Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gandhi's Grandson and the Holocaust

On 7 January Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, 71-year old Arun Gandhi, the founder/president of the M.K. Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence at the University of Rochester, posted a three-paragraph item on the On Faith blog of the WashingtonPost. It was titled "Jewish Identity Can't Depend on Violence," and expressed some surprisingly obtuse thoughts. This is what it said:

Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience -- a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example of a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends. The holocaust was the result of the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into doing something dreadful. But, it seems to me the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews. The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on the regret turns into anger.

The Jewish identity in the future appears bleak. Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs. In Tel Aviv in 2004 I had the opportunity to speak to some Members of Parliament and Peace activists all of whom argued that the wall and the military build-up was necessary to protect the nation and the people. In other words, I asked, you believe that you can create a snake pit -- with many deadly snakes in it -- and expect to live in the pit secure and alive? What do you mean? they countered. Well, with your superior weapons and armaments and your attitude towards your neighbors would it not be right to say that you are creating a snake pit? How can anyone live peacefully in such an atmosphere? Would it not be better to befriend those who hate you? Can you not reach out and share your technological advancement with your neighbors and build a relationship?
Apparently, in the modern world, so determined to live by the bomb, this is an alien concept. You don't befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.

The reaction from American Jewish groups was predictably negative, and on 10 January, Mr. Gandhi posted an "Apology for My Poorly Worded Post" that said:

I am writing to correct some regrettable mis-impressions I have given in my comments on my blog this week. While I stand behind my criticisms of the use of violence by recent Israeli governments -- and I have criticized the governments of the U.S., India and China in much the same way -- I want to correct statements that I made with insufficient care, and that have inflicted unnecessary hurt and caused anger. I do not believe and should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people. Indeed, many are as concerned as I am by the use of violence for state purposes, by Israel and many other governments. I do believe that when a people hold on to historic grievances too firmly it can lead to bitterness and the loss of support from those who would be friends. But as I have noted in previous writings, the suffering of the Jewish people, particularly in the Holocaust, was historic in its proportions. While we must strive for a future of peace that rejects violence, it is also important not to forget the past, lest we fail to learn from it. Having learned from it, we can then find the path to peace and rejection of violence through forgiveness.

That did little to appease critics, and Mr. Gandhi resigned -- or was "forced" to do so according to some reports -- from the M.K. Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence. Since then the matter has received much attention on Internet lists, and there is now a petition afoot to have him reinstated; it is being pushed by Indians who bill themselves as liberal. Before anyone signs the petition I suggest a simple self-administered test: replace the words Jews and Israel with your own religious and national affiliations and see whether you would find it objectionable.

In addition to being overtly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, Mr. Gandhi reveals a staggering lack of understanding when he writes of the Jewish holocaust as the "result of the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into doing something dreadful." What happened in Germany was far more complex, and the best argument for continuing to examine and reexamine the historical record is the fact that so many people seem to want to brush it under the carpet and "move on." As a Hindu Mr. Gandhi should know that there can be no moving on from bad karma; it has to be understood and countered with good karma.

The state of Israel has certainly generated its own bad karma, and its policies in the occupied territories are profoundly destructive of its own best interests; but that is happening within a deeply negative context. Both Israel and the Arab states are responsible for the plight of the Palestinians, who themselves are by no means helpless victims. (I suggest that before any further peace negotiations, all parties involved, including Britain, France and the United States, gather at the Wailing Wall and engage in a full and frank confession of their own sins.)

That is unlikely to happen as long as the Arab mindset takes color from history: the century-long resistance to the medieval European crusades that ended with Saladin retaking Jerusalem. But Zionism is not a long distance crusade; it is the national movement of the Jews, and likely to endure as long as Arab nationalism. If the Arab states do not come to terms with that fundamental fact, there can be no happy ending for anyone in the region. Or indeed, for the world at large.

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