Two Middle East Conferences in Washington
Competing for Government's Ear on Israel's Fate
As Hal Lehrman made clear once again in his last month’s report on “North Africa’s Dilemmas for American Jewry,” the latter has a power over the fate of world Jewry such as no single Jewish community has had in a thousand years. This month he reports on a current effort by American Jews to use that influence for the achievement of changes in the Administration’s policy toward Israel and the Arabs. Similarly, he analyzes a parallel attempt by other Americans to propagate views diametrically opposed to those of Israel’s supporters in this country.
The Shoreham Hotel, a favorite Washington convention center for groups seeking the ear of the nation and the nation’s government, has never played host to gatherings so dissimilar as the two which held forth, each for a day and a half—the one commencing five hours after the other adjourned—in its meeting halls and dining rooms (the very same ones) during the first weekend of the month of March just passed.
Friday morning through Saturday lunch : the 9th Annual Conference of the Middle East Institute, closing with an address by the Honorable Jefferson Caffery, lately United States Ambassador to Egypt, and attended by some 370 participants largely convinced that one of our major problems in the Arab world is the legacy left by previous allegedly pro-Israel American policy.
Saturday evening and all day Sunday: a Conference of National Jewish Organizations attended by 269 representatives unanimously persuaded that our major problem in the Arab world is the legacy being created by current allegedly pro-Arab American policy.
Happily, the two meetings missed confronting one another, though the first early arrivals for the pro-Israel deliberations injected a bit of bustle into the relative sedateness pervading the Shoreham lobbies during the Institute’s meeting. There was no overlapping in the attendance, except for a few Israeli Embassy people at the Institute sessions as observers and vice-versa for State Department officials at the Conference; the working press (Israeli reporters outnumbering Americans at the earlier meeting); and one representative of the Palestine Economic Corporation who gallantly heckled everybody throughout the long weekend. The two programs had one link: George V. Allen, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs. Allen, a lean and handsome North Carolinian who has been our ambassador to India, Yugoslavia, and Iran and, before that, a Foreign Service officer in Egypt, Greece, China, and Jamaica, spoke at both conferences and said substantially the same thing—an impressive feat, which he accomplished by committing himself to virtually nothing on each occasion.
The institute brought out, among others, 20 executives of oil companies in the Middle East, some 45 U.S. academic and governmental specialists in Arab affairs, four ex-Ambassadors to Moslem capitals, ten Moslem diplomats and other notables, four associates and at least five members of the American Friends of the Middle East, and 19 Arab students. The Jewish Conference assembled the spokesmen of six major Zionist organizations. Twenty Hadassah ladies, as usual, provided the largest and most fashionable delegation; then there were 16 members from the Zionist Organization of America, 13 from the American Zionist Council, and so on down to a total of seven from four smaller political parties affiliated with the Council—Hashomer Hatzair, Hapoel Hamizrachi, Zionist Revisionists, and Achdut Avodah. Ten non-Zionist organizations sent delegations, the biggest of them 24 from B’nai B’rith, 23 from the National Community Relations Advisory Council, 17 from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and 16 each from Mizrachi and the American Jewish Congress.
The Middle East Institute, founded in 1946, has an impeccably correct charter of intentions. Out of its modest three-story headquarters on N Street in Washington, it sponsors scholarships, lectures, language classes (Arabic and Turkish), exhibits, library and information services, and research surveys. It publishes an occasional book, a bi-monthly four-page Report, and a learned quarterly Journal.
Unlike the American Friends of the Middle East, which waited some years before conceding by inference that Israel was in the Middle East at all, the Middle East Institute really deals with the Middle East, and tries to do so fairly. This reporter, other writers friendly to Israel, and even Israelis have been printed in the Journal, and the three most recent annual conferences have each had one Jewish speaker or two (Professor Alfred Bonne of the Hebrew University in 1954, Professor Salo Baron of Columbia in 1953, Professors Hans Kohn of the College of the City of New York and J. C. Hurewitz of Columbia in 1952).
George Camp Keiser, a pink-cheeked, baldish ex-architect who came to the Moslem cause by way of research in Islamic architecture, is now chairman of the Institute’s Board of Governors after having reputedly spirited the control away from its founding fathers on the faculty of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Keiser and his George C. Keiser Foundation make good the Institute’s deficit, which annually averages between $15,000 and $20,000. (The Keiser fortune comes from the Boston-based Guantanamo Sugar Company, which has sugar interests in Cuba and is headed by brother David M., genius of the family and, of all things, an accomplished concert pianist.)
