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The Wartime "Special Relationship", 1941-45: Isaiah Berlin, Freya Stark and Mandate Palestine

Simon Albert

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 45, 2013 The Wartime "Special Relationship' 1941-45: Isaiah Berlin, Freya Stark and Mandate Palestine SIMON ALBERT In 1972, the world renowned Oxford academic Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) invited "historians to say whether the beliefs and policies of those who followed Weizmann - the men of the centre, amongst whom I count myself - were written in water, built on shifting sands."1 In taking up this invitation, this study uses an entirely new research path to establish Berlin's role in arranging for Freya Stark (1893-1993), the leading British Middle East explorer and best selling travel writer (attached to the wartime British Ministry of Information in the Middle East), to undertake a speaking tour of the United States in late 1943 and early 1944. At the time, in the run-up to Roosevelt's 1944 re-election campaign,2 increasingly radicalized US Zionists within the key Democratic Jewish constituency mounted sustained attacks on British policy, including the first official demand for an independent Jewish state in the Biltmore Resolution of May 1942 and pleas for the recruitment of a Jewish army in Mandate Palestine, thereby potentially embarrassing the wartime Anglo-American alliance. On arrival, Stark's outspoken anti-Zionism and support for the con troversial, anti-immigration 1939 British White Paper on Mandate Palestine triggered a wave of protests, given that many wartime Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe vainly sought a refuge willing to accept them. Adopting a fresh approach leads to a new reconstruction of the story and its repercussions for Berlin and Stark, both during the war and in the decades afterwards. The available evidence suggests that a combination of Berlin's complicated wartime attitude to pre-state Zionism and his "anxiety to please" his Foreign Office colleagues may be a plausible explanation for an apparent paradox: why did an apparently life-long Zionist3 (albeit of a hesitant, Isaiah Berlin, "Zionist Politics in Wartime Washington: A Fragment of Personal Reminiscence - The Jacob Herzog Memorial Lecture" (hereafter, ZP), Jerusalem, 1972, in Isaiah Berlin, Flourishing: Letters IÇ28 1Ç46 (hereafter, Li), ed. Henry Hardy (London: Chatto &amp; Windus, 2004). F. D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), Democratic politician, 32nd US President, 1933-45. See e.g. ZP, 667, "My sympathies had been pro-Zionist since my schooldays. When I read in the memoirs of... Maurice Bowra that my pro-Zionist views seemed to him, in the years before the war, the most prominent and characteristic of all my political convictions, this came as no surprise to me." 103</page><page sequence="2">Simon Albert Weizmannite variety) such as Berlin admire such a fierce critic of Zionism as Freya Stark? Since the available evidence raises far more questions than it can possibly answer, this study also considers a more speculative, byzantine pos sibility - that Berlin might have advocated Stark's us tour, knowing full well how counter-productive it was likely to be, thereby sabotaging the British anti-Zionist efforts from the inside. Isaiah Berlin was seen by many as one of the leading liberal thinkers of the twentieth century, a transatlantic public intellectual who argued with great eloquence in his collected writings against deterministic ideologies and total itarian oppression. He maintained 'three strands' in his life - British, Russian and Jewish - which became tightly intertwined during his diplomatic service with the British embassies in Washington, DC (1942-45) and Moscow (1945-46).4 The first Jew ever to be elected to an All Souls fellowship at Oxford (in 1932), despite all his accolades, Berlin's sense of himself as an out sider stemmed from his birth in Riga and his emigration to England in 1921. He grew up in a strongly Zionist family: one uncle was Yitzchak Sadeh, a leading Palmach fighter, the subject of a warm essay by Berlin in which he is described as a "Jewish Garibaldi";5 another uncle was Yitzchak Samunov, by 1936 the secretary of the Jerusalem