Rickenbacher Daniel. Israel Studies. Volume 25, Issue 1. Spring 2020.
In 1944, the Arab League started planning a propaganda offensive in Western countries to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The League’s focus of attention was the United States, where, members believed, Palestine’s future would eventually be decided and where they deemed it imperative to counter the Zionist campaign. In 1945 and 1946, it opened offices in Washington, D.C. and New York. The efficiency of these offices in undermining support for Zionism in the US was, however, hampered by infighting between Musa Alami, head of the Arab Offices, and the leader of the Palestinian national movement Amin al-Husseini. When the British relegated the Palestine Question to the UN, the Arab League and the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) were therefore ill-prepared to meet the challenge. Omar Haliq, a member of the anti-Zionist Institute of Arab-American Affairs (IAAA), devised a strategy to mobilize Catholic anti-Semitism in Latin America and Europe for their cause. As a result of these recommendations, in April 1947, the AHC sent a team of senior members, many of them experienced in the field of propaganda, to the US. Moreover, a special committee staffed by the Arab representatives at the UN and functionaries of the AHC was set up to organize a propaganda campaign focusing on South America. The strategy, however, was not successful. Most of Latin America and Catholic Europe voted for UN resolution 181 on November 29, 1947, at the UN session in Lake Success. The article explores the strategy of the Arab League in its propaganda campaign in the US, its Arab Office activities and its actions in 1947, which aimed at preventing the establishment of a Jewish state by the UN. It further discusses why these efforts failed. It is based on records of the Arab League, the Jewish Agency, the British Foreign Office and the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League located in US, British and Israeli archives and on documents left by the actors themselves.
In January 1948, the Middle East expert Kermit Roosevelt published an article against Zionism in the Middle East Journal. Its title, “The Partition of Palestine—a Lesson in Pressure Politics,” already hinted at its thesis. It argued that US political support for Zionism was the result of the lobbying of a small minority of American Zionists and a Democratic leadership that was all too willing to yield to their demands. Roosevelt argued that Truman’s support for Zionism went against the wisdom of the political experts.
Almost all Americans with diplomatic, educational, missionary, or business experience in the Middle East protest fervently that support of political Zionism is directly contrary to our national interests, as well as to common justice. How then is our policy to be explained? Parts of the explanation—perhaps the most interesting parts—are still well-kept secrets.
Roosevelt’s interpretation of the events which led to the establishment of the Jewish state has effectively become common knowledge and is often repeated without acknowledging its source. Thus, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt quoted Roosevelt almost at verbatim in their influential 2006 article on the “Israel lobby,” claiming that
the overall thrust of U.S. policy in the region is due primarily to U.S. domestic politics and especially to the activities of the ‘Israel lobby.’ Other special-interest groups have managed to skew U.S. foreign policy in directions they favored, but no lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.
However, such grandiose claims have seldom been examined by in-depth and painstaking research—least of all by those making them.
The originator of this “Israel lobby” narrative, Kermit Roosevelt, was in fact not a detached observer of the events he was describing, but a party to them. As a former agent of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services)—the precursor organization of the CIA—in the Middle East, Roosevelt came to admire the young leaders of Arab Nationalism and sought to gain them as American allies against communism. He was also active in different anti-Zionist groups; first as a board member of the anti-Zionist Institute for Arab-American Affairs, which worked with the Arab League to attack American Zionism. At the moment of writing his influential article, Roosevelt was instrumental in the lobbying efforts of the Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land, which sought to nullify American support for a Jewish state after the UN vote on partition. He was thus himself part of a lobbying group, which extensively worked with foreign Arab actors against other Americans to advance their interests—something he accused his opponents of—and his writing should also be understood in this context. In fact, organized anti-Zionist lobbying groups in the US date back to the time after the Balfour Declaration in 1917. However, the activities of these pro-Arab, anti-Zionist groups, which contradict entrenched views about the overwhelming influence of the “Israel lobby,” have not caused much scholarly interest. There are a few notable exceptions. The historian Rory Miller has written a pioneering study about the Arab League Office in Washington, D.C., in 2004, which dedicates particular attention to accusations that the Arab League office was involved with the far-right. A recent history of Arab-American political activism by Hani J. Bawardi has also offered many insights into organized anti-Zionism before 1948.
The article offers an alternative to Kermit Roosevelt’s “Israel lobby” narrative, showing that Arab lobbying, propaganda and diplomatic activities during the run-up to the 1947 UN partition vote were indeed substantial. In contrast to Miller’s detailed account of the workings of the Arab League Office in Washington D.C., I shall on the Arab League’s broader propaganda strategy and the rationale behind its decision to launch an anti-Zionist campaign in the US. I shall likewise investigate the strategy of the Arab League and the Arab Higher Committee to achieve a majority at the UN in November 1947, when the future of Palestine was decided, and the reason for its failure. This, based on records in Israeli, US and British archives, and the edited records of the Arab League as well as the autobiographies of Arab League officials, allowing us to see the Arab League and AHC activities from the perspective of the actors, their allies and their opponents.
