This review of John Judis’s book, Genesis: Truman, American Jews and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, will appear in the Spring-Summer 2014 ISSUES, the journal of the American Council for Judaism, with the headline, “How the Zionist lobby overwhelmed Harry Truman and led us to the Middle East dilemma we face today.” Judis will be having a conversation about his book on June 1 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, with the museum’s director, historian David Marwell. –Ed.
There has been more than half a century of strife between Israelis and Palestinians which has had a negative impact on a critical region of the world. In this important book, John Judis, a senior editor at The New Republic, argues that while the parties themselves must shoulder much of the blame, the U.S. must account for its repeated failed efforts to resolve the enduring crisis. The fatal flaw in American policy can, he believes, be traced back to the Truman years. What happened between 1945 and 1949 sealed the fate of the Middle East for the remainder of the century.
Harry Truman, Judis explains, was opposed to establishing a religious state in Palestine out of the fear that it would lead to endless conflict. A Jeffersonian democrat with a firm belief in religious freedom and separation of church and state, he found any kind of theocratic or religion-based state objectionable, particularly when those seeking to establish it represented a minority of the population.
Deeply sympathetic with the Jewish victims of Nazism, Truman was also concerned about the indigenous Arab population of Palestine. He believed that he and British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin “had agreed on the best possible solution for Palestine, and it was the Zionists who killed the plan by their opposition.” He was referring to the recommendation of the Anglo-American Committee, which came out in the Spring of 1946 and the plan negotiated by the American Henry Grady and the British official Herbert Morrison for implementing the recommendations. The committee called for allowing 100,000 Jewish survivors of Hitler’s final solution, who were marooned in Displaced Persons camps into Palestine. But it also recommended organizing Palestine into a federated state that would be neither Arab nor Jewish.
Skeptical About Zionism
President Truman, writes Judis,
“rejected the idea of a state religion—state religions were what had caused centuries of war in Europe. He didn’t think that a nation should be defined by a particular people or race or religion. Far from being a Christian Zionist, Truman was deeply skeptical about the Zionist project of founding a Jewish state, as he repeatedly told Jewish leaders during his first year in office…Truman…understood that Europe’s Zionist movement, beginning in the late 19th century, had been seeking to create a Jewish state in a land where another people had lived and made up the overwhelming majority for 1,400 years.”
Beyond this, notes Judis,
“Truman’s foreign policy views were grounded in personal morality. He saw the world divided between good guys and bad guys, and between underdogs and bullies. He was outraged by what had been done to the Jews in Europe, but he was worried about a settlement that was unfair to Palestine’s Arabs…In October 1947, when the U.N. was debating partition, Truman favored a division of Palestine that would give the Arabs, who still made up two thirds of the population, a proportionate majority of the lands. After the wars of 1948, he favored a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab states that would at least restore the forty per cent of Palestine that the U.N. had earlier allotted to the Arabs and would allow many of the 700,000 Arab refugees displaced by the war to return to their homes. But Truman was beaten back in each instance by a powerful American Zionist movement working in tandem with the Jewish Agency in Palestine and later the Israeli government. In the end, the Jewish state took eighty per cent of Palestine and Arabs were dispersed and deprived of a state of their own. Europe’s Jews had been given their due but it was at the expense of Palestine’s Arabs.”
Liberals Abandoned Values
The many liberals who embraced Zionism—-from Louis Brandeis, to Rabbj Stephen Wise to Eleanor Roosevelt—-engaged, Judis argues, in a process of forsaking their own liberal ideas when it came to opposing Palestinian efforts to retain their homeland. Many who backed Woodrow Wilson’s call for self-determination for colonial peoples after World War I ignored the rights of Palestinian Arabs. In the movement’s early years, American Zionists averred that the Jews were emigrating to an unoccupied wasteland or desert. “Later,” writes Judis, “when it became clear that Arabs already lived there, they insisted that these Arabs, who could trace their lineage in Palestine to 638 C.E. could easily pick up and move to Jordan, Iraq or Syria. After the 1948 wars, they contended that the Palestinian refugees had either fled of their own accord or were induced to flee by Arab leaders. As liberals and progressives, they might have been expected to help Truman fashion a compromise, but they did nothing of the kind.”
