Reviews

 
 

The Only Goal
by Dore Gold

 
 
 
  Courtesy Central Zionist Archives
  Winston Churchill and Herbert Samuel, high commissioner of Palestine, walking toward the site of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, March 1921.
   

Churchill's Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft
by Michael Makovsky (Yale University Press, 368 pages, $36)

Winston Churchill is not usually regarded as one of the leading British statesmen responsible for Britain’s backing of the Zionist movement and the resurrection of the Jewish national home. The names of Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, who authored the Balfour Declaration, or his prime minister, David Lloyd George, more readily come to mind. Indeed, Churchill, who in the early 1920s became colonial secretary, is more associated with the 1922 decision to cut off 75 percent of the territory of British Palestine from the proposed Jewish national home to create Transjordan, in order to give the Hashemite dynasty from Arabia a consolation prize of sorts after their loss of Syria to the French.

Michael Makovsky helps dispel this perception of Churchill in his highly readable Churchill’s Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft. He discloses how Churchill already expressed his support for restoring Jewish nationhood in Palestine in 1908, nine years before it became British policy. In a written message to the English Zionist Federation in Manchester, which was read aloud in his absence, Churchill in fact wrote: “I am in full sympathy with the historical traditional aspirations of the Jews.”

Churchill opposed the idea of seeking an alternative Jewish homeland in East Africa, which was under consideration in certain Jewish circles at the time, and instead focused on Palestine, even while it was still formally part of the Ottoman Empire. He concluded his 1908 remarks as follows: “Jerusalem must be the only ultimate goal. When it will be achieved it is vain to prophesy; but that it will some day be achieved is one of the few certainties of the future.”

Churchill’s Zionism did not come out of a vacuum. Like others in his era, he became a believer in Jewish restorationism — reestablishing the Jewish people as a sovereign nation. His father, Randolph Churchill, was cut from the same philoSemitic cloth, championing Jewish rights in his public addresses. Both were inspired by the great British Conservative leader and former prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, who, though born into a Jewish family, was baptized as a child and became a member of the Church of England.

Disraeli visited Jerusalem in 1831 and later wrote a novel about a Baghdadi Jew who dreams of leading his people back to Jerusalem to restore their “national existence.” It was a time when Lord Palmerston, the British foreign secretary, was pressing the Ottoman sultan to allow the Jews to return to Palestine. Makovsky delves into this history to better understand the milieu in which both Churchills received their political education, for after Disraeli’s death in 1881, Randolph Churchill tried to claim his political mantle.

As Makovsky details, Winston Churchill was fully aware of the Randolph Churchill–Disraeli political connection. Protesting the anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia in 1905, Winston Churchill would cite Disraeli with the remark: “The Lord deals with the nations as the nations deal with the Jews.” This was a double-edged comment promising difficulties for nations that would oppress their Jewish populations, as well as a blessing for those that would defend them.

Churchill’s story recapitulates a whole school of thought that was prevalent in the early 20th century in England that would provide the eventual political support for the rise of the Zionist movement. After the breakup of the Ottoman Empire as a result of the First World War, the League of Nations approved the mandate for Palestine based on the Balfour Declaration’s support for creating a Jewish homeland.

The Palestine mandate gave recognition to “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine.” It did not create a new national right, but rather acknowledged a preexisting right that was broadly accepted in international circles within the League of Nations at the time. Although Makovsky does not specifically deal with the legal background of how the Palestine mandate was drafted, it becomes clear when reading his work how British diplomats would come to adopt this kind of language.

In fact, in June 1922 Churchill would declare that the Jews had returned to Palestine “as of right and not by sufferance, and that this was based on their ancient historical connection.” Speaking before the Peel Commission years later in 1937, Churchill snapped at a commission member who referred to the Jews in Palestine as a “foreign race.” For Churchill, the Jewish people were the true indigenous population of the land: “The Jews had Palestine before that indigenous population [the Arabs] came in and inhabited it.”

