One of the gems in the latest issue of World Affairs Journal–a long-dormant quarterly revived by Lawrence Kaplan and a fantastic little publication–is this article by the historians Ronald and Allis Radosh about The Nation magazine’s former affinity for the state of Israel. Entitled “Righteous Among the Editors: When the Left Loved Israel,” the piece traces how an ardently Zionist publication has now become anti-Zionist, all the while maintaining its place in the intellectual firmament of the American Left.
The Nation didn’t just polemicize on behalf of the Zionist cause–it organized for it, the Radoshes tell us. In May 1947, The Nation Associates, a lobbying group affiliated with the magazine, presented a memorandum compiling the pro-Axis activities of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, which it presented to the United Nations. Members of Congress and the White House as evidence of Arab attitudes towards Jewish immigrants. The magazine and its supporters understood then, as any sentient follower of events in the Middle East still understands today, that there was and is nothing to “justify confidence in the attitude of the Arab states towards minorities in their population,” as the magazine’s then-editor and publisher Freda Kirchwey wrote. (The Nation Associates is still around, by the way, but with Howard Zinn and Gore Vidal among their more prominent members. I have the sneaking suspicion that this fellowship doesn’t quite share Ms. Kirchwey’s passion for Zion).
And where is The Nation today? The Radoshes cite the contributions of Richard Falk, 9/11 conspiracy theorist and recently appointed United Nations “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967″, who writes articles alleging that Israeli “state terrorism” is worse than anything perpetrated by the Palestinians and that Israel’s “treatment of the Palestinians” is comparable to the “criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity. “No journal of opinion or media outlet campaigned more vigorously and vocally for Israel’s creation,” the Radoshes write of The Nation. That may be hard to believe today, But it wasn’t unusual for leftists, even for people on the far left, to be pro-Israel in the 1940’s. Indeed, the position of most right-thinking, progressive people was to support the creation of the Jewish state. After all, Zionism has always has been a “progressive” cause in the truest sense of the word. Democratic, pluralist welcoming of immigrants and the oppressed: Israel stood for all the things that leftists of the day considered to be part of their agenda, and that the contemporary left ostensibly considers part of its agenda. The article is masterful in showing how some liberals not only abandoned a liberal cause, but by doing so allied themselves with some of the most reactionary elements in the world.
What must Katrina vanden Heuvel and her crew think of this illustrious period in their institution’s history? I don’t know. But the magazine seems to have spent the past four decades atoning for the sin of supporting the nascent Jewish state.