In researching his book, Judis discovered “that there was an American Jewish political tradition that I could identify with—that of Reform Jews in the late 19th century. These Jews were close politically to the proponents of the Protestant social Gospel, about whom I knew considerably more. Some of them, like Stephen Wise, became Zionists, but others opposed Theodor Herzl’s idea of a Jewish state. These Reform Jews, from Isaac Mayer Wise to Obama’s Chicago neighbor Arnold Wolf, believed that the role of Jews was not to favor Jews at the expense of other people but to bring the light of ethical prophecy to bear upon the welfare of all peoples…What I took from this Reform tradition was the idea that an American Jew should be as concerned about the rights of a Palestinian Arab as he is about the rights of an Israeli Jew. That’s not a view you’ll find today at many of the so-called pro-Israel organizations or at the evangelical churches that call for the conquest of Judea and Samaria, but it’s my view and it’s the one that informs this history.”
Particularly instructive is the belief held by the early Zionists—-as well as the British—about Palestine and its indigenous inhabitants. In the mid-19th century, the area corresponding to Palestine had about 340,000 people, of whom 300,000 or 88 per cent were Muslims or Druze, 27,000 of 8 per cent Christian, and 13,000 or 4 per cent Jews. The historian Yosef Gorny wrote that, “Jews enjoyed a higher standard in Muslim society and enjoyed a greater affinity with the culture of their surroundings than the Jews of Eastern Europe.”
Jews Accepted the Diaspora
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, few Jews embraced the Zionist idea of a return to Palestine. The Orthodox thought that the Jews would eventually return to Zion, but only by a messianic act of God, rather than by an organized migration. By 1922, according to the British census, Palestine’s population had grown to 752,048, of which Jews accounted for 83,900 or 11 per cent. The sevenfold increase in the Jewish population had been spurred by the development of the Zionist movement in Europe, particularly in the Russian Pale of Settlement, which was in response to the simultaneous growth of nationalism and anti-Semitism. Zionism was Jewish nationalism, but unlike Polish or Romanian nationalism it was not centered on an existing homeland but on one that Jews had once inhabited and now wanted to return to.
“If Zionism’s objective was to establish a Jewish state in Palestine,” Judis writes, “that meant ruling over or driving out the Arabs who already lived there…The conception of Zionism, rooted in the Old Testament, rested on a mythic version of Palestine. In fact, the land ‘from Dan to Beersheba’ that the Jews briefly ruled was home to many different peoples and tribes. The area was also ‘a land of passage’ in the Middle East through which different peoples entered and left—some voluntarily, some forcibly. In historical terms, the Zionist claim to Palestine had no more validity than the claim by some radical Islamists to a new caliphate.”
It took a Viennese Jew, Theodor Herzl, to put Zionism in the forefront of European politics. He did it by fitting Zionism into the prevailing framework of European imperialist politics. Herzl, who was an atheist and had no involvement in Jewish life, turned to the establishment of a Jewish state as a refuge from anti-Semitism, not as an affirmation of Judaism. At one point, he advised Jews to convert en masse to Christianity. The historian Carl Schorske wrote of Herzl: “The very model of a cultivated liberal, he generated his highly creative approach to the Jewish question not out of an immersion in the Jewish tradition but out of his vain efforts to leave it behind.”
Herzl’s appeal, Judis points out, was “geopolitical, but also cultural, reflecting the widespread European justification of imperialism as an instrument of civilization. The new state, he promised, ‘should there form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.’ The writer Max Nordau, who would become Herzl’s second-in-command, agreed. ‘We will endeavor to do in the Near East what the English did in India. It is our intention to come to Palestine as the representatives of culture and to take the moral borders of Europe to the Euphrates.’ In ‘The Jewish State,’ which he wrote before visiting the Near East, Herzl did not mention the Arabs by name. He…described the region as a ‘desert.'”
