Secret Negotiations between American Jewish Leaders and Arab Officials on the Eve of World War II
by Rafael Medoff
Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2000. 190 pp. $70 ($35, paper).
Reviewed by Edward Alexander
University of Washington
Middle East Quarterly
Medoff has written a dazzling narrative, meticulous in scholarship and dramatic in style, about one of those dubious Middle Eastern eggs called possibilities. The possibility was that, in 1937-39, mostly non-Zionist American Jewish leaders could reach an agreement with Palestinian Arab, Iraqi, British, and American leaders to transfer willing Palestinian Arab peasants to Iraq. A number of factors—the rise of Arab resistance to Jewish settlement in Palestine, illegal Arab immigration to that area, growing European antisemitism, rumors of British plans to withdraw from its commitment to establish a Jewish national home—led American Jewish patricians of German extraction (like Felix Warburg and Edward Norman) to the same conclusion: a territory outside Palestine must be found on which to settle Palestinian Arabs.
Advocates of transfer appealed to everyone's self-interest. To the British, they argued that troubles in Palestine harmed British prestige and that Jews, unlike the rebellious Arabs, could be relied on to keep Palestine within the Empire. To Iraqis, they offered bribes (the baksheesh of the title) and argued that Iraq was underpopulated and needed cheap labor to develop its vast natural resources. To Palestinian Arabs they appealed with economic and (oddly enough) nationalistic reasons: the Iraqi soil in question was more easily cultivated than their own; Iraq was the leading Arab country and thus a place where Palestinians could enjoy greater freedom than in a country where the (wicked) Jews would soon reduce them to a minority position.
Although this scheme attracted the sympathetic interest of even such leading figures as Chaim Weizmann and Franklin D. Roosevelt, it never came to fruition. Jewish self-delusion and Arab venality did not mix productively; America's German Jewish patricians were too distant from religion and nationalism themselves to understand that the Palestine conflict was not economic in origin; and World War II began.
Related Topics: History, Jews and Judaism | Edward Alexander | Summer 2001 MEQ
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