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War for Oil? An Exchange

In response to:

War for Oil? from the February 6, 1975 issue

To the Editors:

I.F. Stone, in his article “War for Oil?” [NYR, February 6, 1975], has misinterpreted my position on the use of force in the Middle East. I hope you will allow me to correct the misapprehensions of my views that have arisen from the comments of Mr. Stone (whose keen analysis and principled stands I generally admire greatly).

I oppose American military intervention in the Middle East. The use or threat of force to seize an oil-producing state is inadmissible; it should not even be considered on its merits, whatever they might be. I specifically dissociate myself from the advocacy of force by Robert W. Tucker in January’s Commentary. Contrary to Mr. Stone’s judgment, I took issue with Professor Tucker’s views in my articles “Mideast Choices,” The Washington Post, January 5, 1975, and “The Oil-Grab Scenario,” The New Republic, January 18, 1975.

In both articles, I advocate initiating an American policy of disengagement from the Arab-Israeli quarrel. I would have the United States give up the threat of armed force and the diplomatic attempts of Kissinger to coerce an Israeli abandonment of temporarily secure military positions (though I project that the Israelis will eventually have to trade these for some kind of political arrangements with the Arab states and populations). My position rests on strategic and moral grounds.

It may be true, as Mr. Stone observes, that my proposal of disengagement is “peculiar.” It is peculiar only in that it candidly recognizes that the United States, if it were to give up its intervention in the Middle East, would have to concede substantial strategic autonomy to the contending local states—including Israel. I did not, however, as Mr. Stone paraphrases, undertake to “guarantee” the resupply of arms to Israel, least of all in a massive airlift in the heat of battle. This is not a “blank check,” because it is not a check in the first place.

I recognize that the kind of article I wrote might give partial comfort to many and in some ways disturb all. But there is a difference between pessimism and warmongering. What I cannot understand is the sheer wishfulness of many current proposals for the Middle East. I do not pretend to have the solution to the particular problems. But I’m not sure that Isaiah did, either.

Earl C. Ravenal

The Johns Hopkins University

School of Advanced International Studies

Washington, DC

To the Editors:

In his article “War for Oil?” Mr. I.F. Stone asserts that “some modicum of justice” for the Palestinian Arabs was now the keystone of world stability. Although Mr. Stone believes that a modicum of justice would have the most far-reaching significance for the entire world, he does not find it necessary to explain what this “modicum of justice” would actually amount to. He clearly implies that the exercise of such justice would be Israel’s responsibility. Since Mr. Stone does not explain, one is tempted to regard his remark as mere rhetoric which is likely to enhance the ever-increasing pressure upon Israel. If Israel does not do what Mr. Stone believes she ought to do, she would be guilty of having jeopardized world stability, whatever world stability may mean in his language.

In the same article Mr. Stone makes two other assertions about Israel which need to be commented upon. He suggests that a new war is the line of least resistance in Israel—“a tempting way to avoid the political and other risks in negotiation and concession for a settlement.” He also suggests that Israeli hardliners may be dreaming of a pre-emptive war which they assume may lead to an oil embargo and thus “almost certainly” to military intervention by the United States. There may be people in Israel who, at a given point, might become very fearful of the probability of an Arab attack and might, under prevailing strategic and geographical conditions, consider a pre-emptive strike an awesome precaution for the survival of the country. But that is not what Mr. Stone says. He suggests that so-called hardliners would want to start a pre-emptive war in the hope of inducing American military action—knowing, of course, that America’s participation in the war may get the Soviet Union militarily involved and hence possibly lead to a new world war.

This is as extraordinary a charge as Mr. Stone’s assertion that war may be resorted to in Israel to avoid negotiations for a settlement. I find it almost incredible, not to say irresponsible, that such assertions are being made by Mr. Stone without the slightest indication of the sources or the information upon which they may possibly be based. Who would want to make war to avoid negotiations? The government of Israel? Who are the hardliners? Are they inside the government? Are they a considerable group of people likely to affect the decisions of the government? Mr. Stone does not tell us. His horrible insinuations cannot fail to strengthen the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic forces here and abroad.

Otto Nathan

Executor and Trustee,

The Estate of Albert Einstein

New York City

To the Editors:

The recent article by I. F. Stone, “War for Oil?” is, I find, the most disturbing piece that Stone has written in years. It is not only marked by factually incorrect statements and wishful thinking that is offered as fact—these are forgiven him—but far more unsettling to the reader, by a rekindling of the tired threat to Jews who feel quite free to discuss whatever issue they please—including the Mideast—in whatever journal they please.

Let me elaborate on this serious charge. I remember well my grandfather imploring me time and again to be very careful about what I say in front of non-Jews. I later discovered that this instruction was among the most important handed down by the frightened, immigrant Jews who came to America. No doubt, it was a carry-over from the days in the Pale, and probably there a piece of good advice. My grandfather died in 1945.

Now, thirty years later, I. F. Stone admonishes Commentary, a Jewish publication, for printing Professor Robert W. Tucker’s interesting article “Oil: The Issue of American Intervention.” He tells us that it is a mistake for Jews to discuss openly the issue of military options in the Mideast. Dangerous potentialities emerge. Then, in an unkind and totally unnecessary comment, he reveals that the article was first rejected by Foreign Affairs. For good measure, he tells the reader that the article is a “political freak.”