Anyone reading Makovsky’s book who thinks that Churchill backed the rise of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine because of his concerns with protecting the British Empire’s strategic interests will be surprised. In some Western academic circles, where the rise of the Zionist movement is seen as a manifestation of Western imperialism, it is just assumed that Britain’s motivation for sustaining its wartime support for the Balfour Declaration in the interwar years came out of imperial calculations: Britain sought to safeguard the approaches to its imperial jewel, India, which required control of the Suez Canal in the west, Cape Town in the south, Singapore in the east, and Palestine along the eastern Mediterranean.

But in the 1920s, when Churchill was Britain’s colonial secretary, his primary consideration was finding ways of containing the expansion of the newly formed Soviet Union. Initially he even opposed the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and eventually focused on strengthening British-Turkish ties for the same reason. He was hardly enthusiastic about Britain assuming new imperial responsibilities in the Arab provinces of the former Ottoman Empire.

Makovsky explains how Churchill wrote in 1920 to Lloyd George: “You are up against a shocking bill for Mesopo ta - mia, Palestine & Persia. More will have to be spent in these countries next year than the Navy is demanding to save our sea supremacy.” His view was summarized a year earlier when he insisted that, “The need of national economy is such that we ought to endeavor to concentrate our resources on developing our existing Empire instead of dissipating them in new enlargements.”

It becomes clear, reading Makovsky, that for Churchill a peace treaty with post-Ottoman Turkey was Britain’s paramount Middle Eastern interest. Had the new Turkish state not relinquished sovereignty over its former Arab provinces and created a vacuum for the claims of various national movements, one wonders how Churchill’s whole view of the Zionist enterprise would have changed. Still, what emerges from Makovsky is that Churchill never lost his fundamental sympathy with the restoration of Jewish sovereignty. Enraged at the Attlee-Bevin government’s hostility toward the new state, he declared in the House of Commons in 1948 that Israel’s independence was “an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective, not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand, two thousand or even three thousand years.”

Realpolitik tempered many of Churchill’s public statements, but never diluted his faith in Israel’s cause.

Dole Gold ’75CC, ’84GSAS served as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations from 1997 through 1999. He heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.


 
 

A Bed and a Bath
by Samuel McCracken

 
 
 
  Collection of Lisa Pfueller Davidson
  Beginning with the Buffalo Statler in 1908, E. M. Statler standardized hotels across the United States.
   

Hotel: An American History
by Andrew K Sandoval-Strausz (Yale University Press, 384 pages, $37.50)

Shortly after his inauguration in 1789, George Washington undertook a series of tours to get to know his country. Realizing that if he spent the night in the home of local eminenti he would gratify one and outrage the rest, he determined to stay in inns. He recorded the quality of his accommodations in his diary; perhaps he should have published his comments as a guidebook. They range from laconic satisfaction (“The People of it were disposed to do all they cou’d to accommodate me”) to devastating, if equally laconic, dissatisfaction (“no Rooms or beds which appeared tolerable, & everything else having a dirty appearance”). Indeed, the latter establishment got a rating of George Washington Did Not Sleep Here: “I was compelled to keep on.”

In Hotel: An American History, Andrew K. Sandoval-Strausz ’94CC convincingly demon strates that the infant republic created the hotel and then the hotel helped the republic toward maturity. This excellent book is a wonderful example of illuminating scholarship for a general audience. Sandoval-Strausz, who teaches history at the University of New Mexico, gives us not only the history of an American business, but also explains how the hotel was at once both a public and a private space, with the hotelkeeper’s implied obligations to welcome travelers — and sometimes explicit rights to turn them away.

It may be only coincidence, but the Washington administrations — the 1790s, roughly—saw the development of enterprises that moved from public houses and inns to something much nearer to the modern hotel: large buildings with scores, sometimes hundreds, of private rooms and a considerable range of services, including what would now be called banquet and conference facilities. Some of these hotels never got past the drawing board and a failed IPO, but some were built, notably the Exchange Coffee House in Boston.

