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  • Envoy to the Promised Land: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1948–1951 ed. by Norman J. W. Goda et al.
  • Neil Caplan (bio)
Envoy to the Promised Land: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1948–1951, edited by Norman J. W. Goda, Richard Breitman, Barbara McDonald Stewart, and Severin Hochberg. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017. 1,048 pages. $60.

Anyone interested in the first years of the State of Israel and the beginnings of the American-Israeli special relationship will welcome this fine publication, the fourth and final volume in a series devoted to the papers of James Grover McDonald (1886–1964).1

McDonald had served as the League of Nations' high commissioner for refugees from Germany ("Jewish and other") and was one of the first diplomats to sound the alarm against Nazi oppression in 1935. In subsequent years he served as chairman of United States president Franklin Delano Roosvelt's advisory committee on refugees and, in early 1946, was one of six Americans appointed by President Harry Truman to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry Regarding the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine. Visiting Palestine again in early 1947, McDonald acted as an informal conduit to the White House, reporting on the work of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). In late 1947 and early 1948, McDonald lobbied hard to overcome State Department reluctance to have the US come out strongly in support of UNSCOP's partition recommendation. As Truman's choice for America's special representative (1948–49) and first ambassador (1949–50) to Israel, McDonald was well qualified but would remain an outsider as a political appointee parachuted into the post.

The actual diary covers the period from June 22, 1948, to December 13, 1950 (so, why "1951" in the title?). Many important political conversations are summarized, along with McDonald's colorful, candid commentary about people, dinner parties, classical concerts, touring the country, and ceremonial events. A gallery of "who's who" in American politics and society populates these pages, including McDonald's extensive network of important friends and acquaintances in the American Jewish community.

His official residence was a stone's throw from Moshe Sharett's home, giving McDonald easy access to Israel's foreign minister on short notice. Social events with Paula and David Ben-Gurion, or with Vera and Chaim Weizmann, allowed McDonald multiple opportunities for informal political discussions with Israel's first prime minister and president, respectively. He held frequent talks with Labor Minister Golda Myerson (later Meir, eventually prime minister) and developed a high opinion of Pinhas Lubianker (later Lavon, eventually defense minister), the leader of the national labor union, the Histadrut. Regular briefings with senior officials gave McDonald the latest information, gossip, and insights about goings-on inside Israel and her neighbors' capitals; he learned much from (and was immensely impressed with the talents of) people like Reuven Shiloah, Yaacov Herzog, Teddy Kollek, Gideon Rafael, Esther Herlitz, Walter Eytan, Moshe Dayan, and Yigael Yadin.

McDonald was particularly enthusiastic about the young native-born generation, occasionally convening small "sabra seminars"2 with Benjamin Tammuz, Shabtai Teveth, and others, eager to learn about their attitudes to politics, religion, and the world. An avid believer in the essential pro-American and secular-democratic nature of [End Page 146] the young Israeli state, he frequently reassured Washington that the United Workers Party (known by its Hebrew acronym, Mapam) and other anti-American factions were unlikely to shift Israel into the Communist orbit and that the activities of religious political parties in the Knesset did not fore-shadow Israel becoming a theocratic state. He also strove to create links between representatives of American organized labor and the Israeli socialist-labor movement.

The period of McDonald's tenure was anything but dull, filled with challenges testing the resilience of the new state both locally and internationally: continuing military operations by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), followed by armistice negotiations concluded under Ralph Bunche's guidance; United Nations debates (beginning with the Bernadotte Plan in the fall of 1948) and resolutions that criticized Israeli actions or threatened Israeli interests; a campaign for Israel's membership in the UN, Red...


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