John B. Judis on *Genesis*

by on March 12, 2014 at 7:29 am in Books, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

The subtitle of his book is Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.  I am finding this book interesting, here is one good bit:

The call for a greater Syria reflected the prevailing sentiment among Palestine’s Arab intellectuals.  Some notables who were active in the Muslim-Christian Associations wanted an Arab Palestine within the British Empire, but many of the activists and intellectuals, inspired by Faisal’s success, envisaged Palestine as “Southern Syria.”

…There was a good geographical as well as political argument for greater Syria.  As subsequent events would reveal, Palestine lacked natural boundaries, especially in the north and south.  There were looming disputes over water rights that could be avoided by combining Palestine and Syria.

…The British, fearful that the movement for a greater Syria would undercut their hold over Palestine, encouraged Palestine’s Arabs to think of themselves as Palestinian.

Overall the text offers a strongly non-sentimental account, does not whitewash any of the participants in the disputes, and it communicates how much early American policymakers , including Truman, were skeptical about what ended up happening.  Today’s often-unquestioned assumptions were very often historically quite contingent.  You can buy the book here.

1 Age Of Doubt March 12, 2014 at 7:50 am

One irony of the Arab Israeli conflict is that in the 1940’s, Israeli state-ists used many of the terror tactics they now decry, against the British Occupation, including massacres, assassinations, mail bombs, etc… The Lehi were one such group, and several former members went on to become prominent members of the Knesset.

2 Barak March 12, 2014 at 7:59 am

Even if we follow this logic then “Palestinians” should only attack the IDF and Israeli institutions, I don’t recall the Lehi suicide bombing buses in London..

3 So Much for Subtlety March 12, 2014 at 4:08 pm

LeHI did not carry out suicide bombings in London, but they did attempt to carry out a bombing campaign in Britain – including a failed attempt to blow up the Colonial Office and a letter bomb campaign.

They also blew up trains and other civilian targets such as vegetable markets – Haifa’s market was especially popular for some reason – cafes and cinemas. In fact some of the safest people from Zionist attacks were British soldiers. The Irgun in particular specialized in attacks on Arab civilians. When they blew up British civilians, as in the King David Hotel, it was exceptional.

The Haganah was better but they did not attack military targets alone either. They blew up the Semiramis Hotel for instance – specifically aimed at driving Arab civilians out of Jerusalem. Christians too given the ownership.

4 prior_approval March 12, 2014 at 8:24 am

Truman means post-WWII American decision making, whereas this comes from 50 years before – ‘Zionism emerged in the late 19th century in central and eastern Europe as a national revival movement, and soon after this most leaders of the movement associated the main goal with creating the desired state in Palestine, then an area controlled by the Ottoman Empire.’

Without a movement to return to a putative homeland already being established before the First World War, much less the Second, it is hard to imagine a conflict arising between a native population and unwanted immigration.

Especially in light of how avoidable a specific Arab-Israel conflict was – 42 years before Truman became president. ‘In 1903, the Zionist congress declined an offer by the British to establish a homeland in Uganda. Lobbying by a Russian Jewish immigrant, Chaim Weizmann and fear that American Jews would encourage the USA to support Germany culminated in the British government’s Balfour Declaration of 1917, which endorsed the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, as follows:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’

Even Theodor Herzl thought Argentina would be a suitable location for his vision of a Judenstaat.

Of course, as a writer laying out a vision, it is fair to say that Herzl was not a prophet – ‘In Altneuland, Herzl did not foresee any conflict between Jews and Arabs. One of the main characters in Altneuland is a Haifa engineer, Reshid Bey, who is one of the leaders of the “New Society”. He is very grateful to his Jewish neighbors for improving the economic condition of Palestine and sees no cause for conflict. All non-Jews have equal rights, and an attempt by a fanatical rabbi to disenfranchise the non-Jewish citizens of their rights fails in the election which is the center of the main political plot of the novel.[32] Herzl also envisioned the future Jewish state to be a “third way” between capitalism and socialism, with a developed welfare program and public ownership of the main natural resources. Industry, agriculture and trade were organized on a cooperative basis. He called this mixed economic model “Mutualism”, a term derived from French utopian socialist thinking. Women would have equal voting rights—as they had in the Zionist movement from the Second Zionist Congress onwards.’

5 Roy March 12, 2014 at 9:06 am

So instead we would have had a Ugandan South Africa, except there would be no historic and cultural ties between the settlers and the land. Also that land was already occupied by the various peoples who would come to be Ugandans. I am sure the Brits were eager to clear them by force to make room for cash producing commercial farms the way they soon did in Kenya, but that has zero in common with Jewish settlements in what is now Israel before 1947.

It is not like the Zionists showed up and used force to clear land for their settlements inside the Ottoman Empire, they showed up and bought land from local landlords, in an area with an ancient Jewish population.

6 Boonton March 12, 2014 at 11:15 am

The recent book on TE Lawrence by Scott Anderson has a lot of this backstory. Including some surprising facts, like Germany was close to endorsing Zionism which pressured Britain to issue the Balfor declaration…in a slightly different universe we could have ended up with Israel being created at the behest of Germany in WWI, which would have made Hitler’s rise to power very, well, strange….

But anyway the problem can be summed up as England promised the area to: themselves, Jews, France, Arabs, and more or less all at the same time. To make matters even more absurd, different people in the British gov’t were often not aware of promises being made by other parts and all this happened at a time when England didn’t even ‘own’ the area in question (it was the Ottoman Empire’s). Of course saying the Ottoman Empire ‘owned’ it was essentially saying it was owned by Turkey…whose claims to the land were just as loose as everyone else’s.

7 Thor March 12, 2014 at 11:54 am

Dear Prior Approval

If you’d keep your cut and paste posts a bit shorter, they’d be easier to skip.

8 dearieme March 12, 2014 at 9:05 am

“There were looming disputes over water rights that could be avoided by combining Palestine and Syria.” That must be wrong`; disputes might be more easily resolved within a single polity, but they wouldn’t magically disappear.

9 Roy March 12, 2014 at 9:09 am

Exactly, Syria was hardly unified at this time, as later events show. Lebanon had only recently been split off and pan Arabists wanted that included as well. I have not read this book but that sounds like a very troubled description of events.

10 Hadur March 12, 2014 at 10:35 am

I’m highly skeptical that state-level identities in the Arab world – “Syrian”, “Iraqi”, “Jordanian” – are all that real. While people from one geographic region certainly identity as being from that region (as well as being whatever specific ethnicity they are), the specific borders of these states are products of 20th century European diplomacy.

11 Stan March 12, 2014 at 11:10 am

Here’s a nice Bloggingheads interview with Judis about the book:

Warning, the video starts playing when the link loads.

12 dearieme March 12, 2014 at 11:49 am

“the specific borders of these states are products of 20th century European diplomacy”: so are most of the borders of Europe. And many of those that aren’t are the result of 19th century diplomacy. I’m not sure there is any seriously old border in Europe except the England/Scotland one.

13 nike air max 95 March 13, 2014 at 3:07 am

“Tibet independence” by several steps under the guise of a “middle way” and “non-violence”, according to the article. No matter how the Dalai clique changed their approach, their attempt to internationalize the “Tibetan issue” has remained the same

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