This institution typified the first wave of hotel building in the new country. Its investors were largely merchants in foreign trade, and mostly Federalists. Among other purposes, the Coffee House provided a decorous venue for the political meetings of the best people, and when it burned down in 1818, there was open rejoicing amongst the emerging democracy’s citizens. One can guess that John Adams cast an approving eye at Boston’s first hotel, and his radical cousin Sam, a jaundiced one. A similar partisan tinge marked other early hotels.

By midcentury, Europeans looked to America as the standard. In 1854 a British visitor said of a hotel in Cape May, New Jersey, that “an Englishman has some difficulty in believing that such a structure can be a hotel.” The English man of letters George Augustus Sala observed that “an American hotel is to an English hotel what an elephant is to a periwinkle.” He concluded that he thought American hotels a century ahead of England’s.

As hotels continued to provide more than food and lodging for travelers, they expanded their early role as venues for political parties. In 1860 the Democrats held a national convention at a hotel in Charleston where southern delegates sundered their party and lit the fuse that led to the Civil War. Nathaniel Haw - thorne wrote in 1862 that the Willard in Washington, not the Capitol, was the real center of political activity. In 1920 the Republican leadership cut out of its Chicago convention’s deadlocked plenary session and sequestered themselves in the famous smoke-filled room in the Blackstone Hotel to nominate Warren G. Harding (and not Nicholas Murray Butler) for president.

Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, a serious hotel was sure to be one of the most imposing buildings in its city, the grandeur of its exterior promising luxury within. This was changed 100 years ago by E. M. Statler, who was to hotels what his good friend Henry Ford was to automobiles. Statler noted that while he could build grandiose hotels, he did not want to. His view was succinct: “I don’t operate in that field. To hell with it.” Statler’s buildings were plain of exterior and located away from the high-rent district. He used his savings to keep prices down and the supply of useful amenities up. His celebrated motto was “A bed and a bath for a buck-and-a-half.” He produced the standard American hotel of today and inspired its Ford-derived cousin, the motel.

Sandoval-Strausz’s complex tale of two centuries is told from the viewpoint of an eagle that sees the whole landscape. He is a master of context, such as the development of hotels as parts of transportation networks, the emergence of the apartment house from the residential hotel, the power of resort hotels to build permanent communities (what might be called Florida Effect), and the evolution of the common law of the innkeeper into codified law, a point he explores with real acumen, especially on the subject of civil rights. “The common law of innkeepers and carriers,” he writes, “became the key to racial equality in public places.”

He makes a solid case. Even in the wake of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection of the law, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875, blacks (and, to a lesser extent, Jews) were banned from hotels in great swaths of the United States — and not just the South. This endured into the 1960s, and Sandoval-Strausz mentions a number of embarrassing cases when rooms were denied to visiting international dignitaries because of their color. This type of exclusion would eventually be at the heart of the civil rights struggle.

These topics barely suggest the range and depth of Sandoval-Strausz’s erudition and the lucid skill with which he deploys it. He knows the possibilities hotels have offered for human depravity and what hotelkeepers have done to limit them. He understands why the desk clerk became necessary and how his profession developed, and he gives the impression of having been a guest at representative hotels over the last two centuries — or even among hotel mavens momentarily elsewhere. One of the memorable scenes in Babbitt takes place in a Pullman smoker as travelers compare and contrast the Statlerized hotels of the 1920s. Had Sandoval- Strausz been aboard, one imagines that he would have known every hotel mentioned by Lewis’s salesmen-connoisseurs, added his own observations, and silently reflected on where these hotels had come from and where they were going.

Not the least virtue of this book is the copious supply of illustrations, showing us what hotels looked like in their formative stages. For these, we are in debt not only to the author, but to a publisher who still understands how books should be made.

Samuel McCracken is a critic and essayist living in Boston.


 
 

New Habits
by Ari L. Goldman

 
 

The Collar: A Year Inside a Catholic Seminary
by Jonathan Englert (Houghton Mifflin, 320 pages, $25.95)

My impressions of Catholic religious formation — the process of becoming a priest or a nun — have been shaped by some rather bleak sources. I think of Karen Armstrong’s Through the Narrow Gate and Paul Hendrickson’s Seminary. You read such books wanting to cry out, “Escape! Escape while you can!”

