John Judis Caught in Controversy Over Book's Tale of Harry Truman and Israel

New Republic Editor Disinvited by Museum of Jewish Heritage

Harry Reassessed: A new book by The New Republic senior editor John Judis says Harry Truman man not have been as pro-Israel as many believed.
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Harry Reassessed: A new book by The New Republic senior editor John Judis says Harry Truman man not have been as pro-Israel as many believed.

By Michael Kaplan

Published February 21, 2014, issue of February 28, 2014.
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The New Republic senior editor John Judis has become the latest author presenting a perspective critical of traditional Zionist narratives to be canceled by a prominent Jewish institution.

Judis was invited on February 11 to speak in June at the Museum of Jewish Heritage about his new book on President Harry Truman’s Middle East policies and the establishment of Israel. But seven days later, Gabriel Sanders, the museum’s director of public programs, called to tell him the invitation had been canceled.

According to Judis, Sanders, who declined to comment when contacted by the Forward, told the author that his book was too controversial.

“His superiors got cold feet,” said Judis, summarizing his conversation with Sanders.

Judis’s book, “Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict,” came out February 2. In it, Judis pores through U.S. archives and documents to deconstruct the role of the United States in the conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine in the years prior to Israel’s establishment, and since. The author concludes that the U.S. role made a peaceful resolution of the conflict more difficult.

The book looks in particular at the role played by President Harry Truman, who has been seen as a crucial midwife in Israel’s founding due to his decision to grant American recognition of the Jewish state immediately upon its founding. The book concludes that Truman was, in fact, deeply skeptical of the Zionist enterprise, fearing it would produce years of conflict — but felt pressured to back the new state by a politically active Jewish lobby. According to Judis, what Truman actually wanted was a federated Palestine, incorporating Jews and Palestinian Arabs. The book was the product of eight years of research, he said.

Judis, who will give a talk at the Truman Library in Kansas City, Mo. about his book on February 25, said that the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s decision to rescind his invitation came as a surprise.

“I was always told that I would get some push-back, but I wrote a history partly because I thought I could do an end-run around the usual kind of controversy,” he said. “When you’re writing a history based on the archives, there’s a certain integrity to that.” Normally, he said, debates about history books revolve around the veracity of the research and steer clear of personal or unsupported attacks.

Judis’ research has received several scathing reviews, including one in the Wall Street Journal that charges the author of “equat[ing] Europe’s mightiest powers with its greatest victims, the Jews.” In the Jerusalem Post, a reviewer wrote that the book must be understood as part of a corpus of publications that question the “legitimacy of Israel.”

But a range of distinguished historians have praised the new book, among them Sean Wilentz of Princeton University, Ronald Steel, the author of a definitive biography of Walter Lipmann and journalist and author James Mann.

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