Community Council with access to the Jewish Agency leadership. Berlin's biographer describes his mother's Zionism being "bred in the bone."6 Berlin himself first visited Mandate Palestine in 1934, returned many times in subsequent decades and received the Jerusalem Prize in 1979. From the late 1930s he sympathized with Chaim Weizmann's moderate brand of Zionism but rejected offers to work for Weizmann (1874-1952) after his installation as the first president of Israel in 1949.7 While critical of individual Israeli governments, Berlin never ceased to celebrate the creation of Israel in public and in his writings.8 By contrast, Freya Stark's views on Mandate Palestine were shaped by her travels around the wider Middle East from the 1920s onwards, which sup plied the material for her successful travel books, of which there were seven by 1945 and more than twenty by the time she died aged 100 in 1993. She had learnt fluent Arabic, studied Persian, Kurdish and Turkish, and gained access Berlin worked at British Information Services (BIS) in New York in 1940-42 and then at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, in 1942-45. Isaiah Berlin, Personal Impressions, ed. Henry Hardy, intra. Noel Annan, 2nd ed. (London: Pimlico Press, 1998), 88. Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life (London: Vintage, 2000), 27. Weizmann was a chemist and a Zionist leader, the President of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency for Palestine, 1921-31 and 1935-46. See Isaiah Berlin, "The Origins of Israel" and "Jewish Slavery and Emancipation", in The Power of Ideas, ed. Henry Hardy (London: Pimlico Press, 2001), 143-61 and 182 respectively; "The Achievement of Zionism", lecture at the Institute of Jewish Affairs, London, 1 June 1975, available at the Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library, 104</page><page sequence="3">Isaiah Berlin, Freya Stark and Mandate Palestine, 1941-45 to senior local politicians and colonial British administrators. As a woman she was uniquely able to visit and converse with traditional Arab women closeted in their homes in a way in which no Western male was allowed. As regards Mandate Palestine, her official instructions from the Foreign Office in 1943 before embarking on her us tour observed that her "reputation in the United States is markedly pro-Arab."9 Her private correspondence shows her to be at times "at the very least... derogatory to Jews and Judaism."10 Several historians have documented the wider context within which Berlin operated in Washington. Cull has explained Berlin's role in the British effort to bring the us into the war;11 Calder has put Berlin's activities into context as one of many other British writers assisting the British government at the time;12 Brewer has tracked the British attempts to use public diplomacy to build an equal relationship with America during the war years, including Berlin's place in this project.13 It is equally well known that Berlin's Zionism was sharply tested in Washington, where he was a British government employee at the embassy. IgnatiefPs biography devotes two chapters to Berlin's time in America, com menting that between Whitehall and Weizmann, "a conflict of loyalties was inevitable.'"4 We now know that Berlin waited until the end of his life to admit to Ignatieff his own role in leaking to Zionists the news of an impending Anglo American declaration on Palestine, thereby defeating it.15 Intellectual histories of Berlin's thought discuss the general dynamics of this tension to varying degrees, including Crowder,16 Galipeau,17 Avineri,18 Cherniss19 and particu larly Dubnov.20 There was no reticence on Stark's part as regards her us speaking tour, let 9 FO 371/35039, 27 Sept. 1943. FO = Foreign Office files, National Archives, Kew, London. 10 Efraim Karsh and Rory Miller, "Freya Stàrk in America: Orientalism, Anti-Semitism and Political Propaganda", Journal of Contemporary History 39, no. 3 (July 2004): 326. 11 Nicholas Cull, Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign against American "Neutrality" in World War II (Oxford University Press, 1995). 12 Robert Calder, Beware the British Serpent: The Role of Writers in British Propaganda in the United States, ig39~ig45 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004). 