Former US Congressman Paul Findley examines the origins of Muslim stereotypes in part one of a two part series…
Muslim stereotypes began to spread across America in 1948 the moment the Israeli flag was mounted on Palestinian soil. The new Israel was ‘a dream come true’ for many Jews, especially survivors of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.
A British declaration purported to certify Israel’s existence. President Harry Truman immediately gave it official US recognition. In doing so, he ignored a pledge to Arab leaders that his predecessor President Franklin D. Roosevelt made just before World War II ended.
Roosevelt promised Saudi Arabia's Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud, the king known as Ibn Saud, (and the preeminent leader of Arabs at that time) that the United States would consult Arab leaders before it supported a homeland for Jews in the Middle East. No consultation occurred. Arabs protested Truman’s declaration to no avail. A struggle ensued that continues to this day.
Like most wars, it is fought over real estate. On one side are virtually defenseless Palestinians forced to vacate centuries-old birthrights. On the other side, supported every year unconditionally by the US government, are heavily-armed Jews who claim possession of Palestine by act of God reported in the Old Testament. Their claim is disputed by biblical scholars who contend any grant by God was conditional and soon forfeited when Jews disobeyed God’s orders.
After US recognition, leaders of the new Israel quickly began the ‘War of Attrition’, the first step in their ultimate conquest of Palestine, once part of ancient Israel’s brief history as a state. Palestine was falsely portrayed in the often-quoted stereotype: ‘A land without people for a people without land.’ The war destroyed 531 Arab villages [Birziet Unnversity study by Dr. Kamal Abdulfattah], leaving many villagers dead and others forced to flee.
President Truman’s successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, became a Muslim hero in 1956 when he forced Israel to halt its military assault on Egypt and to retreat from Muslim territory its forces had occupied. A few days later, he won election to a second term, receiving stronger Jewish support than when first elected four years earlier. He later blocked an Israeli attempt at illegal diversion of Arab fresh water supply.
When John F. Kennedy succeeded Eisenhower, he had already experienced pressure from Israel’s lobby. Late in his presidential campaign, a group of prominent, wealthy Jews in New York City offered to take over Kennedy’s financial campaign needs if he would, if elected, let them “set the course of Middle East policy for the next four years.” In a private chat the next day with journalist friend Charles Bartlett, the future president said he refused the offer and felt “insulted that anybody would make that offer particularly to a man who had even a slim chance to be president.” Four years earlier, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II refused an identical proposition from New York Jews during his unsuccessful campaign against the reelection of President Eisenhower.
The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 heralded a fateful downturn in America’s influence in world affairs and the beginning of grave trouble for mostly-Muslim Palestinians. Days before Kennedy was killed, he was engaged in persistent but unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to restrict the nuclear weapons program Israel was secretly constructing. Had he survived, Kennedy would, I predict, have easily won a second four-year term. He would have had additional years to counter Israeli ambitions and perhaps succeed in blocking Israel’s illegal conquest of Palestine.
Instead, his death gave Israel a tight grip on the US presidency headed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It led to US Middle East policies that severely damaged Arab rights and magnified Muslim stereotypes in America. Presidential pressure on Israel ceased. Elected a year later to a full four-year term, Johnson became Israel’s lackey, not its reformer. In l967 Johnson provided clandestine help to Israel in the Arab-Israel war. In its late stages, he committed an astounding breach of duty as commander-in-chief. It occurred as Israel’s air and sea forces attempted secretly to destroy the USS Liberty, a US Navy intelligence vessel patrolling waters near Israel. At the time I was a new member of the House Committee on International Relations. I remember hearing Rep. Lester Wolff announce on the House floor that Israel mistakenly attacked a small US Navy vessel and that Johnson accepted Israel’s apology. I learned nothing further about the assault until twelve years later when I read Liberty survivor Commander James Ennes’ groundbreaking book, Assault on the Liberty [USS Liberty website].
The day of the attack, Johnson quickly accepted Israel’s phony excuse, although his administration was fully informed the attack was deliberate. The president secretly ordered destruction of official records of the assault. Liberty survivors, some of them on hospital cots, were threatened by Admiral Issac Kidd with prison if they made public statements about what actually happened. Kidd headed an ‘inquiry’ that Johnson in advance ordered to absolve Israel of guilt. Among documents destroyed were records of an astounding decision by the commander-in-chief. Although the Liberty was still under assault, Johnson ordered turn-back of US warplanes that were already launched to defend the beleaguered ship. Over secure radio, Johnson told the astounded fleet commander, Rear Admiral Lawrence Geis and an equally troubled Navy technician monitoring the message relay: “I’m not going to war with an ally [Israel] over a couple of sailors.” His turn-back order was, in my opinion, an impeachable offense, perhaps the first such offense in US naval history. It spared Israel from deserved American outrage and a likely termination of US aid. It also may have been the major factor in Johnson’s decision against seeking a second full term in the White House.
The most plausible explanation for Johnson’s towering act of perfidy is provided by Liberty survivor Commander David Lewis, severely injured in the assault. At a reunion of survivors years later, Lewis speculated, “After secretly destroying the Liberty and crew without a trace, I believe Israel planned to blame Egypt and thus inflame US public opinion against all Arabs. Israeli leaders believed it would cement permanently a US alliance with Israel.” The scheme almost worked. The assault was in its second hour with the ship barely afloat when a Liberty radioman managed to construct a makeshift antenna and broadcast a single SOS call for help. When the call was overheard in Tel Aviv, Israel’s top command ordered an immediate end to the assault and pretended it was a case of mistaken identity. Thirty-four US sailors were killed and 171 wounded.
The cover up was successful, with the Liberty and its dead and bloodied crew remembered in official Naval records under this gross stereotype, ‘victims of Israeli mistaken identity.’ It is a falsehood that causes deep pain and anger among Liberty survivors who are consistently denied the opportunity to tell their story in any government hearing.
To be continued... in the next issue.