In his Diaries, Herzl considered the possibility of getting rid of the natives by paying high prices for their lands. He also envisioned Arabs as day laborers to drain the country’s malarial swamps. This, notes Judis, was “exactly the kind of employment to which imperial powers often consigned the natives they ruled…Like other Europeans during the age of imperialism, he viewed the natives in Asia, Africa and Latin America as lesser beings who could be bought off—and, if that failed, subjugated.”
Even after the second wave of immigration in the early 1900s, Jews made up less than a tenth of Palestine’s population. But, Judis explains, “World War I utterly transformed the relations between Jews and Arabs. Britain entered the region in earnest and the Zionist movement found in the British the imperial sponsor that Herzl had sought….In the Balfour Declaration, Zionists realized Herzl’s dream. But they also confirmed the Arab nightmare, going back to the Crusades, of agents from the West seeking to rob Arabs and Muslims of their birthright. Defenders of a Jewish state would later deride this perception as if it had no validity—to their mind, Jews were a stateless people, free of complicity with Western imperialism…but the perception of Western conquest was firmly rooted in the role that Britain, eager to preserve their empire would play.”
Woodrow Wilson’s Support
The administration of Woodrow Wilson opposed imperialism and called for self-determination of colonial peoples. The British needed his support for the Balfour Declaration and Lord Balfour came to Washington to meet with America’s leading Zionist, Louis Brandeis, recently appointed by Wilson to the Supreme Court. Brandeis assured Balfour that Wilson would support a British protectorate in Palestine. In England, Lord Curzon, the representative of the House of Lords in the War Cabinet, who would succeed Balfour as Foreign Secretary in 1919, opposed the declaration. He charged that the term “national home” was dangerously ambiguous and would commit Britain to creating a Jewish state in a land that “already has an indigenous population of its own of a different race.” The Arabs who lived there, Curzon warned, “would not be content either to be expropriated for Jewish immigration of to act as mere hewers of wood or drawers of water for the latter.”
According to George Kidston, who served in the Middle East Division of the Foreign Office, Balfour promised Palestine to the Zionists “irrespective of the wishes of the great bulk of the population, because it is historically right and politically expedient that Balfour should do so. The idea that carrying out these programs will entail bloodshed and military repression never seems to have occurred to him.”
Balfour wrote Curzon that, “Zionism is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.” In the end, notes Judis, “Except for those officials who were actually familiar with the Middle East, the British were taken entirely by surprise when violent conflicts broke out between Zionists and Arabs in 1920.”
Balfour understood very well that by embracing Zionism he was rejecting the principle of self-determination for the people of Palestine and we must assume that Zionism’s American liberal supporters—-such as Brandeis and Stephen Wise—understood this as well. In 1919, Balfour wrote to Lloyd George: “The weak point of our position, of course, is that in the case of Palestine, we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination. If the present inhabitants were consulted they would unquestionably give an anti-Jewish verdict.”
A small number of Zionist supporters, those who have come to be called “cultural Zionists,” did express concern about Palestine’s Arab population. The most prominent of these is Ahad Ha’am (meaning “one of the people”), the pen name of the Russian writer Asher Ginsburg. He recognized the pitfalls of colonizing a country where people of a different nationality and religion already lived. He saw Zionism as a means of reviving Judaism rather than rescuing Jews. He didn’t believe that a Jewish “homeland” necessarily meant a state but should be a spiritual entity.
Unlike other Zionists, Ahad Ha’am also recognized that in colonizing Palestine, the Jews would have to coexist with existing non-Jewish inhabitants. In 1891, the Lovers of Zion sent him to observe conditions there. What he discovered contradicted the prevailing assumptions about Palestine. He wrote about his trip: “From abroad, we are accustomed to believe that Eretz Israel is presently almost totally desolate, an uncultivated desert, and that anyone wishing to buy land there can come and buy all he wants. But in truth, it is not so. In the entire land, it is hard to find tillable land that is not already tilled…If the time comes when the life of our people in Eretz Israel develops to the point of encroaching upon the native population, they will not easily yield their place.”