Strictly non-profit, the Institute obtains its limited budget ($90,549 for fiscal 1955) mostly from contributions. The Ford Foundation was the biggest donor last year (around $25,000). The Rockefeller Foundation in 1954 gave a small grant for preparation of a book on Middle Eastern law, the Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation another for scholarships. Four oil companies make corporate gifts, the largest from Arabian American (Aramco), followed by California Texas, Gulf, and Socony-Vacuum. All these operate in Arab oil fields, which hold more than half of the world’s estimated petroleum reserves. Aramco’s vice president, James Terry Duce, is on the Institute’s Board. (Among the seven other Board members are Texas oilman George C. McGhee, onetime Ambassador to Turkey, three active State Department officials, and a former Ambassador to Iran.)
Even without such financial support, the Institute would normally reflect a dominant interest in matters other than Israeli because of its sphere (from Turkey to Ethiopia, Morocco to Pakistan). Inevitably, the oil-Arab equation infuses this interest with a certain additional sympathy for Moslems. A further stimulus is the traditional missionary influence on American cultural and diplomatic representatives in the Middle East.
Of the eighteen speakers at this year’s conference of the Institute nine had been intimately exposed to the missionary viewpoint, either as missionaries themselves, or as teachers or students at mission schools (Robert College in Istanbul, Aleppo College, American University of Beirut, American University at Cairo). My own years as a graduate student in Paris had made me understand how life and work among any people anywhere can induce a lasting sympathy with them—all the more when the work involves missionary zeal for their welfare.
A main speaker at the Institute’s 1954 banquet had been Moussa Shabandar, then Iraqi Ambassador, now Iraqi Foreign Minister. Without notice, Dr. Shabandar had used most of his time to attack Israel. This was embarrassing, but not enough to prevent the Institute from trying for an Arab spokesman again this year. Since stresses and strains in the Arab League are current news, first choice was Kamel Abdul Rahim, its chief representative in the U.S., who, it was felt, might be able to speak more frankly than any accredited envoy because of his non-diplomatic status. Abdul Bey seemed willing, delayed accepting for three weeks, and finally said no, presumably because of the present delicate juncture in League fortunes. Jordanian Ambassador Abdul Monem Rifa’i, having a previous engagement, declined at once. In the end, no Arab graced the program. There were, however, two Moslems—who, by universal verdict, contributed the dullest performances. Anwar Ali, a Pakistani official of the International Monetary Fund, spoke English that sounded like Arabic in brogue and emptied half a lecture hall. Mohammad Kabir Ludin, Ambassador from Afghanistan, seemed to be asleep on his feet. All in all, it was a Black Friday for the fruits of Western enlightenment in Islam.
Earlier years had programmed the Institute’s discussions under such bland headings as “Islam in the Modern World,” “Nationalism in the Middle East,” or “Middle East Resources: Problems and Prospects.” This time the title was the somewhat more admonitory “The Evolution of Public Responsibility in the Middle East,” suggesting a firmer approach, a kind of admonition or nudge to move on with the business of growing up. Also, every speaker, in referring to Arab progress, diluted his praise with such phrases as “much more must be done,” or “this is only a beginning,” or “the road ahead is long.”
Apart from these ritual nods, however, the trend was persistently bullish for Arabia resurrecta. Everybody did his best to locate and hold up for applause the proofs of Arab advance toward political, social, and economic stability. The air was suffused with a benevolent paternalism. Coming in from the moon, an observer could not have escaped concluding that the Arab was one of the nobler works of God, a bit underdone, perhaps, still faltering and needing guidance, but sure—if only the West had patience—to fulfill the trust put in him.
This thesis was not debated at the Institute’s proceedings. It was axiomatic—and it had the ineluctable corollary that since the Arab was a fine fellow, anyone quarreling with him was likely not to be one. This did not apply to Westerners, of course, especially Americans, who were even finer fellows, but it did apply to Israelis—not necessarily in their own context, but certainly to Israelis in connection with Arabs. And it also applied to past American succor for “Zionism.” The monster at the Institute feast, never mentioned by name or allusion but ever present in memory, was Harry Truman.
On Thursday evening, at the DuPont Plaza Hotel two blocks from the Institute, dinner was served to some 65 business representatives and economists convened for a pre-conference discussion of “area political and economic stability, investment climate, etc.” Present were Aramco, Standard of New Jersey, Gulf Oil, Tide Water Associated, Cal Tex, Socony-Vacuum, American Independent, Ford International, General Motors, Chase National Bank, National City Bank, Olin Mathieson Chemical, American Export Lines, and others. Among the speakers were the deputy chief of the American diplomatic mission to one Arab country, a former U.S. Ambassador to another, now serving as an oil company consultant, and a prominent American educator just returned from a Middle Eastern tour.
