fbpx

An Ex-State Dept. Official Is Disillusioned—Sort Of

Jewish disillusionment over the behavior of Palestinian Arab leaders is not a new phenomenon.
[additional-authors]
September 13, 2023
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk (right) with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on December 11, 2007 (Photo by Debbie Hill-Pool/Getty Images)

A former State Department official who was deeply involved in U.S. Mideast policy for decades is feeling a little unsettled over the recent speech in which Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas justified the Holocaust.

“I have been despairing about how to respond to [Abbas’s] profoundly anti-Semitic diatribe,” Martin Indyk, former assistant Secretary of State and ex-ambassador to Israel, wrote on X (Twitter). “How could someone who has treated me as a personal friend for three decades at the same time harbor such hateful views of my people?”

Jewish disillusionment over the behavior of Palestinian Arab leaders is not a new phenomenon. A notable example was the wave of mea culpas in the American Jewish community in late 2000 and early 2001, after Yasir Arafat launched the terror campaign known as the Second Intifada.

On the op-ed page of the Washington Post, Labor Zionist Alliance president Menachem Z. Rosensaft confessed: “I was wrong, so many of us were wrong…for allowing ourselves to be convinced that Yasser Arafat ever actually wanted peace with Israel.”

Likewise, Leonard Fein, founder of Americans for Peace Now, wrote in The Forward: “Our mistake was to allow ourselves to be so carried away by the prospect of peace that we chose to close our eyes to the persistent Palestinian violations of the Oslo accords—and to what those violations implied about Palestinian intentions.”

The American Jewish Congress, for its part, placed a full-page ad in the New York Times under the headline, “It Takes a Big Organization to Admit it Was Wrong. We Think We Were Wrong About You, Chairman Arafat.”

Going further back in history, Martin Indyk’s tweet brings to mind the disillusionment that a few American Jewish leaders expressed after World War II, regarding President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s abandonment of European Jewry.

Nahum Goldmann, for example. In the 1930s and 1940s, he co-chaired the World Jewish Congress alongside Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. In 1975, Goldmann was interviewed by the historian Melvin I. Urofsky, who was writing a biography of Wise. Concerning FDR, Goldmann said:

“There is something [to the argument] that Rabbi Wise was too close to Roosevelt to be effective….Wise exaggerated his appreciation of Roosevelt. The accusations against Roosevelt [regarding the Holocaust] are partly justified…I never had full trust in Roosevelt.” Goldmann said he was also convinced that “Roosevelt would never agree to a Jewish state.”

During the Holocaust years, Goldmann was occasionally critical of FDR, but only behind the scenes. Briefing David Ben-Gurion and other Jewish Agency officials in Jerusalem in 1944, Goldmann complained that on the rare occasion an American Jewish leader was granted an audience with the president, it would be “for thirty minutes, ten of which are spent by him telling anecdotes, after which he expects to hear you tell him anecdotes, and then there are only ten minutes left for a serious conversation…”

Many years later, Goldmann felt remorse over the fact that he and his colleagues were not more outspoken at the time. In his autobiography, published in 1969, Goldmann expressed regret that despite their awareness of the mass murder, “Jewish leaders and organizations lacked the courage, vision and resolution to risk a radical and drastic move….All of us who spoke for the Jewish people in those days—and I emphatically include myself—bear a share of the guilt…”

It took Goldmann twenty years to admit that much, far too late to make practical difference. It has taken Martin Indyk thirty years even to express “despair” over Mahmoud Abbas’s antisemitic speeches. Will that despair translate into something more concrete, before it is too late to have any impact?


Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His latest is America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, published by the Jewish Publication Society & University of Nebraska Press.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.