Early Arab League Planning
The start of WWII signaled a considerable cooling down of the Palestine conflict. Most of the leaders of the AHC were in detention or in exile, while the Zionists pledged allegiance to the British in support of their war effort despite their deep opposition to the White Paper of 1939. This phase of Zionist-British rapprochement came to an end in May 1942: At the Biltmore Conference, more than 600 American and foreign Zionists resolved to demand the immediate establishment of a Jewish army to fight National Socialism and of a “Jewish commonwealth” in Palestine after the War. Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization, also called for the settlement of the survivors of the Nazi genocide in Palestine.
As knowledge of the Nazi atrocities spread, the Zionist cause gained significant political and public support in the US. The breakthrough occurred on December 4, 1942, when 63 senators and 181 representatives signed a resolution proposed by Senator Robert F. Wagner affirming support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine and the settling of Jewish refugees from Europe within its borders. In January 1944, a bipartisan resolution in the House and Congress, named the Wright-Compton resolution after its sponsors, called for unrestricted Jewish immigration and the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth after the war. The resolution was an important victory for American Zionism, but it drew protests from the Arabs. The two presidents of the Iraqi parliament even declared that it was tantamount to a declaration of war against Palestine’s Arabs. In February 1944, opponents of the resolution, including several Arab-American and Jewish anti-Zionist activists, appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The stiffest opposition, however, came from the State Department, which succeeded in having the Wright-Compton resolution postponed. However, this was a pyrrhic victory. After speaking with Roosevelt in March 1944, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver released a statement by the president rejecting the White Paper and endorsing the emigration of refugees. In the presidential election campaign of November 1944 between Franklin Roosevelt and his Republican challenger, Thomas Dewey, both parties ran on pro-Zionist platforms.
Growing international support for Zionism worried the Arab states, many newly or semi-independent, in the Middle East. In 1944, Arab governments began to consider a propaganda campaign in Western countries in order to influence their future policy towards Palestine. In August 1944, the British Embassy in Jeddah reported to the Foreign Office that Ibn Saud had received a telegram from the Iraqi government requesting his opinion and support on the establishment of Arab bureaus in Washington, D.C., and London. At the preparatory committee session for the Arab Conference in Alexandria, where the Arab League was set to be established, the issue was intensively discussed and an Iraqi proposal to open propaganda offices in Washington, D.C., and London was endorsed by the attendees. As a Saudi memorandum put it, the “danger of Zionism is one that threatens the interests of all Arabs and Moslems.” Collective action was, therefore, imperative. The leading figure behind the propaganda plan was Musa Alami, an erstwhile loyal follower and relative of the Mufti, who had been working to put together a new Arab Palestinian leadership for the post-war era. In this, Musa Alami was assisted by Albert Hourani’s brother, Cecil Hourani, a British intelligence official. Unlike many other Arab Leaders of pre-WWII Palestine, foremost among them Amin al-Husseini, Musa Alami emerged from the war relatively untainted and was therefore acceptable to both the British and the Arabs; he had no known history of collusion with Nazism, although he had stayed with the Mufti Amin al-Husseini in Iraq during 1940 and 1941. In Alexandria, Musa Alami was chosen to represent the Palestinian Arabs at the conference, heightening his stature as a political leader. According to Musa Alami, the Arab League budgeted the sum of £1m for the propaganda campaign, with Egypt covering half of the expenses and Iraq a fourth, while the rest would be divided among the other Arab countries. Interestingly, they planned to invest the bulk of the money in the US.
The British, who were in close contact with Musa Alami, generally looked with favor upon Arab plans to intensify their propaganda in the US. In September 1944, the Eastern Department sent out a letter, calling for opinions on the plans. British ambassador to the US, Lord Halifax, who was organizing an anti-Zionist campaign himself, expressed great enthusiasm. Like the Arabs, he believed that the Zionists held sway over the US public arena and needed to be countered:
Hitherto propaganda in the United States about the Middle East has mainly been conducted by extreme Zionists. In consequence, the Arab countries and we ourselves have suffered. An organization presenting the Arab case in the United States would in my view be helpful, provided it is conducted on the right lines. But it would have to reckon on unscrupulous opposition from Zionists with ample funds and much influence.
Halifax made several recommendations regarding the procedure and organization of these offices: He advised them to recruit Arabs who had been educated at Western institutions in the Arab world, some Americans perhaps, but no British. Furthermore, their work should not focus on playing off Western nations against each other or against their Jewish communities. Instead, it should primarily address the American public, emphasizing the cultural, scientific, and historical achievements of the Arabs and their current needs. As a model worth emulating, he suggested the Turkish propaganda which had promoted a “new Turkey.”
By late 1944, the Arabs considered the US to be the main arena for the future struggle over Western public opinion. In December 1944, the Arab League devised a preliminary plan for a comprehensive propaganda campaign. It noted that the Arabs had so far paid insufficient attention to propaganda, while”the efforts of the enemy and their propaganda have continued since the last war and have greatly increased recently.” The plan foresaw the opening of two main Arab Offices in London and New York with branches in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. While the Arabs could count on a large network of supporters in England, which was already involved in the Palestine Information Office, the draft assessed that the situation would be more difficult in the US. Sympathizers had advised the Arab League to recruit people both knowledgeable on the issue of Palestine and familiar with American culture from the local Arab community. Unlike in Britain, where the Arab Office preferred to use backdoor lobbying, in the US the draft recognized a need to engage in a public relations campaign to counter the Zionists, a campaign that would employ all modern means of communication, including cinema and radio.