Cultural Center, Not A State
Ahad Ha’am’s awareness that Arabs already lived in Palestine, and could covet a nation of their own, contributed to his emphasis on building a spiritual center, not a state. He would advocate a country where two nationalities, Jewish and Arab, could live side by side. That position would be taken up by Palestine’s first high commissioner, Herbert Samuel, whose experience in the country caused him to move away from his Zionist views. It was advocated by a small group of eminent émigrés, including Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, who would found the Hebrew University. It was embraced by Albert Einstein. Most Zionist leaders, however, rejected any notion of a bi-national state.
There were always those who questioned the prevailing view of Jewish-Arab relations. At a meeting in Basel during the 7th Zionist Congress in 1905, Yitzhak Epstein, a teacher who had migrated to Palestine, raised what he called the “Hidden Question.” He declared: “Among the difficult problems associated with the idea of the renewal of life of our people in its land, there is one question that outweighs all the others, namely the question of our attitude to the Arabs. We have overlooked a rather ‘marginal’ fact—-that in our beloved land lives an entire people that has been dwelling there for many centuries and has never considered leaving it.”
In a subsequent debate that took place over several years in Zionist publications, a few people took Epstein’s side. Hillel Zeitlin, who wrote in Hebrew and Yiddish, charged that Zionists “forget, mistakenly of maliciously, that Palestine belongs to others, and it is totally settled.” Zionists, Judis points out, “would insist that large scale Jewish immigration—and the eventual establishment of a Jewish state—would not or should not—worry the native Arabs because of the economic benefits it would confer upon a desolate underpopulated land. These were rationalizations by which the early Zionists justified their conquest of the lands on which another people lived. They laid the basis for a Zionism that, while justified in the abstract, committed in practice many of the sins that Western European countries had visited upon native populations and that led to national rebellions.”
Giving Palestinian Arabs Their Due
There were, of course, the continuing voices of those who urged treating Palestinian Arabs in a humane manner. Ahad Ha’am, who moved to Palestind in 1922, wrote in a letter to HA’ARETZ that, “We think the Arabs are all savages who live like animals and do not understand what is going on around them. This is, however, a great error…What do our brethren do in Palestine?…Serfs they were in the lands of the Diaspora and suddenly they find themselves in freedom, and this change has awakened in them an inclination to despotism. They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, and even boast of these deeds; and nobody among us opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination.”
Y.H. Castel, who was head of the Zionist Commission’s press bureau, made a similar argument. “So long as we insist upon the principle ‘Palestine for the Jews as England for Englishmen,’ our schemes for a peaceful settlement will be of no avail; but, on the other hand, if we come to the logical conclusion that ‘Palestine cannot be built up except on the basis of a Common State for our two nationalities ,’ like Belgium, Switzerland, etc. then we may succeed in realizing the Balfour Declaration,” he wrote. But, laments Judis, these voices “were drowned out…with the original Zionist aim of a Jewish Palestine.”
In 1925, several prominent intellectuals—most of them émigrés from Central Europe who were teaching at the new Hebrew University in Jerusalem—formed Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace). Brit Shalom backed a binational state of Arabs and Jews. The group’s members looked to Ahad Ha’am rather than Herzl as their mentor. They rejected the attempt to impose a Jewish state on Palestine’s Arabs as politically impossible without the use of force, and they saw doing this as contrary to the ethical principles of Zionism. Their objective, the sociologist Arthur Ruppin, the chairman of the group, said was “to settle the Jews, as a second people, in a country already inhabited by another people, and to accomplish this peacefully.”
While Brit Shalom enjoyed the sympathy of Albert Einstein, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, it failed to attract a popular following. The main challenge to the Zionist establishment, represented by Chaim Weizmann and Davjd Ben-Gurion, came from Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Party. Judis writes that, “Jabotinsky insisted that Arab nationalism was real and that the Jews would succeed in gaining Palestine only by defeating, or intimidating the Arabs militarily. He candidly compared Palestine’s Arabs to the Aztecs of Mexico or the Indians of the United States who were determined to fight off colonial invaders. ‘There was no misunderstanding between Jew and Arab but a natural conflict,’ he wrote….Unlike Weizmann or the Labor Zionists, Jabotinsky acknowledged that ‘we are seeking to colonize a country against the wishes of its inhabitants, in other words, by force.’ That fact, Jabotinsky wrote, was the basis of the contention that Zionism itself was ‘immoral.’ But Jabitinsky argued that what seemed immoral was in this case justified.”
