Any given back issue of The Nation is full of interesting little tidbits: editorials that could have been written yesterday; book reviews of classics and forgotten tomes; news items that alter what we think we know about an event in history; essays that only need to be dusted off to shimmer again and shine. Reading old clippings from the magazine both provides surprising context for the news today—the first thing one learns is that the world has always been falling apart—and helps us realize the continuities of what The Nation, in its first issue, called “the conflict of ages, the great strife between the few and the many, between privilege and equality, between law and power, between opinion and the sword.” Today we look at the issue of October, 29, 1938.
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A brief entertaining blurb in the first section of the magazine, “The Shape of Things,” went as follows:
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On the next page, an editorial, “Taking Stock” tries to plot “a consistent, democratic foreign policy” in the wake of Munich, which The Nation described as a disastrous betrayal. Even the relatively well-intentioned stances of the Roosevelt administration were not sufficient to the needs of the moment, the editors warned: “That strange mixture of democratic good-will, moral indignation, irresponsible detachment, and a sharp nose for profits that characterizes our foreign policy has, we fear, all the earmarks of the current American mood. Liberal opinion must agree on the elements of a program and then press them upon the people and the government.”
Moreover, the editorial continued, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, the future president’s father, should be recalled from London: “His boyish enthusiasm for collaboration with dictators is as shocking today as it may prove troublesome tomorrow, and it affords a striking symbol of all that we must oppose.”
Fourth on a list of “points of immediate policy on which liberals can agree” was this foreboding item: “We must be bold and humane in our treatment of the refugee problem. A willingness to take in a fair share of the homeless victims of Hitler would do more than diplomacy or financial backing to induce other countries to open their doors.” During the war, The Nation regularly, passionately and, in the end, unsuccessfully called for the admission of refugees, especially cast-off European Jews, to the United States, but I had not realized it sounded the call so early.
“As a nation we are heading into responsibilities and dangers new in our experience,” the editorial concluded. “Let us be certain at least that our government approaches them along a road that avoids the ambuscades of Chamberlain diplomacy.”
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At the end of the issue, where the Letters to the Editors section then ran, there appears a letter written by Raif N. Khuri, “Palestine Arab Delegate to the Second World Youth Congress,” a gathering the previous summer held at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. Khuri was responding to a report from October 4 by the Nation correspondent Albert Viton, describing the ongoing Arab uprising against British rule in Palestine. The Nation largely supposed Zionism at the time, but not quite as vigorously or unambiguously as it did in the late 1940s, when editor and publisher Freda Kirchwey was probably the most influential and visibile liberal Zionist in the United States. In a news blurb at the beginning of the issue we are currently examining, The Nation argued that looming British suppression of the Arab revolt meant Jews
would have to recognize that, however much their numbers increased, they would always be surrounding by a ring of hostile Arab countries, waiting for revenge whenever the attention of the British policeman was diverted. Realistic appraisal of the situation emphasizes the need for maintaining strong pressure on the British government both to protect the Jews already in Palestine and to take active steps to provide other havens for Jewish refugees.
By the middle of the next decade, The Nation was no longer entertaining the notion that “other havens” would do.
In this context Khuri’s note is especially interesting, in that he offers the view of a progressive (actually, a Communist) Arab on how, as he puts it in the close of his letter, “peace” could “reign once more in the troubled Holy Land.”
“The struggle of the Arabs in Palestine,” Khuri wrote, “is a wide movement with definite points which the vast majority of the people supports.”
While acknowledging the suffering of Jews in fascist countries, Khuri wrote that “Palestine alone cannot solve this problem. It simply does not have the capacity.”
The struggle of the Arab people…is neither a racial, nor a fanatically religious, nor a fascist anti-Semitic struggle. Unfortunately, events in Palestine are discrediting this struggle. The Arab masses denounce the killing of innocent children, women, and men. The Arab people refuse to be consdiered as represented by the elements which commit such crimes. But let it not be forgotten that there is a strong revisionist (fascist) party among the Zionists that has for years carried on a campaign of terror against the Arabs. Let it not be forgotten that imperialism in Palestine harbors its ghastly terror. “Reprisals” it is called in polite British circles. I do not say this to justify terror. Terror from any side is altogether detestable….
The Jews who are subject to inhuman oppression by the dictatorships, will surely not allow themselves to be used as the tools of some Zionist leaders and of the imperialists to oppress the aspirations of the Arabs to federation and independence….
I should like to say in conclusion that I still have a strong hope for a satisfactory settlement—a hope arising from the fact that many of the Zionist leaders are beginning to reconcile themselves to the facts and are losing their sole fixation of a Jewish state in Palestine. They are beginning to understand the aims of the Arabs and the possibility, the necessity, for the Jewish people to join hands with the Arab people to build a free, united, democratic Palestine. They are opposing those Zionist leaders who would accept the partition of the tiny country because they want a “state” even if it is a lamentable, doomed, unviable thing resembling an infant born with a head but no body. They know that such a “state” would benefit only British imperialism. And they are realizing more than ever the madness of those Zionists who would take Palestine by force.
Khuri died in 1967. Very little seems to have been written about him in English online, though one website I came across, for whose veracity I cannot vouch, claims he “published the first book about human rights on Arab soil.”
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