Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Most Definitely a Shaw Thing

Further to my July 11 discussion of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and his attitude toward Islam, it's interesting to recall just what the renowned, left-leaning, Irish playwright and essayist had to say about Zionism.

Zionism, it should be said, was hardly uppermost in Shaw's mind, and insofar as he touched on it, it is reasonable to assume that he shared the British Left's purblind tendency to see British imperialism rather than the ruthless, manipulative, ethno-nationalism of the Zionist movement as the main player in Palestine.* Nevertheless, as an Irishman, he knew a colonial clusterfuck when he saw one coming.

Shaw's take on the Zionist project in Palestine emerges most strongly in a short, untitled, satirical sketch he wrote on the origins of Britain's fateful 1917 Balfour Declaration, which infamously promised to "view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

It came in the context of a correspondence with British socialist and Independent Labour Party MP Fenner Brockway, most probably, although this is not specified, in the late thirties. As Brockway explains in his memoir Outside the Right:

"I had a startling reply to a request for an opinion on a policy statement on Palestine which I had written for the I.L.P. 'This is all nonsense, the historical part,' he rebuked, adding he could only comment adequately in the form of a 3-act play. He enclosed it and granted me the right to publish. The theme was that Arthur Balfour gave Dr Weitzmann Palestine in return for a chemical device for killing Germans. I reproduce the play at the end of this chapter." (1963, p 87)

Referred to by Brockway as Shaw's "lost play," the playwright's skewering of the insufferable Lord Arthur James Balfour is deliciously Yes Minister:


1917. Scene: The Foreign Secretary's room at the Foreign Office. Arthur is contemplating with dismay a document which has been handed to him by an attache.
Arthur: Boy, this is awful. Are you sure your figures are correct?
Attache: They have been checked 3 times over, sir.
Arthur: This is really what the war is costing us?
Attache: Under the mark, if anything, sir.
Arthur: Young man, do you realize - but no. Only a Scot can feel as I feel about it. Look at this one item alone. Five thousand and thirty-eight pounds, 15 shillings and  9 & 7/8 pence for cordite enough to kill a single German. How can any country stand such a strain?
Attache: It's not the cordite, sir. It's the acetone [**] that is so expensive. Cordite cannot be made without acetone.
Arthur: I don't know what acetone is; and I don't care. All I know is that if we go on like this we shall have to give an order to cease killing Germans. Dead Germans cost too much... Are our chemists trying how to find something cheaper?
Attache: They are doing their best; but nothing has come of it so far. There's a chemist in Manchester who has a microbe that makes acetone for next to nothing.
Arthur: Send him here instantly. Why hasn't he been sent here before?
Attache: Impossible, sir, unfortunately.
Arthur: Nothing is impossible when we are at war. Why is it impossible?
Attache: He is a Jew, sir.
Arthur: Is his microbe a Jew?
Attache: I suppose not, sir.
Arthur: Is Sir Herbert Samuel a Jew or is he not? Is he in the Cabinet or is he not?
Attache: But it is a coalition Government, sir. All sorts of people are let in.
Arthur: Any other objection?
Attache: Well, Manchester, you know, sir. Provincial. And Owens College! If it were Cambridge, now, we might stretch a point.
Arthur: If this Jewish gentleman is not in this room in 3 hours, you go to the trenches.
Attache: Oh, if you make a point of it, of course. But we shall lose tone.
Arthur (roaring): Get out!
(The attache shrugs his shoulders and goes out.)
Arthur (clutching his temples as he again pores over the sheet of figures): Five thousand and thirty-eight golden pounds to put one Boche out of action! And we have to exterminate the lot of them!


(As before, 3 hours later, but with Dr Chaim Weizmann instead of the attache.)
Arthur: Doctor Weizmann, we must have that microbe at your own price. Name it. We shall not hesitate at 6 figures.
Dr Weizmann: I do not ask for money.
Arthur: There must be some misunderstanding. I was informed that you are a Jew.
Weizmann: You were informed correctly. I am a Jew.
Arthur: But - pardon me - you said you did not ask for money.
Wiezmann: Precisely, I do not want money.
Arthur: A title, perhaps? Baron? Viscount? Do not hesitate.
Wiezmann: Nothing would induce me to accept a title. I should have to pay more for everything.
Arthur: Then may I ask, without offence, since you want none of the things that everybody wants, what the devil do you want?
Weizmann: I want Jerusalem.
Arthur: It's yours. I only regret that we cannot throw in Madagascar as well. Unfortunately it belongs to the French Government. The Holy Land belongs naturally to the Church of England and to it you are most welcome. And now will you be so good as to hand over the microbe.


Mr Bernard Shaw in his sumptuously furnished study reading the announcement of the Balfour Declaration.
MR B. S.: Another Ulster! As if one were not enough.


[*For the full story here, see my April 2012 serialisation of J.M.N. Jeffries's Palestine: The Reality, Chapter 11: The Balfour Deception 1-7; **For this particular strand of the story, see my 11/11/12 post Palestine on a Platter.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

G.B.S. could have added that the British decision to support Zionism had a particular attraction based on an understanding that the U.S.A. would join the war on the British side. The Zionist movement in the U.S.A. would support the call to war based on this understanding as evidenced by events.

Previously, the Zionist movement was motivated by a long and bitter hatred of the Russian Tsarist government. The promise of Palestine was the real game changer.