Thursday, 28 August 2014

IF Stone

He was known familiarly as Izzy, so I guess his given name was Isadore, but to the public he was known only by his initials. Neil Middleton, in his introduction to the Pelican The Best of I.F. Stone's Weekly saw him as a transatlantic William Cobbett. Peter Osnos, introducing his selection (pdf here) has a more personal take. Whatever, he was a campaigning journalist from the 1930s first for other publications and then for his own Weekly until the end of 1971. He founded the latter at a time in the USA when it was hazardous to ones livelihood to be critical of the establishment, especially if one were also Jewish (some commentators have seen the McCarthyite witch-hunts as anti-Semitic as much as anti-Communist). In his "retirement" he turned his gift for research into contemporary documents, picking out gems missed by other correspondents, to ancient Greece. Even that phenomenal classical scholar, Enoch Powell, admitted, when the book was promoted in the UK, that Stone had done a decent job with his The Trial of Socrates - though naturally Powell disagreed with some of its conclusions.

He was a passionate advocate for an independent Israel, which he supported physically on the front line as well as with his pen. But he also consistently called for a two-state solution and blamed both the UK and the USA for effectively vetoing such a plan at the United Nations through 1947 and 1948. His accounts of the history of early modern Israel make painful reading for anyone who still believes in British ethical behaviour abroad. Moreover, he was sensitive to the plight of the displaced people of Palestine. In September 1970, after Golda Meir had appeared on an American TVpolitical interview show, he wrote:

"Friends of peace must deeply regret the way in which Mrs Meir handled questions about the Palestinian Arabs in appearance on Face the Nation. She rejected any idea of talks with them and any responsibility whatsoever for the Arab refugees. She implied that they had only themselves to blame because they had not accepted the 1947 U.N. partition plan. But how can Mrs Meir invoke the 1947 partition resolution, the legal basis of Israel's existence, and then ignore the 1948 U.N. refugee resolution, which is the legal basis of Arab rights to repatriation or compensation?

"We know the situation is a complex one for Israel but we wish Mrs Meir had voiced some sympathy for their plight, some readiness to help, some hope for reconciliation. Her coldness was unworthy of a Jewish leader. It is said that Moses kept the Jews forty years in the desert to purge them of the habits acquired in slavery. Leadership, like hers, in forty years of siege and war, will purge the Jews of the compassion acquired in Exile. While the Palestinian Arabs are beginning in their homelessness to talk like Jews in a new Diaspora, the Israeli leadership is beginning to sound more and more like unfeeling goyim. This reversal of roles is the cruellest prank God ever played on His Chosen People."

The forty years since those words were written have now passed and they have come to seem horribly prophetic.

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