LASKI, HAROLD. (1893-1950). English political theorist, member of the British Labour Party and Zionist. AMsS. (“Harold J. Laski”). 16pp. 4to. N.p., N.d. (1946). Laski’s autograph manuscript for his article entitled “Palestine: The Economic Aspect,” published in Palestine’s Economic Future, a review of progress and prospect, edited by J.B. Hobman, with an introduction by Dr. Chaim Weizmann. Published by Percy Lund Humphries and Company Limited, London, 1946.

Born into a well-off Manchester family, Laski’s father was a cotton merchant, originally from Belarus, and a member of the Liberal Party. Young Laski renounced his Jewish faith, at 18 married a gentile woman eight years his senior and at the age of 23 was already a lecturer at McGill, Canada’s leading university. He subsequently lectured at Harvard and Yale, becoming close friends with Felix Frankfurter, Louis Brandeis and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who held Laski in high esteem. Laski’s greatest influence was as a professor at London’s famed School of Economics, and an active member of the British Labour Party and the Fabian Society where he served on the executive board. Some of Laski’s notable students were Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.; Kingsley Martin; Ralph Miliband; Moshe Sharett; and Indian statesmen Jawaharlal Nehru, V.K. Krishna Menon and K.R. Narayanan.

Despite Laski’s disinterest in Judaism, his early contact with Chaim Weizmann and other leading Zionists such as Frankfurter and Brandeis, were to play an important role in his life. At the Paris Peace Conference, Laski advised Frankfurter who was in attendance as an observer for American Zionist interests. It was Frankfurter and T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who convinced Emir Faisal to sign the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement designed to create a workable co-existence between Palestine’s Arab and Jewish populations as originally intimated by the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Faisal wrote, “We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with deep sympathy on the Zionist movement…We will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.” It was the Wailing Wall riots of 1929 that drew Laski into the fight over Palestine’s future. Great Britain’ Shaw Commission report on the uprising attributed the conflict to the Palestinian Arabs fear of losing their jobs and political independence due to increased Jewish immigration. Subsequently, the Passfield White Paper called for the near cessation of Jewish land purchases and immigration, leading to Weizmann’s resignation as President of the World Zionist Organization and President of Britain’s Jewish Agency, as he had relied heavily on British support for Jewish development in Palestine. It is against this backdrop that Laski’s interest in Zionism grew, culminating in the death of his mother, Sarah, in February 1945. In an address to the Poale Zion, the Manchester Jewish Socialists, shortly after his mother’s passing, Laski formalized his dedication to the Zionist cause, stating that he felt “like a prodigal son returning home,” (Quoted in Harold Laski, A Life on the Left, Kramnick and Sheerman). For Laski, the Jewish settlement of Palestine became, “a veritable crusade which obsessed [him],” (ibid.).

Below are several quotations from Laski’s essay in Palestine’s Economic Future:

“[Regarding the “progress made in Palestine”] … It is a matter of common agreement, verified anew by every official enquiry, not only that it is, on any showing, a remarkable achievement, but, also, that has been accompanying by an increase in Arab well-being outstandingly greater than anything accomplished in the surrounding Arab countries. Whatever, this is to say, maybe the causes of Arab complaint against Jewish immigration, it cannot be based on economic grounds… A new level of taxable capacity in Palestine, almost wholly the outcome of Jewish effort, has made the quality of social services something the Arab fellah has never before known… No-one need seriously suppose that the price of Jewish development has been in any way disadvantageous to the Arabs.

…It is important to bear in mind that, from the Diaspora to the Balfour Declaration, Palestine was devoid of any economic significance… It is imperative to realize that, before 1917, Palestine, in an economic sense was a land without hope or prospects.

…Since the return of the Jews to Palestine, all the resources of modern science have been made available in the Hebrew University at Jerusalem for its development… There is little difference in wage-rates paid to Jews or Arabs, whether skilled or unskilled, and that the constant tendency of real wages has been to an increase with a consequent higher standard of living.

…Even the critics have agreed that improved agricultural technique is a Jewish contribution. Jews have been real pioneers in an afforestation. Their organizations have taken the lead in fighting malaria and tuberculosis.

…No serious economist would suggest that Jewish immigration has been the cause of Arab unemployment. When conditions have been bad in Palestine, as in 1930, for example, they have been bad in Iraq and Syria too. The British Administration in Transjordania admits that the low price of agricultural commodities on the world-market has made the local farmers so poor that the collection of taxes is difficult… On the contrary, most of the investigations – it is true unwittingly enough – have been compelled to recognize that Jewish enterprise in Palestine has cushioned the effect of depression there compared to the Middle East as a whole… The British Administration in Palestine has done little for its Arab citizens in either the economic or the educational field which remotely compares with what the Jews of the world have done for the Jews of Palestine.

