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From Honolulu to Tel Aviv, the White Man’s Burden—Abba Solomon

Queen Liliuokalani

In 1943, Judge Horace Stern prepared a memo for American Jewish Committee meant to propose consensus Zionist and nonZionist American Jewish positions on Palestine issues. Point 4 was:

"No country should be compelled to remain forever in tutelage, but, like an individual ward, is entitled to be freed of guardianship… In the case of Palestine, however, it is obvious that if such government were to be established before the Jews are in a majority their continued growth and development there might be imperiled, and the legislation of the country would not be of a nature most conducive to social and economic progress."

One dissident from the consensus, AJC Executive Committee member James N. Rosenberg, wrote:

"You set up a kind of democracy which I do not recognize as a democracy; one which begins to work as a democracy only when Jews become a majority there... Your demand that the exclusive power to set up the 'autonomous commonwealth' be in Jewish hands refutes democracy because it cancels out the rights of others."

Research by historian Ronald Williams, Jr., of the University of Hawaii-Manoa, parallels in Hawaii the dilemma of Palestine Jewish settler democracy: that pro US Annexationists wanted to make Hawaii on the US model but without, somehow, universal suffrage. [“Race, Power and the Dilemma of Democracy: Hawaii’s First Legislature, 1901.” Hawaiian Journal of History , Volume 49, 2015.]

Williams describes that in Hawaii, “civilizing” by the newcomers meant changing the official language and structures of state, and ensuring the “right” people directed the future of the land. The spirit of the times matched Rudyard Kipling’s 1899 poem on the US acquisition of the Philippines:

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Take up the White Man's burden, Send forth the best ye breed Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives' need; To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild—Your new caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

Like pro-American-annexation anti-monarchy leaders in Hawaii, Zionists Ben Gurion, Jabotinsky, and Weizmann came to Palestine with a consciously "Western," "European," "Civilizing" mission. Theodor Herzl imagined Jewish colonization would engender Arab gratitude because of improvement of living standards.

Reminiscent of the Arab councils in the Mandate period appealing to British authorities, foreign governments, and the League of Nations, the Hawaiian notables and lawyers, doctors, teachers, used the tools of petition and argumentation for their dignity and rights.

The Haole (white) annexationists’ position was against the US Congress “opening the suffrage in Hawaii widely to the less worthy and more shiftless elements of the population” (Rev. Sereno Bishop, writing as correspondent in the Washington Evening Star , Jan. 27, 1899) i. e., the vast majority of Hawaii citizens.

The missionary newspaper in December 1900 called the Hawaiian sovereignty party “all that baser native element which clings to the degraded past in opposition to our grandly developed Christian civilization.”

Ultimately, universal suffrage was instituted in Hawaii as a US Territory, but with stratagems of suppression by the appointed governor and businessmen that allowed the US-oriented power elite to first stymie, and then co-opt the Territorial legislature. Hawaiian land and language were vanquished in American Hawaii, as numbers of US military, imported farmworkers, and mainland US civilians flooded in.

In Palestine, the dilemma was resolved by the population transfer of 1948-49, when approximately 750,000 Arab residents were cleared—by whatever mechanism one wishes to attribute—from the—new Jewish State, leaving a robust Jewish majority.

abba solomon

Abba A. Solomon