According to authoritative report, anyone who heard their speeches would have carried away with him the following: even where large native funds are being expended for economic and social improvement, Arab progress was far from rapid. (A magnificent hospital was built in one remote area; it was inaugurated with éclat by the reigning sovereign some years ago; since then, the bedsheets have not been changed.) It had to be admitted that not enough was being done by local governments to raise living standards, but things were brewing. American investment ought to go in. It must go in. When it did it would meet opposition provoked by our diplomatic blunders. Worst among these was our Palestine policy. But at long last now we were giving equal treatment to both sides, and healing the wounds. We were even reaching out through religion. (A recent global conference of Moslem and Christian notables took place at Bhamdoun in Lebanon, financed by the Dearborn Foundation.) The present administration was working hard to persuade the Arabs of our honest intentions. American business should support this policy, and participate in the region’s economic future. Only remember this: in the Middle East you trade with Israel or the Arab states. You can’t trade with both. Beware of the Arab boycott against all who do business with the Jewish state.
Someone asked about West Germany and the Arabs. Hadn’t the Arabs sworn to boycott Bonn if it paid Jewish reparations? Yet weren’t the Arabs still dealing with the Germans? So why this absolute either-or? Wasn’t it in the larger American national interest for private investors to build up both sides? Answer: Yes, but it’s impossible. The Arabs finally gave in on West Germany only because they were convinced that Jewish reparations had been forced on the Germans by Washington (!). (This writer recalls being in Berlin in late 1953, long after the German-Israeli reparations agreement, when a visiting Saudi Arabian economic mission was eagerly handing out contracts to German firms. I asked one Saudi spokesman how he reconciled this with previous boycott threats. He shrugged his shoulders and grinned: “We didn’t get away with it.” The Turks, too, seem to be able to deal with both Arab and Israeli. As a matter of fact, even American oil companies can. Doesn’t at least one of the firms extracting oil from Arabia sell its gasoline to motorists from pumps on Israeli highways?)
The institute’s public proceedings got under way to a fairly full house in the Shoreham’s Main Ballroom Friday morning with words of welcome by George Keiser, followed by papers on the current Middle Eastern situation “As Seen by Americans” (Princeton’s Professor T. Cuyler Young, Chairman of the Oriental Languages and Literature Department) and “As Seen by Middle Easterners” (Pakistan’s Anwar Ali).
Dr. Young amiably suggested that if we wanted the native peoples to show “public responsibility,” we might legitimately be expected to be responsible ourselves. Our policies toward the area have not been as “clear cut” as desired. Gingerly, in a convoluted sentence, he mentioned as one example “the Palestine question,” where “there was partial interference [by the U.S.] demanding, under our own pressures, certain points of establishment and then a failure to follow through. . . .” He closed with the standard big-brother plea: “There are many of us who get exasperated with . . . the irresponsibility of young nations. But let’s remember that we were young once ourselves.” For Anwar Ali, the basis of Middle Eastern instability was the “growing restiveness . . . of the underprivileged masses” and feudal-tribal pressures. He spoke of production methods “unchanged through the decades,” the dominance of moneylenders, and other ills. But “the governments in the various countries are showing a growing consciousness of these problems.” “A great deal has been done but a lot more needs to be done.” Looking around, he saw many “hopeful signs.”
After lunch came my colleague from OWI days, Dr. John Badeau, now head of the Near East Foundation, long-time president of the American University in Cairo, and no mincer of words on “The Problem of Stability among Middle East Governments.” He spoke frankly of recent convulsions in various of these governments but also noted evidence that the “outlook is probably more hopeful than at any time since 1945.” Dr. Badeau listed such great and stabilizing advances as the Sudan-Suez, Iranian oil, and Iraqi pact settlements. Of all the remaining “factors of tension,” the Arab-Israel problem is “major.” Here Dr. Badeau went forthrightly down the line: Israel is not an indigenous state. It is supported by Western money and political influence. It is populated by immigrants. It was forced upon the Arab world. In Israel the Arabs—right or wrong—see a classic proof of Western meddling. Peace with Israel has been impossible because no Arab leader could survive popular outcry against it.
The speaker went on to other things but referred back to Israel wherever his material permitted. Thus, in discussing the power of “mob” action to force the hands of certain Middle East governments, the following sally was much appreciated by the audience: “Of course, such a policy is not unknown even in the United States, where the incumbent party’s desire to win an election has sometimes made it espouse a foreign policy that has not proved to the best interests of the country.” Again, in explaining the difficulties of achieving broad-based economic progress in the Middle East, he said: “Israel is often held up as the example of what can be done, but the argument is inconclusive, for Israel has been created and supported by foreign gift capital.” If a pre-war estimate of $1,500 invested per farm “in the Zionist colonies” is accurate, “the Egyptian government would need to invest over $3 billion to bring about like results—and this kind of money is not forthcoming, even if all the landlords were taken out and shot.”