Jabotinsky praised Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy and had little sympathy for democracy. What was important to him was the establishment of a Jewish state, and it didn’t matter how it was done. Abba Ahimeir, who called Jabotinsky “Duce” and eventually supplanted him as an active leader of the Revisionists in Palestine, penned a series of articles in 1928 called “From a Diary of a Fascist.” Ahimeir dismissed the “liberal rubbish of the middle of the nineteenth century.” He extolled the twentieth century as “the century of dictatorship, enthusiasm, and the cult of the fist that was formed amid the fumes of tanks.” Later Israeli leaders such as Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu came out of this tradition.
Judis assesses the early history of Zionism in Palestine this way: “…the moral contours of that early history are remarkably clear. From the 1890s, when Zionists first settled in Palestine with the express purpose of creating a Jewish state where Arabs had lived for centuries, until the early 1930s, the responsibility for the conflict lay primarily with the Zionists. They initiated it by migrating to Palestine with a purpose of establishing a Jewish state that would rule the native population. The British had done their part to exacerbate the conflict through the Balfour Declaration and their own unwillingness to modify its terms when faced with Arab rebellion. But when they tried to modify the terms…and recognize the political rights of Palestine’s Arabs, they were blocked by Zionists in the United States, Great Britain and Palestine…Palestinian Arabs…could look back in anger at the rank injustice of these first decades.”
Among American Jews, Zionism had been a minority view. Well before there was a Zionist movement, Reform Judaism had rejected the religious premise of Zionism. Rabbi Gustav Poznanski, who was born in Poland and educated in Berlin, said at the dedication of the first Reform temple in Charleston, South Carolina in 1841: “This country is our Palestine, this city our Jerusalem, this house of God our Temple.”
American Reform Jews declared that Judaism was a religion, not a nationality. “They had American religious pluralism to back them up,” writes Judis. During the Civil War, Jewish chaplains had initially been barred from the field during the Civil War, but the Congress, at Abraham Lincoln’s urging, changed the chaplaincy law to define eligible chaplains as belonging to ‘some religious denomination’ rather than to ‘some Christian denomination.’ According to this definition, Judaism was a religious denomination like Methodism or Roman Catholicism…The Reform rabbis codified this understanding of nation and religion in the Pittsburgh Platform, adopted in 1885 before the rise of the Zionist movement.”
The Pittsburgh Platform declared: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.” Banker Jacob Schiff expressed the common view when he declared, “I am an American and cannot possibly belong to two nations.” At the 1905 celebration in Albany of the 250th anniversary of Jewish immigration to America, attorney Louis Marshall, a founder of the American Jewish Committee, stated: “The Jew…is an American of the Americans—a Jew by faith and religion, an American in all that term can betoken.”
Emergence of Zionism
Zionist were a small minority of Reform Jews in the early years of the 20th century. One of its leaders was Rabbi Stephen Wise. For him, notes Judis, “It was a way of being progressive—standing up for the oppressed Jews of Europe–and of being Jewish. In a more attenuated form, the same considerations would lead purely secular Jews like Louis D. Brandeis to Zionism…The first generation of Zionist leaders had little knowledge of who actually lived in Palestine and what it would mean for Jews to establish a state there…By portraying Palestine as desolate, they could justify Zionist colonization without inviting questions about whether Zionists were subjugating the natives… On the eve of World War I, the American Zionist movement had only about 20,000 members out of 1.5 million Jews.”
But within five years, American Zionists would boast 149,000 adherents and they would become the largest and most important group in the Zionist Organization. This was partly a result of the world war and the Balfour Declaration but, Judis writes, “The most important reason for the movement’s growth was Louis Brandeis…Brandeis, a key adviser to Wilson in the 1912 election, almost single-handedly revived the Zionist movement…He attempted to reconcile Zionism and Americanism…From their liberal reputations, Brandeis and his circle might have been expected to espouse a very liberal version of Zionism—similar, perhaps, to that of the émigrés Judah L. Magnes and Henrietta Szold. As American liberals, they were, after all, outspoken defenders of the poor, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised and of democracy and self-determination. But their Zionism focused almost entirely on Jewish Palestine. They saw Palestine’s Arabs largely through the prism of Western colonialism and Jewish nationalism. They either ignored them or assigned them to a lower rung of humanity…Like Herzl or Ben-Gurion, Brandeis was not a believer and never belonged to a synagogue.”