But here in The Collar, Jonathan Englert ’01JRN brings us a whole different account of religious formation, a book about the making of Catholic priests in the 21st century.

You’ve come a long way, Father.

Englert, a writer and documentarian, spent a year at Sacred Heart Seminary in Milwaukee, a school that specializes in older men, some of whom had been married, who are preparing for the priesthood. Many do escape before taking their final vows, but I actually found myself hoping that some of them would make it to the finish line.

The abuse that went on in the seminaries of yore is largely gone. Seminarians of a generation ago were told to suppress their bodily and emotional urges and to submit to authority, however arbitrary. Suffering was often the path to a spiritual goal.

Much has changed. Seminarians today are not only allowed but encouraged to ask tough questions and to challenge their superiors. One of my favorite stories retold here is about the rector of a seminary who chastises one seminarian for wearing his hair long. “But Jesus had long hair,” the seminarian says in protest. The rector is not to be outdone. He takes the seminarian out to the local swimming pool. “Now walk on that!” he commands.

That story is apocryphal, but some of the real-life incidents that Englert shares about Sacred Heart seem almost as uncanny. This is a book that is full of surprises.

For example, one might not expect to find reverence for Judaism in a Catholic seminary, but it is here in abundance. In fact, the seminary teacher of Jewish studies, a non-Jew named Dr. Lux, dons a yarmulke before reading Hebrew texts. He even compares papal encyclicals to sections of the Torah. Both, he notes, are known by their first word or words.

Then there is the seminarian who talks each night to his girlfriend by phone. (Perhaps not surprisingly, he eventually leaves and marries her. The celibate life, he decides, is not for him.)

The discussion of sex and celibacy is a theme of seminary life. “Celibacy had gone from being accepted but not discussed to being openly questioned and challenged by both clergy and laity,” Englert writes. He takes us into Father McLernon’s sexuality class where the priest — brace yourself — writes the following words on the board: vagina, penis, and rectum. He then leaves the room and asks the men to discuss what these words mean to them.

He returns a short while later and talks about the importance of confronting one’s sexual feelings. “It’s not about denying our sexuality,” he tells the men. “It’s about harnessing it.”

The discussion seems to be particularly important because during Englert’s year at the seminary, 2002–03, the Boston Globe broke the story of the long-simmering scandal of the Archdiocese of Boston, where the hierarchy looked the other way as priests who molested children were reassigned without punishment and without warning to parishioners.

The need for a new type of Catholic clergy has never been greater. Englert suggests that the seminarians of Sacred Heart, all of them sexually experienced and many of whom were once married, could be the future of the Catholic clergy. They are mature, motivated, and entering religious life with their eyes open.

Englert is on to something. While he found a seminary that caters exclusively to these “second career” types, he would find many of the same profile in seminaries throughout the country. Very few young men are entering anymore. The future is, indeed, with an older clergy.

Englert, however, is not one of these. His year at the seminary seems to have been a journalistic exercise. He is a convert to Roman Catholicism, we learn from his bio, and lives with his wife in New York City. The one thing missing from his excellent book is how the experience changed him. He tells us in his introduction that he was moved to investigate priestly formation after a “profound conversion experience in my own life,” but then leaves himself out of the rest of the story. As someone who, like Englert, has spent time in a seminary, I know that even if you don’t sign up for the life, you come away changed. Englert never tells us how. That’s one piece of the story I would have liked to read.

Ari L. Goldman, a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, is the author of The Search for God at Harvard.




 
 

You Can't Say That
by Nan Levinson

 
 

From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America
by Christopher M. Finan (Beacon Press ,352 pages, $25.95)

In November 1919, federal agents raided a community center in New York frequented by Russian immigrants, rounded up hundreds of students and teachers, and vandalized the classrooms. So began the Palmer Raids, a response to the threat of foreign radicalism after WWI, in which thousands of supposed subversives — primarily members of American Communist parties — were arrested, though most were never charged with any crime.

