Friday, April 12th | 5 Nisan 5784

July 2, 2019 6:49 am

The Roots of the Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace Lobby

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avatar by Mitchell Bard


A Jewish truck that was attacked by Arab irregulars on the main road to Jerusalem, 1948. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

I have been going through the archives of the pro-peace, pro-Jewish state (later Israel) lobby, and I’ve found some interesting fundraising letters that offer insight into the thinking of the early advocates of this slogan.

In November 1917, the lobby was formed to rally liberal Jewish support for the Balfour Declaration’s call for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. To distinguish itself from other Jewish organizations, the new group said it would lobby to ensure the United States supported Balfour’s insistence that nothing be done to “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

In 1936, the lobby asked for donations to help it persuade members of Congress to tell President Franklin Roosevelt that he should support British immigration quotas to limit the number of Jews who could go to Palestine, in order to mollify Palestinian Arabs who claimed they were being displaced, and were reacting with violence.

In September 1938, the lobby asked members of Congress to sign a letter urging Roosevelt to join his British ally, Neville Chamberlain, at a meeting with Adolf Hitler in Munich to discuss how to avoid war and achieve peace in Europe.

Less than two months later, the lobby sent a message to its followers expressing outrage over the pogroms against Jews in Germany and Austria, but raising questions about whether the actions of some of the Jewish communities had provoked the response.

In the interest of peace, the lobby called on Roosevelt to pressure leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine in 1939 to accept the British White Paper, which called for the creation of a unitary state in which the Arabs would be the majority, and would impose restrictions on land acquisition by Jews, limit Jewish immigration to the country’s “economic absorptive capacity,” and make it contingent on Arab consent.

In December 1941, some in the lobby warned of warmongers who were trying to get the United States into a war with Germany. Donors were asked to support their efforts to prevent the president from using military force against a country that had not attacked the United States.

In 1947, the lobby said new donations would be matched by one of their large contributors after it expressed opposition to the UN partition resolution calling for the creation of a Jewish and Arab state. The lobby’s director said the resolution would undermine the prospects for peace. He criticized the Truman administration for supporting a plan opposed by the Palestinian Arabs, and said the creation of a Jewish state under those conditions would increase the potential for violence.

In April 1948, Arabs in Palestine accused Jews of a massacre at Deir Yassin and the lobby called on its liberal allies in Congress to introduce a resolution condemning Irgun and Lehi terrorists for killing innocent men, women, and children.

Less than a week later, the lobby criticized Jews in Palestine for provocatively sending a convoy led by Haganah troops through the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Mount Scopus. The Haganah was accompanying a group of doctors and nurses bringing food and supplies to Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University, both considered enemy bases by the leader of the Arab forces in Jerusalem, Abdul Kader Husseini. The convoy was attacked, and 78 Jews were killed. The lobby expressed regret at the loss of life but said it was understandable Arabs in the area would be angry after what the Irgun and Lehi had done in Deir Yassin.

On May 15, 1948, the lobby condemned David Ben-Gurion for unilaterally declaring the independence of the State of Israel.

As violence flared following the Arab invasion of Israel, the lobby called on Israel to exercise restraint and praised President Harry Truman for imposing an arms embargo on the Jews of Palestine to avoid bloodshed.

During the summer of 1948, Count Folke Bernadotte was sent by the UN to Palestine to try to negotiate a settlement. Bernadotte’s plan called for the Jewish state to relinquish the Negev and Jerusalem to Transjordan, and to receive the western Galilee in the land swap. Jewish immigration was to be limited or suspended based on the desire of the Arabs. The lobby endorsed the plan. The Arabs were expected to recognize Israel. The Arabs and Israelis rejected the plan.

Later, Bernadotte disclosed in his diary:

The Palestinian Arabs had at present no will of their own. Neither have they ever developed any specifically Palestinian nationalism. The demand for a separate Arab state in Palestine is consequently relatively weak. It would seem as though in existing circumstances most of the Palestinian Arabs would be quite content to be incorporated in Transjordan.

In December 1948, the lobby urged the Truman administration to vote in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution calling for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes. The United States voted for Resolution 194; however, the Arab states all rejected it, still believing they could drive the Jews into the sea, so that the Palestinians could return to their homes as well as those of the Jews.

Interestingly, the lobby’s funding apparently dried up during the period from 1949 until 1967. I could find no calls for the end of Jordanian and Egyptian occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, nor could I find any demands for a Palestinian state in those territories to achieve the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

Mitchell Bard is Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library.

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