HUGH JOSEPH SCHONFIELD, THE WORLD CITIZEN PIONEER WHO TRIED TO UNITE THE HOLY LAND
By René Wadlow
Hugh Joseph Schonfield (1901-1988) was the first to incorporate the term “world citizen” into the name of a nongovernmental organization: the Commonwealth of World Citizens in 1938. The Commonwealth of World Citizens was to have an emphasis on service to humanity and a potential role as impartial mediator in international disputes. The founding was what he called a “revolt into sanity” from a mentally-deranged world in which Fascism, Nazism, Communism and militarized Shintoism flourished. From 1941 to 1948, Schonfield published a magazine called The World Citizen. As he said in a speech to the Constructive World Peace Conference in April 1940 “External forces, the agents of God, have caused the emergence in the world itself of ideas of World Community and World Citizenship. It is seen by serious political thinkers that if peace and justice are to reign here there must be a loyalty above that which is due from subjects to their own nation state. Much is being done, and rightly, to encourage such ideas. What we have to concern ourselves with is the bridge that will bring us safely to that farther shore. The bridge must be one that will carry us eventually to the New Jerusalem, not to a new Babylon.”
He wrote, “So many of the grave problems of our time are due to the fact that we are living in a radical transition, having to relate to the rapid advances of science which are requiring us to move forward into a wholeness and interdependence for which we are not sufficiently prepared. There are inevitable consequences, which chiefly affect our self-consciousness. The problems of the transition period affect individuals just as much as nations. Multitudes find themselves incapable of adjusting to the new demands and fear loss of identity.”
Hugh Schonfield drew parallels between the current period of transition with the Jewish society at the time of Jesus, a period which was the focus of most of his writings. He wrote in 1936 History of Jewish Christianity and in 1939 Jesus: A Biography. During the Second World War while working on Middle East issues for the British government, he published in 1943 Judaism and World Order. Shortly afterwards he published Jesus: Man and Messiah, Readings from the Aprocryphal Gospels. A major work was published in 1955, a translation of the New Testament with notes relating the work to the thoughts of the period in which it was written and linking it to Jewish writings of the same period. As a Jew, he did not want his translation to become known as the “Schonfield New Testament” so it was published in 1955 as The Authentic New Testament. He continued his research on Jesus and messianic expectations and in 1965 published The Passover Plot which became a ‘best seller’ selling over two million copies. He became very interested in the Dead Sea scrolls and one of his last books in 1984 was The Essene Odyssey.
With his interest in the Holy Land, he was particularly concerned with Arab-Jewish relations and became an active champion for the idea of an Israel-Palestine Confederation, setting out proposals in 1944 which also concerned what is now Jordan, the pre-Independence Mandate area.
As Dr. Schonfield wrote in Transnational Perspectives in 1982, “What is clearly called for is a Confederation, possibly on the Swiss model, composed of the states of Palestine and Israel, with Jerusalem as the federal capital. The city would not have to be divided or fought over as to who should possess it. Palestine could have a state capital in the eastern part and Israel in the western sector, if they so desired, but the city as a whole would represent the Confederation.
“The advantage of this plan should be obvious. The frontiers between the two states would be internal and unfortified, and would therefore not create a risk of future war. As citizens of the Confederation, both Palestinians and Israelis would enjoy rights of access to all parts for purposes of travel and commerce, and questions of settlement would be covered by federal laws. There should be freedom of conscience for all citizens of the Confederation, but if so desired the religious laws of Islam and Judaism could be operative in the respective component states. The important thing would be that the Confederation would be the common homeland of both Palestinians and Israelis, who would yet have their own states.
“This is not a dream and could readily become a practical reality. What has been provided here is no more than a plan in outline, but it does keep the Holy Land as a unity, a common homeland for both Israelis and Palestinians, and satisfies their aspirations for self-governing statehood. With imagination and goodwill, it would inaugurate a new era in the Near East, and become an inspiration to mankind.” He saw that forms of regional integration are increasingly considered as the principal methodology for general security, development and the safeguard of human rights. Individual, national and regional security should be accompanied by a spirit of mutual acceptance – with economic cooperation and development as a by-product for a future Israel-Jordan-Palestine grouping.
However, the World Citizen proposals have not been followed by the strong national political leadership needed to bring them to the fore of real political negotiations. The quality of government leadership in the Middle East has been uneven at best. But even the Israeli-Palestinian problems are more complex than the quality of leadership. A new spirit of mutual acceptance will only flourish in the region when individual security and dignity for all will become rooted in law – everywhere in the region. This can happen with a general process of democratization and respect for human rights, with safeguards for ethnic and religious minorities. Such democratic values and practices must become the natural bedrock of society in all the countries of the Middle East.
World Citizens can take inspiration from Hugh Schonfield and in their Middle East efforts put an emphasis on unity rather than division.
Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations in Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.