Another preliminary concept recommended that the Office should refrain from associating with anti-Jewish and anti-British elements—something which was not always strictly observed—and should communicate the modern aspects and general issues of the Arab region. The Arab Offices’ principal aim, however, was to counter the Zionist movement and to challenge the central pro-Zionist arguments: First, that Zionism was beneficial to the US and Britain. Second, that Zionism brought social and economic advancements. Third, religious and ethnic arguments in favor of Zionism. Lastly, the Arab Offices were tasked with defending Arab behavior during the war, when leading elements of the Arab national movement, foremost among them the Mufti of Palestine, Amin al Husseini, had collaborated with Nazi Germany. The concept budgeted the significant sum of £300,000 a year for the project (£12m in the currency rate of 2017), one-third of which was to be consigned to the Arab Office in the US. At the next conference in Cairo, the Arab League appointed Musa Alami as the director of the Arab Offices.
When Alami turned to the respective governments to deliver on their promises, only Iraq paid its due share. The Arab Office budget fell victim to two power struggles: One between the Hashemite countries, Iraq and Jordan and the rest of the Arab countries, and one between the followers of Amin al-Husseini, known as the Husseinis, and their foreign and domestic enemies. Iraqi strongman Nuri Said sought to strengthen Alami as an independent Palestinian leader at the expense of the Mufti Amin al-Husseini, whom Nuri considered an enemy since he had instigated the Iraq coup in 1941. It was almost impossible to reconcile these different factions with each other, even for a man as understanding as Musa Alami. This inter-Arab rivalry affected the efficiency of the Arab propaganda campaign. As a result of the refusal of all Arab states apart from Iraq to meet their obligations, Alami had to raise the money by himself and so scrapped the plans for offices in Paris and Moscow. Thus, in 1945, Arab offices were only opened in London and Washington, D.C., with the central office located in Jerusalem.
The Arab League Office in Washington, D.C.
As office director, Musa Alami appointed the Palestinian journalist and politician Ahmed Shukairy who would rise to prominence in the 1960s and become the chairman of the PLO. Shukairy was originally affiliated with the Nashashibi camp but became allied to Musa Alami after the war—a connection which undoubtedly helped him get the post at the Arab Office. Shukairy was assisted by five staff members: Khulusi Khairy, Dr. Nejla Izzedin, Awni W. Dajani, Raja W. Hourani, and Omar Abu Khadra. The young Lebanese Nejla Izzedin, who had a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, was the most active and educated among the Washington staff members. The preeminent Arab nationalist thinker Constantine Zurayk, a friend of Izzedin, who then worked for the Syrian embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Lebanese diplomat Charles Malik, also occasionally helped out in the Arab League office.
The American University in Beirut (AUB), which had been established by American protestant missionaries, provided a pool of talents for recruiting advocates of the Arab cause in Western countries. Many staff workers of the Arab League offices and several of the young Arab diplomats in the US had been educated at the AUB, taught there, or were affiliated with it in other ways. Among them were the Hourani brothers, Charles Malik and Constantin Zurayk, a mentee of the oriental scholar and anti-Zionist activist Philip Hitti. The AUB served as the nexus between these young Arab nationalists and the Protestant elite that stood behind the American missionary enterprise in the Middle East, which was equally opposed to Zionism. This latter group provided most of the Middle East experts in academia and the State Department and was therefore highly influential with regard to US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Shukairy arrived in the US in late July 1945. It was some two months after his arrival that the Office became operational and could address the broader public, and in the interim, many important political events were passed up. Moreover, between July and October, the Office received only $40,000 from the Syrian and $15,000 from the Iraqi legation. In early October 1945, the Arab Office, at last, became operational and released its first press statement. In the first months of its existence, the Office displayed energetic activity, publishing a bulletin that went out to 3,000 opinion leaders and institutions, distributing press releases, holding lectures and socializing in Washington’s political and media circles. Aside from the Arab-American community, Arab propaganda targeted mainly the political, financial, and intellectual elites. And nevertheless, Ahmad Shukairy left the US abruptly on November 28 and was replaced by Khulusi Khairy. There is no information on whether this was a planned decision or whether he had been removed from his post. Shukairy’s departure was just one among several indications that the propaganda campaign was not going as well as the Arab League had hoped.
The Arab propagandists in the U.S. seemed intimidated by their own notions of Jewish political and financial power—a recurrent theme in the reports of Arab propagandists in Western countries. In November the Arab League office reported to Jerusalem that
(….) the Zionists have organized a tremendous campaign with penetration into every nook and cranny of the country and [that] reaches almost every publication. (…) In addition, the Zionists have to a great extent succeeded in mobilizing Jewish influence in the United States—financial and otherwise. What non-Zionist Jewish element exists, which might be large in number, is nevertheless hardly articulate.
