The best works that address major issues related to the history of the establishment of the State of Israel

Jeffrey Herf Author Of Israel's Moment: International Support for and Opposition to Establishing the Jewish State, 1945–1949
By Jeffrey Herf

Who am I?

I am a historian at the University of Maryland, College Park. In the past forty years, I have published six books and many articles on twentieth-century German history including Reactionary Modernism: Technology Culture and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich; Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys; Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World; and Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, 1967-1989. My personal interest in German history began at home. My father was one of those very fortunate German Jews who found refuge in the United States before Hitler closed the borders and launched the Holocaust. 

I wrote...

Israel's Moment: International Support for and Opposition to Establishing the Jewish State, 1945–1949

By Jeffrey Herf,

Book cover of Israel's Moment: International Support for and Opposition to Establishing the Jewish State, 1945–1949

What is my book about?

This, my first book that is not about German history, addresses one aftermath of the Holocaust, namely support from the public in Europe and the United States as well as opposition from the American and British foreign policy establishment to establishing a Jewish state in former British Mandate Palestine in the years following World War II. The book documents and examines support for the Zionist project from American liberals and leftists, French Socialists, Communists and Gaullists, from the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc at the United Nations, and opposition from leaders of the British Foreign Office, the U.S. State Department and Department of Defense. The contours of support and opposition will, I think, come as a surprise to and a fresh interpretation for readers familiar with the political alignments regarding Israel since the Six Day War of 1967.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War

Why did I love this book?

Morris’s 1948 is regarded by leading scholars in the field as the leading work on the subject. It offers a clear chronology and astute assessment of the intersection of the war’s military and political developments. Of particular importance for Israel’s Moment is Morris’s examination of the Arab rejection of the United Nations Partition Plan as a form of Jihad inspired by religious fundamentalism, and his understanding of the interaction between the debates at the United Nations in New York and the events on the battlefield in 1947 and 1948 in Palestine and then Israel.

By Benny Morris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 1948 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Benny Morris demolishes misconceptions and provides a comprehensive history of the Israeli-Arab war of 1948

This history of the foundational war in the Arab-Israeli conflict is groundbreaking, objective, and deeply revisionist. A riveting account of the military engagements, it also focuses on the war's political dimensions. Benny Morris probes the motives and aims of the protagonists on the basis of newly opened Israeli and Western documentation. The Arab side-where the archives are still closed-is illuminated with the help of intelligence and diplomatic materials.

Morris stresses the jihadi character of the two-stage Arab assault on the Jewish community in Palestine. Throughout,…

Book cover of Envoy to the Promised Land: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1948-1951

Why did I love this book?

President Truman appointed James McDonald to be the first U.S. Ambassador to Israel. McDonald’s diaries of 1948-1951 offer fascinating insights into the key events surrounding the establishment of the Jewish state. The diaries offer revealing and astute observations of the personalities and policies of Truman, Secretary of State George Marshall, British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, the Jewish Agency’s leading foreign policymaker, Moshe Shertok (later Moshe Sharett), and leader of the Jewish Agency and future Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. McDonald was that unusual American diplomat who, in those years, supported Zionist aspirations. The McDonald diaries are required reading for anyone seeking a deeper grasp of the founding months and years of the state of Israel.

By James G. McDonald,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Envoy to the Promised Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Just before Israel emerged as a state in May 1948, key United States officials hesitated and backtracked. Undersecretary of State Robert Lovett told Moshe Sharett of the Jewish Agency for Palestine that the US had expected a peaceful transition to dual states in Palestine. Now, war between Jews and Arabs and a broader regional conflict loomed. Apart from the Cold War repercussions, another mass slaughter of Jews would roil the US in a presidential election year.

James G. McDonald arrived in Israel soon after its birth, serving as US special representative and later as its first ambassador. McDonald continued his…

Book cover of Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11

Why did I love this book?

As I wrote in the Foreword to the English edition of Küntzel’s work, published first in Germany in 2002, Küntzel synthesized a large body of scholarship in English and German that examined Nazi Germany’s propaganda aimed at the Arab world, as well as the collaboration of Haj Amin el-Husseini with Nazi propaganda efforts. I welcomed Küntzel’s exploration of Nazi Germany’s impact outside Europe, and its aftereffects in Islamist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and then the members of Al Qaeda who carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001.

By Matthias Küntzel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jihad and Jew-Hatred as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11 traces the impact of European fascism and Nazism on Arab and Islamic activists. As Kuentzel investigates the shift of global antisemitism from Nazi Germany to parts of the Arab world during and after World War II, he argues that antisemitism is not merely a supplementary feature of modern jihadism, but lies instead at its ideological core. This fascinating study lays bare the antecedents of the antisemitism that runs rampant in our world today. For anyone interested in exploring the mindset of hatred that led to the crimes in New York…

Book cover of The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States and Postwar Imperialism

Why did I love this book?

Louis’s excellent, and now classic work, should play a far larger role in discussions of the meanings of imperialism and anti-imperialism than has been the case in recent years. Drawing on a deep grasp of British foreign policy and domestic politics, Louis examines what he calls the “grand strategy of non-intervention and conciliation” that leaned heavily towards the existing Arab regimes. Prime Minister Clement Attlee, and especially Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, and other leading officials in the British Foreign Office and Colonial Office, believed that a Jewish state in Palestine would antagonize the Arabs and lead to a decline in British influence in the Middle East. Louis draws attention to Richard Crossman and other British critics of the policy of preserving Britain’s imperial role in Palestine. It is one of those indispensable works of scholarship regarding these events.

By Wm. Roger Louis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book, which examines British disengagement in the Middle East during the Labour Government of 1945-51, is in a large sense a comment on the British response to Arab, Jewish, and Iranian nationalism.

Book cover of A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel

Why did I love this book?

Radosh and Radosh offer a compelling and dramatic history of Truman’s decision to support Jewish emigration to Palestine in 1947, and to recognize the state of Israel in 1948. They examine Truman’s dilemmas as he made the recognition decision against the advice of the leaders of his own State Department, including his own Secretary of State George Marshall. A Safe Haven offers a careful and essential guide to American politics regarding the Zionist issue, and to the combination of political and religious arguments that were decisive in Truman’s decision making. 

By Allis Radosh, Ronald Radosh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Safe Haven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“[This] revelatory account of Truman's vital contributions to Israel's founding. . .is told. . . with an elegance informed by thorough research."
—Wall Street Journal

"Even knowing how the story ends, A Safe Haven had me sitting on the edge of my seat.”
—Cokie Roberts

A dramatic, detailed account of the events leading up to the creation of a Jewish homeland and the true story behind President Harry S. Truman’s controversial decision to recognize of the State of Israel in 1948, drawn from Truman’s long-lost diary entries and other previously unused archival materials.

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