Perhaps no one had a better ringside or inside seat at the deliberations that eventually led to the United Nations’ actions paving the way to Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Statehood than James G. McDonald. His dogged and dexterous work as a key member of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry was positioned between two other notable posts as the League of Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees in the 1930s and the first United States Ambassador to Israel from 1949 to 1951.
The Committee had the double charge of proposing solutions to the enormous problem of Jewish refugees at the close of World War II and to the inseparable issue of the British Mandate for Palestine’s eventual resolution. McDonald’s diary entries throughout the entire work of the Committee constitute a unique primary source of information on the progress of the Committee toward its ultimate recommendations.
The hearings, the partisan bickering and bargaining, the drafting and redrafting, and the mixture of tedium and emotionally supercharged moments are captured in a sturdy, often eloquent style filled with colorful descriptions and sharp judgments. McDonald’s comments about his fellow committee members are thoroughly engaging, as are his descriptions of travels, accommodations, and recreational activities that were very much part of the experience: McDonald’s records of abominable refugee camp conditions crosses paths with notes on concerts, museum visits, glorious sightseeing, and grand dinners — without any apparent irony in the juxtapositions.
The cast of characters with whom McDonald collaborated goes far beyond the Committee members to major government officials and leaders of international associations, all of them vying for influence — especially regarding the Middle East partition and immigration issues. Indeed, it becomes clear that Harry S. Truman’s final position on a Jewish State was largely shaped by McDonald’s shrewd management of the frustrated, suspicious United States President.
Surrounding the diary excerpts, the editors provide cohesive, expansive contextualizing commentary, biographies of key players, and a constant stream of useful, well-turned footnotes. Unusually engaging and suspenseful for a such a scholarly enterprise, To the Gates of Jerusalem is an essential volume for all university libraries and collections focused on the history of the Middle East in the twentieth century.
Epilogue, footnotes, index, introduction, preface.
Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English at the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.