The Few and the Many: Gregory Baum and the Creation of Israel

The Few and the Many: Gregory Baum and the Creation of Israel


Howard Adelman

In the previous two blogs, I tried to show why Gregory Baum was wrong in arguing first, that Orthodox Jews hesitated to support Israel because they believed that Israel could only be recreated by an act of God – indeed, only a small Orthodox sect, the Neturei Karta believed that. Second, Gregory argued that had there been no Hitler and no Holocaust, there would have been no Israel. Though there is a thread of plausibility in this thesis, and a few arguments and pieces of evidence support it, and though this is a belief also widely held in the Jewish community, I offered a number of arguments to demonstrate it is an erroneous thesis.

In this blog, I want to take up the other six quantitative theses of Gregory Baum’s anti-Zionist position in a slightly different order than first presented. Before Gregory shifted to theology, he earned an MA in mathematics. Therefore, it is thus more surprising to read the gross numerical errors concerning Zionism. The six quantitative theses are as follows:

  1. The Zionist Ideology Minority Thesis (ZIM) prior to Hitler.
  2. The Few Thesis: only a “few thousand arrivals…wanted to create a Jewish cultural community in Palestine” prior to Hitler.
  3. The Arab Opposition (AO) Thesis: those few thousand “would have found a space there without gravely disturbing the local population.”
  4. The Zionist Majority Thesis (ZM): large scale migration to Palestine led to the shift to majority support for Zionism.
  5. The Creation Thesis: that mass migration led to the creation of the State of Israel.
  6. The Conflict Thesis: mass migration also led to the conflict with the Arabs.
  1. The Zionist Ideology Minority Thesis (ZIM) prior to Hitler.

Gregory is correct. Prior to Israel, Zionism was a belief held by only minority of Jews. But so was Bundism (Socialism), Communism, Orthodoxy, Ultra-Orthodoxy, Liberalism, Assimilationism, or the Reform Movement. This is certainly true compared to what emerged after the creation of the State of Israel. Zionism became the clear majority belief among all Jews; it has remained the predominant belief since then. The issue is not that Zionism was a minority ideology before 1933, but whether Zionists constituted a significant minority prior to the accession of the Nazis to power. World Jewry has never articulated its views in a single voice. Even currently, when a majority of Jews support Israel, there are many different ways in which that support is manifested and different beliefs supporting the myriad of voices.

  1. The Few Thesis: only a “few thousand arrivals…wanted to create a Jewish cultural community in Palestine” prior to Hitler.

There is a hint of truth in this thesis, but one which reveals its overall gross distortion. With the rise of Hitler, the level of support for Zionism in 1936, particularly in America, was significantly higher than in 1932. But that does not mean that Zionist support prior to the rise of Hitler was insignificant. More particularly, with the plight of German Jewry worsening and the gates closing on immigration to America, Zionists could promote resettlement in Palestine in a way they could not in the years prior to Hitler’s accession to power. Those efforts earned support among individuals who would previously had nothing to do with Zionism. On the other hand, Britain began to close the gates even more to Jewish immigration in 1935, just 3 years after Hitler was first elected. Given the growing trend in the pattern of Jewish migration to Palestine prior to 1932, and had the original number of Jews been allowed to stay alive, it is safe to assume that, by 1947, the total number of Jews interested in migrating to Palestine would have grown in at least the same proportion as it did prior to the rise of Hitler. At the very least, there would have been as many Jews in Palestine as there were after the rise of Hitler and the catastrophe of the Shoah.

My focus will be on the five decades between 1882 and 1932 to assess whether there were only “a few thousand” Jewish arrivals in Palestine during this period.

The numbers of Jews and Arabs in Palestine who arrived in each of the following decades after 1880 before the rise of Hitler is a matter of some controversy. So are the Jewish and Arab percentages of the total population. I do not intend to sort through the various positions. Nor do I have to, for it takes very little effort to demonstrate an overwhelming consensus that the claim that, prior to the rise of Hitler, only “a few thousand arrivals…wanted to create a Jewish cultural community in Palestine,” is false. The claim is not only demonstrably false, it is so erroneous, regardless of the estimates used, that it constitutes a gross misrepresentation and misperception.