When Khairy and two of his colleagues met on November 1945 with A.H. Tandy, First Secretary of the British embassy, they grumbled about the powerful, financially clever Jews in the US who were driving the Zionist project: “Jews (…) with their flair for profit and ambitions for financial and economic power, foresaw the coming importance of the Middle Eastern area (…).” Tandy had doubts that the Arab League really lacked funding, writing in his notes: “(…) unless they are discreetly playing down their backing, I think they somewhat underrate the potentialities of their own fairy godmother, the oil companies.”
Khairy also felt that the Arab League was targeting the wrong audience and believed that the cities, especially New York, were controlled by the Jewish press. He suggested instead that they target the conservative areas in the US after having been advised by British and American sympathizers that the “Middle-West […was] an area considered to be especially favorable for an anti-Zionist viewpoint.” In the summer of 1946, the English-Lebanese Cecil Hourani was appointed as secretary of the Arab Office in Washington, D.C., replacing Khairy, who had experienced personal and professional troubles. In Hourani’s opinion, the Arab Office under Khairy’s leadership had failed to produce the desired results. This was due to Khairy’s over-ambition to compete with Zionist propaganda in the US. When Khairy discovered that this goal was difficult to achieve, he “almost reached the stage of a nervous breakdown.” Revelations that the Arab Office had had contacts with American far-right activists added to Khairy’s frustration, making it necessary to replace him.
Hourani agreed with Musa Alami and Edward Attiyah, head of the London Office, that the Arab Office should limit its task to distributing information and should drop more ambitious schemes to challenge the Zionists. Together with his better-known brother Albert, Cecil Hourani had worked for British Intelligence in Cairo during the war under Brigadier Clayton, enjoying access both to British Middle East policy-making circles and to the Arab nationalist leadership. In contrast to his more radical predecessors, Cecil Hourani was a pro-Western moderate, free of personal acrimony towards Jews and Zionists. Hourani also had good connections with the State Department and with the Jewish Agency, meeting regularly with its US representative Eliahu Epstein, whom he knew from Cairo.
Hourani’s small team, however, struggled to mount an effective campaign and was acutely overworked; Izzedin, for instance, gave seventy-eight public talks and radio speeches between September 1946 and March 1947. With the exception of the Iraqis and the Lebanese minister Charles Malik, the Arab legations in Washington, D.C. showed little inclination to become engaged in the anti-Zionist campaign in the US. Universities, in particular, the Ivy League, remained a primary focus; Epstein was apprehensive about this, warning Jerusalem: “Although not a spectacular or much publicized item, this is one of the most useful, from the long-range point of view of Arab propaganda efforts in this country and at the same time one of the most dangerous to our interests.”
Moreover, Hourani’s tenure was hampered by repeated accusations that the Office was cooperating with far-right and pro-Nazi elements, including Amin al-Husseini. Blame for getting embroiled in this affair fell partly on Hourani. He had worked to bring the Arabists Garland Hopkins and Kermit Roosevelt together with Benjamin Freedman, a wealthy anti-Zionist Jewish activist, to form the Committee for Peace and Justice in the Holy Land. Later, Cecil Hourani came to regret the cooperation with Freedman, having come to the conclusion that Freedman was an anti-Semite, who was primarily motivated by his hatred for Eastern European Jewry. On May 7, 1946, the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League (NSANL) submitted a memorandum to President Truman, urging him to launch an investigation into the activities of the Arab Office. The accusations were based on fact. The connection to the Mufti ran even deeper than was known at the time; Musa Alami, the head of the Arab Offices, formally reported to the Mufti, despite the fact that the two did not get along. However, the extreme right was hardly the main target of the Arab Office propaganda effort and the Arab League strategy actually advised against working with such unsavory elements, which were bound to discredit them. On the morning of March 10, 1947, FBI agents raided the premises of the Arab Office in Washington, D.C. The Arab Office was never indicted, but this was not the end of the affair. During a much-publicized trial in 1948, it was proved that Benjamin Freedman had maintained contact with both Arab states and the AHC, discrediting anti-Zionism in the US even further.
The Palestine Question at the UN and the Haliq Report
In 1944, Jewish paramilitary groups launched a guerilla war against the British in Palestine, forcing them to station 100,000 servicemen in Palestine in order to restore order. The intervention burdened Britain’s struggling economy and public morale, eventually undermining British resolve to maintain a presence in the country. On February 14, 1947, the British cabinet decided to refer the Palestine question to the UN. The first special session of the UN scheduled to take place from April 28 to May 15, 1947, was dedicated to the Palestine issue. The US, at the height of its prestige after the defeat of Nazi Germany, would play a crucial role in deciding the future of Palestine, confirming the strategic focus both Arabs and Zionists had placed on the country.
The Arab League made several preparations for the upcoming session in order to improve its standing at the UN. In early 1947, it commissioned a staff member of the Institute of Arab American Affairs (IAAA), Omar Haliq, to investigate the situation of the Arabs at the UN. The IAAA had been established in November 1944 by Philip Hitti and was led by distinguished Arab-Americans. It was the principal Arab-American anti-Zionist lobby group from 1944 until its disbandment in 1950. In spite of working in concert with the Arab League and the Arab Office, the IAAA avoided taking donations from the Arab states in order not to register as a foreign agent and appear as an authentic Arab-American voice.
