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A Poor Historian Tries to Make a Case for the US Breaking with Israel: Where He Goes Wrong

Russell’s second argument is that “it’s difficult to credibly sustain the argument that Arab terrorism is spawned by Islam’s alleged promotion of violence … or by a  ‘natural’ Arab anti-Semitism.” But historian Jeffrey Herf argues in a new interview that, beginning in 1928 with the creation of Islamism by Hassan al-Bana,  there was “created an interpretation of Islam that redefined it as an inherently anti-Semitic religious tradition. They took anti-Jewish stories and quotations from the Koran and Hadith that had been marginal in the past and made them central to their understanding of Islam.” It is the adoption of this ideology that led them to oppose partition in 1947 and a Jewish State in 1948, and to go to war against it. This was their attitude years before any U.S. action to give Israel arms to be used for defense.

The real story is documented in Efraim Karsh’s new book, Palestine Betrayed, which Russell obviously has not read -- if indeed he has read anything about these issues at all. Karsh shows that at first, the Arab majority welcomed and had no objection to Jewish settlements. Emir Faisal ibn Hussein of Mecca, hero of the so-called Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, wrote: “We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement ... and we regard [their demands] as moderate and proper. We will do our best ... to help them through: we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.”

That this did not turn out to be the case has to do with the Islamists and the decision of a minority of the authoritarian leaders of the Arab and Palestinian community in Palestine, what Karsh calls “a small fraction of Palestinian Arabs,” to provoke violence.  As Karsh points out, “Had the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs been left to their own devices, they would most probably have been content to get on with their lives and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the growing Jewish presence in the country.” As we know, this was not to be.

Russell looks back favorably on what he calls “the anti-Israel faction in the White House,” whom he argues were ignored although they had “facts” on their side. He says that “very few Americans today are aware that the question of American and Jewish self-interest was first raised at the time of Israel’s founding by officials in the highest levels of the U.S. government,” and he favorably cites “several members of Harry Truman’s cabinet” whom he says “predicted that the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East would spur Arab violence against Jews and Americans, advising the president to shun Israel.”

He, and anyone interested, should carefully read A Safe Haven, since we discuss at length the State Department’s opposition, the arguments they raised, and the answers given at the time that persuaded Truman to stand up to them. The issue was what would the US do on May 14, 1948, when the British as promised ended the Mandate and left Palestine, if the Yishuv (the Jews in Palestine) declared their own State.

What the State Department and especially people like Secretary of State George Marshall,  George F. Kennan, and Loy Henderson argued was that Israel could not win against invading Arab armies, and that if America stood with the new state, American troops would have to be sent in or they would lose to the Arabs.

Then they also came up with other disingenuous arguments. U.S. prestige would be lost, the U.S. would lose vital military bases and access to Middle East oil, the Arabs would turn against the United States forever, reconstruction of Western Europe would be threatened, and in terms of the Cold War, the Soviets would gain entrée into the region as the new Jewish state would be pro-Soviet or even become an actual Soviet puppet. Finally, Henderson and Kennan  even claimed that one result would be new “anti-Jewish agitation” in America, as the public would blame the Jews for the problems and American Jews would be viewed as “an alien political force.”

In answer to this assault, Clark Clifford wrote to Truman that the U.S. could not go back on its support of partition taken in November of 1947. The State Department’s opposition, he told the president, was “completely fallacious.” The U.S. had to be held to is word, and would be seen as “drifting helplessly” had Truman gone back on his support for both a Jewish and Arab state in old Mandate Palestine.  Our oil supplies would not be affected, he assured the president. Those opposing a Jewish state were the same people who “never wanted partition to succeed and who have been determined to sabotage it.” If the United States were not firm, he argued, other nations like the Soviet Union would treat America with “contempt in light of our shilly-shallying appeasement of the Arabs.”

Russell even argues that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan because the Palestinian murderer said he killed him in protest of JFK’s pro-Israel policies. According to his logic, the U.S. should not have supported Israel, and Sirhan Sirhan would not have become so angry that he killed the former attorney general.

The lack of logic is shocking. One might as well write that if it wasn't for those nasty Poles, we wouldn't have had to fight Hitler and lose 250,000 Americans, or if it weren't for the black slaves we wouldn't have lost 600,000 Americans in the Civil War, or if we had just let Saddam swallow Kuwait and Saudi Arabia there would be no fatwas against the "crusaders."

Russell’s argument comes down to this: blame our problems on those who do not do what our enemies want.  He believes, as he makes clear when he cites the 1998 World Islamic Front statement, that all terrorism comes from U.S. support of what the WIF called “the Jews’ petty state.”  Well, it is not so petty, and turning against it will only strengthen our enemies.