Without getting into the variation in estimates, in 1880, only 3% of the population of Palestine was Jewish out of a total population of about 450,000; 94% were Arabs. Jews lived in Safed and Jerusalem and constituted the largest plurality in the small populations in those two towns at the time.

In the Third Aliyah between 1917 and 1923, in spite of quotas imposed on Jewish immigration to Palestine, 40,000 more Jews migrated to Palestine, bringing the total number by 1923 to 90,000 halutzim or pioneers who had resettled in Palestine (see the August 1925 “Report of the Executive of the Zionist Organization.”) It was a period when marshes were drained, roads built and towns established. Even critics of the Zionist figures, such as Justin McCarthy, agree with the British census that the total population of Palestine had risen to 725,000 by 1922 of which 84,000 or about 12% were Jewish. Other estimates offer a percentage of 12.4% or 90,000.

In the Fourth Aliya from 1925 to 1931, another 80,000 Jews resettled in Palestine. The number of Jews had doubled and the percentage of the total population had increased to over 16%. Of the almost 225,000 Jews who resettled in Palestine in the Fifth Aliya between 1931 and 1939, in the first two years an estimated 60,000 more had arrived. Thus, Zionist migration to Palestine probably totalled about 230,000 by then. This is not “a few thousand.” In the next fifteen years, in spite of the British barriers to migration imposed in 1935, the total Jewish population of Palestine had risen to 630,000 representing almost 32% of the population by 1947.

Without the rise of Hitler, given the rate of increase of the Jewish population over the previous fifteen years from 1917-1932 and projecting forward, without even considering the constant acceleration in the number of arrivals, the Jewish population would have doubled again to 460,000 rather than 630,000. If the rate of acceleration is taken into account, bracketing the war, the Holocaust and British barriers, it is estimated that about the same numbers would have arrived that actually did. That is, without Hitler, without the Holocaust, the number of Jews in Palestine would have been at least as many in 1947 as ended up there.

  1. The Arab Opposition (AO) Thesis: those few thousand “would have found a space there without gravely disturbing the local population.”

Quite aside for the number of Jews numbering far more than a few thousand, the thesis that if only a few Jews had migrated into Palestine, the Arab populations would have received them in peace is even a larger falsification. First, the Jews who arrived did not displace any Arabs prior to 1947. Though there is a debate over numbers, there is a general agreement that the booming Jewish economic sectors in Palestine attracted an in-migration of Arabs. Yet, in spite of the economic benefit, in spite of the fact that in 1922 Jews only constituted 12% of the population and totaled only about 80,000 to 90,000, Haj Amin el-Husseini emerged as the radical voice of the Palestinians. He organized fedayeen (suicide terrorists) who began to attack Jews in 1919.

Thus, Gregory perpetuates a double misrepresentation. First, that Jewish immigration prior to the rise of Hitler was small. Wrong! Second, that the initial reception of Arabs was peaceful. Wrong again! The leadership was violent even when the in-migration of Jews, though significant, was not threatening at all. In 1920, the first of a series of Arab riots began during Passover. Attacks increased in 1921. In spite of that history, in spite of being arrested and sentenced for sedition, in 1922, the British government released el- Husseini and appointed him Mufti.

Further, from that position, he consolidated power over the Arab community, taking control of all the assets and income of the mosques as well as controlling the educational system and the administration of sharia law. Like many dictators in the Arab world that succeeded him, like Erdoğan in Turkey or Putin in Russia, and, frankly, consistent with the actions of Donald Trump currently, no one could hold a position unless personally loyal to the Mufti. Given the power he accumulated so quickly, the British mandatory authority tried to assuage him by restricting Jewish immigration to “absorptive capacity.” But even that was not sufficient. Husseini insisted on zero immigration. Gregory Baum’s thesis on this issue is just balderdash.

  1. The Zionist Majority Thesis (ZM): large scale migration to Palestine led to the shift to majority support for Zionism

This causal analysis reminds me of the tale of the scientist working on the causes of drunkenness. He conducted an experiment giving his subjects equal amounts of gin and water on day 1, bourbon and water on day 2, vodka and water on day 3, scotch and water on day 4, and rye and water on day 5. After he observed that the subjects became equally intoxicated each day, the scientist concluded that the cause of the intoxication was the water.