In October 2001, Congress passed the Patriot Act, empowering the fed eral gov ern ment to round up and deport hundreds of noncitizens it suspected of terrorist connections and expand its authority to conduct covert searches and collect information about American citizens. We don’t yet know the extent of these programs because they are secret, but, as in the earlier campaign, people are currently being penalized, not for their actions but for their ideas, affiliations, and words.

With a little historical license, the intervening era could be called America’s freespeech century; during this time, the government, as well as organizations that sprang up to suppress or defend various forms of expression, struggled to determine what the 45 words of the First Amendment really mean. Christopher M. Finan ’92GSAS, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and chair of the National Coalition Against Censorship, has documented these fights in his comprehensive tour of free-speech controversies over the past nine decades.

Finan writes gracefully about the episodes, and he explains their significance with insight and occasional wit. He relies heavily on the work of other writers who have focused on specific issues in greater detail and nuance (a bibliography would have made tracking his sources easier), but if he charts little new territory, he has drawn a valuable map, with routes and boundaries clearly delineated.

Though the skirmishes he describes show America at its most intolerant and silly, Finan portrays the larger war as being won. That’s true to an extent — even with the current retrenchment, the First Amendment is remarkably generous in what it protects — but censorship will always be with us. The instinct to ban offending words or images is too powerful to litigate or legislate out of existence. Thus, Finan’s history serves as a useful reminder that, for all its glory, the First Amendment has been put to the test as often as it has been honored.

Finan organizes his review of this testing more or less by decades, beginning his chapters with an anecdote about a controversy, then circling back to fill in details, historical context, and legal benchmarks. Many of these stories will seem the stuff of familiar headlines: the government swinging from openness to secrecy and back again, money buying legal favor, fundamentalists pushing to substitute church for state, new technologies causing panic, civil libertarians caroming from optimism to despair to internecine warfare, and everybody, it seems, chanting, “I’m not in favor of censorship, but…”

Governments tend to censor in the name of national security, which often includes business interests, moralists, and reformers in the name of propriety and protection of the weak. The reasons remain remarkably consistent, as do the effects: covering other people’s mouths, ears, and eyes, purportedly for their own good. The sticking points are words that make us feel unsafe or that challenge authority — frequently confused — and portrayals of sex. (American depictions of sex have long been a dance of approach and avoidance; our way of accommodating that friction seems to be to excoriate and entice simultaneously — and then feel bad about it.)

Finan begins with national-interest issues, linking the Espionage Act of 1917 to the repression of radicals and immigrants, then moves on to the persecution of labor activists in the 1920s. He dates the birth of the civil liberties movement from this time, charting in detail the founding of the ACLU and the tactics of Roger Baldwin, its resourceful first executive director, who understood that when the government is hostile and the courts supine, enlisting public sympathy may be the only tool available to the politically oppressed.

The early years of the ACLU exemplify the face-offs that still typify free-speech fights, along with the capacity of the fighters to convince themselves that bad legal decisions and rotten laws could have been worse. Finan also sets up the everpresent tension between compromise and radicalism. Supporting popular speech is easy; it’s the offensive words and ideas that put the First Amendment — and civil libertarians — to the test.

Until the 1930s, the courts read the First Amendment as applying only to the federal government. Then came the Depression, which, Finan writes, “created a new tolerance for ideas that had once seemed radical and a new appreciation for those who defended free speech.” Civil libertarians were suspicious of the New Deal at first, as were the anti-Communists who, after the war, hounded individuals in the government, schools, and entertainment industries with loyalty oaths and blacklists. The chill of this second Red Scare lingered into the 1960s, when the government harassed political activists in the civil rights and antiwar movements with domestic spying and other destabilizing activities. But this time, Congress and the Supreme Court resisted, instituting significant First-Amendment safeguards for incendiary speech, student speech, and journalism.

