A Jewish Scholar, an Isolationist Senator, and a Mysterious Quotation from George Washington

To this day, the first American president’s valedictory warning against “foreign entanglements” is well known, and often cited for purposes both good and ill. But in 1934, Senator William Borah read a Washington Post editorial critical of himself that quoted Washington as having also said, “When, our institutions being firmly consolidated and working with complete success, we might safely and perhaps beneficially take part in the consultations held by foreign states for the advantage of the nations.”

An enraged Borah, the leader of the Republican party’s isolationist wing, instructed his staff to find the source of the quotation, which they traced to the Jewish scholar Horace Kallen, who was, in Esther Schor’s words, “an ardent Zionist, a prominent internationalist, and the leading advocate of what he called ‘cultural pluralism.’” As for Borah, who would denounce the quotation as a forgery, and condemn Kallen for it, Schor writes:

Having lost his 1936 bid for the Republican nomination, Borah spent the late 1930s pressing the case for American neutrality. He habitually blamed the Versailles Treaty for Hitler’s aggression. Privately, Borah also lamented Nazi persecution of “those poor people” and criticized Germany for financing insurgents in the United States. But he made no secret of his admiration for Hitler, imagining that a personal conversation with the Führer just might set things to right: “There are so many great sides to [Hitler], I believe I might accomplish something.” In 1938, he sought, through the German ambassador, an invitation to Berlin. But when the Foreign Office cabled the invitation to meet with both Hitler and Ribbentrop, Borah declined; he was ill, relations between the United States and Germany were deteriorating, and he suspected FDR would block his journey.

Upon learning that Germany had just invaded Poland, Borah told a journalist, “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler—all this might have been averted.” Meanwhile, despite [the prominent rabbi and Jewish leader] Stephen Wise’s personal appeals, Borah refused to speak out against the Nazi persecution of Jews.

By this time, Kallen had embarked on a quest for the origins of the quotation, which Schor recounts alongside a historical quest of her own regarding Kallen’s efforts to defend himself.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Adolf Hitler, American Jewish History, George Washington, Isolationism

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood