Lessons from Israel’s First US Ambassador

Stand for Israel  |  June 18, 2019

US Ambassador to Israel James McDonald, 1950
US Ambassador to Israel James McDonald, 1950

Today, those of us who stand for Israel are shocked and appalled that anti-Semitism is still in abundance — both in Israel and elsewhere around the world. But battling hatred against the Jewish people is nothing new. Writing at JNS, Dr. Asaf Romirowsky gives a history lesson on how the first American envoy to the then-fledgling Jewish state took a stand for Israel:

After the slanderous assaults on American Jews and on Israel by U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), there was a slew of condemnations from many sectors of the American political establishment and the Jewish community.

Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on Omar to apologize and said: “I welcome debate in Congress based on the merits of policy, but it’s unacceptable and deeply offensive to call into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens because of their political views, including support for the U.S.-Israel relationship. We all take the same oath. Worse, Representative Omar’s comments leveled that charge by invoking a vile anti-Semitic slur.”

James McDonald, who was appointed the first U.S. ambassador to Israel in 1951, understood the vulnerability of American Jews to such slurs. He wrote in that year:

“Israel, it must be remembered, is not only a nation among the nations but also a Jewish community among Jewish communities. Unique though it is in being a community not scattered but together, not a minority but a majority, not a factor in the State but its author and raison d’être, it is still one Jewish community among others. Because of its special position it has special problems in its relationships with the other communities … Against the extreme Zionist (or anti-Zionist) logician who holds that the Jew has a clear-cut choice—complete assimilation or return to Israel—stands the stubborn experience of history, which suggests that here again reality thrives on apparent inconsistency.

“Every available indication is that the Diaspora will continue to exist and will continue to face many problems in relation to Israel. One of these problems grows out of the old bogy of dual allegiance. Can one be a Jew and an American, a Jew and an Englishman? This problem is inherent, I think in the very nature of man as a complex being with diverse ends. All men have not single but multiple allegiances. If a Jew has an emotional sympathy for another State because in that State live other Jews, his attitude is no different from that of an American of Irish descent who has an affection for Ireland and interest in its welfare…”