Gregory’s error was rather more egregious, for there is a temporal factor. Mass migration took place AFTER the creation of the State of Israel with the huge influx of Jews from Arab lands as well as a good part of the survivors left in the DP camps in Europe. Yet evidence suggests that the support for Israel became a majoritarian perspective with the creation of the State of Israel. Majority support for Israel preceded large scale migration.

  1. The Creation Thesis: mass migration led to the creation of Israel

This is virtually the same issue, but applied to the non-Jewish world. Britain prevented mass migration to Israel from 1935 to 1948. The migration that took place mostly occurred in spite of British policies. In 1947, the UN members offered majority support for creating the State of Israel to get rid of the 250,000 refugees in the camps as well as for a host of reasons within Palestine. The creation of the state and the Arab resistance to that majority decision, the invasion of the nascent State of Israel by Arab states and, mostly, the persecution of their own Jewish citizens by those and other Arab states, led to the mass migration. Mass migration followed and did not precede the creation of the State of Israel.

  1. The Conflict Thesis: mass migration led to the conflict with the Arabs.

The above account also demonstrates the perfidiousness of this final thesis. I want to end, not by summarizing, but by asking how such a genuinely good man could arrive at such heinous conclusions. They are not the conclusions of Gregory alone, but of leaders in the United Church in Canada and of my other three friends and colleagues who joined with him in writing the terrible 1970s ecumenical paper based on more or less these same arguments.

One explanation is that none of the four were historians. But most of the information cited above was publicly available. One did not have to be a historian to avoid such egregious errors in judgment. Another approach to find an explanation examines the development of their ideas in the context of their personal and institutional histories. Gregory’s position must be viewed in such a context. He is a Roman Catholic. However, there has been a movement of reconciliation with Judaism in the last fifty years among Catholics. On the religious level, Gregory played a leading role. But not on the political level! The Holy See established formal relations with Israel only in 1993, well after Gregory’s influence had waned. Historically, the papacy had been consistently hostile to Zionism as an ideology. The Church actively opposed diplomatic efforts to promote the Zionist cause through resettlement of Jews in the first decades of the twentieth century. (Cf. Sergio Minerbi, The Vatican and Zionism, Oxford U.P., 1990)

However, I believe the main cause is mindblindness, an inability or unwillingness to see what is in front of you plainly in view. One final example. In that older seventies paper I recall one of the arguments was over the Crusades, an argument in which Gregory expressed a specific Christian responsibility for the Crusades that was the exertion of Western power against the Arabs in the Middle East. Whatever the value of that thesis, most noticeable was the omission of any effects of the Crusades on the Jews who had been devastated by pogroms perpetrated by the Crusaders.

When guilt over the Crusades was married to guilt over the desire to ethnically cleanse European Jews, the two premises were synthesized in the willingness and desire to dump Europe’s problems with Jews onto the Arabs. Whether or not neo-colonialism should be viewed as a modern extension of the Crusades, the assumption of guilt for pushing the Jewish problems onto the Arabs seems totally unwarranted, especially given that almost half of the Jewish population in Israel is made up of Jews forced to flee Arab countries. However, I do not believe that mindblindness should be viewed as a form of antisemitism.

Granados and Blom – UNSCOP

UNSCOP and the Partition of Palestine III


Howard Adelman

Dr. Jorge García Granados (Guatemala) versus Dr. N. S. Blom (Netherlands)

What a contrast Jorge García Granados from Guatemala was to Emil Sandström. The differences are unequivocally clear in Granados’ statement of his views at the first informal meeting of UNSCOP in Sandström’s office on 6 August 1947. Instead of starting with the rule of law and, in particular, international law as a first principle, he began with the assertion that, “The core of the problem (is) not legal, but human.” As a humanitarian nineteenth century liberal, rather than one steeped in the rule of law, constitutions were constructs, necessary constructs but not based on natural law. They were responses to both objective problems and fundamental conceptions learned by experience about how societies work best.

García Granados’ views were liberal (in the nineteenth century Latin American sense of one who both espoused these ideals and identified himself as a liberal). He was a “unanimist” who adhered to the predominant 19th century Hispanic American constitutionalism based on an integrative, state-building, model which requires a cohesive ruling bloc rooted in popular support. Liberalism of this variety entailed both liberation from colonial rule (negative freedom) and an ideology of nation building based on a unified elite leadership backed by the people (positive freedom). García Granados was not interested in theory; he focused on what was practicable and implementable in response to the problems faced while deeply informed by the presuppositions allegedly based on experience that he brought to the table.

