Author Archives: Howard Sachar

Howard Sachar

About Howard Sachar

Howard M. Sachar is the author of numerous books, including A History of Israel, A History of the Jews in America, Farewell Espana, Israel and Europe, and A History of Jews in the Modern World. He is also the editor of the 39-volume The Rise of Israel: A Documentary History. He serves as Professor of Modern History at George Washington University.

The Madrid Conference

The following article is reprinted from A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Times published by Alfred A. Knopf.
In the late winter of 1991, it was [United States] Secretary of State James Baker’s idée fixe to -sustain the diplomatic momentum that had produced the recent Gulf military victory. His intention was to exploit Arab and Israeli gratitude by maneuvering both sides into negotiations that would resolve their own historic impasse. Beginning in March 1991,therefore, Baker launched a series of whirlwind visits to the Middle East.
Remarkably, under his courteous persistence, the Syrian, Lebanese, and Jordanian governments all agreed to participate in an international conference. So, in principle, did the Israelis. Shamir had anticipated that the Syrians would torpedo the conference proposal, thereby letting him off the hook. But if Hafez al Assad had unexpectedly accepted the American offer, Shamir for his part dared not risk open confrontation with Washington, and a possibly indefinite postponement of loan guarantees.
Nevertheless, procedural issues remained to be “clarified” between Shamir and Baker. Some were disposed of early on. Both men swiftly agreed that the conclave would be held under Soviet American co-chairmanship, rather than that of the United Nations. Even this narrowly circumscribed format would serve essentially as an umbrella for direct negotiations between “regional committees. ” The latter would consist of Israel and each separate Arab delegation. The single exception would be the Palestinian delegation; it would be subsumed in that of the Jordanians, and, at that, would not include PLO members.
Nevertheless, throughout the spring and summer of 1991, Shamir continued to place his own interpretation on both the “atmospherics” and the details of the conference. He rejected Baker’s persistent appeal for a moratorium on Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Under no circumstances, either, could Arabs from East Jerusalem participate as members of the Palestinian delegation. The prime minister had never budged on these issues, and was not about to now. Finally, in August, Baker conceded both points. Shamir then won cabinet approval for participation.

The Oslo Accords

In August 1993, the world learned that secret negotiations had occurred in Oslo, Norway, between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Even more surprising was the news that the two parties had reached an agreement regarding the possibility of peace. The agreement, deemed “The Declaration of Principles” was signed in Washington in September 1993. The following article examines the Declaration. It is reprinted from A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Times published by Alfred A. Knopf.
The signing ceremony in Washington was designated for September 13, 1993. Like the long, feckless negotiations in the State Department, the event nominally took place under the joint American Russian aegis of the original Madrid conference [The Madrid Peace Conference took place in 1991. This conference, hosted by the government of Spain, and co-sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union, brought together Israel and her Arab neighbors, including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinians, for a series of preliminary peace talks]. Gathered in the White House Rose Garden, therefore, the participants included not only PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, PLO negotiator Abu Ala’a (Ahmed Qurei), Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, U.S. President Bill Clinton, and U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, but also Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. Indeed, once Peres and Abu Ala’a performed the act of signature, both Christopher and Kozyrev added their own signatures as “witnesses.”
 Yitzhak Rabin Bill Clinton Yassir Arafat Oslo Accords Peace Israel Palestine PLO White House
The twenty three page “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self Government” consisted of a basic text, four annexes and agreed minutes, and the September 9  10 exchange of letters between Arafat and Rabin. Less than a comprehensive treaty, the document in effect was an agreement to reach agreement, leaving the details to be negotiated between the parties. Nevertheless, under the declaration’s collective guidelines, Israel would begin its military withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho as early as December 1993, and by April 1994 leave to a Palestinian authority virtually full self government in these enclaves.

