I recently went through my notes from the Ralph Bunche papers at UCLA. You may remember that he became Acting Mediator for the Arab-Israeli conflict after the Stern Gang assassinated Count Folke Bernadotte, September 17, 1948; the [pseudo] settlement of this conflict was a test case for the efficacy of the new United Nations after WW2. Indeed, Bunche won the Nobel Peace Prize for his ‘successful’ mediation that resulted in the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and her neighbors.
Earlier, in the 1930s, Bunche was a leftist, possibly a member of the CPUSA, though that is hard to pin down, as he was all over the various left factions that fought with each other during the Great Depression. Some will see him as solely as a follower of Norman Thomas or A. Philip Randolph. But he wrote to Alger Hiss in support of his struggle with the anticommunists, and he was also on the editorial board of Science and Society (though he later resigned). I made a photocopy of a strongly anti-imperialist, anti-racist declaration of W. E. B. Dubois from the mid-1930s, and find little in Bunche that deviated from the DuBois anti-capitalist positions. Indeed, Bunche’s pamphlet A World View of Race, autographed by DuBois, is an anti-racist, anti-imperialist classic of the genre.
Bunche was effectively co-opted during and after his stint as Gunnar Myrdal’s chief research associate while the latter was writing about An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy ) published 1944. By then, Bunche had proven his usefulness to the liberal elite by identifying those “Negro betterment organizations” that were likely to get out of hand and effectively upset the status quo. His next job was with the OSS, where he downplayed US influence in Africa, then he was hired by the State Department, to which he remained loyal during his time with the UN. During the summer of 1948, he addressed the top dogs in that department to warn them that Israel was inevitably “expansionist” [and trouble owing to increased immigration], a warning he later repeated to upper-class Americans in private meetings. [Added 6-24-14: this "expansionist" line would come to duplicate radical jihadist propaganda that Israel and its Western allies were seeking to destroy Palestinians and other Muslims through "expansion" into territories once held by Islam, including Muslim penetration into the Europe that the Arab world had ostensibly civilized.]
By that, I mean that he aligned with those State Department figures who wished to cooperate with Arabs (whose oil was crucial), and who were also eager to maintain an increasingly shaky alliance with Great Britain against the Soviet threat. But perhaps the most important point to take away from this brief summary of Bunche’s politics is this: RB entirely accepted the UN and State Department line that the question of a Jewish state must be framed as two victimized peoples fighting over a small strip of land, strategically located for the failing British Empire. Nearly all the scholarship that followed takes this identical, incorrect line.
What is modernity? To its reactionary enemies, modernity signifies economic development along with the rise of banks and financiers, political democracy, the emancipation of the inquiring mind, a free quality education for all children, urbanization, secularism and pluralism, but above all, equality under the law for rich and poor alike. But for the Muslim world, the emancipation of women was probably one of the most painful developments as it was a symptom of reduced paternal authority in the family. I remember reading a book from the late 1940s that registered the indignation that Israel’s enemies expressed at the sight of sabra women going about, unaccompanied, wearing shorts and sandals.
Even my most erudite friends fail to see this distinction between fighting over land and borders and the “Pan-Arab” resistance to modernity. An incorrect analysis leads to bad strategy, destructive school curricula, and worse journalism that more often than not, concludes in some form of moral equivalence between Jewish and Palestinian atrocities: an ideological analysis based on irrational antagonism toward “the Other.” (see http://clarespark.com/2012/10/11/the-other/).
What neither Bunche nor pundits in our own time saw with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict was as follows: It was never about land and borders or “Otherness.” The “question of Palestine” was always about Muslim resistance to modernity. And Jews along with emancipated women signified a rupture in human history that was intolerable. Modern machines, modernist skyscrapers, and technology, along with other common antimodern tropes, had nothing to do with their animus against a Jewish state. Most disturbingly, Bunche made it his mission to preserve the legend of Count Bernadotte’s greatness; agreeing with him that the displaced “Palestinians” should enjoy the “right of return”, and carefully editing out of Bernadotte’s memoir all evidence of hostility to the Jewish leaders they encountered during their “peace” efforts in 1948.
It is astonishing that Bunche, a very astute person, did not see that at the time; perhaps it was a leftover from his days on the anti-imperialist Left. Moreover, his lack of understanding (the Palestine problem is insoluble), suggests that though he was a highly educated person and very liberal and systematic in his notes on Africa, he was morally compromised by his alliance with more powerful men. Bunche’s disgust with antisemitism, the main subject of my article on his relations with Myrdal, probably reflected 1. The communist line at the time, and 2. The Jews he praised were probably communists supportive of the labor movement; his anti-antisemitism probably did not reflect his deeply held beliefs. I find it painful to acknowledge this. His diaries are not free from disdain at Jews who fawned over him.