There are many today who challenge Israel’s claim to be a ‘democratic state’. You can see there arguments elsewhere (LINK?). What of Zionism’s early attitude to democracy, and what did the ‘Free World’ do?
Best estimates for 1900 give approximately 50k Jews from a total of approximately 650k). With these figures it is easy to see why democracy was not immediately attractive to Zionism! (One should not trust Weizmann on figues! On page 161 of his memoir he claims 80k out of 600k+ in 1907, rather more than 10%, whereas, on page 473 he writes that there were ‘fifty-five thousand of the time of the Balfour Declaration.’ 80k in 1907 reduced to 55k in 1917 is not merely unlikely and can hardly be put down as the ravages of war, for war in its most destructive form came late to Palestine and was brief. That fifty-five thousand had become four hundred thousand by 1937, according to Weizmann, still little more than one quarter of the total population.
In determining the future of the Mandatory territories, of which Palestine was one, the newly formed League of Nations had determined that the people of a nation were entitled to choose those who governed them. (It should surprise us that the United Nations, the body that ‘gave’ Palestine to the Jews, has a similar clause in its charter). Carrying through this mandatory responsibility was managed with varying success – for reasons to large to deal with here – in, for example, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Syria, none of which countries/nations had existed immediately prior to World War 1. Palestine was a Class A mandatory territory, ready for democratic government with miniml help; what went wrong?
Elsewhere I deal with the contradictions inherent in British and French foreign policy during WW1, here it is enough to point out, as a diplomat of the time said, during the period 1914 to 1921 Britain made five promises to fulfil any one of which would entail breaking the other four.
What of democracy? As early as 1922 the Churchill White Paper had suggested a legislative assembly under British authority with Arabs in the majority. Since Arabs were massively in the majority , and since, according to the League of nations, that majority had a right to determine its own government, why not? The idea was raised again in 1931. Apparently the proposal for the council was of 14 Arabs, 7 Jews, 2 businessmen and 5 British officials. Weizmann writes, ‘I had pointed out that to talk of elected Arabs representing their people was to contradict the democratic principle it was supposed to further. A legislative council in Palestine would be merely a cloak for the old feudal system, that is, a continuation in power of the family cliques which had held the country in their thrall for centuries and ground down the faces of the poor.’ (p.467). Such comment today would be rightly branded as racist. And, whereas earlier, it had been the Turkish empire that had ‘wasted’ the land, now Weizmann’s target it was the very people who had risen up and aided British forces in driving out the Turkish-German armies. Weizmann concluded, ‘We would not agree to the council; we fought it in Palestine and in London’, (p.468).
A counter proposal was to have equal numbers of Jewish and Arab representatives. This, Weizmann felt, ‘might diminish fears’ through regular contact ‘between the two peoples’. A reasonable point- except that it doesn’t require an equal, and unrepresentative, number of representatives for contacts to take place. Indeed, as any history of the period will show, there had been regular contacts between Jewish and Arab Palestinians for centuries and they’d got on well. What divided the groups in the 1920s & 30s was massive Jewish immigration, the like of which would be unacceptable in any country, and the clear intention of creating a Jewish state in Palestine.