Oslo Negotiations

The following article examines the secret negotiations that occurred in Oslo between the PLO and the Israelis in 1992 and 1993. These negotiations led to the formulation of an agreement regarding the possibility of peace. The agreement, deemed “The Declaration of Principles,” was signed in Washington in September 1993. The article is reprinted with permission from A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Times published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Although unofficial discourse between Israelis and PLO members had been taking place since the 1970s, those contacts intensified only after 1992, when the Rabin government decided to eliminate all further legal constraints against them. No meetings occurred on Israeli soil. Both sides preferred other, neutral venues. One of those was Stockholm. Another was Oslo. There the Institute for Applied Social Science, a respected think tank devoted to the resolution of international disputes, functioned under the unofficial imprimatur of the Norwegian foreign ministry.
In the spring of 1992, the institute’s director, Terje Rod Larson, who had developed extensive PLO contacts in the course of field studies in the Gaza Strip, sought out Dr. Yossi Beilin, a protégé and close advisor of Shimon Peres. Larsen informed Beilin that key PLO members had confided to him their fatigue with the Intifada, and their willingness to explore the accommodation Arafat had mooted [Israel’s right to exist in peace and security] as far back as the winter of 1988. Beilin was interested.

After Labor’s electoral victory of June 1992, Peres appointed Beilin his deputy in the foreign ministry. Larsen’s wife, Mona Juul, by then was administrative assistant to Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst and accordingly in a position to offer Beilin the services of the Norwegian government. In turn, sensing that the bilateral discussions in Washington had reached a dead end, Beilin brought the proposal to Peres.

oslo negotiationsThe foreign minister did not veto it. Yet he cautioned Beilin to avoid “official” Israeli involvement. Operating under this guideline, Beilin selected two “unofficial” representatives, Professor Yair Hirschfeld and Dr. Ron Pundak of Haifa University. Hereupon Arafat selected as his principal negotiator “Abu Ala’a” (Ahmed Suleiman Khoury), the PLO “minister of finance” who had long functioned virtually as the chairman’s alter ego.

The British Mandate in Palestine

Reprinted with permission from A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Times, published by Alfred A. Knopf.

As the legal instrument defining Britain’s obligations under the mandate, the League of Nations award similarly laid down a number of general “non Zionist” provisions. Public order, good government, and civil and religious rights were assured for all the inhabitants of the country, “irrespective of race and religion.” The administration was charged with recognizing the sacred holidays of the various communities, and with guaranteeing the security of the holy places and freedom of access to them. English, Arabic, and Hebrew were recognized as official languages. By the same token, each community was authorized to maintain its own school system. To ensure, also, that these and other requirements were fulfilled, the mandatory document obligated Britain to submit an annual report of its tenure in the Holy Land to the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations.
british palestine
Yet, at best, the award could only set guidelines for the mandatory. It was for the British themselves to institute the operative government for Palestine. An organic law, therefore, upon which the mandatory administration based its functional activities, was signed by the king in London on August 10, 1922, and proclaimed by Sir Herbert Samuel [the first British High Commissioner for Palestine] in Jerusalem on September 1. This was the Palestine Order in Council. Although it included the traditional provisions of freedom of worship, liberty of conscience, and Britain’s responsibility to foster the Jewish National Home, the Order in Council inessence was an austerely practical document that defined the various components of the mandatory government.
Thus, the executive was designated as a high commissioner, who appointed all subsidiary administrative officials. An independent judiciary under a chief justice was empowered to protect the rights of natives and foreigners alike, and to assure solicitude for the traditions and mores of the various religious communities. To that end, the Order in Council affirmed the jurisdiction of the religious courts in matters of personal status.


Reprinted with permission from A History of Jews in America, published by Vintage Books.

Although the religious life of observant Jews did not show many signs of vitality on the Lower East Side before 1910, the ghetto’s 600 religious congregations testify to the "authenticity of the Jewish religious imperative to worship," as well as to care for one’s own. Many of the shuls on the Lower East Side had developed around landslayt, groups of Jews from the same Eastern European towns, and these shuls often operated as mutual-aid societies. Most often, landslayt groups went on to form officially registered landsmanshaftn [groups of Jews from the same town]. Some were independent; most were connected to synagogues, unions, extended family circles, or fraternal orders.