Why did the West force Israel on the Arab world, a questioner arose to inquire. To solve the anti-Semitic problem, for which the West, not the Arab world, was responsible: “The West had a guilty conscience.” And would Israel collapse without foreign aid, another listener asked. Well, said Badeau, the Israeli pound is officially propped at $2.80, but can be picked up in Switzerland for 40 cents. If foreign support were cut out, he intimated, Israel might seek survival by expanding beyond her present borders, which would mean war. Nobody stood up to remind Dr. Badeau that the official tourist exchange was 55 cents, which was not much further from the free market price than many presumably “stable” currencies. During a brief break, this was privately pointed out to the chairman, Professor Sidney N. Fisher of Ohio State, who communicated it to Dr. Badeau. But by then he was off the platform.
There are other problems in the Arab world besides the Israeli. Dr. Badeau, who has known his Arabs long and well, spoke very plainly about these, too. His comments on Israel took only a few minutes of his half-hour speech. In general, the speakers who followed devoted even less attention to Israel. Yet, nearly every time she was mentioned, she automatically came off second best. And when she should have been mentioned as a possible exception to some generalization or other about the area’s backwardness, she was not. Nor did anybody suggest, in discussing—as several speakers did—the instability of the Arab regimes and the gulf separating them from their peoples, that there might be something defeating in an American policy that put so much store by propping up such regimes.
Marine Colonel S. G. Taxis spoke of Middle Eastern reluctance to organize militarily for free world defense, without mentioning the Israeli exception to the rule. He chided the Arab world on its failure to recognize Moscow as Enemy Number One. Yet when an Arab student rose to charge that the Arabs had reason to fear Zionism and Western colonialism more than they fear Moscow, the Colonel generously admitted it might indeed seem so from a strictly Middle Eastern point of view, and added almost abjectly: “These problems are not all of your making. We have to take a lot of the blame.”
In an excellent paper on the socio-political aspects of Middle Eastern economic development, California Professor George Lenczowski noted the possibility that the Arab industrial advance and economic revolution for which the West is pressing might complicate the Western search for stability by increasing Arab mass appetites and dissatisfactions, but he sidestepped the implications of this for Washington policy. His vigorous discussion of “shocking contrasts and abuses” and other frailties gave no hint that many of these might not apply to Israel.
At a banquet Friday evening, Assistant Secretary Allen paraphrased President Eisenhower’s assurances on Arab arms grants and said: “The United States has never given military assistance to a country which has used that [equipment] in an aggressive manner against its neighbor. I don’t believe the United States ever will.” But then, with what some in the audience thought a surprising cavalierness, he added: “There can always be a first time, I am perfectly aware of that.”
Next morning Stephen P. Dorsey, Allen’s Deputy Director for Near Eastern Affairs, read a lucid essay on “Social Discontent Among the Peasant and Working Classes.” The discontent was vast and the progress to allay it was quite limited though ever “hopeful.” Instead of indicating, if only in a phrase, that conditions were markedly more satisfactory in Israel, Mr. Dorsey referred the subject to a later speaker on the program. An absorbing, even brilliant, speech on “The Interaction of Education and Public Responsibility” by Dr. Alford Carleton, former president of Aleppo College in Syria, illustrated the classic approach of the old mission hand, the whimsical, patronizing, but essentially loving tone toward the Arab, a bumbling fellow who had so much to learn—from us especially—but was trying so hard and had to be given the benefit of every doubt.
Finally, summing up the two days of speeches, the conference rapporteur, my long-time friend Wendell Cleland, of the State Department, another ex-president of the American University in Cairo, pointed out that a cause of Middle Eastern instability was the fact that most of its states were successors to one empire or another, and hence have had to organize amid ruins. He shrugged off the Jewish state (“I haven’t mentioned Israel because I don’t know what it’s a successor to and, in a sense, it’s an import from Europe”) and extenuated the Arab attitude (“Why should we accuse them of neutralism when we in the United States practiced neutralism for 175 years?”). In eleven solid hours of talk about the Middle East, only one person suggested that in the many internal differences and contrasts between Israel and the Arab countries the former, too, might be entitled once in a while to the slimmest benefit of a doubt.
That exception was the Institute’s Jewish discussant for 1955: Don Peretz, ex-Ford Fellow, specialist in Palestine Arab refugee problems, and instructor at Hofstra College. He talked on “Public Responsibility: Its Progress and Prospects in Israel,” and noted at least a few of the contrasts: in Israel “suffrage is universal—a characteristic not common in the area—and representative of all sectors of the population”; “if there is any Middle East nation where the government heeds public criticism . . . it is Israel”; “Israel’s relatively high standard of living and numerous government services . . . make it one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East.”
But even Mr. Peretz left much unsaid. He was, admittedly, in a tight spot. Here was a Jew proposing to defend Israel before an audience poised for attack. He proceeded with care, soothing his listeners at the outset with a mild joke, and disarming them further by suggesting smilingly that Israel in 1948 had had more public responsibility “per square head” than most other countries. Everybody sat back and relaxed. Mr. Peretz elaborated by showing how well the pre-Israel Yishuv had been organized and institutionalized.