Hitti and the IAAA also had excellent contacts with anti-Zionist circles within the State Department, who torpedoed all US actions which were bound to strengthen the Jewish presence in Palestine. One of Hitti’s contacts, Philip Ireland, was involved in planning the post-war order in the Middle East. During the war, Ireland had done nothing to implement US plans for settling Jewish children in Palestine to help them escape from the Holocaust and had on purpose left them to their fate since he believed that these rescue efforts were bound to strengthen Zionism. Ireland and the other Middle East experts at the State Department largely shared the Palestine Mandate government’s view that the refugees were basically a ploy used by Hitler to drive a wedge between the British and the Arabs, so they showed little interest in rescuing Jewish refugees. Opposition by State Department officials to Zionism continued under Truman and persisted throughout his presidency.
After speaking to the Syrian delegate Constantin Zurayk and to the British delegate to the UN, Omar Haliq learned that no one had received any instructions on how to present the Arab cause in Palestine at the UN. Only five Arab states were members of the UN in 1947, too few to prevent the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. In a report he sent to the Arab League in March, Haliq concluded that the only way to a majority would be through Muslim and friendly states:
The Arab chances to success in the session of the General Assembly depend a lot on the extent of their activities in the spreading of propaganda in the corridors of the (…) UN and in the exploitation (…) of the creation of political blocs with the countries which are interested in the friendship of the Arabs (…)
Haliq ascribed special importance to Latin America, which had voted with the Arab bloc in the General Assembly in the past. He advised that a Christian delegation be sent to Latin American countries. In the words of Haliq, it was”to make use of the Catholic hate of the Jews on the entire planet for the good of the Arabs.
It is unclear whether the Arab states had already tried to apply Haliq’s strategy at the first UN special session on Palestine (April 28-May 15 1947), where their efforts to push for the independence of an Arab majority state in Palestine and to separate the Palestine question from the issue of the Jewish DPs in Europe were defeated by the majority. Instead, the UN special session resolved to set up a Special Committee to investigate conditions in Palestine, which came to be known under its acronym UNSCOP. The UNSCOP report was to be presented at the autumn session of the UN in the same year (September 16-November 29, 1947). To everyone’s surprise, including the Jewish agency, Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet ambassador to the UN which had traditionally opposed any form of Jewish nationalism, expressed sympathy for the Jewish national aspirations in Palestine in his address to the assembly. If all UN efforts to install a binational Arab-Jewish state failed, the Soviets would be prepared to support partition, Gromyko declared.
Despite these setbacks, there was still a path to a majority for the Arabs through a Latin-Arab alliance. Azzam Pasha, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, therefore looked optimistically towards the next session:
On the whole, we feel we are departing from this special session in a better position than when we arrived. Our views are now better understood throughout the world. It is the Zionist objective to have political power and a Zionist state. The way in which the Jewish Agency explained this made the situation clear to everyone on the outside.
The Arab League had four months to convince the world of this view.
The AHC Takes Over
The Arab campaign at the UN rested on the cooperation of the Arab League and the AHC, whose claim to be the sole representative of the Palestinian Arabs was recognized at the pan-Arab Bludan conference in 1946. In consequence, the AHC led by Amin al-Husseini was the only organ allowed to present the Arab case to an international audience, and the Arab Offices were placed under its authority. Musa Alami, who had effectively been toppled, did everything to sabotage these plans, while the Mufti and Arab League Secretary, Azzam Pasha, persuaded all Arab governments except for Iraq to cut their financial donations to the Arab Offices. In parallel, Jamal al-Husseini succeeded in raising money from the Syrian and Lebanese governments for AHC propaganda, allegedly receiving £110,000 from Syria in March 1947, although he was unsuccessful in convincing the Iraqi government to withdraw their support from Musa Alami. Having failed to overtake the Arab Offices, the AHC launched a propaganda campaign of its own and established a parallel infrastructure. This was hardly an ideal situation given the upcoming campaign.
In 1947, the AHC opened offices in London and Beirut. However, like the Arab League, the AHC focused its activities on the US. Most likely due to the recommendations of the Haliq-report, in April, the AHC sent a team of senior members to the US, many of them experienced in propaganda. All were loyal to the AHC leader Amin al-Husseini. Initially, the group included Rasim Khalidi, former leader of the Islamist Young Men’s Muslim Association and a cousin of IAAA director Ismail Khalidi, but because Rasim Khalidi had followed the Mufti into his German exile during the war, the US did not grant him a visa. The final team consisted of three Christians and three Muslims: The Mufti’s roving ambassador to the Christian world and senior propagandist, Emil Ghoury, Henry Kattan and Issa Nakhla, both prominent lawyers from Jerusalem, as well as the Muslims Akram Zuaiter, Khalil Budayri and Rajai Husseini. Budayri was a left-wing politician and physician from Jerusalem. Rajai Husseini, a relative of the Mufti’s, had worked in the propaganda office in London. In the conflict between Musa Alami and the Mufti, he sided with the former and resigned from his post in April.