As early as 1892 there were 87 Eastern European landsmanshaftn, and by 1910 there were more than 2,000, representing over 100 European cities and towns and embracing virtually every Jewish family in New York City. All landsmanshaftn maintained at least a link to the old-country location, particularly in times of crisis, when the shtetlekh [towns] from which they sprang were in need of material relief. All maintained a continuation of important communal services, such as burial arrangements and poor relief, as well as a context for a shared expression of nostalgia.

Reconciling Identities

Equally important, the landsmanshaft was a context for reconciling American and Eastern European identities. It served as a sanctuary from the strains of acculturation, ambition, and even ideology. And it gave the immigrants a breathing space, a place to be themselves, a place to continue the tradition of tzedakah [charity] and self-help, and also a place to play a game of pinochle. At the same time, it resembled an American fraternal order, with rites and constitutions, its camaraderie, and its opportunity for "doing a little business."

As early as 1901, some landsmanshaftn changed their names. The Independent Young Men of Poniewiez became the Young Men’s Association of Manhattan, because they had "no desire to be identified with Russia, or any town in Russia." Most immigrants, however, even after many years in America, still thought of themselves in terms of reference points in the old countries, and their landsmanshaftn kept their original names. They Americanized in other ways. The Kalushiner Society, for example, reported that it had "long given up the idea of being isolated, divided from general Jewish life in America…. Its hand is extended to the many other Jewish organizations in America." Other landsmanshaftn Americanized by enlarging their scope and changing their names. In 1911 the Ekaterinoslow Ladies Charity Society became the Ladies Charity Society of New York in order "to enlarge the field of its charity… to include not only those worthy of charity who originally came from the town of Ekaterinoslow, but to all wh~ may need it in the city of New York."

The world of the landsmanshaft very much reflected the broader themes of American Jewish life and clearly was not a mere nostalgic "brotherhood of memory." The landsmanshaft was a vehicle for mutual aid, philanthropy, health services, insurance, credit, and relaxation; and it was a pit stop of sorts, at which immigrants could refuel and then go on to confront the new society around them.

Jewish Immigrants in the Garment Industry

Reprinted with permission from A History of Jews in America, published by Vintage Books.

Immigrant Jews continued [around the turn of the 20th century] to pour into the Lower East Side and, to a lesser degree, into Chicago’s West End and Jewish ghettos in Philadelphia and Boston; few of the smaller cities and towns of the American interior offered so great a possibility of Jewish communalism and Yiddish-based culture as the great cities. Equally important, the ghet­tos, particularly the largest one in New York’s Lower East Side, offered the possibility of employment for Jews. At the time that masses of Eastern European Jews were coming to America, the garment industry was under­going rapid expansion, and New York City was central to this development.

Jews in the garment industry

Many immigrant Jews worked in New York garment factories.

By 1910 the city was producing 70 percent of the nation’s women’s clothing and 40 percent of its men’s clothing, creating jobs for newly arriving Jews. Even if we discount their exaggerations (only 10 percent of Eastern European immigrant labor force were actually trained tailors), these Jews brought with them from the old countries significant skills in garment work, one of the few occupations open to Jews in 19th-century Europe.

Jobs for Jews

As early as 1890 almost 80 percent of New York’s garment industry was located below 14th Street, and more than 90 percent of these facto­ries were owned by German Jews. Lower New York, therefore, was a power­ful magnet for the Eastern Europeans throughout the period of mass immi­gration. Immigrants were attracted by jobs and by Jewish employers who could provide a familiar milieu as well as the opportunity to observe the Sabbath. By 1897 approximately 60 percent of the New York Jewish labor force was employed in the apparel field, and 75 percent of the workers in the industry were Jewish.

