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Anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism, circa 1946 by Norman Goda (TOI via Mosaic)

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Apr. 28, 2016

In 1946, President Truman, along with a number of Jewish organizations, urged Britain to allow Holocaust survivors living in displaced-persons camps to leave Europe for the land of Israel, then still a British mandate. In response, the British foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, organized an Anglo-American committee of inquiry to interview Jewish and Arab leaders in Palestine and report on the situation, hoping to convince the U.S. of the impossibility of letting more Jews into the country. Norman Goda describes the telling testimony of the Arab interviewees:

Arab speakers attempted to straddle a moral line. Overt anti-Semitism was to be avoided. The Nazis, after all, had recently discredited racism. Instead, they attempted to turn the tables, attacking Zionism as an imperialist and racist political doctrine, very much akin to Nazism itself. Keeping the Jews from Palestine thus was painted as a noble act of tolerance in a post-imperial world. But the imagined line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitic tropes could not be maintained. . . .

The Cairo hearings in March 1946 were . . . carefully choreographed. Richard Crossman, a British member of the committee, would remember that “[the] Arabs were determined not to submit to the detailed cross-questioning which we had used in dealing with the Zionist spokesman. Their purpose was to deliver to the committee, as a ritual act, a statement of the Arab attitude, and to make it clear to us that this statement could not be modified. . . .” Thus Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia—a country where the Nazis had persecuted and murdered Jews just three years earlier—insisted that “[it] is for the Jews to change themselves, to change certain contentions that they hold which make them offensive sometimes to the locality where they live.”

[In hearings in Jerusalem], Ahmad al-Shuqayri, later the first chairman of the PLO, lamented Jewish control of the global media and economy: “We have not the gigantic financial enterprises of Wall Street in New York and the City of London to lure consciences and direct minds.”

In the end, the entire enterprise backfired: the American committee members became more convinced of the rightness of the Zionist cause, and pressured their British allies to sign a report recommending additional entry visas.

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