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The Middle East and Truman



Amos Nur says: "True, Jews enjoyed several periods of prosperity under some Arab rulers since the 7th century but they went through even longer periods of oppression and severe discrimination. e.g., earlier in the 20th century in Yemen Jews were allowed to walk only in the drain channels that ran in the middle of city streets. The reason is that Islam is ambiguous about the relation to Jews - from brothers in monotheism to cursed infidels. Just like today. Are you saying that the Kurds are doing OK or have been fairly treated? So what if the Arabs think of the Kurds as Arabs? The real question is how do the Kurds see themselves. Anyone who wants a meaningful historical insight into the real complexity of the history of Zionism and Palestine should instead of a carelessly selected biased anecdotes should look at Paul Johnson's A History of the Jews especially parts 6 and 7. At least here events are presented in their context and links to earlier history".

My response: Excellent advice, but one should consult all available sources to avoid selective reading. As Paul Simon points, Marshall and Acheson were Protestants, and that should be taken into account, but I still think their advice was based on their assessment of the long-term results of Truman's decision. A basic question in the conduct of human affairs is decision-making. We mentioned also the decision of Kennedy to proceed with the Bay of Pigs, despite the advice of Acheson. How may decisions are taken by leaders in disregard of advice? Hitler comes to mind immediately, but it is a thread running throughout history. Each case would need careful research. World War I was triggered by Austria's declaration of war on Serbia. Who exactly made the decision? A specialist in Austrian history might be able to tell us. The problem of decision-making goes beyond politics and war. The collapse of Pan Am was apparently caused by the decision of Juan Trippe to invest very heavily in the latest planes. Was that his personal decision, or was he advised to do so? I don't know. Joseph Schumpeter would argue that the company deserved to fail, that being the law of capitalism, which some would call the law of the jungle. The misery created when a company collapses because of a bad decision is sad, but infinitely less so than when a country is almost destroyed because of a bad decision. the unsolved question of decision-making is a matter of life and death.

Amos mentions the plight of the Jews in Yemen and there are other cases. The Jews were powerful in the French republic of 1870, and the Jews of North Africa automatically became French citizens. The resentment of the Arabs led to the massacre of Jews in Constantine before I went there in 1935, and was one cause of the Arab uprising against the French. One of my reasons for questioning Islam (as I question all religions) is Mahomed's at least condoning the massacre of 600 Jews in Medina for refusing to recognize him as a prophet. But here again, we must avoid the selective reading of history. The overall record of the status of Jews in North Africa is that they enjoyed a respected status until World War II, when Nazism infected some Arabs, and the creation of the state of Israel, after which about a million Jews fled to Israel. As for the Kurds, they regard themselves as Arabs and are proud of Saladin.

Once again, we must note the different interpretation of Near Eastern events in the US and Europe, which is much closer to the scene. Please read the measured reply to Charles Krauthammer, entitled "Europe and the Jews," in The Economist (5/4/02). Only a fool would call The Economist anti-Semitic. I personally am profoundly pessimistic about a peaceful solution to the Middle East situation. Not only do I admit I may be wrong, I hope I am.

Ronald Hilton - 5/5/02


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