1953 began with a new United States Presidential administration. With the transition from Truman to Eisenhower, the US began to distance itself from Israel. A new Middle East policy began to take shape that would influence American decision-makers for the remainder of the century. The greatest danger in the view of the new administration was the Soviet Union. US policy throughout the 1950s would be primarily shaped by the effort to contain communism.
Israelis were disappointed by the Arabs refusal to recognize its existence after the 1948 War of Independence. They were discouraged further by the policies of the new Eisenhower administration, which ranged from apathetic to seemingly hostile. Eisenhower thought that the previous administration had been excessively partial to Israel and he resolved to follow a more even-handed policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The foreign aid program for Israel that Truman had initiated after the 1948 war was quickly reduced. Aid was used as a lever to extract concessions. The Israelis were encouraged to make territorial concessions in exchange for peace with the Arabs. The new president also refused to sell arms to Israel and showed little tolerance for Israeli policies.
In fairness, it’s important we understand the forces at work in the shift of US policy. In addition to the growing cold war with the Soviets, Eisenhower faced a potent challenge in Arab nationalism. Two issues were considerable factors. First, there were the lingering vestiges of British and French imperialism in the Arab world. The fact that the US was formally allied with Britain and France aroused considerable popular resentment in the Arab world. Secondly, the issue was Zionism. The fact that the US had played a key role in the creation of Israel aroused even deeper Arab resentment.
The basic dilemma thus became another all too familiar political juggling act. The US had to keep the Arab states favorably disposed toward the West and keep the region’s oil reserves and strategic positions accessible, while at the same time, remaining committed to Israel’s survival and security, a position that caused deep resentment in the Arab world.
The new nation of Israel was a mere child, yet five years old, learning to live a new life of self-determination, while surrounded by a world of hostile forces committed to its destruction. Would it survive? Could it? What were the odds? If we could pause and tear a page from history that shows us a picture of the new five year old, what would the child look like? How was it behaving?
Fortunately, we have such a record today. As the US shifted its Middle Eastern policy, we are allowed a look back at the old family photo.
David Horowitz, serving as a Special Correspondent for “The Voice,” a Los Angeles publication with the largest Jewish circulation in the West, had returned from an extended stay in Israel and offered a full report of his findings in the June 12, 1953 issue of the publication. The following is David’s assessment of the new nation in his own words.
JERUSALEM-“My three month visit to Israel, having afforded me the opportunity to traverse the country and study carefully almost every phase of life here, has left me with the following impressions:
- Israel as a whole is the most dynamic and promising little country in the world. The sturdy, energetic Israelis are creating a Commonwealth along this Mediterranean crescent which, judging by the present intensive activities, has all the signs of becoming a second little “America.” Settlements dotting the nation are expanding and thriving at a pace unequalled in history. Possibilities here are as great as they were in the early days of colonization in America. The wise and the foresighted are putting a stake in this land and now is the time of opportunity. Four or five years hence might be too late in order to get in on the ground floor.
- Opportunities for foreign investors in nearly every field of endeavor are greater now than ever. The Mapai-General Zionist Coalition, opening a new trend, has enhanced the situation. Former restrictions placed on private enterprises have been relaxed. The political trend is tending more and more towards the center, away from Mapai-Mapam influences (note: Mapai was the largest left wing political party, General Zionists the centrists political party and Mapam, a left wing labor party with Marxist ideology). My survey has shown that more than 30 percent of the population is independent of Party affiliation. Also, many within the Mapai-Mapam Parties find themselves favorably disposed to the new trend. Here lies a great power for the future, a power that may well prove decisive during the next elections.
- Despite the present economic difficulties, and they are many, no nation in history has doubled its population in so short a time. With population growth from 650,000 to 1,450,000, the State is moving ahead uninterruptedly with numerous national projects. These include roadways, waterways improvements and port developments. Most important, Israel’s military strength has more than tripled since the War of Independence. The leading cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberius, Beersheba, Ashkenlon, Rishon, Petah Tikvah, Ramleh, Afuleh and Acre, have all embarked upon large-scale municipal programs which will make these vital centers equal major tourist attractions.
- Israel is the most music and art-loving country in the world, even surpassing Italy. The strains of the great masters are heard daily from almost every house with the new songs of Zion as happy interludes. There is singing in the streets and dancing during festivals and holidays. The Sabbath in Israel is truly Sabbath. Shops and factories close early Friday afternoon and some two hours before sundown the streets become deserted. Thus universal acceptance of the Sabbath by all Israelis is remarkable. The seventh day rest transcends affiliations. It is a holy day of peace and relaxation for all. While it’s true that only a minority goes to the synagogue, the majority rejoices in the delights of the Sabbath under the canopy of the clear skies, enjoying the seas, lakes and rivers and the many glories this land has to offer. Saturday is indeed Sabbath.
- As for the Arabs remaining in Israel, their lot has never been better. A buyer of tobacco took me to several Arab villages recently. With us, went an official of the company buying the rich tobacco leaves. He carried a briefcase containing 10,000 Israeli pounds. After the tobacco bales were weighed, the Arab growers were paid on the spot. The inspector revealed to me that during the Mandate days, the Arabs often had to wait up to a year until payment was made, and they themselves had to go into the city from their villages begging payment, thus losing valuable time that could be spent working their plantations. In one of these villages I was invited into the home of an Arab member of the Knesset. A flagpole over this home flew the blue and white flag of Israel. For the Arabs living in this village, this emblem meant something new and good. For they are their own witnesses to the fact that since this flag has flown over their village, their conditions have improved a hundredfold. This was evidenced by the joyful and happy expressions of their children who did not appear any different from the Israeli children of their neighbors.”
Meanwhile, on the world scene, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin dies, the UN and North Korea sign a truce agreement ending the North Korean invasion of South Korea, and King Hussein bin Talal assumes the throne in Jordan. Grandson of King Abdullah bin Hussein who was assassinated in 1951, King Hussein’s rule would extend throughout the cold war and four decades of Arab-Israeli conflict.
At the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, Swedish diplomat and economist, was elected the new Secretary-General of the UN after Trygve Lie’s resignation. David Horowitz and Dag Hammarskjold were both Swedes. They became good friends and the fact that they shared the same birthplace gave them great chemistry. Their friendship and respectful working relationship would continue until Hammarskjold’s tragic death in 1961. David’s shock and subsequent action will be the subject of a future installment.
An exhausted Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced his intention to withdraw from government and was replaced by Moshe Sharett, who was elected the second Prime Minister of Israel in January 1954. Ben-Gurion would later return to government in 1955 and soon be re-elected as Prime Minister.
In an article written by Adam Garfinkle entitled “The Triangle connecting the U. S., Israel, and American Jewry may be coming apart” and published in Tablet Magazine on November 5, 2013, Garfinkle reported: ”For President Harry Truman, the Jews of America stood for the Jewish people in history as mediated through the prism of Anglo-American Protestantism. Truman actually cried when Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog told him, during his White House visit on May 11, 1949, what he as President had done, in broad meta-historical terms, for the Jewish people. In a private meeting after Truman left the White House, he replied to the thanks offered by the head of the Jewish Theological Seminary by answering his host, “What do you mean helped create Israel, I am Cyrus; I am Cyrus!”
For the young child Israel, a new era had begun.
And a long, long exile had ended.
Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.
This post is the eighth in the series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.