Within the American needle industry there were three systems and three sites of production. The oldest was the family system, which had been dominant under Irish and German influence in the mid-19th century. Work was divided among family members and was done at home. In the 1870s, homework, or outside manufacture, declined, as factories–the second mode of production–became dominant. But with the coming of Eastern European Jews, there sprang up a third form of production–the contract­ing, or sweatshop, system, a variant of the family system.

Jews in the Civil Rights Movement

Reprinted with permission from A History of Jews in America, published by Vintage Books.

Nowhere did Jews identify themselves more forth­rightly with the liberal avant-garde than in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It was an uneven identification. For Jews living in the South, the issue of racial integration posed unsettling questions. They constituted barely one percent of the region’s total population. Among their white neighbors, they had long been accepted as “honorary white Protestants.”

Even Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi was prepared to draw distinctions between Northern Jews and “good” Southern Jews. The latter were circumspect, in any case, unprepared to question the South’s social order.civil rights memorial

But in 1954 that social order was challenged head-on. It was then that the United States Supreme Court rendered its judgment in Brown v. Board of Education, striking down racial segregation in public schools. Within the next dozen years, as a series of federal laws and court orders shattered every legal support of racial segregation, Southern Jews faced an agony of indecision. A very small number responded by joining the ardent segregationists. They were entirely atypical of Jews even in the Deepest South.

Black-Jewish Relations in the South

As far back as the 19th century, Jewish storekeepers were virtually the only Southern merchants who addressed black customers as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and permitted them to try on clothing. By the early 20th century, a few Southern Jews even ventured to speak out against the evils of white supremacy. In 1929, Louis Isaac Jaffe, editorial writer for the Norfolk Virginia-Pilot won the Pulitzer Prize for his denunciation of lynching and the reactionary Harry Byrd political machine.

Julius Rosenwald chairman of Sears Roebuck, contributed more generously in behalf of Southern blacks than did any philanthropist in American history. Rosenwald was Chicagoan, but his munificence was continued by his daughter, Edith Stern of New Orleans, whose Stern Family Fund in later years contributed vast sums to civil rights activities in the South. It was known, too, that Southern Jews privately tended to be more liberal on the race issue than Southern gentiles, and often quietly provided manpower and funds for civil rights causes.

Jews in Radical Politics

Reprinted with permission from A History of the Jews in America, published by Vintage Books.

The Depression accelerated a process of radicalization that had begun in the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In the early post-revolutionary years, a left wing sprang up with the American Socialist party, favoring affiliation with the Comintern [the international Communist movement]. When the radicals were defeated at the Socialist convention in 1919, they bolted and attached themselves to the Communists.

Among Jews, this element was always a minority, even within the extensive Jewish Socialist movement. But they were a hair-shirt minority. It happened that the early postwar immigration of East European Jews included many veterans of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian civil wars.

radical politics

In the early 1920s, it was these militant newcomers who dramatically augmented the radicals’ leadership. Their first and principal target was the large reservoir of Jews still laboring in the garment industry. Among the needle workers, the old flaming Socialist idealism had been fading steadily during the 1920s. At the same time, unwilling to risk union treasuries or their own salaries, officials of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers had become perfunctory in their negotiations with management. Their flaccidity in turn proved raw meat for the Communists. Dogmatic and fiery, the latter now hurled themselves into the effort to capture the ILGWU’s and Amalgamated’s central offices and committees….

Jewish Leadership

Yet, if the Communists evoked little support from American Jewry at large, the party leadership continued to include a disproportionate number of Jews. Among these were Jay Lovestone, Benjamin Gitlow, William Weinstone, Bertram D. Wolfe, and Israel Amster. Well before the Depression, too, Jews contributed a significant share of the Communist party’s votes (although, again, this represented a distinct minority of all Jewish ballots cast). In the presidential elections of 1924 and 1928, about one-quarter of the 50,000 votes cast on both occasions for William Z. Foster, the Communist party’s nominee, came from New York, and almost certainly most were cast by Jews.

The New York Intellectuals

Reprinted with permission from A History of Jews in America, published by Vintage Books.