It is also well known that, up to the issue, on behalf of the British Government, of Mr. Malcolm MacDonald’s White Paper of 1939, it was the legal obligation of Great Britain to encourage Jewish settlement in Palestine so long as the position of the Arabs was not thereby prejudiced… That was certainly the view of the permanent Mandate Commission of the League of Nations. It was the view of the statesmen mainly concerned in framing the Balfour Declaration, Lord Balfour himself, Mr. Lloyd George, who was then Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Churchill, and Field Marshall Smuts… A long series of pronouncements over many years have made it abundantly clear, also, that this was the view of the Jewish future in Palestine which was held by the Government of the United States.

Certain obvious consequences follow from this attitude. If there were to be more Jewish settlers, there must be opportunities for the Jews to purchase more land, so long as this purchase did not adversely affect the Arab inhabitants. This land could be purchased from Arab land holders if this did not mean dispossession of Arab fellaheen… Nothing, moreover, in the terms of the Mandate suggested, directly or indirectly, that Jewish immigration was limited… The effect of Jewish settlement was important. It was not to prejudice Arab well-being. That did not mean the well-being of the Rich Arabs in Palestine but of the whole Arab community… It never assumed a fixed limit either to the number of Jewish immigrants, or to the total area of Palestine which it would be open to them to purchase and develop. It assumed only that the evolution of a national home in Palestine should not injuriously affect its Arab inhabitants.

It is not enough for the British Government predominantly to act on the one hand as the skeptical observer of Jewish initiative, and, on the other, as the eager recipient of Arab complaints… It has to guard against the danger that its policy in Palestine is subordinated either to its immense interests as a Moslem power, its economic concern for the future of its oil supplies (one of the grim shadows which haunt the Palestine drama) or to its strategic concerns in the Middle East as a vital link in the communication between India and the Mediterranean round which so much of British defense policy is built.

It is difficult to think that the economic future of Palestine can be considered as a matter independent of the future of its neighboring countries… The very backwardness of Arab production in the countries round Palestine make that common action more, and not less, urgent.

A word, finally, ought to be said on the probable character of Jewish immigrants into Palestine in the next decade… (i) There will be old people and invalids, often the victims of Nazi barbarism, who come to Palestine to die… (ii) There will be adult persons whose experience in Europe, especially since 1933, makes them anxious to settle permanently among their own people… It is at least dubious whether a high priority, on any immigration schedule, ought to be given to intellectual workers, lawyers for example, or the old-fashioned Talmudist from Eastern Europe, unless they are willing to be retrained for some practical vocation. (iii) Children whose parents have been the victims of Nazism… (iv) Adolescents who have escaped during the war and had some training in organizations connected with the Youth Aliyah before their certificate of entry has been granted… It is not the Jew with the gift for individual enterprise who is needed in Palestine so much as the Jew who fulfills himself as the member of a team.

The economic future of Palestine is an issue dependent, at every point, upon political decisions which will have to be made within a very brief period… There is one principal I can at least affirm which is relevant to all the political decisions which lie immediately ahead. There is no evidence to show that the attempt to make Palestine a “Jewish National Home” upon the basis of the Balfour Declaration has had any deleterious effect on Arab well-being; on the contrary, it is abundantly clear that it has helped, and not hindered, Arab advance. To this must be added two other things. In an experiment of the scale and importance of that attempted in Palestine, success largely depends upon faith in its validity in the major officials concerned… The second thing to note is that the implication of a “Jewish National Home” in Palestine is a thorough-going reorganization of the internal relations of a semi-feudal Arab society in which the privileges of a small group of rich effendi are deeply involved; and this, in its turn, is bound, if it continues, to have vital repercussions on the whole social framework of the Middle East. This is the real source of the resistance to large-scale Jewish immigration. The Jew brings with him Western ideas, often Western socialist ideas, which cut right across a traditional historical pattern the beneficiaries of which seek at any cost to defend their claims. They, therefore, mobilize, both religious fanaticism and national passions to arrest changes in which they see the threat to their privilege, and seek to use the dislike of the masses to change before they see that the change is to their advantage… If the Palestine experiment could have any chance of success in the next decade, it must be made decisively clear that there is no going back at any point from the full implementation of the principals set out in the Mandate of 1922. Novelty in the field of politics demands not less the courageous heart than the clear mind. In the quarter of a century since the Balfour Declaration the policy of Great Britain in Palestine has had neither. Until it has come to see that, without these qualities, it only deepens one of the supreme historical tragedies of which we had knowledge, its statesmen do an ill-service to civilization by accepting responsibilities they hesitate to fulfill. And at a time like our own, to fail in a task of this kind is to risk a betrayal the future will find it impossible to forgive.”

An important essay written by one of the world’s most influential political economists during the first half of the 20th century. In excellent condition, written in Laski’s fine, though very small handwriting, which caused even President Franklin D. Roosevelt to jokingly complain that he needed a magnifying glass to read Laski’s letters and communications, which he felt, however, were well worth the review.

Written on slightly browned lined paper in overall fine condition. [indexhistory] [indexJudaica]

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