13 Susan Brewer, To Win the Peace: British Propaganda in the United States during World War II (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997). 14 Ignatieff, Berlin, 106. 15 Ibid., 118, and Li, 443. 16 George Crowder, Isaiah Berlin: Liberty and Pluralism (Cambridge: Polity, 2004). 17 Claude Galipeau, Isaiah Berlin's Liberalism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). 18 Shlomo Avineri, "A Jew and a Gentleman", in The One and the Many, ed. George Crowder and Henry Hardy (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007), 73-94 19 Joshua L. Cherniss, A Mind and its Time: The Development of Isaiah Berlin's Political Thought (Oxford University Press, 2013). 20 Arie M. Dubnov, Isaiah Berlin: The Journey of a Jewish Liberal (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). io5</page><page sequence="4">Simon Albert alone her biographers or subsequent academic commentary. Two memoirs by Stark cover this period,21 plus her collected letters22 and three biogra phies,23 all of which touch on this episode in her life. Rory Miller has devoted considerable, if critical, scholarly attention to her activities, highlighting the extent of official British efforts to combat Zionism and her sustained role within that movement.24 However, other than one isolated footnote,25 Berlin has never previously been identified as the source of Stark's invitation. It is generally ascribed to the British Embassy in Washington or the Ministry of Information in London.26 This is understandable, as the relevant official memoranda (sent out in the name of Lord Halifax [1881-1959], the British ambassador in Washington in 1941-46) never disclosed which particular individual drafted the initial suggestion. However, rather than some unknown functionary in Washington or London, the idea for Stark's tour originated in Isaiah Berlin's fertile imagination. This only emerges if one instead proceeds from Berlin's unpublished and neglected "bootleg correspondence" with his colleague H. G. Nicholas (1911-1998) at the Ministry of Information in London, which included "gossip 'found too dazzling by the twilight denizens of Whitehall'."27 This correspondence is distinct from the official weekly polit ical despatches which made Berlin famous in London, many of which Freya Stark, East is West (London: John Murray, 1945); idem, Dust in the Lion's Paw: Autobiography 1939-1946 (London: John Murray, 1961). Freya Stark, Letters: Vol. 4, Bridge of the Levant, 1940—43; Letters: Vol. 3, New Worlds for Old, 1943-46, ed. Lucy Moorehead (Norwich: Michael Russell, 1977,1978). Caroline Moorehead, Freya Stark (London: Viking Press, 1985); Molly Izzard, Freya Stark: A Biography (London: Hodder &amp; Stoughton, 1993); Jane Fletcher Geniesse, Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark (London: Pimlico Press, 2000). Rory Miller, Divided Against Zion: Anti-Zionist Opposition to the Creation of a Jewish State in Palestine, 1943-1948 (London: Frank Cass, 2000); idem, "The Rhetoric of Reaction: British Arabists, Jewish Refugees and the Palestine Question in the Final Mandatory Era", Israel Affairs 14, no. 3 (July 2008): 467-85; idem, "The Other Side of the Coin: Arab Propaganda and the Battle against Zionism in London, 1937-1948", Israel Affairs 5, no. 4 (Summer 1999): 198-228; Karsh and Miller, "Freya Stark in America", 315-32. Li, 442 n. 4, to Angus Malcolm, 9 Aug. 1943: "It had been IB's idea to invite her to the us." Ronald Zweig, Britain and Palestine during the Second World War (London: Boydell Press and Royal Historical Society, 1986), 155. By contrast, citing Berlin's "Zionist zeal," according to Peter Clarke, "that Zionist propaganda went unchecked in wartime Washington was as much Berlin's own doing as that of anyone who featured in his imaginative reports"; Peter Clarke, The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Birth of the Pax Americana (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008), 93. Ignatieff, Berlin, 113. Herbert George Nicholas, Oxford academic, in the Ministry of Information's wartime American Division, acted as Berlin's main contact for his official weekly despatches and recipient of the "bootleg correspondence", with brief postings in 1943 and 1946 to Washington. Editor of