The three Christian members of the AHC team in the US were also appointed as delegates to the UN autumn session; this was a strategic effort to co-opt Christian anti-Zionism and allay fears of Muslim persecution. Arab Christians had always played an important role in the Palestinian national struggle, especially on its international front. They constituted a small, cosmopolitan and highly educated class, which was more suited to appeal to Western audiences than were radicals like Amin al-Husseini. The American educated Palestinian journalist Emil Ghoury, who was Christian Orthodox, had served as a roving propagandist to Christian countries for the AHC since before the war when he visited England, the Balkan countries, Eastern Europe and the US during the Arab Revolt. The other two members, Henry Cattan, a lawyer from Jerusalem who commuted between Paris and the US to lobby on behalf of the AHC, and Issa Nakhla, were prominent Jerusalemite lawyers of Christian origin.
UNSCOP, the Catholic Strategy, and the UN Vote on Partition
Angered by the Arab defeat at the UN special session on Palestine in May 1947, the AHC chose to boycott the UNSCOP. Amin al-Husseini later justified this unwise decision by claiming incorrectly that the decisions of the UNSCOP had been predetermined. The Jewish Agency, on the other hand, paid great attention to it, attaching three officials to it, including future Israeli ambassador to Washington and foreign minister Abba Eban.
The AHC now moved to implement Omar Haliq’s strategy for gaining an Arab-Latin majority in the UN autumn session. The Arab League and the AHC set up a special committee in New York to oversee its diplomatic and propagandistic activities in North and South America to gain a favorable decision in November. It was staffed by the Arab representatives to the UN and functionaries of the AHC. The Syrian Fares el-Khoury acted as chairman and the Egyptian Mahmud Fawzi Bey as secretary. The committee included Charles Malik, the Iraqi Awni al-Khalidi, the Saudi Asad al-Faquih, as well as the AHC representative Wassif Kamal, who according to Jewish Agency information, had spent WWII in Turkey and Italy, and had been a sympathizer of Nazi Germany. According to the Jewish Agency, a budget of $100,000 was at the committee’s disposal to lobby on behalf of an independent Arab Palestine.
The AHC campaign was apparently not coordinated with Musa Alami’s existing Arab Office infrastructure. In June 1947, a despondent Cecil Hourani was already preparing his return to Britain, believing that his mission had no chance of success. He told Eliahu Epstein in a private conversation that the Mufti was “the greatest menace to Arab interests in Palestine and to the Arab League.” He blamed Amin al-Husseini and AHC representative to the UN, Emil Ghoury, for failing to gain sympathy and support for their Arab cause. Despite his opposition to the Mufti, Musa Alami refrained from criticizing him in public for fear of harming the Arab cause. Hourani indicated that there was growing opposition to the Mufti among the Arabs in Palestine and that their empowerment might eventually lead to a compromise with the Jewish national movement. However, they would never accept a Jewish state and would fight it until it is “physically crushed.”
Meanwhile, it was becoming more and more evident that the AHC boycott of the UNSCOP was counterproductive for Arab interests. When the committee members visited Palestine, they were struck positively by the achievements of the Zionist movement in developing the country. The Arab population, on the other hand, failed to impress even those UNSCOP members from the Middle East. Moreover, their visit to Palestine coincided with the “Exodus” affair, when the British sent an illegal refugee ship back to Europe, drawing attention to the plight of Jewish displaced persons (DP) in Europe willing to immigrate to Palestine and to British intransigence. The Arabs, to whom UNSCOP spoke despite the AHC boycott, made an uncompassionate and uncompromising impression. Thus, AHC member and Jerusalem mayor, Hussein al-Khalidi, declared that the Jews had no historical rights in Palestine.
To compensate for the lack of official AHC representation, UNSCOP also consulted Arab officials from Lebanon, Jordan and from the Arab League. For the most part, these officials expressed the Arab consensus that no Jewish refugees should be admitted to Palestine and that an independent Arab state should be established on its soil. But there were dissenters. In private meetings, Maronite figures from Lebanon expressed support for partition and a Jewish state. Likewise, King Abdullah supported partition, wishing to occupy the Arab parts of Palestine. After visiting the DP camps in Germany, UNSCOP returned to write its report in Geneva where it was subjected to lobbying efforts from all sides. This included Musa Alami, who sought to influence the British liaison officer to UNSCOP. The committee members were torn right up to the final week between recommending an Arab-Jewish federation or partition, disproving Amin al-Husseini’s claims that the results of UNSCOP had been predetermined. Partitioning the country along demographic lines eventually won out with a seven to three vote and UNSCOP signed its report on August 31, 1947. The minority federation plan was also presented to the UN, gaining the support of the Syrian and Lebanese delegates. Had the Arab League followed their more pragmatic approach and endorsed the minority report, the Arabs might have had a chance to defeat partition.