Though not antithetical to federalism per se, a bi-national state or a federal state with two nations making it up could never achieve this ideal. Liberal Latin Americans supported constitutionalism and a political authority rooted in that constitution with elected representatives and full protection of freedom of the press. They were against authoritarianism and the centralization of power even as they recognized the need for a united leadership elite. But it had to be backed by the grassroots in contrast to the belief of Latin American conservatives. Liberty could and should be combined with order and progress and not with reaction and authoritarianism, propensities he identified with the Arabs in contrast to the Jews. So, on the one hand, a society rooted in dogma and governed by force exhibited the spirit of reaction. A society rooted simply in populism or popular sovereignty flirted with anarchy and chaos. Instead, García Granados celebrated individual liberty and self government by the people and for the people, but led by an enlightened and coherent leadership.

For García Granados, the outcome of UNSCOP was clear. The Jews had to have a land of their own. He came out of the gate as a clear and unapologetic spokesperson for the Zionist cause sympathetic to both the Labour Zionists and the Revisionists because both, he believed, upheld the liberal ideals he upheld. Different approaches to economic organization did not fracture his perception of a more fundamental unity. García Granados was, “Impressed by [the] spirit and work of Jews and their desire for a homeland.” “Jews in Palestine,” he asserted, “developed a new psychology – less desire for material gain than is character[istic] of Jews in foreign countries.” García Granados was the forerunner of those abroad who lauded Israel when it was an idealist country rooted deeply in the kibbutz image, but perhaps also with those who turned against Israel when it became a country like any other, governed by its own interests and facilitating possessive individualism rather than a collectivist ideal.

Ironically, he was at heart a philo anti-Semite if one can accept such a contradiction. The Zionists represented the “new Jew” in contrast to the acquisitive Jews who lived in foreign countries. In his liberal racism, Granados compared Arabs unfavourably to Jews and he would insist throughout that if there were to be a cantonal approach and parity between Arabs and Jews, there should be “no mixing of racial groups.” The Jews were simply superior in their historical development. Though the one on the committee most sympathetic to the Zionist position, he never mentioned the Holocaust. The precedent was the Balfour Declaration endorsed by the League of Nations in 1922 when the international community determined that Jews needed a land of their own from which they could not be expelled.

His positions can be summarized as follows:
• Contradictorily to the idealism and surrender of acquiring money as a goal, he lauded Jews for being richer than Arabs;
• They were also more cultured;
• He insisted that the Arabs would not and could not ensure Jewish rights and cited as evidence the Farhud, the pogrom in Iraq in 1941 (June 1-2) when, immediately following the British victory in the Anglo-Iraqi War, Arab riots targeted Jews and Jewish establishments on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot killing 180 Jews and wounding over 1,000 others. Jewish commercial establishments were burned to the ground and 900 Jewish homes were destroyed; this was the precedent that Jews faced if they had to live under the rule of Arabs;
• Jews also needed their own country to solve the DP problem since they had no other place to go throughout the world because of the prevalence of anti-Semitism as evidenced in Britain given the very recent riots there and the attacks against the Jews (This was a theme that influenced every member, even those who opposed partition.)
• Further, like the other members, he was antithetical to British imperial interests; in the name of those interests, Britain, contrary to the Balfour Declaration and its international endorsement, had failed to ensure that Palestine had become a safe haven for Jews everywhere; the British were colonialists who treated both Jews and Arabs as inferiors and the spate of terrorism was blamed, not on the implacable positions of the two sides, but on Britain;
• It was very clear that García Granados would be adamantly opposed to Britain playing any role in the enforcement of a UN recommendation;
• García Granados (along with Professor Enrique Rodríguez Fabregat) fully accepted the Revisionist Zionist position and insisted that there was never an Arab state in Palestine nor could he ever accept an Arab state there (He should have remembered the dictum, “Never say never,” though he was willing to consider a single bi-national state rather than partition, but from a Revisionist Zionist rather than cosmopolitan liberal perspective.)