To Brandeis, the Zionist pioneer somehow became the heir of Pilgrim and Puritan values. He declared in 1915 that, “Zionism is the Pilgrim inspiration all over again” and referred to Zionists in Palestine as “our Jewish Pilgrim fathers.” Nahum Goldmann, onetime president of the World Zionist Organization, wrote that, “If it had not been for Brandeis’s influence on Wilson, who in turn influenced the British government, the Balfour Declaration would probably never have been issued.” To make Zionism acceptable to American Jews, Brandeis altered its meaning. “Brandeis developed his own version of Zionism,” notes Judis, “at the center of which were two propositions: first, that an American could be a Zionist and a good American at the same time; second, that an American could be a Zionist without having any intention of moving to Palestine.”
After Brandeis joined the court, Stephen S. Wise became the public face of American Zionism. He described himself as an “ultra-liberal,” and was a supporter of civil rights, labor rights and women’s suffrage. But, Judis shows, “In his statements on Palestine he displayed uncanny ignorance of the country’s Arab population.” In 1926, he suggested that “a referendum of the Arab population of Palestine would result in a great majority in favor of Jewish settlement in Palestine, because of what Jews have brought to and done for Palestine.” The Zionist Organization of America’s publication, THE NEW PALESTINE, declared in September 1928, when the British had won Arab agreement to a legislative council, that Arabs “are illiterate and live under indescribably primitive conditions. The march of these illiterates to the polls can easily be pictured.” THE NEW PALESTINE repeatedly published articles urging the transfer of Arab Palestinians to Jordan.
“These pronouncements,” writes Judis, “reflected a narrow Jewish nationalism that did not recognize the claims of other national groups. Why did liberals like Brandeis of Wise take these kind of stances? One obvious explanation is their sheer ignorance of Palestine and Arabs.”
As developments in Europe deteriorated in the 1930s, many who were previously skeptical of Zionism began to join its ranks. One of these was Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver. Judis shows that, “He dismissed the idea that Palestine’s Arabs could have any claim to political rights within Palestine. He adopted a selective morality in viewing the future of Palestine, what was good for Palestine’s Jews became good. That would become the mantra of the Zionist movement in America…Silver also kept his distance from any attempts to rescue Europe’s Jews by arranging for them to emigrate somewhere other than Palestine…He cited the Arabs only as adversaries and not as a people who had a moral claim to the same lands.”
When Harry Truman succeeded Franklin Roosevelt, Judis reports, he “initially assumed that Britain would remain in control of Palestine, allowing his administration, like its predecessor, to ignore promises of Jewish statehood that had been issued in party platforms. But that assumption failed to survive Truman’s first months in office, Truman, handicapped by his initial ignorance and confusion and inclined to take a jaundiced view of the creation of a Jewish state, had to make the decisions on Palestine and Zionism his predecessors had avoided—in the face of sharp disagreements within his own administration and unrelenting pressure from Silver and American Zionists.”
What Truman drew from his infrequent churchgoing and Bible reading, Judis writes, “was a Christian Universalism that was similar to nineteenth century Reform Judaism and clashed with the particularism of Zionism. Truman believed in a universal moral code drawn from the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount…Truman disdained religious sectarianism. He believed in the separation of church and state. ‘In my opinion, people’s religious beliefs are their own affair, and when I don’t agree with them, I just don’t discuss religion. It has caused more wars and feuds than money,’ he wrote his wife in 1939.’ Given this view of religion he was as put off by the idea of a Jewish state as he was by that of a Protestant or Catholic state.”
