Just as his anti-Semitism was reaching its post-World War II peak, Joseph Stalin decided to throw his weight behind the UN plan to create a Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine. Meanwhile, the entire American foreign-policy establishment was against the idea—and had to be dragged along against its will by a firmly committed Harry Truman. These events are the subject of Jeffrey Herf’s new book Israel’s Moment. Robert Satloff writes in his review:
Providing sharp contrast to the cold-bloodedness of State Department officials, Herf quotes the emotional speeches and interventions of eastern bloc diplomats at the fledgling UN—especially, though not solely, Poles—arguing passionately in support of Zionism. It was the Communists who lobbied the UN to allow the Jewish Agency to speak on behalf of the Jews of Palestine during the special session on partition, while U.S. diplomats opposed it. Similarly, it was the Communists who recalled the recent deaths of Hitler’s six million Jewish victims to lend added legitimacy to Zionist aspirations for a national safe haven, while U.S. diplomats refrained from ever mentioning the Holocaust.
Strange as it may sound today, when anti-Israelism is central to the politics of so many progressives, Freda Kirchwey, editor of the Nation, “made Zionist aspirations one of the defining aspects of both her own writing and that of authors she invited to appear in the magazine.” Kirchwey herself traveled to Palestine in the summer of 1946 and sent home dispatches full of sympathy for the Jewish cause, underscoring the simple yet powerful link that connected survivors from the hell of Europe with those in the Yishuv who spent the war years preparing the ground for independence—they were all Jews. . . . When she returned, the Nation advocated for the partition of Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state.
Herf is especially deft at exposing the heartlessness of the architect of America’s containment strategy against the Soviet Union, George F. Kennan. From his perch as the inaugural director of State Department Policy Planning, Kennan wrote memo after memo giving the wild rants of Foggy Bottom Arabists like William Eddy—Saudi Aramco’s man at the State Department and perhaps “the first Western diplomat to equate Zionism with racism”—the patina of cold-war legitimacy. Kennan’s critique of Truman’s decision to recognize Israel was well-nigh apocalyptic.