Dr. N.S. Blom was a different person altogether. Though initially he only adopted a negative stance rejecting the assignment of Palestine exclusively to either the Jews or the Arabs, it was not at all clear whether he supported a bilateral state, a federal state, cantonization or partition. When he finally submitted his own memorandum on a solution, he had become completely convinced that, whatever conclusion was adopted, any solution would have to be imposed and enforced. (Memorandum, 12 August 1947) So the key determination was not an ideal solution, or one based on the principle of self-determination, but, given that the antithetical positions the two sides had taken were intractable and unreconcilable, an imposed solution from outside was required. Blom, unlike others, focused not on a solution, but on the requisite steps for implementing a solution.

Like all the others on the committee, he supported an end to the Mandate if only for the reason that, unlike Sandström, he envisioned no legal continuity between the granting of the Mandate and the current state. Hence, there was no agency to assume international responsibility and, with the dissolution of the Mandates Commission, there was no longer a system of international accountability established by the Council of the League of Nations. Unlike Ralph Bunche, Blom argued that the new International Trusteeship system was neither the automatic nor natural successor to the Mandates Commission, though he would support its use as the only institutional arrangement realistically available.

There existed a conundrum. The only party with the proper legal and enforcement mechanisms for resolving the Palestine issue was Britain. But Britain was no longer capable of implementing whatever solution was recommended. Further, the key and central question – and again on this issue he was consistent with the other members of the committee, though he articulated it clearest – “The formulation of a final solution will depend in large measure on what the decision is to be as regards Jewish immigration into Palestine.” (p. 3) The core issue was not individual liberty or legal continuity whether of a natural law or a constructivist constitution. The key issue was immigration.

Three choices were available: 1) no further immigration; 2) limited immigration; 3) entirely free immigration. So the question of Jewish self-determination was inextricably linked to the question of immigration. Further, in his perception, “in the minds of many Jews the problem of the Jews in the D.P. camps and the plight of the distressed Jews in Eastern Europe is by far the most urgent.” (pp. 3-4) For Blom, this conviction had been enhanced by Zionist propaganda and by the public relations emphasizing the intolerable conditions in the camps and brought to a zenith of international public attention by the refugee ships.

In contrast, the Arabs fear immigration as a bridgehead to Jewish dominance in the Near East. “If the Arabs are to have the decisive influence in the independent state, all immigration of Jews will be immediately prohibited.” (p. 4) So the best solution would be an alternative locale for resettling the refugees. The issue is one of power – either Jewish dominance and free immigration or Arab dominance and no immigration. Controlled immigration could not be an answer since there was no authority available to exercise that control.

That is why Blom contended that the decision on immigration had to precede the decision on any outcome to the Palestinian issue. Further, the Catch-22 was that a transitional period was absolutely a requisite for implementing any solution. On the other hand, any transitional period imagined would only aggravate the situation. Except possibly under two conditions – if it were of very limited duration and if it were accompanied by very specific and definitive solution. So Blom opted for Ralph Bunche’s preference for a Trusteeship agreement. Further, he argued that, “no Trusteeship agreement for Palestine could be effected unless it met the approval of the United Kingdom Government.”

One cannot help calling out, “Whoa! I thought you said the mandate was no longer workable. How come you are effectively arguing for the continuation of the mandate under the different rubric of a trusteeship?” The answer in his dialectical reasoning was that this was the least worst option once one agreed that the issue was not the solution per se but the mode of implementation and enforcement. Further, in order for the state to be able to enforce any solution, cooperation with one of the communities was a prerequisite. What Blom envisioned was the continuation of the mandate as a trusteeship under the auspices of Britain and enforced by the British army, but paid for by the U.N. The Arabs would be the community relied upon to support this outcome since Jewish immigration would be banned. As for the substantive “final solution,” Blom at that point envisioned a federal state as the least worst option.