Instead, the AHC’s maximalist approach prevailed, and on September 16, the Arab League rejected both the minority and the majority report, calling for a vote on an independent Arab state in Palestine. Jamal Husseini warned that “(…) blood will flow like rivers in the Middle East,” while Arab League Secretary-General Azzam compared the nascent Jewish state to the Crusaders’ kingdoms. Like these, the Jewish state would be destroyed by the Arabs in time, he prophesized. Between late September and November, the Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine prepared a resolution based on the recommendation of the UNSCOP report. During its course, the State Department, the Foreign Office, and the Arab states successfully lobbied the Ad Hoc Committee to have the size of the Jewish state reduced to 55% of Palestine, the bulk of which was the infertile Negev desert. Still, the Arab states maintained their rejection.
AHC and the Arab League had already launched a campaign to influence public opinion in both North and Latin America in the first half of 1947, which intensified during the decisive UN autumn session. The campaign embraced the Haliq report’s recommendations to focus on Latin America in the hope of exploiting Catholic anti-Semitism. Moreover, Latin America was the largest voting bloc in the UN and was strongly contested, therefore between Zionists and Arabs. The dominance of the Catholic Church in Latin America which rejected Zionism for theological and political reasons, as well as its sizeable Arab and German diasporas, all seemed to work against Zionism. The Zionists observed apprehensively how the South American countries seemed to move progressively into the anti-Zionist camp in the course of 1947. They blamed the “intensive campaign” by the Arabs for this development, which involved “commercial pressure, diplomatic pressure, bribery.”
The Arab special committee had set aside $25,000 for its campaign in South America. To this purpose, it produced material in the local languages and established an Arab Office in Rio de Janeiro. Issa Nakhla and Akram Zuaiter acted as roving ambassadors in North and South America in 1947. Nakhla had already gathered experience in public diplomacy during his student years in London prior to WWII, where he worked at the Arab propaganda office under Izzat Tannous. Zuaiter was a committed nationalist and militant who had joined the Arab Revolt (1936-39). After fleeing Palestine, he allegedly worked as a liaison for the Mufti with the Germans and was involved in the 1941 pro-Nazi coup of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani in Iraq. The special committee also dispatched two delegations to Latin America, one chaired by Akram Zuaiter and the other by Mustafa Khalidi, a professor at the American University in Beirut. In Brazil, Zuaiter’s delegation attended the Pan-American Conference and met with notable members. They also held a rally for the Arab community in Brazil, where they promised to conserve the Arab character of Palestine.
The Arabs likewise placed hopes in the Catholic countries of Europe. The Greek Catholic Bishop George Hakim was dispatched in the summer of 1947 on a tour of Catholic Europe. His first station was Italy, where he met with the pope. He then proceeded to France and Belgium. They especially hoped to gain the vote of France, which might be disposed to vote against partition in order to placate its sizeable Muslim population in North Africa and in the colonies. If they succeeded, they might also have a high chance of winning the votes of the Benelux states. In October, the AHC opened the Political Mission of the AHC (Fr. Mission politique du Comité Suprême Arabe à Paris) under the leadership of Yakoub Khoury. Khoury met regularly with French dignitaries and edited a bulletin during his time in France. The Jewish Agency, however, deemed him to be a “poor defender of the Arab cause.”
Eventually, the Catholic strategy proved unsuccessful. Most of Latin America and Catholic Europe voted for UN partition resolution 181 on November 29 at the UN session in Lake Success, partitioning Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. Why was this the case? Besides important factors such as Zionist counter diplomacy and US pressure on Latin America to support partition, the Arabs may have overestimated Catholic opposition to Zionism to begin with. While the Vatican certainly regarded the Jewish state as a threat to Catholic interests in Palestine, it was no less critical of Arab Nationalism and the prospects of an Arab state.
The UN decision sealed the fate of the Arab Offices. In December 1947, Iraqi Premier Salah Jabr informed Musa Alami that his country would cease payments to his Arab Offices within a week. Lacking funds, the Washington, D.C. Office closed a few months later, while the London Office continued for another two years. On December 2, Cecil Hourani called a press conference to inform on the closure of the Arab Office in New York and the abandonment of plans for an additional Arab Office in San Francisco. The Washington, D.C. Office might also close within a month, although it endured until May 1948, ending the Arab propaganda campaign in the US against the establishment of a Jewish state. Hourani was convinced that he was not to blame for its failure. In his 1984 memoirs, he defended his moderate propaganda approach against the one promoted by the Arab nationalist hardliners who followed him:
Looking back, (…) we were in fact following the only realistic method of conducting propaganda, which later generations of Arab propagandists have abandoned for more aggressive, more brazen methods which tend to produce exactly the opposite effect to that intended. (…). Later Arab propagandists regarded America as the enemy, every American as a pro-Israeli, and every Jew as a Zionist, and with this attitude it is not surprising that they have had no impact on either public opinion of official policy, and that such support for the Palestinian cause as exists today is the product only of commercial and financial interest, or of anti-Israeli feeling, or of the efforts of American Jews who feel that Israel, in its own interests, should be more understanding and flexible in its treatment of the Palestinians.
