Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Jeffries-Dugdale Exchange 1

"Dugdale, Blanche Elizabeth Campbell (1890-1948), British Zionist; a niece of Arthur James Balfour. Blanche... Described by Chaim Weizmann as 'an ardent, lifelong friend of Zionism,' 'Baffy', as she was affectionately called, constantly tried to influence cabinet ministers and high commissioners by personal contact and in writing, stressing the justice of the Jewish cause in Palestine. She also addressed public meetings, Zionist conferences, and even World Zionist Conferences and advised Weizmann in his political dealings with the British. From 1940 until a few months before her death she worked daily in the political department of the Jewish Agency. During World War II she served on various committees to aid Jewish refugees. She regularly published articles in the Zionist Review and authored a pamphlet The Balfour Declaration: Origins & Background (1940) and a two-volume biography, Arthur James Balfour (1936). Her diary is preserved in the Weizmann archives in Rehovot. Before she died, on May 15, 1948, relatives and friends told her that the State of Israel had been established... One of the most committed of British 'gentile Zionists', it has been said that she 'thought of [Jewish] Palestine as her second country.'" (

With 'Baffy' even more ardently Zionist than her late uncle, would it surprise you to know that she once crossed swords with JMN Jeffries? The stoush took the form of a 6-letter exchange in the pages of The Spectator from June 26 to July 31, 1936.

In his 1939 classic, Palestine: The Reality, Jeffries was scathing of Lord Balfour and Lloyd George, and of their political and bureaucratic successors who stubbornly stood by the former's idiotic promise to the Zionists to establish a National Home for 'the Jewish people' in Palestine.

Britain's near total disregard for the demands of the majority Arab population for an end to mass Jewish immigration and land purchases, and for the establishment of representative government, inevitably gave rise to a series of increasingly violent 'riots and disturbances', culminating in the armed Arab revolt of 1936-1939.

Jeffries, engaged on the writing of his book at the time, and caught up in the drama of events in Palestine, would obviously have been in no mood for propagandist nonsense from Zionists, least of all from one who doubled as Balfour's niece and was devoted to his memory and appalling legacy. Growing more heated the further it progressed, the exchange must have been - or so I like to imagine it - the next best thing to Jeffries' taking on the detested Balfour himself.

I intend to post all 6 letters in 3 successive posts, 2 apiece. Actually, with respect to Jeffries' contributions, you're in for a double treat. Not only do you get to marvel at his command of the subject, but you also get to revel in the elegance and precision of his prose. The highlightings are, of course, mine. The exchange begins with Jeffries' response, in the June 26 Spectator, to a June 19 letter by another British Zionist, Norman Bentwich:

"SIR,-For some seventeen years the Arabs of Palestine have been protesting to the British Government against the situation inflicted upon them. In answer they have received, officially or unofficially, either refusals to discuss the points they have raised or replies which - it is sad to have to say so - have wormed along from one subterfuge to another.

"Perpetually unheard, perpetually side-tracked, the Arabs have now broken into armed revolt in order to gain attention for their cause. It would have been better if they had not done this. None the less, the parallel for their rising is to be found in the uproars which in this country preceded the final Reform Bills, and in the violence which obtained women the vote after all logical pleas had failed them

"Everyone deplores the death of our soldiers in Palestine; everyone recognises that our authorities there must restore the public order of which they are the guardians. But the responsibility for the bloodshed in the Holy Land lies primarily where the responsibility for the bloodshed in England lay in 1839 - not on the rioters, but on the Cabinet Ministers who had refused consideration and had postponed reform.

"I am afraid that Mr Bentwich's letter in your last issue is of no great service in this crisis. Indeed, it is harmful, for it is only too full of the phrases which for so long have been forcibly fed to the Arabs, which more than anything else have served to goad them into violence. Under each benevolent sentence some reversal of fact or some cold denial of their dues to the Arabs is barely concealed.

"'Arab and Jew,' says Mr Bentwich, 'must live together, neither dominating the other nor being dominated.' How equitable this sounds, yet in plain fact it means that the Arabs are not to have the ordinary majority rights of a population upon its native soil. 'Palestine has been throughout history a bi-national country,' says Mr Bentwich, and thereby limits history to the last twenty years or so. In fact, between the Jews and Palestine there is a vacuum of centuries. Before the Mandate the Arabs were more firmly, longer, and more solely established in Palestine than are most races of Europe in their present habitat. During their long overlordship of Palestine precisely the one thing which the Turks could not achieve was to make the country bi-national. Under its Turkish functionaries it remained integrally Arab. 'It is not economic interests which divide the peoples (in Palestine),' continues Mr Bentwich, 'but political passions.' The maintenance of the British Empire as British is a political necessity to which we all agree; but the maintenance on the same principle of an Arab land as Arab is a demand inspired apparently by political passion!

"It is very adroit of Mr Bentwich to try to substitute for the normal political birthright of peoples a new, uncodified, unlegalised economic birthright. But, however adroit, it is indefensible. In justice to him, though, it must be acknowledged that he is not alone in employing this stratagem, for the Colonial Office already has employed it. Amidst its dicta, in the Palestine Report of 1931, for example, is a statement that Jewish immigration should be 'governed by the principle that it should not be so great in volume as to exceed whatever may be the economic capacity of the country at the time to absorb new arrivals.'

"Now, it is of the highest importance to grasp what this statement of British policy means. It means that political rights are abolished for the Arab. (In the 'Balfour Declaration' significantly they are promised 'civil' rights, while the Jews are guaranteed in any part of the world against the loss of 'political' rights because of the creation of the 'National Home.')