What becomes clear in reading Blom’s interjections and his position is that, on the committee, he was clearly the most pro-British, though even he recognized the need to end the mandate. Further, he seemed to be the only one sympathetic to Ralph Bunche’s advocacy of having a Trusteeship arrangement to succeed the mandate. Further, in advocating the federal position, he never clarified how that dealt with what he considered the central issue – that of open, closed or limited and controlled immigration. However, given what he said, he seemed to envision a federal state dominated by Arabs who made up two-thirds of the population and they would impose a freeze on immigration. The British could impose their authority with the cooperation of the Arab community. He never explicitly stated this position as his final solution given that any pro-British stand in the context of a committee antithetical to Britain would isolate him from having any influence. However, Blom as an Indonesian Dutch civil servant had been grateful to Britain’s Lord Killearn who had facilitated negotiations between Netherlands and Indonesian nationalists to arrive at the Linggadjati Agreement on 15 November 1946.

So the puzzle with Blom is why he voted for partition and a separate Jewish and Arab state in the end. That puzzle is only cleared up by reading the files in the Dutch archives rather than the documents of the UNSCOP committee. For like John Douglas Lloyd Hood of Australia, and unlike all of the other members of the committee, both Blom and Hood were under the thumbs of their foreign ministers. They were not, as was supposed to be the case, independent members of the committee. Both were civil servants rather than independent judges or diplomats. This does not mean they were united in their views. After all, even when Blom voted in support of partition against all evidence of his previous assertions, he confessed incomprehension that Hood would, in the end, abstain and would denounce that vote as “not greatly appreciated” and “incomprehensible.”

But wasn’t Blom’s vote even more incomprehensible? After all, he supported a federal state dominated by the Arabs with immigration denied to Jews. However, the most important thing to know about Blom was that he had spent his career as a civil servant in the imperial rule of Netherlands over Indonesia. Like Hood, he had opposed the rest of the committee when they became upset at the British decision to hang the three Israeli “terrorists.” He had opposed visiting the D.P camps in Europe. The Dutch delegation even opposed the right of the Jewish Agency to make representations before UNSCOP or the right even to speak in the General Assembly lest it “set a precedent” for other non-state actors. When their position on the Jewish Agency was defeated at the UN, they worked to restrict the range of matters on which the Jewish Agency could speak. They also seemed to identify the Jewish “penetration” of Palestine with communist infiltration. (Minutes, Dutch delegation, 3 May 1947) Given these attitudes, how did he come to support the majority position of UNSCOP?

On 25 March 1947, the Linggadjati Agreement was implemented to provide for a cessation of military hostilities in Indonesia. The United States of Indonesia, consisting of the Republic of Indonesia (Java, Madura, Sumatra) and Borneo, was to be established. However, two weeks after UNSCOP had been formed and just over two weeks before the committee was scheduled to arrive in Palestine, the agreement met an impasse. On 8 June 1947, the Indonesian government rejected Dutch proposals for a cessation of hostilities. In Indonesia, fighting broke out between the Dutch government and the indigenous population of Java and Sumatra on 20 July 1947 after a final rejection by Indonesia took effect on 16 July 1947 and negotiations ended on 19 July in spite of the intervention of the U.S. The Dutch would need all the support they could get at the UN when, on 30 July, Australia brought the issue before the UN Security Council. Holland declared this to be interference in its domestic jurisdiction. As a result, Hood and Blom, in spite of or because of similar civil servant styles and subservience to their ministries, were not able to collaborate.

Blom had unequivocal instructions from the Dutch foreign office to avoid alienating the Arabs as the Dutch needed their support in the UN to retain a degree of control in Indonesia, especially after Dr. Sukarno formed the Liga Muslimin (Muslim League) to support the Arab-Asian group in the United Nations. Blum was not to take any position opposed to Arab countries. The Arab League had previously passed a resolution on 18 November 1946 recognizing Indonesian independence, but it had not yet given its support for the resort once again to violence in opposing Dutch imperialism. Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam on behalf of the Arab League had supported independence of the Arab states – Egypt on 11 June 1947 and Syria on 2 July 1947.

The clear and explicit turning point for the Dutch position in relation to the Arab League, particularly on the issue of Palestine, came to an end when the Arab League openly supported Sukarno and the Indonesian nationalists in their fight with the Netherlands just two weeks before UNSCOP voted among the various options available. Blom, contrary to his previous position, was instructed to vote for partition rather than against partition.

This was critical, as we shall see. For instead of a tie vote of 2 to 2 on the sub-committee dealing with the constitution, its recommendation would eventually be unanimous in support of partition. To understand why, we now have to turn to explore the position of Ivan Rand of Canada.