In 1944, the Arab states started preparing an international campaign against Zionism to undermine growing public support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. This campaign would be overseen by the Arab League, which was to be established in March 1945, and would—beside the UK—focus most of its resources on the US, as the Arabs believed the US to be instrumental in deciding the future fate of Palestine. To this end and with the support of the Iraqis, Musa Alami started building a propaganda infrastructure consisting of Arab Offices in Western countries. However, Alami was constantly undermined by Amin al-Husseini’s supporters and the non-Hashemite Arab states working to place the Offices under the authority of the AHC and Amin al-Husseini. As a result, the budget for the Arab Offices was significantly cut back. This power struggle led to the establishment of a parallel propaganda structure under the authority of the AHC, to the detriment of the Arab campaign in the US. Despite these conflicts, the Arab Offices bustled with activity and were able to mount a campaign targeting the political elite and institutions of higher education, where anti-Zionist sentiment was widespread. Moreover, the means of the Arab propaganda apparatus were not meager.
In the six-month period between September 1946 and March 1947, the Office reported expenditures of roughly $100,000. The Office operated from late July 1945 until mid-May 1948. Assuming it was fully operational until the partition decision in September 1947, and thereafter expended only half of its usual budget, we can estimate that the Office expenditures for the entire period amounted to $492,000. Taking other anti-Zionist bodies into account, such as the AHC offices and the Institute of Arab-American Affairs, the expenditures of the entire operation must have been significantly higher.
However, intimidated by the specter of Jewish power, which sprang from their own anti-Semitic fantasies, the Arab propagandists believed themselves constantly at a disadvantage vis-à-vis their Zionist competitors. As a result, some of them very nearly succumbed to depression. The difficulties of the propaganda campaign, however, were not due solely to a lack of coordination and supposedly superior Zionist influence, but rather to the message they were advocating.
The Arab states deeply misjudged the reason for American sympathy with Zionism, believing it to be the result of Zionist campaigning. However, there were other and more important reasons for this widespread sympathy in both the Jewish and non-Jewish population of America after the war: First, the impression of the Holocaust and the Jewish refugee crisis, which proved the need for a Jewish Homeland; second, the Arab record of collaboration with the Axis powers; and third, a shared anti-imperialist sentiment against the British, to name just the most important ones. The Arab public diplomacy against Zionism in the US, on the other hand, was from the beginning tainted by accusations of anti-Semitism and of collaboration with the discredited AHC and its leader, Amin al-Husseini. And with good reason.
The Arab Offices were nominally under the authority of Amin al-Husseini, while AHC members and Mufti loyalists like Emil Ghoury were directly involved in the campaign against UN plans to partition Palestine. Amin al-Husseini’s continued leadership of the Palestinian Arab nation proved a major liability for advocating the Arab cause. Nor did the AHC leaders learn from their past mistakes; they were still ready to exploit anti-Semitism to advance their political goals. When the Palestine question was relegated to the UN in 1947, former IAAA member Omar Haliq devised a strategy to mobilize Catholic hatred of Jews in Latin America against the establishment of a Jewish state. This strategy was to prove unsuccessful, not least because the Arabs underestimated Christian anxiety about an Arab national state in Palestine.
There was always a much deeper problem at the heart of Arab activism against partition and the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine: Arab politics failed to come up with a positive alternative to it. While Arab public diplomacy officially advocated the establishment of a democratic state in Palestine vis-à-vis the public, it is questionable whether this position was heartfelt. Thus, Arab propagandists in the US—many of Syrian or Lebanese origin—still supported a pan-Syrian future for Palestine and not an independent Arab state, as Arab League staff explained to British diplomat Tandy in a conversation in 1945. Pan-Syrian ideology also enjoyed popularity among politically active Arab-Americans, who were also mostly of Syrian extraction, at least until the 1940s. Thus, the Arab National League, the predecessor of the IAAA active until 1941, advocated a Greater Syria in its founding principles.
Moreover, the AHC’s and Arab League’s assertions vis-à-vis Western audiences that they would respect the Jewish community in Palestine were disproven by their actions at home, where Middle Eastern Jews suffered increasing harassment and persecution after the end of WWII. In November 1945, 140 Jews were massacred in a pogrom in Tripoli, Libya. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was allied to the AHC, targeted Egyptian Jews with systematic violence starting in late 1945. When this violence further escalated after the partition resolution, American supporters of Zionism like Karl Baehr, the executive secretary of the American Christian Palestine Committee, felt vindicated in their original suspicions of Arab promises of tolerance vis-à-vis the Jewish minority: “Recent murders and executions of Jews in Egypt, Iraq, and other lands make one realize how ‘just and righteous’ an all-Arab Palestine would be in its treatment of a Jewish minority and underscore the validity of the U.N. decision to create a viable Jewish state.”
The pre-state Yishuv in Palestine, which had already built many of the institutions essential for self-government, impressed international visitors with its achievements. Partition only meant recognizing this already established reality and no further investment. A single Arab state in Palestine, as advocated by the Arabs, but also an Arab-dominated federal state, would have led to the destruction of the Yishuv and probably another massacre of the Jews, just three years after the Holocaust—something then unacceptable to the international community. Thus in 1947, there was no viable alternative to partition. Despite all their investments in information activity, the lack of will to compromise by the AHC and the Arab League member states invariably weakened their ability to win the struggle for the hearts and minds of the West.