But, in reviewing developments since statehood, he gave one spoonful of good to every two of bad. He spoke at length of the deterioration in morale due to the immigrant influx, of the problem of the Arab minority, of the economy’s dependence on external aid, of the anti-social quirks of kibbutz socialism, of the low productivity of Israeli labor; but only briefly of the even distribution of wealth and opportunity in Israel, of the wide participation in national life, of the growth in public services. He spoke not at all of many other positive things, or of the improvement even in those criticized. Mr. Peretz may have deliberately refrained from saying more because he wanted to be persuasive. But the warm applause he got may have been due, in the main, to his courteous reluctance to disturb his listeners’ preconceived views.
Curiously, it was a Turk, a Moslem Turk, who told the Institute’s friends the one thing that above all needed telling. Kasim Gülek, a Turkish-style Adlai Stevenson, secretary-general of the opposition People’s Republican party, which was voted out of power in 1950 after two decades, was charming and articulate, with an anti-stuffed shirt breeziness. He talked of the need for “public responsibility” in area defense. Slyly, he reminded his Arab listeners that Turkey had “lived” with the Arab countries for centuries. Well, he conceded to the laughter, “perhaps as a senior partner”—then, on reflection: “as a bigger brother.” And hadn’t the Turks given haven to the Jews since the Inquisition? “I was going through an exhibition of Hebrew manuscripts in the New York Public Library,” he mused, “and I found one which said ‘Begun in Spain, finished in Istanbul . . . .’” So he believed Turkey could speak as a friend of both sides in the “Israeli-Arab difficulty.”
The Palestine refugee problem had to be solved, but could not be “within the means of the region—the Western world, especially America, must come in with material and moral help.” As for defense, “uncompromising attitudes” must be scrapped. It is time everybody admitted that Israel is a “reality, a fait accompli.” The Arab states must wake up to the fact that the danger is not in Israel but “from the North. . . . Organization against that danger must be the main job.” “May I ask a question of my big brother?” said an Arab student brightly. “You Turks have your independence. Therefore you desire to defend it against Communism. But we in the Arab states still have to be convinced that imperialism and Zionism are less dangerous.” “As a big brother to a little one,” replied Kasim Bey, “let me tell you that there is only one danger. And while you quarrel among yourselves, the big danger grows.” Besides, he added, a shade tartly but with a grin, “remember that Turkey not only defends herself but the line to the South. The little brothers ought to begin taking some responsibility . . . .”
The purpose of the Middle East Institute, according to a prospectus, is “to furnish Americans factual, unbiased information” and “to further understanding between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East.” Except as to Israel, it seems fair to say these purposes had been advanced in some measure over the weekend. But how far is understanding between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East—or, for that matter, the American national interest in keeping the Middle East at peace—served by repeated assurances to the Arabs from many learned men that we as a nation sympathize altogether with them in the whole bill of complaint against Israel?
That evening, chairs still warm from two unrelenting days of Arab and pro-Arab pressure were occupied by representatives of American Zionism and of every major non-Zionist, pro-Israeli Jewish organization with the exception of the American Jewish Committee. Almost a year ago, led by Dr. Nahum Goldmann, head of the World Jewish Congress and the Jewish Agency for Palestine, the presidents of sixteen such groups had begun informal consultations on Israeli matters. Originally it had been proposed to convene in Washington with full delegations before the November elections, but this idea had been dropped as too open a pressure device. But now they were here. In a way, history was being made.
There was no banquet, no fund-raising, no anniversary to celebrate. Just an ordinary rainy Saturday in March, and Jewish Americans were pouring in from thirty-two states, to hear from their government and be heard by it on their anxieties concerning that government’s policies. Secretary of State Dulles had been unable to accept an invitation because of business in the Far East. So there was Assistant Secretary Allen again, but with him this time was Philip M. Klutznick of B’nai B’rith—not the Afghan Ambassador—and Dr. Goldmann, hardy warhorse of a score of world Jewish campaigns.
The bizarre spectacle was then presented of an Assistant Secretary of State trapped in a packed hall while the Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine gave him a public lecture on the errors of American diplomacy. An effort was made to observe the amenities. Mr. Klutznick had already stressed that “we meet in the interest of America.” Dr. Goldmann emphasized that “this is not a conference of protest but of deliberation, clarification, and calm counsel.” He denied any difference between the Conference’s and the government’s long-range objectives in the Middle East, or that he had ever felt “the Republican administration is unfriendly toward Israel.” “I will try not to use strong language tonight,” he said. And then, improvising on the prepared text before him, interpolating side remarks and assaulting English grammar and syntax, he let fly.