Finan also dives into waves of American culture wars, marked by suspicion of intellectuals and by ever-futile attempts to wall off “good” art from “bad” porn. We learn about the Scopes trial, which challenged the teaching of evolution in schools; the Comstock laws — Finan labels this “the first national censorship regime” — which used the postal system to ban racy novels and information on such topics as birth control; the give-and-take over what can appear in books, magazines, movies, and comic books and on radio and TV; the dustups over public funding for the arts in the 1980s and 1990s; and the backlash against permissiveness stoked by the unlikely alliance of right-wing evangelicals, who sought to protect “family values,” and left-wing feminists, who sought to protect women. He also examines prominent free-press victories that expanded protection for dissenting views by prohibiting prior restraint and making it harder for public figures to silence journalists through libel lawsuits.

In the final chapter, Finan presents his most original material, reporting from an activist perspective on our post-9/11 era, with its extreme government secrecy, reignited fear of foreign influences, and vilification of dissent. Temporarily shedding his historian’s voice, he offers a firstperson account of ongoing efforts to guard civil liberties in the face of a collective national shrug. He notes that most Americans were frightened into accepting repressive measures they might otherwise have resisted and didn’t think the Patriot Act affected them anyway until the infamous Section 215 came to light. It allows the government to monitor what anyone takes out of a library or buys at a bookstore. It also prevented librarians and book - sellers from so much as mentioning that the feds had visited them, a restriction they refused to accept. Their resistance helped loosen the gag and add a little accountability to the reauthorized Patriot Act in 2006. And it minted some of Finan’s recent freespeech heroes, such as board members of the Vermont Library Association, who led the fight to repeal the offending provisions, and their senator, Bernie Sanders, who took their fight to Congress.

Of the post-9/11 crackdown, Finan writes, “As in the past, the greatest threat to free speech came not from individuals or private groups but from government.” Governments do have the power to stifle speech, but so do churches, schools, employers, editors, and sometimes even our neighbors. Censorship is ultimately a transaction between people, and it is individuals who fight it most effectively, often one by lonely one. Finan introduces a host of well- and lesser-known advocates in all their complicated humanity, including the many jurists who upheld the First Amendment with thrilling eloquence.

So maybe the real story of free speech in America is how we came to understand the need to tolerate expression we dislike and to believe that persecuting people for what they say and think is un-American. We still do it, but somebody somewhere can be counted on to rise up to call it unworthy — of ourselves and of our nation. To Finan, that is notable progress. “We are fortunate to live in a country that includes many brave souls,” he concludes. “They have made freedom of speech one of the glories of American civilization.”

Nan Levinson is the author of Outspoken: Free Speech Stories. She teaches at Tufts University and is working on a book about the antiwar movement of Iraq veterans.


 
 

Into the Woods

 
 

A Place for the Arts: The MacDowell Colony, 1907-2007
Edited by Carter Wiseman (The MacDowell Colony / The University Press of New England, 244 pages, $39.95)

 
Victoria Sambunaris  
The MacDowell Colony, writes author Verlyn Klinkenborg in his essay, gives artists both time and a landscape “powerful enough to overlay whatever habitat we consider ourselves native to.”  
   

Edward MacDowell was the preeminent American composer of his day and the first chairman of Columbia’s music department. He believed strongly that music education was essential to everyone’s life, that it should be integrated with the other arts, and that it ought to be a mandatory part of Columbia’s curriculum. On the latter points he clashed mightily and publicly with President Nicholas Murray Butler. MacDowell resigned in 1904, packed up his scores, and moved with his wife, Marian, to their bucolic summer home in Peterborough, New Hampshire. There, the couple hit on the idea of establishing a quiet oasis where artists could work far from the distractions and stresses of modern life. Those stresses — and the tensions with Columbia in particular — may well have contributed to the composer’s death in January 1908.

Since 1907, some 5500 visual artists, composers, architects, and writers have found calm and inspiration at the colony. In its neat little studios, Aaron Copland worked on Billy the Kid, Thornton Wilder on Our Town, Virgil Thomson on The Mother of Us All. Alice Walker was there twice. And so on, for much of artistic America.

Carter Wiseman ’72GSAS, president of the Mac- Dowell Colony and a lecturer at the Yale School of Architecture, has compiled and edited 14 essays, along with contemporary and archival photographs, in this visually appealing celebration of America’s first and most fruitful arts colony.