The reporter who saved the Negev
Independence Day is an appropriate time for remembering forgotten matters, as simple as it sounds - anonymous heroes, small print in the footnotes of history that at a decisive moment did more for Israel than many others. They did not fight at the Chinese Farm in Sinai or put themselves in physical danger; their battlefields were Paris, Washington and New York.
An American president friendly to Israel, who supports the justness of its cause and its search for peace from a position of strength, and is interested in Jewish votes. A secretary of state who is a highly decorated former general, attentive to a staff that sides with Arab demands - and even a hint of his resignation could seriously harm the president. George Bush and Colin Powell? No, Harry Truman and George Marshall in 1948, in a two-chapter campaign, the first well-known, and the second less so.
Independence Day is an appropriate time for remembering forgotten matters, as simple as it sounds - anonymous heroes, small print in the footnotes of history that at a decisive moment did more for Israel than many others. They did not fight at the Chinese Farm in Sinai or put themselves in physical danger; their battlefields were Paris, Washington and New York. Professionally, they betrayed their duty to report on events and not to shape them.
The two are Lillie Shultz, a reporter, and Frieda Kirchwey, at the time, publisher of The Nation, a weekly that held sway in influential circles from the left to center of the American political map of the 1940s and 1950s. Evidence in the Truman Library reveals the role of Shultz, with the encouragement of Kirchwey, to foil a Marshall plan to defy Truman and agree to deny the Negev to the nascent state of Israel, then just standing on its feet. Marshall supported the Arabs for "professional" reasons regarding the balance of power, oil and Britain's posture in the region. He obeyed Truman but suspected his political judgment.
Shultz's contact person at the top of the American administration was Social Security chief Oscar R. (Jack) Ewing, a New York lawyer and a senior pol in the Democratic Party. An upset Jewish friend turned to him and Ewing became convinced that the Allies' victory in World War II, the Balfour declaration, and the British Mandate gave the Jews the right to the Land of Israel. Together with presidential adviser Clark Clifford, he began chipping away at Marshall's antagonistic position. Six months before the presidential elections, a stormy exit by Marshall would have damaged Truman greatly.
Clifford's memoirs and other documentation showed how Marshall was maneuvered in a week of intense discussions ahead of May 14, 1948, and his opposition to the establishment of the state and America's immediate recognition of it, was foiled. But the campaign for determining the Truman government's policies continued on the question of support for the recommendation of the Swedish negotiator Folke Bernadotte, to cancel Israel's conquests in the Negev and Galilee.
On the eve of the elections, Marshall headed an American delegation to a foreign ministers' conference in Paris. Shultz was sent, like her colleagues, to cover the event. But she didn't merely do that.
From her sources in the delegation (and possibly Israeli spying?), she learned Marshall meant to publicly support Bernadotte. She telegrammed Ewing collect - he received the telegram despite his refusal to pay the charges, $68 - and he alerted Clifford, who signed Truman to a "request" to Marshall to hand in his speech for approval.
Marshall, who assumed the busy president wouldn't read it, tried to trick him with a text that downplayed agreeing to Bernadotte's road map. Shultz went into the breach again, with Kirchwey's help, warned Ewing. In a thriller that went down to the last seconds, Ewing flew to New York, there was a nervous wait for the president, then a rewrite through the American night and Paris morning, followed by a deliberately slow translation for the delegates - and America taking a stand against Israel was avoided.
Behind the terms "United States" and "administration" are hidden human elements in which the results of mutual activity do not necessarily seal fates. Shultz and Kirchwey preferred to keep their activity secret. In contemporary terms, their interpretation of the term "journalist" is problematic and both deserve a reprimand from the ethics committee in the Press Council. But at the same opportunity, the committee could also reprimand Theodor Herzl and Nahum Sokolow for the same reasons.
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