To give the Arabs arms without getting anything in return was against American as well as Israeli interests. Why should the Arabs make any concession for peace if they could get what they wanted for nothing? There was one common feature to all the projects of American diplomacy for Middle Eastern defense: “Israel doesn’t exist.” This amounted to de facto withdrawal of recognition. With military pacts all around her, Israel was the only country without a single defense agreement or alliance. “How, in the opinion of the State Department, can Israel hope to maintain her position in such total isolation?” Military aid went to the Arabs while Israel received none. A policy of treating Israel as “an outcast and pariah” would harden Arab extremism and “must lead to ends Washington never intended.”
“I regret the incident at Gaza, and I’m sure the leaders of Israel regret it too. But Israel in the last year has shown tremendous moderation [loud applause]. The American government and all the Western powers must make it clear that the Arabs must accept Israel as an equal partner in any security system.” Goldmann begged “violently to disagree in all modesty” with a policy of one-sided concessions to the Arabs. “We are being told that this policy is now being reexamined. I am patient, and I urge you all to be patient. . . . The results of this review have long been overdue.”
Goldmann sat down after exactly one hour, and it was Mr. Allen’s turn. In introducing him, Mr. Klutznick noted that he was in a difficult position. Less than two months in his post, he was invited to comment on a situation that could explode at a single careless word. From the Assistant Secretary’s 500-word advance press release, which I had seen, it was clear that he had come determined to make no “basic or fundamental statement about American foreign policy.” He reiterated this in his opening remarks. He was willing and ready to meet with a smaller group for freer discussion of questions which “obviously” could not be treated before such a large gathering. Though he had taken his oath of office six weeks ago, he felt “in listening to Dr. Goldmann that I was beginning my job tonight.” He had come to learn “your views—you, my employers, the American people.” He noted with satisfaction Dr. Goldmann’s affirmation that current policies were not those of a particular administration. “I started under the Republicans, worked twenty years under the Democrats, and now I’m under the Republicans again. I am not a candidate for retirement, and I intend to continue to serve under any administration the American people choose . . . .”
Then, reading carefully from his release, he confirmed the fact that Dulles had been studying the Arab-Israel problem. “I cannot say when he would be in a position to make a statement, but I hope that a propitious occasion will arise soon.” At this point Mr. Allen omitted a few sentences in his text, showing that he had attentively followed Goldmann’s speech, which had attacked the argument that American arms for Arabs were pledged not to be used aggressively. Citing Arab threats, Dr. Goldmann had pointed out that governments like the Iraqi could be captured by fanatics but “arms once delivered are neither returned nor retrieved.” Dexterously, therefore, Allen did not read: “The U.S. has not granted and will not grant military aid to any country which, in the government’s opinion, is likely to use the aid in any aggressive manner. This applies specifically . . . to Iraq.”
Thereafter, Mr. Allen hewed to generalities wide of the issue: the Soviet menace, the Middle Eastern defense gap, the importance of pacts. “I’ve made note tonight of many things I’ve heard, to carry away and keep in mind.” He spoke feelingly of Point Four, the need for humanitarian aid to underprivileged areas of the world. He told the same story as the evening before about a well in an Indian village which had been a polluted mudhole for 1,000 years but now everyone was clamoring for the American experts to build them a sanitary and proper one. (“Allen drags that Indian well with him wherever he goes,” a reporter muttered. “Heard him tell the yarn to the American Friends of the Middle East too.”) He closed, to mild applause, by saying he was “delighted to have had the experience of being with you.” He had heard words of wisdom and looked forward “to getting to know you better as I go on with my work.”
I wandered from cluster to excited cluster after the session adjourned. Sample comments: “A disgraceful performance. He represents the government, and he didn’t make one positive statement . . . .” “Nahum was wonderful . . . .” “It doesn’t matter that Allen didn’t say anything. The important thing is for Allen to know what American Jews say . . . .” “Where was Abba Hillel Silver? Allen couldn’t have brushed him off . . . .” “This whole thing is a waste of time . . . .” “Now they know the Council for Judaism doesn’t speak for the Jews of America . . . .”
Then I “crashed” a meeting of the Credentials and Steering Committee. It had registered 218 delegates by 10 P. M., although the airport had been closed out by zero visibility. Plans were laid for state groups on Monday to call on their Senators and Representatives. “The Council has been stuffing Congressmen’s mailboxes with charges that we only represent an insignificant Zionist segment of Jewish opinion. They sent four mailings to the Hill. This has been widely publicized. Unless we get to see a lot of Congressmen, we will be just another conference with one more set of resolutions . . . .”
