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Reviewed by:
  • An Uneasy Relationship: American Jewish Leadership and Israel 1948–1957
  • Robert O. Freedman
An Uneasy Relationship: American Jewish Leadership and Israel 1948–1957, by Zvi Ganin. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005. 255 pp. $29.95.

In this study Israeli writer Zvi Ganin discusses the dynamics of the often divided American Jewish Community as it sought to respond to the newly established State of Israel, whose leaders, especially David Ben-Gurion (Israel's first prime minister), had a very different view of Zionism from theirs. A second focus of the book is an analysis of the interaction of the American Jewish leadership with the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations, many of whose top leaders were openly hostile to Israel. The book highlights the role of [End Page 181] the American Jewish Committee, and especially its leader from 1949 to 1954, Jacob Blaustein, who was to play a key role in dealing both with the Israeli leadership and with Truman and Eisenhower. Drawing upon the Israeli State Archives, the archives of the American Jewish Committee, and the documents in the U.S. State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States series, among other sources, Ganin presents a highly readable analysis of the challenges facing Israel in its early years and the problems it had in dealing with the American Jewish Community and the U.S. Government.

After beginning his book with a detailed description of a divided American Jewish Community in 1948 (Zionists [the majority], non-Zionists, led by the American Jewish Committee, and anti-Zionists, led by the American Council for Judaism), and their often hostile interactions, Ganin focuses on the lack of understanding between Israeli leaders (especially Ben-Gurion) who saw all Jews living outside of Israel as living in Exile, and American Jews who saw the United States as their "Zion," and who had no intention of moving to the newly established State of Israel. Abba Eban, then Israel's ambassador to the United Nations and later to the United States, put the matter clearly (p. 71):

Culturally, America's Jews feel American. There is doubt whether through the Diaspora there ever was such a Jewish community which identified so closely with the host nation as does American Jewry. And not just Jewish leaders, even the leaders of American Zionism use the terms "our country," "our nation," "our government" in relation to the United States.

Such a community was very hard for Israeli leaders such as Ben-Gurion to understand. Growing up in Russia and Eastern Europe where Jews were an often-hated minority subject to pogroms, these Israeli leaders developed the Zionist concept of the negation of the Diaspora, and assumed the American Jewish community would go the way of the German and Polish ones. The Israeli leaders simply could not understand that when American Jews referred to their "nation," they meant the United States, and not the Jewish people. Nonetheless, in order not to jeopardize the aid flowing from American Jews and the U.S. Government at a time when Israel was in desperate need of such support to recover from its War of Independence and resettle hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Europe and the Arab world in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Ben-Gurion was willing to compromise on his ideological position. Thus in 1950 he reached an agreement with Blaustein, in Blaustein's capacity as the President of the American Jewish Committee, whereby Ben Gurion stated (p. 92) that American Jews "owe no political allegiance to Israel," and that Israel "in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of the Jews who are citizens of any other country." Ben Gurion also promised that [End Page 182] Israel would make no effort to get masses of American Jews to emigrate, except for a limited number of specialists to help Israel develop. However, Ganin documents how Ben-Gurion frequently backtracked on these promises, much to the consternation not only of Blaustein and other American Jewish leaders, some of whom feared charges of "dual loyalty," but also of some Israeli diplomats.

The second part of the book, which discusses the often troubled course of Israeli-American relations from 1948 to 1956...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 181-183
Launched on MUSE
2009-02-13
Open Access
No
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