Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict.

Author:Sasson, Theodore
Position:Book review

Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. By John B. Judis. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. xiii + 432 pp.

"Even the most anodyne history textbook contains an argument about the past," observes John B. Judis toward the end of his book Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict (351). Judis's argument in this volume is that at critical junctures Zionist activists, especially American Jews, prevented the adoption of a just and equitable binational solution to the conflict between Zionism and Palestinian nationalism, setting the stage for ongoing conflict up to the present.

In the first two parts of the book, which cover the period 1880 to 1945, the main trope is the failure of political Zionism to recognize Palestine's indigenous Arab population and come to terms with the role Jews would play in its dispossession. Judis repeatedly contrasts the posture of the political Zionists, including Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann, with figures such as Ahad Ha'am and Judah Magnes. The former promoted "cultural Zionism" that sought to build a center for Jewish revival in Palestine but not a state. Magnes, who was the Hebrew University's first chancellor, advocated a binational solution with Jews and Arabs sharing power. Neither approach constituted a significant challenge to political Zionism, with its focus on securing a nation state for the Jewish people in Palestine.

The third part of the book focuses on the period between 1946 and 1950. Judis makes a compelling case that President Harry Truman's support for partition-and subsequent recognition of Israel-proved critical to the establishment of the Jewish state. Truman's personal feelings, however, were deeply ambivalent: At times he expressed support for a binational, federal solution along the lines of the 1946 Morrison-Grady proposal. Zionist lobbyists, however, repeatedly prevailed upon Truman to support the new state of Israel, scuttling the possibility of solutions that would have averted the dispossession of Palestinians and the next sixty five years of conflict.

As the book's title makes clear, Judis regards the volume as an excavation of the basic dynamics that shaped-and continue to shape-U.S. policy concerning Israel and Palestine. The afterward on the Obama years makes the message explicit. Tike Truman, President Obama confronted an Israel unwilling to make reasonable accommodations to the Palestinians and a...

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