In the lobby on Sunday morning, I met a State Department friend, and, a few paces beyond, one of the Conference organizers. “This is a good thing for us,” said the man from State. “We need to get more of this point of view. . . . Still, I wonder, isn’t there anyone they could have put up who sounds less like a world Jew and more like an American than Dr. Goldmann? . . .” Said the Conference organizer: “Already it’s a great success. Over 250 delegates in by 9 A. M. Not the usual group of notables calling on the State Department or White House. Or just Zionists. But grass-roots American Jewish leaders from all over. Many of them at their own expense. This morning we’re discussing Israel’s economics. Harold Stassen couldn’t make it, but go and listen to the chief of his Middle East section in the Foreign Operations Administration. This afternoon Jack Jernagan [John D. Jernagan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State] is coming over to make a real policy statement. He’s even going to answer questions—written questions . . . .”
I asked someone I had seen at the Institute meeting, an American Jew who has written with distinction and scholarship about the Middle East, if he was attending the Conference. “No,” he said, “I’ve had enough. Aren’t you sick of all this parochialism? You know what would be useful? To get the Arabists into the Jewish meetings, and the Zionists into the meetings of the Institute, yes, even of the American Friends of the Middle East. It would do all of them some good . . . .”
In the Terrace Room, Hadassah’s Rose Halprin presiding, Levi Eshkol was discussing economics. (The Israeli Finance Minister had found it necessary to come in person to settle a dispute raging over Henry Montor, whose resignation as director of Israel Bond sales he was shortly to accept.) After Mr. Eshkol came FOA’s Norman Paul, who spoke glowingly of American participation in Israel’s economic progress. (American technicians working in and with Israel are invariably more enthusiastic than American diplomats. Technicians, who deal with specific, physical problems, seem better able to appreciate the Israeli constructive zeal and competence, especially in contrast to the apathy they encounter in neighboring countries.) Mr. Paul offered to answer questions, and was given some rough ones, but did well, having no inhibitions or policy clearances to worry about. (Later I chatted with Paul, whom I had first met in Istanbul at an FOA regional meeting. “Did the questions bother you?” I asked. “No,” he laughed. “I enjoyed them. Fine training for me when I go to Congress to argue for appropriations . . . .”)
I saw two youths from Betar, the Revisionist Youth group, listening glumly to the speeches on economics. When the morning session started, they had handed around leaflets clamoring for a march across Jordan. (One of their insignia mounts a menorah rampant athwart a map of old Palestine. They had distributed pamphlets marked with it a few weeks ago at the Hotel Delmonico in New York, during a meeting of the American Friends of the Middle East!) Yosef Churba, aged twenty-one, of Brooklyn College and a Borough Park yeshiva, said: “Why do they waste a whole morning on economics? It’s evading the issue! This conference was called to holler gevalt about military policy, wasn’t it? Let them get on with it . . . .”
The conference schedule called for a lunch in the Blue Room to be addressed by Ambassador Abba Eban. Then, at two-thirty, the session was to be resumed in the Terrace Room to hear Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jernagan and ask questions. This was to be a high point of the weekend in terms of a frank exchange between the State Department and American Jews. As things developed, however, the thing barely got off the ground, and then crashed with a p-f-f-t that may reverberate for a long time to come.
The material cause of the disaster was an epidemic of oratory. When organized Jews get together there must be a dais for all their leaders, and a dais inevitably inspires speeches. Before Ambassador Eban could make the one speech that was needed, three full-dress speeches had already been delivered—by three rabbis, Israel Goldstein of the American Jewish Congress, Maurice N. Eisendrath of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Philip Bernstein of the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs.
Each was a good speech, eloquent and solemn. The solemnity was somewhat marred by a strange preoccupation with the luncheon menu. It had been a dismal salmon plate, to meet the requirements of Orthodoxy. Conservative Rabbi Goldstein, seeking an opening gambit as any speaker will, noted that this meeting over which he had been invited to preside was the only one with a meal—“presumably to make my remarks palatable . . . .” This impelled Reform Rabbi Eisendrath, when his turn came, to call Goldstein to order for having “had the temerity to call this sumptuous repast palatable,” and to pursue this profound theme for several minutes. This in turn moved Dr. Bernstein to discourse at some length on lox, shrimp, bagels, and cream cheese. (Mr. Jernagan, meanwhile, had arrived early in Rabbi Eisendrath’s speech, on time—and been given a seat at the back of the hall.)
Aside from that, all three rabbis said in effect the same thing: that this great representative assemblage of American Jewry gave the lie to the insignificant number of Jews who denied and slandered Israel; that American citizens bad the inalienable right to protest and criticism; that it was in the highest American interest for the State Department to redress its policy toward a sister democracy. The time consumed by all this made a shambles of the schedule, and of Jernagan’s crucially important part in the program.
Ambassador Eban had one of his great moments. Mr. Eban is always a master of style and structure, but that day he was really memorable. He spoke of the links between American Jewry and Israel which “shine forth brightly burnished in this room.” In seven short years we had moved from a world where the existence of Israel was inconceivable to an era in which “a world without Israel is inconceivable.” He advised American Jewry not to be overly dejected in Israel’s hour of danger, and he illuminated the many achievements of his country, and the ties binding to it all the earth except the territories next to it. Then, with diplomatic grace but formidable argument, he spoke of Israel’s grievances against the Arab world, and her isolation, and her concern over policies jeopardizing her security. He was in every way superb and, as often before, he saved the day.
