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How Israel Quietly Crushed Early American Jewish Dissent on Palestine

An explosive new book delves into American Jewish McCarthyism from the 1950s through late 1970s.

American Jewish McCarthyism

Levin picked up the scent of this hidden history a few years ago. He was a Hebrew and Judaic Studies doctoral student then, sifting through Jewish history special collections in Manhattan as well as the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem, when he dug up evidence of the sub rosa American Jewish McCarthyism. He was the first researcher to discover how the Israeli government, through its diplomats and a spy in the United States, pressured American Jewish institutions to ghost a prominent journalist, fire a brilliant researcher, and discredit an organization of Jews who were critiquing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and trying to open channels for discussion with Arabs.

Take the case of journalist William Zukerman. A respected Yiddish- and English-language writer in the 1930s and 1940s, with clips in Harpers and the New York Times, Zukerman started his own biweekly, the Jewish Newsletter, in 1948. It was highly critical of Jewish nationalism and its destructive effects in the new state of Israel and beyond.

In one story, Zukerman reported about a Holocaust survivor who had recently resettled in Israel, in the former home of an Arab family. The survivor became “openly obsessed” about her morality, Zukerman wrote, after her children found some of the evicted family’s possessions. “The mother was suddenly struck by the thought that her children were playing with the toys of Arab children who were now exiled and homeless,” Zukerman continued. “Is she not doing to the Arabs what the Nazis did to her and her family?”

By the early 1950s, the Jewish Newsletter had a few thousand subscribers, and its work was republished in many other outlets, Jewish and non-Jewish, with much larger circulations — Time magazine, for instance. Not all of Zukerman’s readers, however, opposed Zionism. Each of the hundreds of chapters of the Jewish student organization Hillel had a subscription to the Jewish Newsletter.

According to declassified Israeli Foreign Ministry files found by Levin, the Israeli government was alarmed by Zukerman’s influence on American Jews. It started a campaign to keep him from “confusing” Zionists about Israel and Palestinian rights. Israel aimed a letter-writing campaign at the New York Herald Post to discourage the paper from running more of Zukerman’s work, and hatched a scheme to distribute boilerplate text for Zionists to mail to other editors, asking them not to publish Zukerman anymore. The head of Israel’s Office of Information in New York worked to have the prestigious London-based Jewish Chronicle get rid of Zukerman’s column, and he lost the position. By 1953, his work no longer appeared in the Jewish press.