Washington Despatches 1941-43: Weekly Political Reports from the British Embassy, intro. Isaiah Berlin (London: Weidenfeld &amp; Nicolson, 1981; hereafter, WD). io6</page><page sequence="5">Isaiah Berlin, Freya Stark and Mandate Palestine, 1941-45 Nicholas published in 1981.28 Further confirmation appears in Berlin's papers at the Bodleian Library in Oxford29 and the National Archives at Kew. This discovery sheds important new light on both Berlin's and Stark's lives. Given the wartime controversy surrounding the tour, in his lifetime Berlin was careful never to acknowledge publicly his role in "instigating" Stark's visit, as he admitted in the "bootleg correspondence".30 In books, lec tures and interviews in subsequent decades, he ensured that only his "autho rised version" of events appeared, including in Stark's own wartime memoirs. Berlin's correspondence with Stark extended into the 1970s, but there is apparently no written evidence that Berlin ever disclosed to Stark his role in "instigating" her us tour. When Berlin addressed his Jerusalem audience in 1972, he acknowledged certain "errors" and "mistakes"31 but defended his Weizmannite line and certainly did not mention his connections with Stark in front of the assembled dignitaries, including the Israeli president, Golda Meir (1898-1978, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel), cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, Hebrew University faculty members, reporters and other guests. Such discretion did not prevent Berlin from being denounced at length by an opponent in the Israeli newspaper Ha 'aretz, which led to a heated exchange of letters. His sensitivity extended to interviews with Ignatieff and Stark's biographer Geniesse in 1989, which did not reflect the full historical record. In addition, the full story of the Stark tour illustrates the British govern ment's policy incoherence at the highest levels. An isolated pro-Zionist voice in the wartime coalition cabinet, Churchill (1874-1965, the Prime Minister in 1940-45) strongly rejected both Halifax's support for Stark's views on Mandate Palestine, and the anti-Zionist Foreign Office bureaucracy, which predictably deemed Stark's tour a tremendous success. Stark's own corre spondence highlighted the "unfortunate" and "regrettable"32 effects on American Zionists who were encouraged by Churchill's own long-standing Zionism,33 which she called "sabotaging of one's own side".34 WD, which does not mention Stark. Isaiah Berlin Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford (hereafter, MSB). Accessible online: MSB 111/95, to Paul Scott-Rankine, 20 Oct. 1943, and in/100, 26 Oct. 1943. Scott-Rankine (1909-1983), civil servant and diplomat, in 1939-45 with BIS in New York and Washington, then head of Reuters in Washington. Li, zp, 666,674,687,691. FO 371/35042, Stark diary, 24 Nov. 1943. Martin Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship (New York: Henry Holt, 2007); Michael Makovsky, Churchill's Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007). Quoted in FO 371/40129, E. Monroe to R. Hankey, 4 Feb. 1944. Elizabeth Monroe (1905-1986), married name Mrs Humphrey Neame, was the wartime director of the Ministry of Information's Middle East Division, and the confidante and friend in Whitehall of Freya Stark. She was also 107</page><page sequence="6">Simon Albert Finally, Berlin's own Weizmannite approach to Mandate Palestine illus trates the splits in pre-state Zionism, pitting "moderate" and "radical" Zionists in the Diaspora and the Yishuv35 against each other. As Berlin noted in 1972, his camp lost, with David Ben-Gurion (1886-197336) pushing aside Weizmann and adopting a radically different approach to cultivating American Jewish opinion from the grassroots upwards, rather than the top down, as Berlin had argued. Berlin's "instigation" of Stark's tour must be seen in that light, as well as Berlin's own complicated and ambivalent atti tudes towards Zionism and his fellow Jews, as explored by Dubnov. Seen in its proper light, Berlin's role as regards Stark's us tour therefore illustrates the seemingly "incommensurable" rival claims on his identity and loyalty which he faced as a Zionist sympathizer in British government service.37 In later life, as a prominent Anglo-Jewish