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The Assimilationist Dilemma: Ambassador Morgenthau's Story

- Abstract

THE incident that suggested Henry Morgenthau, Sr., as a focus of the modern Jewish dilemma is one of history’s classic ironies: that by his alert dispatch of assistance to the Jewish colony of Palestine in August 1914-when serving as U.S. ambassador to Turkey-he saved it from starvation and probable extinction, thus preserving it for the ultimate statehood which he came to believe was a “stupendous fallacy” and “blackest error.” Measured in material terms, the aid was minuscule, and the incident remains virtually unknown except to a few investigators; but it was of decisive and immense historical importance.

The circumstances were these: the Jewish settlement in Palestine, numbering about 100,000, consisted on the one hand of pious and impoverished believers who had trickled in over the centuries to die in Jerusalem, together with some families who had never left the homeland, and, on the other hand, of the later wave of conscious Zionists who had immigrated since the 1880′s and were endeavoring to establish themselves on land sold to them as worthless by Turkish and Arab landlords. Almost all were dependent either on remittances from abroad, or, in the case of the new colonists, on the export of agricultural products. to the West and some subsidy from the Diaspora. They would be cut off from these contacts if Turkey joined the Central Powers-which, Morgenthau foresaw, contrary to Allied expectations, was bound to occur. From his close, and at that time friendly, relations with the Turkish leaders-who were so taken with this unorthodox ambassador that they offered him a Turkish cabinet post-he knew the hope of Turkish neutrality was a delusion.

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