Talk to the Snakes
In a 1938 essay, Mohandas (“Mahatma”) Gandhi, the spiritual and political leader of the Indian independence movement, counseled Jews in Nazi Germany to neither flee nor resist but rather offer themselves up to be killed by their enemies, since their “suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy.”
When all hope is lost, a Jew about to be killed “al Kiddush Hashem” — as a Jewish martyr — is indeed to reach for serenity, even happiness, at the opportunity to give up his life because of who he is. When Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, the great Lithuanian Jewish religious leader and scholar, was murdered by Hitler’s henchmen in 1941, he reportedly told the students about to be killed with him that “In Heaven it appears that they deem us to be righteous because our bodies have been chosen to atone for the Jewish people… In this way we will save the lives of our brethren overseas… We are now fulfilling the greatest Commandment… The very fire that consumes our bodies will one day rebuild the Jewish people.”
But Jewish martyrdom is not something to be courted. And so Mr. Gandhi’s advice for Jews during the Holocaust was, even if consonant with his personal beliefs, from Judaism’s point of view profoundly wrong.
And Gandhi’s advice was even more disturbing in light of his admission, in that same essay, that the “cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me.” Jews, he said, should “make… their home where they are born.” It is, moreover, he went on, “inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.”
Apples, they say, don’t fall far from trees. A rotten one fell with a loud splat recently over at The Washington Post. On a weblog — “On Faith” — sponsored by that paper in conjunction with Newsweek Magazine, Arun Gandhi, a grandson of Mohandas and co-founder of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester, opined that “the Jews today” are intent on making Germans feel guilty for the Holocaust (which he chose to spell with a lower-case “h”) and that they insist that “the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews.”
“The world did feel sorry,” he reminded his readers, “for the episode.” But “when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on, the regret turns into anger.”
Ah, yes, that unpleasant “episode,” more than 60 years ago. And those Jews still can’t bring themselves to forgive the Nazis.
Like his grandfather was, Mr. Gandhi petit-fils is also concerned with Israel. Addressing those who defend the Jewish State’s security barrier and use of weapons to fight terrorism, he challenged: “[Y]ou believe that you can create a snake pit — with many deadly snakes in it — and expect to live in the pit secure and alive?”
And so the man of peace, grandson of the same, reached the conclusion that actions like Israel’s “created a culture of violence, and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.”
Interesting. Although his own concern about Jews was not exactly their militarism, Mr. Hitler similarly saw them as jeopardizing humanity’s survival. Well, whatever.
Grandson Gandhi subsequently apologized for his “poorly worded post.” In the course of his apology he even took care to capitalize “Holocaust.” But his apology itself, unfortunately, consisted solely of his regret at having implied that “the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people.” Many Jews, he explained, “are as concerned as I am by the use of violence for state purposes…”
Well, thank you, Mr. Gandhi. But no thanks. I cannot speak for all of the Jewish people, of course, but for my part I must decline your apology. Not because I bear you any grudge or ill will, and certainly not because I am hard-hearted. I don’t think I have ever rejected an apology in my life, until now.
It’s not because I am blinded by some ethnic rage over the unpleasantness of that World War II episode. And not because I am a knee-jerk defender of Israel in whatever her leaders decide to do; I am not.
No, I reject your apology simply because you seem to have missed the entire point of why your original post was so offensive — frankly, revolting. It is astounding that you still don’t seem to realize your insult and error.
They lie in where you directed your words. You are welcome to criticize Israeli decisions, even the wisdom of Israel’s establishment itself, if you agree with your grandfather’s views. But if your ultimate concerns are in fact peace and humanity’s survival, then in a world where Jews are regularly attacked simply for being Jews and Israelis simply for being Israelis, where Jewish tombstones are defaced and broken, where Arab countries will not permit Israelis to enter their borders and Arab textbooks teach children to hate Jews as a matter of religious and cultural obligation, where a United Nations routinely ignores murder, mayhem and unspeakable cruelty in scores of countries but just as routinely condemns Israel for defending herself, the primary focus of your ire should have been not those living in the snake pit, but rather the snakes themselves.