Israel’s Moment: A History of International Support and Opposition, 1945-1949

I am pleased to announce that Cambridge University Press has published my book Israel’s Moment: International Support for and Opposition to Establishing the Jewish State, 1945-1949. It is a book that I hope will of particular interest to readers of The Times of Israel.

It is a history of the stance toward the Zionist project on the part of the United States, Britain, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ukrainian SSR and the Soviet Union. It draws extensively on the public record at the United Nation, and the archives of the United States State Department, Pentagon, and CIA, and the archives of the French Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Interior. In contrast to the political constellation of the Cold War years, the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc emerged at the United Nations as the Jewish Agency, and then Israel’s most consistent supporter. In the United States, and in France, while support extended across the political spectrum, the strongest, most persistent support came from American liberals and leftists, and from French Socialists, Communists, and Gaullist veterans of the French Resistance.

The most emphatic opposition, in addition, of course to that of the British Foreign Office, came from the U.S. State Department and Pentagon. Leading American officials, such as Secretary of State George Marshall, and director of the Policy Planning Staff, George Kennan, viewed a Jewish state in Palestine as a potential vehicle for Soviet and Communist influence in the Middle East, and thus as a hindrance to the policy of containment of communism. They also concluded that Arab anger over its establishment would undermine American and West European access to oil resources.

Israel’s Moment recalls the very significant public call in the United States to bring the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini before the Nuremberg or other war crimes trials, and the decision of the French government to resist such efforts, as well as the momentum in liberal politics in the United States in favor of the Zionist project in the immediate aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust. Yet in 1947 and 1948, when the outcome of the war of independence hung in the balance, the United States and Britain, and then the United Nations, imposed an arms embargo on the region, one that aided the Arab states more than the Zionists. When arms were delivered by Czechoslovakia to Israel in 1948, the suspicions of the link between the Soviet Union and Israel deepened in London and Washington. While David Ben Gurion and Moshe Shertok (later Sharett) deeply appreciated President Harry Truman’s recognition of the new state, they were also aware of the depth of State Department opposition, and the practical assistance from the Soviet Union, and liberal opinion in the West.

The result of new research in relevant archives, and close attention to at times overlooked public record of the debates of United Nations Security Council and General Assembly debates is a history that recalls political realities that were forgotten or little known during the decades of the Cold War, and since.

In Israel, it is now most easily ordered via amazon in Britain at this link.

Here are pre-publication comments by historians Carole Fink, Norman Goda, Wm. Roger Louis, Benny Morris, and Philip Nord:

“Jeffrey Herf has produced a vivid and important account of the political and international environment in which the state of Israel was born in May 1948.”
–Carole Fink, author of Cold War: An International History

“Jeffrey Herf situates Israel’s oft-misunderstood beginnings squarely within the context of contemporary understandings of the Holocaust and the Cold War. A necessary book and a terrific read.”
Norman J.W. Goda, lead editor of Envoy to the Promised Land: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1948-1951.

“No other work connects so persuasively the beginnings of the Cold War and the Zionist and anti-Zionist ideological currents of thought in the Middle East as well as Europe and especially Britain. Israel’s Moment reveals in an original way how the intensity of the opposition to the plans for the new state came close to preventing its creation.”
– Wm. Roger Louis, author of The British Empire in the Middle East

“A fine and highly persuasive history of how the anti-Communist mandarins of the US State and Defense Departments and the imperialist bureaucracies of the British and French Foreign Ministries—unintelligibly ignoring the Holocaust that had just ended—tried and failed to prevent the creation of Israel and its victory over the Arab states in 1948.”
– Benny Morris, author of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited

“A pro-Zionist but anti-communist American president, a Soviet Bloc intent on rolling back British imperialism, and a mix of liberals and leftists still fired up by the anti-fascist élan born of the war: such was the international coalition that helped shepherd the state of Israel into existence. Jeffrey Herf’s lucid and well-researched new book provides a vivid account of how this coalition came to be.”
Philip Nord, author of After the Deportation: Memory Battles in Postwar France

About the Author
Jeffrey Herf is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of History at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. He has published extensively on modern German and European history including Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, He is completing a study entitled “At War with Israel: East Germany and the West German Radical Left, 1967-1989" (Cambridge University Press, 2016). His "Israel's Moment: The United States and Europe between the Holocaust and the Cold War" is forthcoming.