For those of vested social ideologies, a popular audience was less important than editorial control. Beginning in 1940, Norman Cousins, another Jewish immigrants’ son, edited the liberally oriented Satur­day Review of Literature. Philip Rahv continued to direct the affairs of the feisty little Partisan Review, the journal for leftist academic literary criticism, with Midge Decter as associate editor. Irving Kris­tol, Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, and Seymour Martin Lipset edited The Public Interest, favoring a discreet political centrism.

Dissent, the most unequivocally political of these intellectual journals, strove to keep alive the anti-Stalinist socialism of its founding editor, Irving Howe. Elliott Cohen launched Commentary for the American Jewish Committee, and Norman Podhoretz (the husband of Midge Decter) later became Cohen’s successor there.

The New York Review of Books, founded and edited in 1963 by Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein as the American equivalent of Britain’s Times Literary Supplement, may have been the most influential of these popular “intellectual” publications. It was assuredly the most eclectic, with articles ranging from literature, art, and music to science, economics, philosophy, theology, and history. By the mid-1980s, the Review’s circulation of 100,000 was far wider than that of its peers. Undisguisedly leftist in its editorial bias, the publication included as its nucleus of contributors the same comminuted group of New York Jews that had sustained the early Partisan Review, among them Philip Rahv, Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, and Midge Decter.


By and large, these were people who shared a second-genera­tion background. They had grown up together, attended the same New York schools (the “College of Irvings,” a wag suggested), fought the same youthful left-of-center battles. Most of them had nurtured literary or artistic ambitions, which in the Depression years went unrequited. The turning point in their careers was the late 1940sand early 1950s. Postwar prosperity, diminishing anti-Semitism, the rapid expansion of higher education, and audience interest in intellectual ideas all played a role. Their talent found well-paying new out­lets, too, in Commentary, The New Yorker, The New York Times, even Fortune. They were winning Guggenheim and Fulbright grants, and appointments to universities. Academically based at last, figures like Alfred Kazin, Irving Kristol, Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, and Leslie Fiedler now enjoyed a certain leisure for their creativity. In ensuing years, few critics could match them in either prodigality or originality.

Smart Jews

Reprinted with permission from
A History of Jews in America
, published by Vintage Books.

Although by the 1920s no sensitive observer could have doubted the role of Jews in America’s popular culture, a Jewish presence on the nation’s intellectual scene failed to achieve decisive visibility until the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was, to be sure, supremely the 1930s influx of cultivated and erudite fugitives from Nazi Europe that projected the new and ultimately ineradicable image of Jews as intellectuals.

Yet, at a time of economic depression and widespread anti-Semitism, years often passed before employment could be secured for these newcomers, and surely before their erudition and insights could begin to register in the New World.

albert einsteinIn wartime, it is recalled, the scientists were first to make their mark. Indeed, the physicists among them would forever be identified with development of the atomic bomb. Several of these–Otto Stern, Victor Hess, and Felix Bloch–later would become Nobel laureates, joining the exalted company of refugees who brought their Nobel Prizes with them. Of nearly comparable influence was the new cadre of mathematicians from Poland and the German Reich….


In chemistry, the United States for years had relied heavily upon European scholarship. Even before they arrived as refugees, Peter Debye, Kasimir Fajans, James Franck, Walter Loewe, Otto Loewi, Otto Meyerhof, and Gustav Neuberg were respected names among American scientists. Franck and Meyerhof were Nobel laureates. Offered teaching posts not long after arriving, these men soon effected hardly less than a revolution in American academic chemistry.

Meyerhof, Neuberg, Konrad Bloch, Hendrik Dam, Fritz Lipmann, and David Nachmansohn were biochemists, molecular biologists, and neurolo­gists. Unlike their American counterparts, they were prepared to apply the interdisciplinary techniques of other physical sciences (Franck had won his Nobel Prize in physics). Accordingly, their work on the structures of proteins and amino acids, on metabolic pathways and genetics, almost immediately propelled the United States to world leadership in the chemistry of life.

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