In ‘Dear Dad’ letter in 1939, JFK called for ‘independent’ Jerusalem

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As a young man, Jack Kennedy was largely sympathetic to the Arabs in Palestine but called for dividing the land between Palestinians and Jews and keeping Jerusalem independent.

This is the thrust of a “Dear Dad” letter about the Palestine problem written by Kennedy at 22 to his father Joseph, who was then the ambassador to Britain. It was 1939, and Kennedy’s father had sent the Harvard undergrad to the Middle East to tell him what was going on. (Thanks to As’ad Abu Khalil for picking it up. I wonder when Chris Matthews will get to it.)

I think the letter is brilliant. The thoughts are incredibly cogent, for a 22-year-old, and reflect a desire to be the honest broker. Kennedy is mostly on the Arab side in this letter. He reflects their long history in the land and the arrogance of the Zionist immigrants, their desire to dominate. He largely describes the Jewish immigrants in colonial terms (cultural superiority, desire for economic domination), but also recognizes that they are “refugees” from the Nazis.

Kennedy saw that the heart of the conflict was two claims to land, and thought the only way to resolve them was partition. But citing Jewish desire to dominate the land he made it clear that Jerusalem should be independent.

“Jerusalem, having the background that it has, should be an independent unit.”

He believed what I believe about the Balfour Declaration, that it was deployed by the British government to win Jewry to its side during WWI:

“During the war the British government, desiring both the assistance of the Jews and the Arabs, made separate promises to both, one in the McMahon, the other in the Balfour Declaration.”

The Arab sympathy reflected in the letter:

Arabs “naturally” objected to “the Jewish encroachment” of immigration, feeling that the Jews intended to “dominate” them economically.

“On the Jewish side there is the desire for complete domination, with Jerusalem as the capital of their new land of milk and honey, with the right to colonize in Transjordan …”

And here he seems to reflect the expat crowd, the diplomats and other western voices.

“The sympathy of the people on the ground seems to be with the Arabs. This is not only because the Jews have had, at least some of their leaders, an unfortunately arrogant, uncompromising attitude, but they feel that after all, the country has been Arabic for the last few hundred years and they naturally feel sympathetic.”

P.S. A smart friend has pointed out to me the phrase at the beginning of the letter, in which JFK says to his father: “Dear Dad: I thought I would write you my impressions on Palestine while they were still fresh in my mind, though you undoubtedly, if I know the Jews, know the ‘whole’ story.” This is anti-Semitic dogwhistling. JFK’s father was famous for his anti-semitism. JFK is saying that “the Jews” have already gotten to his father with the hasbara. And so he is telling him the real story… Complicated.

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Far removed from the social pressures and taboos of our era. It was a different time.

“After all, Palestine was hardly Britian’s to give away.”

Great piece of history. Can’t make out what he meant in the first paragraph…

22 years old. What an insightful letter. Mentions the oil line between Haifa and Iraq. I interesting that he states that the bombing in the Jewish quarter are set off by Jews who then demand that Britain come into fix. So those bombings were blamed on who?


I don’t endorse conspiracy theories on any subject, but I do take cognizance of some conspiracy *speculations*, depending on the quality of the facts and reasoning that support them, and file them away for future reference as new facts are disclosed or uncovered: “Wikipedia: John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories:… Read more »

A fascinating and insightful letter, amazing that JFK wrote it at age 22! Written in 1939, he almost forecasts the partition plan of 1947: a Jewish area, an Arab area, Jerusalem under a special regime. On the other hand I wonder where he got the “information” that the Jews were… Read more »