philosophy of international
relations a principle which can be so easily twisted to justify any aggression
or any war whatsoever.
THE ANALYSIS of the case for Zionism and the case against it which has
been given seems to me absolutely indisputable on any ground of logic.
Minor mistakes may have been made in the presentation of the matter. And
it is always possible to catch at sentences or expressions and find fault
with them. But the logic of the case as a whole is too clear for any error
in the general conclusion that, in the dispute between Jew and Arab, the
Arab claim is correct and the Zionist claim is without any foundation.
This is the inevitable conclusion to which an impartial judge would come.
Of course, it will be violently disputed, but disagreement will be based
on prejudice, emotion, or partisan feeling. Let the Zionist who is angered,
or contemptuous, at what has been said examine his own mind and ask himself
whether he is free from prejudice, emotion, and partisan feeling, whether
his own opinions have been based on an impartial analysis of the two sides
to the case. And if he asks how he can be expected to be impartial in
a matter in which he and his own people are concerned as in a matter of
life and death, one must answer with what is no doubt a hard saying: impartiality
as between oneself and another, as between ones own claims and those
of another, is the essence of justice and morality, is the only way in
which one can act justly towards others in this world.
But the unhappy condition of the Jews in Europe gives them, as we have
seen, an equal claim on all the civilized nations of the world. Hence
the true solution of the problem stares one in the face. All the underpopulated
countries in the world Australia, Canada, parts of the United States,
Palestine itself, and others ought to amend their immigration policies
so as to take, each one, its proper share, according to available empty
space, of those who need asylum. This is obviously the only solution which
is just to all parties, which no one can say is a violation of their rights.
Why then is this solution not being adopted by the statesmen of the world?
Why, though the obligation of all countries to take in the refugees if
they have empty spaces is recognized in the recent Anglo-American report,
is it soft-pedaled there and the immigration of Jews into Palestine played
up? Why has it received almost no attention and no discussion?
It is true that President Truman expressed his intention to ask the Congress
to increase the immigration quota for refugees, including Jews. But this
is not accompanied by any recognition that along these lines alone lies
the only just solution of the Jewish problem. It is not accompanied by
an abandonment of the policy of injustice in Palestine. It does not fundamentally
alter the situation. And we have to repeat our question why, though we
give this grudging and doubtful recognition to the claims of the just
solution, we throw all our weight on the side of the unjust solution.
If we find the true answer to this question, we put our finger on what
is rotten in the world today, on what is certainly destined to make the
future of the world a nightmare of war, on what makes nonsense of all
our peace efforts. The answer is that we, the inhabitants of the United
States, of Canada, of Australia, of Great Britain, of the rest of the
countries concerned, do not want to admit our own plain moral obligations
in the matter. We do not want to take our fair share of the burden. We
have found a small country, Palestine, and a remote and defenseless people,
the Arabs, on whom we can unjustly shove the burden of our duties.
It is often said that the Jews themselves hunger to go to Palestine and
do not want, most of them, to go to other countries. True enough. But
we must not suppose that this is any argument for the justice of the Zionist
claim. Since when has it become a principle of justice that in a dispute
regarding property or anything else the strong desire of one of the parties
to have whatever is in dispute gives him claim to it? What people want
proves only that they want it, not that they are in justice entitled to
have it. And if the nations concerned make plain that Palestine will be
asked to take only its proper share of refugees, along with the other
nations of the world, and stand firmly by this decision, the Jews in Europe
will go gladly enough to America, Canada, or any other country that will
treat them decently. And if these countries give the passionate wish of
the Jews to go to Palestine as a reason for not lowering their own immigration
barriers, this is no more than a hypocritical excuse.
The real cause of the reluctance of these countries to lower their immigration
barriers lies elsewhere When Mr. Bevin said that America was pressing
Britain to allow more Jews into Palestine because we do not want to allow
them into America, his remark was greeted with a howl of execration. Naturally,
since the truth hit home and exposed our wickedness and hypocrisy! But
his observation is just as true of the British Empire as it of the United
States. We have to face the plain truth however unpleasant it may be,
however shameful if you like, that none of the great nations
wants these refugees, and they are therefore attempting to thrust them
on a little Arab country. And the reason why America in particular tries
to force the pace while Britain hangs back, is simply that the Jewish
vote is powerful in America while Arab influence is important to the British
But this whole line of thought, it will be said, is not practical politics.
It is not "realistic." The United States and the British Empire
refuse to lower their barriers sufficiently to solve the problem and it
is not of the least use trying to persuade them to do so or to adopt the
solution of the Jewish problem here recommended. Therefore the on! solution
left is Palestine. It may be so. The practical politicians. ought to know.
But what I want to point out is that their "practical" and "realistic"
kind of politics is what leads to war and what will inevitably lead to
war again, not only in Palestine but throughout out the world.
Do we want peace or dont we? If we do, then there is only one way
to get it. We have to cease deciding international issues by considerations
of vote-catching, self-interest, power, greed, prejudice, passion, and
more or less base emotions disguised under the name of patriotism. We
have to begin to decide them impartially by reason and the principles
This is the real lesson of Palestine. It is not an isolated issue. It
touches the future of the world. Just as Guernica was a good testing ground
for German and Italian methods of war, so Palestine is the testing ground
of our peace polices. Our methods there, our whole emotional and irrational
approach to the problem, expose the hollowness and futility of our protestations