But not quite. Things had already gone too far. Through no fault of Mr. Eban’s, it was 4 P. M. when he concluded. A Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, scheduled to be heard at 2:30, still sat obscurely at a rear table. It was decided not to move to the Terrace Room, and not to have questions. Mr. Jernagan was brought to the dais unnoticed. He was required to sit there through a reading of CIO and AFL denunciations of the American government’s behavior. Then he was perfunctorily introduced. All this while people were streaming out of the room, presumably to catch planes and trains. Half the hall was empty when he rose to speak.
A tall man with a small voice, he could not be heard because nobody had thought of adjusting the microphone. There came cries of “louder.” The microphone was inched up, and Jernagan hunched down, bending over a text that had been measured, certified, and cleared by half the State Department. It was a competent survey of the position from the administration’s point of view. (It won the lead in the next day’s New York Times account of the meeting.) But, except for conceding that Israel’s pro-Westernism and military capacity made it “seem highly logical that Israel should be incorporated in a collective defense arrangement at an early date”—logical but “out of the question” because of Arab-Israel relations—Mr. Jernagan’s speech betrayed no sign of adjustment to the spirit and temper of his audience.
Nor did he feel able to exercise the authority used the previous day by Assistant Secretary Allen, his chief, and omit points contested by the previous speaker. Eban had demolished the Arab argument that Israel threatened her neighbors, and the Washington argument that her neighbors had no hostile designs. But Jernagan stuck to his text like a drowning man. When he read that “Israel’s neighbors are themselves afraid of aggression on the part of Israel,” there were groans. When he read, “I do not see evidence of any intent on the part of her neighbors to attack Israel,” there were hisses. There were hisses again, with a splatter of applause, as he faded to a conclusion.
Whatever the provocation, this seemed an extraordinary way to achieve one of the Conference’s prime purposes, which was to gain the respect and attention, if not the good will, of the State Department. Unescorted, almost ignored, Mr. Jernagan was allowed to make his solitary way out of the hall and lose himself in the crowd. A few hours later, he quit Washington for a week’s leave.
Other speeches followed, brief ones, by participating organizations not yet heard from. “I am sorry that Mr. Jernagan has left,” declared Commander Joseph S. Barr, of the Jewish War Veterans. “When I heard him say that Israel does not face a threat of attack, some in the audience could barely stay in their seats. I was one of them . . . .” Then came the moving of the resolution: for American effort toward direct Israel-Arab negotiations; suspension of arms shipments in the absence of peace; inclusion of Israel in any regional defense system; continued economic assistance to Israel and the Arabs for better living standards; refugee settlement; and the strengthening of democratic institutions. It was carried unanimously.
Nahum Goldmann then spoke for eighteen more minutes. He summed up the Conference’s achievements. He was not disappointed by the failure of the State Department representatives to go away “with a change of mind.” It had been obvious, he declared, that no top official could commit himself at this juncture, when the entire policy was being reappraised. But Assistant Secretary Allen had at least given the first public intimation that such a reappraisal was under way. (Ten days after the Conference, Secretary Dulles, reaffirming that the Department was engaged in a reconsideration of the Arab-Israel security problem, indicated that incidents like the Gaza outbreak were delaying a decision.) “It was more important for us to say what we had to say to the administration than to listen to what they had to say to us,” Dr. Goldmann went on. Great encouragement had been given to Israel “from her only reliable ally in the long run—the Jewish people.” The large majority of American Jewry had given a “new demonstration of unity.” The administration could no longer pretend that it did not know how American Jewry felt: “We have conveyed our position in an unmistakable, formal, and solemn way.” He urged the delegates to go home “strengthened by this unprecedented conference . . . .”
Unprecedented it certainly was, and—who knows?—perhaps ultimately effective. But hardly formal and solemn, or even well-mannered. I heard one fervent Zionist exclaim, “Is this intelligent public relations? Is this sober political action? Most of America’s top Jewish leaders were here. It could have been an impressive demonstration. Why did it have to be so crude? Why didn’t we bring in some Senators and Congressmen? Why weren’t the speeches short? Why was Jernagan, the representative of the government of the United States after all, practically insulted? And why weren’t he and Allen allowed at least to speak first? This way, it was impossible for them to say anything . . . .”
Only future events will reveal whether the steamroller is a proper instrument for the achievement of reason and influence, and whether the Conference’s clearly high objectives were truly supported by its method and behavior. A reporter can only record the fact that, on a brief visit of inquiry to the Department of State two days later, no glow of enthusiasm over the Conference was discernible. . . .