intellectual, perhaps understandably, he chose not to reveal the full story about these wartime tensions. This study therefore seeks to lift that veil, as much as the evidence permits. Wartime events On their own, the British government files do not reveal the "instigator" of Stark's tour. However, evidence that Berlin proposed Stark's tour is scattered across the "bootleg correspondence". In 1943, Nicholas recalled that Berlin had "first... suggested [Stark's] visit... to present some other viewpoint on the Palestinian question beside that of the Zionists."38 Berlin's "Foreign Office cable back in 1942, suggesting a visit by Bertram Thomas or Freya ha[d] at last brought forth its fruit." Nicholas added: "And to think that you the diplomatic correspondent for The Observer in 1944 and on The Economist staff from 1945 to 1958. Robert Hankey (1905-1996) was a diplomat and in February 1944 the director of the fo's Middle East Division. The Hebrew term (meaning "settlement") referring to the body of Jewish residents in Palestine, before the establishment of the State of Israel. It came into use in the 1880s and continued to be used until 1948. It now denotes the pre-state Jewish residents in Palestine. Chairman of the Zionist Executive from 1935 and head of the Jewish Agency for Palestine; first Prime Minister of Israel, 1948. As Malachi HaCohen puts it, "Berlin's wartime service ... presented him with conflicting British and Jewish loyalties. He found himself in the thick of US Zionist politics ... He was exposed to Zionist designs to put pressure on Britain to reverse its anti-Zionist stand and, conversely, to British designs to frustrate Zionist hopes. Whose eyes and ears was he - His Majesty's or the Jewish people's? He negotiated artfully and inconsistently between the two, feeling the burden of'dual loyalty'." See Malachi Haim HaCohen, "Berlin and Popper between nation and empire: diaspora, cosmopolitanism and Jewish life", Jewish Historical Studies: Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England 44 (2012): 65. MSB 272/41,16 July 1943. io8</page><page sequence="7">Isaiah Berlin, Freya Stark and Mandate Palestine, 1941-45 started all this!"39 Berlin told his Washington colleagues that "I only insti gated her coming."40 The proposal may have been jointly drafted with his col league Angus Malcolm, who wrote to Berlin that "I see, in particular, that a year after you and I suggested it in a Savingram [cable], Freya Stark is being sent to the us."41 The relevant Foreign Office cable is dated 2 July 1942 and sent out in Halifax's name. It does not mention Berlin and only the "bootleg correspon dence" reveals that he personally drafted it. The cable gives nine separate reasons for American Jewish hostility to British policy, especially after 800 Jewish refugees drowned on the Struma. It argued that in the US, the "Moslem case therefore goes by default" and suggested lecture tours by Bertram Thomas and Freya Stark.42 The Foreign Office warmly received these suggestions. The handwritten minutes of a senior official, Harold Caccia, recorded Berlin's personal advocacy of Stark's tour to Caccia and rejection of the more cautious line taken by Professor Gibb, an academic spe cialising in Arabia.43 Further, Berlin's 1972 research notes clearly indicate Berlin's own role in drafting the cable, though he disclaims some responsibility for its "recom mendations", despite personally advocating Stark's tour to Caccia in 1942: "31379, 1942 emphasises real cause of Jewish indignation with HMG (9 points) &amp; callousness, appeasement of Arabs, who anyway hate British, Mufti etc. 'Moslem case goes by default.' I supplied material for this, but not rec ommendations! (Arab case needs stating etc). Freya Stark, Gibb etc."44 Stark finally arrived in America in late 1943 with instructions to put the Arab case and "break down the American inclination to see only the stand point of persecuted Jewry and to point to Palestine as its only refuge." She was instructed to (somehow) "avoid all possible political controversy and confine yourself as far as possible to a recital of fact." Nevile Butler, another senior official, directed Stark in his minutes to "consult Isaiah Berlin on the Jewish audience",45 while "not stirring up a Zionist MSB 