I am working up my 2002 essay on Anti-Semitism, Medieval, Modern and Post-Modern for publication, and in searching out the footnotes, I came across the following passage from the Peel Commission Report of 1937. Aside from the use of the word “race” rather than “culture,” the contrast remains salient today (as in the UN Development Report on the Arab World, 2002).
7. With every year that passes, the contrast between this intensely democratic and highly organized modern community and the old-fashioned Arab world around it grows sharper, and in nothing, perhaps, more markedly than on its cultural side. The literary output of the National Home is out of all proportion to its size. Hebrew translations have been published of the works of Aristotle, Descartes, Leibnitz, Fichte, Kant, BergsoIl, Einstein and other philosophers, and of Shakespeare, Goethe, Heine, Byron, Dickens, the great Russian novehsts, and many modern writers. In creative literature the work of Bialik, who died in 19×5, has been the outstanding achievement in Hebrew poetry, and that of Nahum Sokolov, who died in 1936, in Hebrew prose. A number of Hebrew novels have been written reflecting the influence on the Jewish mind of life in the National Home. The Hebrew Press has expanded to four daily and ten weekly papers. Of the former the Ha’aretz and the Dauw, with circulations of about 17,000 and ~5,000 respectively, are the most influential and maintain a high literary standard. Two periodicals are exclusively concerne with literature and one with dramatic art. But perhaps the most striking aspect of the culture of the National Home is its love of music. It was while we were in Palestine, as it happened, that Signor Toscanini conducted the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, composed of some 70 Palestinian Jews, in six concerts mainly devoted to the works of Brahms and Beethoven. On each occasion every seat was occupied, and it is noteworthy that one concert was reserved for some 3,000 workpeople at very low rates and that another 3,000 ‘attended the Orchestra’s final rehearsal. All in all, the cultural achievement of this little community of 400,000 people is one of the most remarkable features of the National Homeland.
8. There is Arab literature, of course, and Arab music, but the culture of Arab Palestine is the monopoly of the intelligenzia; and, born as it is of Asia, it has little kinship with that of the National Home, which, though it is linked with ancient Jewish ,tradition, is predominantly a culture of the West. Nowhere, indeed, is tie gulf between the races more obvious. Anyone who attended the Toscanini Concerts at Jerusalem might have imagined, if he closed his eyes, that he was in Paris, London, or New York. Yet, almost within earshot was the Old City, the Haram-esh-Sharif, and the headquarters of the Arab Higher Committee. It is the same with science. The Daniel Sieff Research Institute at Rehovot is equipped with the most delicate modern instruments ; the experiments conducted there are watched by chemists all over the world: yet from its windows can be seen the hills inhabited by a backward peasantry who regard it only as the demonstration of a power they hate and fear and who’ would like, no doubt, when their blood is up, to destroy it.
Palestine Royal [Peel] Commission Report (1937), p. 116.
In Zionist historiography, the Peel Commission is largely seen as hostile to Zionism, breaking even Weizmann’s Anglophilia. But a closer read suggests immense ambivalence on the part of the British and fascinating comments on the situation. Among other things, this passage highlights the difference between an indigenous Jewish culture in “the national homeland” and the essentially fragmented culture of the Arab world (international elite/”intelligenzia” with no local rootedness). Like the Muslim interest in Jerusalem because it’s in the hands of the Jews, so we find an Arab attachment to “Palestine” because it means something to the Zionists. Mimetic, invidious desire – hardly what one would normally expect progressives to encourage.
I personally would see the accusations of “apartheid” against Israel – e.g., the differential in living standards between “settlers” and “Palestinians” in the “West Bank” – as products of economic culture rather than oppressive discrimination. Note that even under conditions of great hostility, Palestinians have a much higher standard of living than those in neighboring Arab nations, a phenomenon that dates back to the earliest years of Zionism. In the words of Hasan Shukri, mayor of Haifa and president of the Muslim National Associations, in a telegram to the British in July of 1921:
We do not consider the Jewish people as an enemy whose wish is to crush us. On the contrary. We consider the Jews as a brotherly people sharing our joys and troubles and helping us in the construction of our common country. We are certain that without Jewish immigration and financial assistance there will be no future development of our country as may be judged from the fact that the towns inhabited in part by Jews such as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, and Tiberias are making steady progress while Nablus, Acre, and Nazareth where no Jews reside are steadily declining
(Hillel Cohen. Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948, p. 15).
Of course, not all Arabs agreed, and those who did not considered people like Shukri traitors who deserved death (Shukri, surviving multiple assassination attempts, eventually fled to Beirut).
The “post-colonialist” romanticization of these latter groups as resisters of Western imperialism, rather than as frustrated dominators (imperialists) mired in their zero-sum world of envy and resentment, and the former as quislings, rather than progressive-minded peoples capable of rising above the “us-them” prison, says much about the current disorientation of the “progressive” Left.