1954 began with an all too familiar sameness. A January issue of the New York Times reported King ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia urged the sacrifice of 10 million Arabs to “uproot the cancer” of Israel, while infiltration attacks inside Israel by Arab guerrillas continued on a frequent basis.
David Horowitz became involved in controversy when the editor of a small mid-western newspaper, James M. Watkins, accused David of advocating the conversion of Christians to Judaism. In the February 23, 1954 edition of “The Restitution Herald” of Oregon, Illinois, Mr. Watkins criticized David for being a Jewish missionary, along with the frivolous charge that he somehow had near complete control of Israeli news. Watkins charged that “Since Horowitz controls most of the press dispatches that go to the nation of Israel, as well as that which is sent out in this country, we can assume that he expressed the official viewpoint of the nation (Israel).” Talk about the power of the press.
Reacting to Watkins’ editorial, Karl Baehr, Executive Director of the American Christian Palestine Committee (a pro-Israel Christian group), in a letter that was printed in the March 30 edition of the “Restitution Herald,” tried to dissuade any anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish feelings among Watkins’ readers.
Responding to both Watkins and Baehr, David sent a reply to the “Restitution Herald” dated April 13, 1954. In the letter, David defended his views and his press dispatches. In reference to a specific passage, he remarked that the statement was not his, but that of “a Catholic, Malcolm Hay, author of the book The Foot of Pride (Beacon Press, Boston 1950). “A book,” Horowitz suggested, “that Watkins and every true Christian ought to read.” Hay’s book carefully chronicles the roots of Christian anti-Semitism.
Middle East policy continued to focus on containing the Soviet Union. The Arab states often played the superpowers off against each other in an effort to win concessions from one or the other. One Arab ruler, however, stood in the middle of everything: the inter-Arab rivalries, opposition to Western imperialism, Eisenhower’s bid to create a regional alliance, and the perpetuation of the war with Israel. That man was Gamel Abdel Nasser. Over the next two decades, Nasser was to be an extremely forceful and charismatic advocate of radical Arab nationalism and of resistance to Western domination.
This was an especially busy and active time at the UN and Horowitz’s role as a journalist took on an intensive tempo. In addition to his many hours interviewing delegates and ambassadors from various other nations, he had considerable contact with Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban and new UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold. He also interviewed France’s Pierre Mendes France during his visit to the world organization.
Horowitz, persistent as always, continued his campaign to get the Israel-Arab dispute settled by the utilization of the Bible and the Koran. During August 1954, he tried to convince Egypt’s chief UN delegate Major-General Abdel Hamid Ghaleb and received a most interesting and candid response.
Speaking to Horowitz, Ghaleb emphatically stated that he and all religious Egyptians believe in the Torah as much as in the Koran and they venerate Moses as one of the holiest men to have appeared on earth. He further told David “that if the people in the Middle East turned to the Torah and the Koran for guidance instead of accepting their own narrow views, peace could come to the region. Allah is the same God worshipped by Israel, and this one God certainly does not want them to quarrel and fight over questions which, in the final analysis, are disposed of by Him anyway.”
Ghaleb also revealed that Egyptian President General Mohammed Naguib (who appointed Ghaleb), during his premiership, often visited synagogues and was sincere in his desire to come to some understanding with Israel. But, as recent developments showed, his way was overruled. Undoubtedly having restrained his innermost feelings, he succeeded in escaping the fate that befell the late King Abdullah of Jordan whose mind was open for negotiations with Israel.
On September 28, 1954, Egypt seized the Israeli merchant vessel “Bat Galim” in the Suez Canal. The issue would be brought before the UN Security Council with the fiasco continuing into 1955 before a resolution would be reached.
In February 1955, Israeli Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon resigns following the uncovering of an Israeli intelligence network in Egypt. David Ben Gurion returns to government as Defense Minister.
In March 1955, David Horowitz made his fifth trip to Israel. His first visit took place in 1924 when Israeli pioneering was in its height. Subsequent trips were taken in 1932, 1951 and 1953. This time David would be holding high level meetings as a UN correspondent as well as conducting a little United Israel business.
David met with former Irgun leader Menachem Begin, who was a member of the Israeli Knesset in behalf of the second largest party, Herut. Mr. Begin expressed to David that the greatest threat facing Israel at the time was guerrilla warfare.
David also gained an audience with Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who had served in the Jewish Legion together with Ben-Gurion and was among the signers of the Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. The Israeli President showed a deep interest in United Israel World Union and said he would extend an official welcome to any UIWU group. David later remarked “that President Ben-Zvi is a great scholar who has shown a profound interest in the fate that has befallen Israel’s tribes scattered all over the world.”
Countless hours were spent in interviews with other officials at Jerusalem’s UN headquarters.
Before leaving Israel, David visited some old friends, the Tritto family, now residing in Safed in the Galilee region. Esther, her husband Eliezer and family were among scores of other Italians, all former Catholics who had embraced the Hebrew faith, who came to Israel from the south Italian town of San Nicandro in 1949. He happily reported that they had established firm roots in Safed and were helping to build Israel.
As April 1955 came to a close, France was hit with Arab threats and protests for shipping arms to Israel. Jordan also threatened to boycott French goods and the Foreign Ministers of both Syria and Lebanon protested the French action. Egypt was asking that the Negev be detached from Israel. Just another busy day at the office of Middle Eastern affairs.
In June 1955, David became a charter member of “Judaism Universal,” a new international society for the propagation of the Hebrew faith as a world religion funded in New York City. Blessed and endorsed by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, “Judaism Universal” adopted the following three-point program: to reclaim the Jewish youth; to Judaize the Jews; and to draw within the sphere of Jewish life neglected Jewish communities in isolated parts of the world, including non-Jewish populations who hunger after universal truth and righteousness.
During a national election in Israel, David Ben-Gurion is again elected Prime Minister and Defense Minister. Moshe Sharett becomes Foreign Minister.
US officials continued to reach out to Gamel Nasser. Egypt was offered promises of arms and help in building the Aswan Dam. Nasser instead began to look to the Soviet Union. He began to import arms from the Soviet Bloc to build his arsenal for a confrontation with Israel. In the short-term, however, he employed a new tactic to prosecute Egypt’s war with Israel. He announced it on August 31, 1955: “Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam, and they will cleanse the land of Palestine.” These “heroes” were Arab terrorists, or fedayeen, trained and equipped by Egyptian Intelligence to engage in hostile action on the border and infiltrate Israel to commit acts of sabotage and murder.
The terrorist attacks violated the armistice agreement provision that prohibited the initiation of hostilities by paramilitary forces; nevertheless, it was Israel that was condemned by the UN Security Council for its counterattacks.
The escalation continued with the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran, Israel’s only supply route with Asia. Less than two weeks later, on October 25, Egypt signed a tripartite agreement with Syria and Jordan, which placed Nasser in command of all three armies.
As 1955 drew to a close, Gamel Nasser was making clear his intent. In an interview with New York Post reporter Paul Sann, he explained, carefully and quite clearly, “that Egypt would never, under any circumstances, consider peace with the Jewish State.”
Even as war clouds gathered over the Middle East, history would remind us once again: One should never say never.
Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.
This post is the ninth in the series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.