272/89,28 Sept. 1943. Bertram Thomas (1892-1950), British civil servant, Middle Eastern expert, traveller and writer; British Information Officer in Bahrain, 1942-3; Director of the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies, Palestine, 1943-6. MSB 111/95 and 100, 20 and 26 Oct. 1943. MSB 110/207,4 June 1943. Angus Malcolm (1908-1971), British diplomat in Washington, DC, 1938-42; North American Department, FO, London, in 1942-44. Postwar head of the Foreign Office's Information Policy Department (IPD). FO 371/31379,2 July 1942. FO 371/31379, i Sept. 1942. Harold Caccia (1905-1990), UK FO. Professor H. A. R. Gibb (1895 1971), Scottish historian of Orientalism, professor of Arabic at St John's College, Oxford, from 1937. MSB 512/165; original emphasis. "31379" refers to the official file number, "1942" is the date, the "9 points" are in the cable. FO 371/ 5039,27 Sept. 1943. Nevile Butler (1893-1973), head of the North American Department, FO, London, 1941-44. ioç</page><page sequence="8">Simon Albert controversy".46 The line which Stark actually delivered was that the British had indeed fulfilled both parts of the Balfour Declaration, namely creating space in Mandate Palestine for a Jewish homeland, while not prejudicing the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities. Stark con stantly argued that, out of fairness to the majority Arab population, the British could not allow further Jewish immigration without the consent of the former (which would of course never be forthcoming). Given the interna tional refugee situation and Jewish American public opinion, the result was that on reaching Chicago in January 1944, Stark had already received "letters from Zionists almost inarticulate with fury".47 However, in their "bootleg correspondence", Nicholas and Berlin vied with each other to denigrate Stark, predicting the controversy that resulted. Nicholas was particularly concerned that Zionist protests were "capable of doing us a great deal of harm".48 In October 1943, Berlin "disowned respon sibility" for Stark, handing over to his colleagues Paul Scott-Rankine and Michael Wright.49 Berlin understood that Stark was "very fanatical and might get into a scrape".50 By the new year, Berlin had met Stark. Despite complaints from others of her "anti-Semitism", Berlin wrote that "I, unfortunately, get on excellently with her" and sought to downplay her activities, "provided she does not sound off in public and give the Zionists an opportunity of flaying her." By that stage of her tour, Berlin did "not think that we stand to lose much either way (or gain, for that matter)."51 Unlike the Foreign Office, it is clear that at the Ministry of Information, Brendan Bracken (1901-1958, the Minister of Information in 1941-45) was not impressed. Bracken reportedly rejected Stark's memoranda on British propaganda about the Middle East in America, commenting that Stark's arguments were "unlikely to cool the enraged Zionists". Bracken's position was that the British government should simply reiterate that "military neces sities require no changes in Palestine in war-time."52 Nicholas was left asking why the British had sent Stark to the US in the first place. One Foreign Office file from March 1944 tellingly reveals their strategy behind Stark's US tour. It was originally headed "Pro-Arab propaganda by Miss Freya Stark in United States." The typewritten sub-heading reads: "she FO 371/35039, N. Butler to E. Monroe, Ministry of Information (MOl), 27 Sept. 1943. Geniesse, Passionate Nomad, 310, and Stark, Dust, 190. MSB 272/89,28 Sept. 1943. MSB m/95 and 100, 20 and 26 Oct. 1943. Michael Wright (1901-1976), UK diplomat, at Washington embassy in 1943-46. MSB 272/135,20 Dec. 1943. MSB 272/143,12 Jan. 1944. Quoted in MSB 272/145,14 Jan. 1944, Nicholas to Berlin. See also MSB 272/149-150, 5 Feb. 1944, Nicholas to Berlin. 110</page><page sequence="9">Isaiah Berlin, Freya Stark and Mandate Palestine, 1941-45 is still pursuing useful course and causing about the right amount of provo cation." However, the typewriting has been crossed out and now reads "Lectures by Miss Freya Stark in United States".53 By then the gulf between the Ministry of Information and the Foreign Office was clear. From the top down, the Foreign Office correspondence m