YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

June 18, 2014

“Feminized” and “jewified” modernity, and my breakup with Ralph Bunche

palestinetugofwarI recently went through my notes from the Ralph Bunche papers at UCLA, some of which had been already posted: https://clarespark.com/2014/05/17/miracle-man-ralph-bunche-saves-the-un/. 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 the communist publication 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.

1922 antimodern image

1922 antimodern image

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 https://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.

Bunche Nobel


May 17, 2014

Miracle Man Ralph Bunche saves the UN

Bunche and Count Bernadotte, 1949

Bunche and Count Bernadotte, 1948

My Bunche notes from UCLA Special Collections, suggest revisions of Sir Brian Urquhart’s Bunche biography and my own previous work on Bunche and his politics. Though a leftist in the 1930s, as he climbed the ladder, Bunche became a perfect social democrat and supporter of an FDR-type welfare state. The far Right Bunche critics are probably wrong to have labeled Bunche as a lifelong subversive. They underestimate his careerism, ambition, and opportunism. If he had a hidden agenda (made more overt in the Congo-Katanga episode), we have no proof as long as his letters to his wife remain sealed. Why are these letters off limits? (Could it be that he told his spouse that he was a member of a communist group?) (Further examination of his diaries and memoranda could buttress his identity as materialist: in his 1938-39 memoranda to Gunnar Myrdal, both men mocked the notion that better communication would solve group antagonisms: OTOH while at the UN Bunche preached that “discussions” led by mediators such as himself could bring about peace; even the Cold War could be ended.) (For a later blog with a slightly different emphasis see https://clarespark.com/2014/06/18/how-ralph-bunche-sold-out-and-failed-in-palestine/.)

Recent scholars who have emphasized the split between US and UK interests and ideologies, do not acknowledge that both countries wanted to prevent the Soviet Union from making inroads in the Middle East. Both countries viewed the Jews as materialistic and hence real or potential communists. Both countries wanted to protect their oil and strategic interests in the region.

The point of the UN negotiations (ostensibly to stop the fighting that erupted after the November 29, 1947 UN vote that created a partition in Palestine), was to protect Arab elites from spectral and real mass uprisings. Moreover, the “Palestine problem” was not about two peoples fighting irrationally over a small piece of land. But rather, the quarrel was about the clash of civilizations: Israel was to be a modern country, while the Arab states were economically, politically, and culturally backward. This was widely recognized at the time by modernizing visitors, but ignored in the subsequent academic literature. Rather, such groups as the Anti-Defamation League have framed “the Jewish problem” as a form of “prejudice”–a flaw that can be corrected with a change of heart. Such experts in social relations do not acknowledge that the 19th century witnessed the growing emancipation of women, Jews, labor, and ordinary people calling forth objections from displaced elites. That is why I have emphasized the transition from pre-capitalist to capitalist society as predictably violent and filled with turmoil, no matter how astutely “managed” by “mediators.”

Before the armistice talks in 1949, Freda Kirchwey and Lillie Shultz of The Nation Institute accused Count Bernadotte and Bunche of being agents for the UK, and they were probably correct—at least both men catered to UK interests. Some historians (e.g., Sidney Bailey How Wars End: bizarre title implies that wars do end with proper mediation) have covered up the visit of McClintock (US State Department) and Troutbeck (UK) to Bunche and Bernadotte three days before the assassination. The result: most of the Negev was to be awarded to Egypt (? and indirectly to UK?), and taken away from the area established in the partition resolution of the UN Nov.29, 1937. But then, CB and Bunche viewed that resolution (hated by Bevin) as a dead letter anyway. It has long been my view that the UK never intended to give up the Mandate, for the Negev was to be an air base and storage space for the weapons previously parked in Egypt.

These pages also verify my memory that Bunche and his supporters blamed all Jews for the Bernadotte assassination, directly or indirectly. All Jews are terrorists, he implied: Even the Israeli moderates in the Jewish Agency and then the Provisional Government of Israel should not have blamed the UN for partiality toward Arab interests. Hence they are terrorists too and are responsible for the “extremists” who shot Bernadotte.

There is also disagreement over security for Bernadotte. Dov Joseph, Mayor of Jerusalem, claimed that CB refused Jewish security because he didn’t want to be spied upon, but UN flaks deny this, and claim (without evidence) that Jews refused to protect the truly neutral CB; in this fable, the Jews were alleging that CB favored Arabs. My notes do indicate that Bunche wrote the Bernadotte plans, and suggest the reason that he did not accompany CB on his fatal Jerusalem survey: Bunche was completing the revised CB plan that took away most of the Negev from Jews, following the instructions he received from McClintock and Troutbeck in their secret September 14 meeting. (Bernadotte was assassinated on Sept. 17.)

Of all the elements of anti-Semitism through the ages, the most relevant for Israel’s founding are Jews as liars and haters (as opposed to “neutral” peace-loving UN, Bernadotte, and Bunche). If there is such thing as forbidden knowledge, these papers are it.

[Anti-Zionists] argued that the Bernadotte assassination proved that Israel was not ready to be a sovereign state.

Christian antisemitism was deployed by Bunche in wake of Bernadotte assassination. CB presented as a self-sacrificing friend to all humanity (a Christ- type, like the UN itself), while crucified by the Jews (all of whom turn out to be terrorists, ignoring the sharp differences between moderate PGI and militant Irgun and anti-imperialist Stern Gang, the latter a breakaway movement and small.) This trope is repeated over and over in post-assassination media coverage.(compare to Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folke_Bernadotte) This mentions British and US influence on content of Bernadotte plan, but claims no one knows details. Wiki does mention Negev to be given to “Arab territory” but does not specify which Arab State would benefit. It appeared to have been Egypt.)

The UCLA National Center for History in the Schools produced a [blatantly pro-Palestinian, pro-UN] 180 page “lesson plan” for grades 9-12 that implies Bunche was a superb and impartial negotiator, but the record shows that US and UK were determined to impose a settlement based on their (divergent) interests, not Jewish interests. NEVER. But the idea of conflict resolution must be defended by moderates at all costs, so these materials go generally unanalyzed. They follow the Arab elite narrative: Palestinian Arab farmers were uprooted and expelled by heartless, displaced-persons-obsessed, deracinated Jews.

Jews in PGI understand that Bunche’s main objective is to vindicate himself as successful Peace mediator. Many letters in Bunche papers criticize him for antisemitism (but from outsiders, not from PGI). Bunche insists that Bernadotte plans meant as negotiating positions, not imposed settlement.
Above all, Bunche (and his staff, who knew almost nothing about Jews, the Middle East, and the Holocaust before they arrived with Bernadotte on the UN mission) wanted to vindicate the UN (then a new organization) as a successful actor on the world stage. His aim was to show that conflict resolution in the hands of a skillful mediator could serve the cause of world peace.


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