The ranks of American Zionist groups grew with each new revelation of the Nazi genocide. Zionist pressure upon President Truman steadily grew, and within the White House itself, a number of key aides were committed Zionists, among them David K. Niles, who was an administrative assistant to Roosevelt and stayed on with Truman, Samuel Rosenman and Max Lowenthal. Niles quietly collaborated with Nahum Goldmann, who led the Jewish Agency, and even had his second-in-command, Elihu Epstein to write speeches and draft statements for the president “in a way that would have drawn suspicion had it happened even a decade later,” states Judis.
Many U.S. officials appeared to be working for the Jewish Agency as well as for the White House. Judis writes: “If there was a center of Zionist influence in the United States, it lay in the close working relationship between supporters of a Jewish state in the White House…with Jewish Agency representatives from Palestine….David Ginsburg…who had served in the Securities and Exchange Administration…and had helped to found Americans for Democratic Action….was also on retainer to the Jewish Agency..Ben Cohen, in 1948, was advising the Jewish Agency and at the same time serving as an American representative to the U.N. Robert Nathan served as an economist in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations but at the same time had done the bidding of Chaim Weizmann.”
Truman Meets With American Council for Judaism
In 1942, a group of Reform rabbis established the American Council for Judaism to perpetuate the original position of Reform Judaism, that Judaism was a religion of universal values, not a nationality. On December 4, 1945, President Truman received a delegation from the Council. The Council, writes Judis, “advocated a Palestine that was neither Jewish, Christian nor Muslim. Because of the prominence of its members, who included Lessing Rosenwald, the chairman of the board of Sears, and Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, it gained entre into the highest circles of government. The Council members voiced their rejection of Zionism.”
After the meeting, one of the participants, J. David Stern, the publisher of The Philadelphia Record, held a press conference. He said that he had Truman’s permission to clarify the president’s position on Palestine. According to Stern, Truman “was still in favor of a free Palestine and of making Palestine a haven for Jews as well as opening the country to immigration , but he did not favor making Palestine a Jewish state. As a true American, the President said that he did not feel any government should be established on religious or racial lines. He felt that the government of Palestine should be a government of the people of Palestine, irrespective of race, creed or color.”
In the end, the pressure of the Zionists increased, and despite the opposition to establishing a Jewish state from Secretary of State George Marshall, who warned of perpetual war in the region, and other government officials, Truman’s desire to be re-elected moved him slowly in a direction he clearly did not support. “I received about 35,000 pieces of mail and propaganda from the Jews of this country,” Truman told Senator Claude Pepper of Florida in 1947″. “I put it all in a pile and struck a match to it.” Truman needed $100,000 from political donors—a huge sum in 1948—-and got it from such Zionist advocates as Abe Feinberg and Ed Kaufman, who received the policy they wanted in return.
Politics Came First
Truman, writes Judis, “gave up trying to reconcile his own moral convictions…with the political imperatives created by…the American Zionist movement…the Jews, who made up about a third of the population (of Palestine) would get about 55 per cent of the land…The plan was unfair to the Arabs…It was also unworkable…the subordination of the American (Zionist) movement to the leaders in Palestine and later Israel would lead to the creation of a Zionist and pro-Israel lobby in the United States that lacked a mind of its own..the Zionist movement had become a propaganda arm of the Israeli government..But the Palestinian people have not gone away and have grown in number, and are a living reminder that was a triumph for Zionism in 1948 has been an enduring catastrophe for them.”
John Judis is concerned about Zionist efforts today to thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to achieve a two-state solution. He wants Americans to learn what he calls “the main lesson of this narrative” which is that “whatever wrongs were done to the Jews of Europe and later to those of the Arab Middle East and North Africa—and there were great wrongs inflicted—the Zionists who came to Palestine to establish a state trampled on the rights of the Arabs already there. That wrong has never been adequately addressed or redressed, and for there to be peace of any kind..it must be…Americans, and American pro-Israel organizations have played an outsized role to date in allowing Israelis to overlook what they did and are continuing to do to Palestine’s Arabs.”
In recent days we have heard a lot about the Zionist “narrative” and the Palestinian “narrative.” What we need to understand is what actually happened—and is happening now. John Judis has presented that history and his book makes a major contribution in setting the record straight.