"The people of Palestine by this statement are shuffled secretly into a new category of human beings, as mechanical, economic units. Only economic reasons are allowed to stop the entrance into Palestine of an indefinite number of extraneous units. It is clear that as Zionist colonisation extends the economic capacity of the country increases, so that inevitably more and more units from outside have to be 'absorbed.' The original Arab units shrink from being nine-tenths of the population to being seven-tenths, and then a half, and presently a quarter.

"Nothing comparable to this has been attempted elsewhere. If men are to be turned from men into economic units, if Great Britain wishes to apply this new theory of statesmanship, evidently she must begin by doing so on her own territory, after the British public has voted in favour of the project.

"But she must not impose the new theory dictatorially on a small, weak population in the Near East by the strength of her aeroplanes and her bayonets and in despite of treaties. -

"I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

The Bath Club, London, W.1. J.M.N. JEFFRIES."

This drew the following response from 'Baffy', in The Spectator of July 3:

"SIR,-It would be interesting if Mr Jeffries would further elucidate his description of the Palestine Arab as 'perpetually unheard, perpetually side-tracked.' Can he point to any occasion on which Arab representatives have been refused the ear of the High Commissioner in Palestine, or, for that matter, of the Colonial Secretary in London?

"I doubt whether Mr Jeffries is doing the best service to the cause of peace when he encourages Palestinians to consider their racial problems in terms of 'majority' and 'minority' rights. But if he must do so, let him reflect which of the two races has most cause to fear being left, or placed, in the position of a minority.

"In the past eight weeks, damage has been done to Jewish property in fields, orchards and plantations, estimated at many tens of thousands of pounds. During this same period, not one Arab fruit-tree has been uprooted, nor one Arab crop burnt, by Jewish hands. Englishmen who have put their labour, their money or their love into the meadows or woodlands of their country can perhaps form some faint idea of the intense provocation, and the iron self-control which such a state of affairs must imply for the Jewish agricultural settlers.

"In the past twenty years, some 300,000 Jews (a number which, incidentally, does not exceed the increase in the Arab population itself during that period) have entered the land, trusting to the British assurance that they are there 'as of right and not on sufferance.' Among their numbers are some 30,000 refugees from the Hitler terror. Palestine, under the Mandate administered by Great Britain, is so far the only country in the world in a position to afford some abiding shelter for the victims of the hideous revival of anti-Semitism now defiling Germany. It is sad to find any Englishman who takes no pride or pleasure in that fact, but who seems to advocate yielding to the demands of the Arab extremists for the stoppage of immigration, which would, while the Arabs display their present spirit, in the end turn the Jewish National Home into a death-trap.

"Lasting peace in Palestine will not come through the breaking of British promises to either section of the population, but its foundation might be laid through the speedy fulfilment of some of those promises which referred to large scale land development, in order to make room for a larger population. According to the experience and calculations of the best experts on Palestinian agriculture, a family scientifically cultivating irrigated land can live on five acres (as compared with a minimum of twenty-five acres of unirrigated land). There are still available at least three-quarters of a million acres of irrigable land which have not yet been developed.

"The future of the great Arab nation is not bound up with that little notch in the vast territories inhabited by their race which Palestine represents. What that future may be - politically or economically - no man can tell. But so far as it is possible to foresee the trend of events, it does appear likely that the Jewish National Home, established by virtue of historic right in the Land of Israel, will provide at any rate a partial solution for the Jewish problem, which is an international problem, and the direct concern of nearly every country in the world.-

"Yours obediently,

BLANCHE E.C. DUGDALE. 1 Roland Gardens, S.W.7."

Leaves the letters pages of today's anaemic rags for dead, doesn't it? Stay tuned for round 2...


Mannie De Saxe said...

I will certainly stay tuned for the next series of installments because it gets more and more fascinating with the introduction of items by one Mr Bentwitch wherein lies my fascination.
You may or may not be aware that John Monash had a "mistress" whose name was Lizette Bentwitch, and the Bentwitch in the UK which is mentioned in the correspondence was her brother.
My fascination goes further because these Bentwitch people were first cousins to my grandmother, so it is a personal intereset as well as the politics of zionism.
I look forward to what follows! and thanks for all the historical information.
Mannie De Saxe

MERC said...

You're welcome, Mannie. There's no further mention of NB in the J-D correspondence, but you might find the following anecdote on NB from CR Ashbee of interest.

Ashbee has a chapter in his 'A Palestine Notebook 1918-1923' called 'What is Zionism?'. The relevant passage for our purpose is as follows, and NB emerges in it a 'true believer' with all the blinkered certainty that that entails:

"'Jewish tradition,' sings Leon Simon, the resounding bass, 'has always satisfied that which is fully and inalienably Jewish, and so Hebrew has been for centuries the holy language, just as Jerusalem has been the holy city and the Bible the holy writings.'

"Yes, but there is another holy language - Arabic; and there have been other holy writings - Greek drama and philosophy - in which God revealed himself. God has more catholicism than the Zionist. And if it was all so true, why did not the Jew make good in history?

"'It is the opinion of competent judges that the modern fellaheen or Arabic-speaking peasants of Palestine are descendants of the pagan tribes which dwelt there, before the Israelite invasion, and have clung to the soil ever since, being submerged but never destroyed by each successive wave of conquest which has swept over the land.' (Frazer: Folk Lore in the Old Testament, Vol.1 p.17.)

"When I put that statement of Frazer's up to Norman Bentwich one day as we were out riding together, he met it with a complete unbelief. The fact, if indeed it were a fact, did not touch him, he was dreaming of other things. His smile of childlike confidence in effect said: 'I don't believe it.' Facts have no value in the light of utter faith; they do not exist. Yet that fact is another answer to Zionism, perhaps the strongest of all. The Jews did not make good." (pp. 110-111)