Buber vs Jabotinksy

This short essay was written as per these guidelines:
Explain the views and policies of Martin Buber and Vladimir Jabotinsky in regard to the Arab-Jewish conflict: Evaluate what they had in common and how they differed.

Martin Buber and Vladimir Jabotinsky share many things in common regarding their views and the policies that they espoused. They both believed very strongly in the Zionist ethos and cause. They both felt that the creation of a state, with specific rights and powers in the hands of the Jewish population, was vital to solving the Jewish Problem and to the existential need of the Jewish culture and people. They both stressed the point, though, that a physical state was the answer to the Jewish problem, not as a physical haven from anti-Semitism, but because there was some spiritual, or non-physical, malady caused by the Jewish lack of a homeland or lack of connection to their ancestral homeland.

Buber and Jabotinksy held very similar general views about the Arabs. They both respected in distinct ways the Arab community within Palestine and felt that their distrust and dislike of Jewish immigration and the Zionist cause were valid. They felt that a distinct and legitimate national movement or patriotism that was both strong and authentic caused this opposition. However, both Jabotinsky and Buber understood that there would be some unavoidable problems along the way though. They understood that both parties of the conflict had competing claims to the same land and that, realistically, it would be impossible for both of the claims to be fully realized.

The policies that they both adopted for the solution of this antipathy, while differing in means and methods, came to nearly the same visualized conclusion. They both envisioned the creation of a state with a largely Jewish population in which the Arabs were granted full civic, political rights and privileges. They both saw the two communities, Jewish and Arab, as growing and flourishing as well as being almost fully separate and independent from one another.

Despite these many generalized similarities, Buber and Jabotinsky differed vastly in many of the details of their thoughts, views and policies. One of the major divergences in their thoughts was the reasoning behind their claims to the land of Palestine as a homeland. Buber interpreted the claim in light of how he saw Zionism’s purpose: as a manifestation of the Jewish mission to create a divinely approved community. He never recognized any type of historical claim, based in the Bible or anywhere else, to the land, but argued that the Jewish people “spiritually” needed the land to fulfill their mission because of its integral connection with their ancient covenant with God- creating a model community that would serve the needs of all mankind. Buber phrased his arguments this way in order to actively appeal to the morality of the nations and gain the approval of the international community to accomplish the international restructuring necessary for creating the Jewish state. Attached to this, Buber also declared that the Jews had a great right and claim to the land based in their ability to use the land to the best of its creative and fertile potential better than the Arabs. This point, based on pioneering spirit and technology, also claimed that all inhabitants of the region would benefit from Jewish cultivation of the land. Jabotinsky on the other hand thought very little of the pioneering accomplishments of Jewish settlers as far as basing a claim on the land went. He strictly advocated the historical right to land.

Jabotinksy bolstered his adherence to the historical right to the land claim by his personal views about the Arabs in Palestine. While respecting the Arabs for their force of will and their strong stand for their rights and according them (in his own words) the same “courteous indifference” which he felt towards all gentiles, Jabotinsky held a very negative opinion of the Arab-Muslim culture. He felt that it was socially and politically backward and primitive. He saw the Islamic civilization as being the complete antithesis of European civilization: it was stagnant and petrified, completely doomed to forever be oppressive religiously and politically. He refused to accept as well the argument that Jewish influence could culturally uplift the natives. This complete rejection of the European romanticizing of the East led him to see negotiations with the Arabs over a solution to be futile.

Buber wholeheartedly disagreed with Jabotinksy on this. He felt that Middle Eastern culture was a beautiful expression of healthy, clean and pure living. He adhered to the philosophy that all nations are free and able to claim their own rights and privileges and that no nation or people had the right to suppress another people. His expression of Zionism was in no way an attempt to exert superiority over another nation, but simply a frank acceptance that the Jewish nation had a fate or destiny that was different from other nations. Granting the Jews a homeland in Palestine would in no way mean that the Arabs would not be able to attain and achieve their own cultural mission. In this way, Buber felt that peace and understanding between the Jews and their Arab neighbors in Palestine was of paramount importance to the Zionist cause, and, thus, he fully advocated negotiations with the Arabs to come to a suitable compromise that would be beneficial to all. For this reason, Buber supported the binational solution put forward by the compromise for peace camp (Brit Shalom). He rejected any methods of nationalistic control or domination and felt that moral ends do not justify the use of immoral means. In fact, he went so far as to suggest that the use of such tactics would negate any positive outcomes of Zionism.

Jabotinksy, on the other hand, fully accepted the use of nationalistic means of control. He fully believed that if something was necessary, coercion was acceptable even within a social context. He applied this point to the Zionist cause by advocating the erection of what he called an “Iron Wall.” Because he felt that the Arabs would never approve of the Zionist endeavor and that they would continually fight growing Jewish immigration and might in the Palestine area, he claimed that it was necessary for the Jews to protect their cause by either actual force or the threat/show of force (military or otherwise). Indeed, Jabotinksy accepted that if the Arabs refused the Jewish need then war would was not only possible but perhaps also necessary to force them to acceptance. This “iron wall” would serve to forcibly pacify and eventually coerce the local population into accepting their station as a minority within the proposed Jewish state.

The size and characteristics of the future state was another place where Buber and Jabotinksy differed. Where Buber was desirous of a binational state in the entire area of Palestine that would be dually governed by both the Arabs and the Jews regardless of their populations or majority status. Jabotinsky on the other hand envisioned the only solution to the Jewish problem to be the creation of a fully Jewish state, with an Arab minority possessing full civic and political rights, but ruled by the Jewish majority.

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Mendes-Flohr, Paul, ed. A land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs, Oxford University Press, New York, 1983.
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