Obviously something is troubling Stone. Perhaps he is just much more like my grandfather than like the modern American Jew who is unafraid of being American, Jewish, and a strong supporter of Israel. But if Stone were cowed by the grandfather psyche, why did he not urge Jews to desist from demonstrating against the war in Vietnam when charges that Jews dominated the anti-war movement were made. To the contrary, Stone participated in the protest.

Or perhaps Stone is suggesting in “War for Oil?” that Jews should remain silent on issues that concern Jews. But that, too, does not stand the test of time. The I. F. Stone Weekly, before 1967, was strongly supportive of Israel. Israel reflected a “triumphant evidence of progress…. It throbs with expansive vitality” (June 1, 1964). Challenging the issue of Israeli imperialism, he writes, “…Israel is not trying to hold an empire. Its people are defending their homes” (December 5, 1966). While Stone at all times reported the unattractive attributes of the Israeli society, e.g., the presence of discrimination against Arabs, the enhanced role of military, these pale in comparison with the list of favorable reporting. Moreover, to Stone then, the source of the Mideast problem was found in the attitudes of the Arab states who insist on Israel’s extermination (see, for example, November 12, 1956). He charged the oil companies, the US government, the Soviets, and the Arab states with trying, at times, to undermine the Israeli state. He showed little regard for the UN decisions on the Mideast. His language on the Mideast was unrestrained. He saw the Palestinian refugees as pawns and talked in terms of resettlement with compensation (e.g., April 30, 1956). In other words, Stone, like Commentary, spoke clearly on the issues. Stone wasn’t worried about the anti-Semitic reaction to his pro-Israel position.

What has happened since the I. F. Stone Weekly 1953-1967? The oil companies haven’t changed. The UN hasn’t changed, the superpowers haven’t changed, and certainly the Arab states haven’t changed except for the accumulation of more wealth and weapons. Israel’s fight for survival, recognized always by pre-1967 Stone as the fundamental issue guiding Israeli policy, hasn’t changed. What has changed is I. F. Stone. Not just I. F. Stone reporting on post 1967 events, but I. F. Stone rewriting Mideast history prior to 1967.

Stone’s anger at Commentary for just printing an article outlining military options in the Mideast is strange in contrast to his defense of the Israeli move in the 1956 Suez War. He explains that to France, England, and Israel, it was felt to be self-preservation. He concludes that “Israel is lucky that it does not stand alone” (November 5, 1956).

In other words, what was right for Stone in 1956 is not right for Commentary in 1975. Moreover, not only is it not right for Commentary, but Stone finds it necessary to wave the old fear of a General Brown around the corner if you discuss the issue. I think that element in Stone’s “War for Oil?” is a most unfortunate turn of mind for I. F. Stone. And for us.

Fred M. Gottheil

Professor of Economics

University of Illinois

Urbana, Illinois

To the Editors:

I. F. Stone, whose long record of reportorial integrity and courage is now part of the history of our times, has demonstrated the same courage in his consistent criticism of Israel’s policies against the sharp disapproval of the American Jewish Establishment and even against the deeply held views of some of his warmest admirers and close friends, among whom I number myself.

Because Stone is Jewish and is profoundly concerned with the survival of his people as well as the State of Israel, his burden as a prophet and critic (are they not somewhat the same?) is a heavy one. In his piece on oil and war, he aptly exposes the dangers of the Ford-Kissinger threat, a threat which Kissinger claims was the result of a misunderstanding but which nevertheless must reflect the inner thoughts of many. Stone acknowledges that the threat was not indeed a “ringing call for war.” Such a military venture might not bring oil for the motors of the world or peace to the troubled people of Israel. On this, we agree.

Yet there is something disturbing in Stone’s analysis of Israel and the American Jewish community. In essence, I find that his effort to establish justice to both sides doesn’t come off. I find a partisanship which, despite his honorable intentions, taints whatever warnings and prophecies he offers.

Justice to both sides, to Jew and Arab, to Israel and the Arab coalition of states, should mean that literally. I cannot discern in Stone’s article any serious attempt to explore justice to Israel. With both sides publicly stating their fear that a new war may be imminent, he writes, “A new war is the line of least resistance to Israel, a tempting way to avoid the political and other risks in negotiation and concession for a settlement.”

I’m not sure whether that’s a political or psychological deduction, and I don’t want to go into the concessions Israel has already made. But might it not be equally true that war is a seduction for Israel’s avowed enemies? Why does Stone limit his insights to one side only?

If Israel’s “hard-liners” may be encouraged, in Stone’s words, “to try a preemptive war” because they feel it may be a good gamble in light of Kissinger’s threat, why is Stone silent on what the Arab “hard-liners” in Syria might be tempted to do? A prophet speaks to all us sinners, not only to those in his immediate family.

The lesson of the holocaust,” Stone writes, “is that to treat other human beings as less than human can lead to the furnaces.” On this, I am his fervent disciple, although I wish, in his effort to do justice, he had mentioned the treatment of Israeli prisoners by the Syrians. Still, if there are some irrational voices in Israel that speak such madness, we are together in opposing them. And so are most Israelis. But the Isaiah in I. F. Stone sounds hollow to me when he forgets to direct his wrath at Arab madmen. When, on another occasion, Stone criticized Arafat’s words and attitudes in his speech to the UN, he had to evenhandedly attack Tekoah. But did Tekoah wear an Uzi machine-gun on the podium of that congress of world peacemakers? Did he cry out for the ultimate destruction of the Palestinians?

Why the evenhandedness in one place and not another?

Stone writes: “The way to honor the dead [of the holocaust] is to see the Palestinian Arab as a displaced brother.” (I skip the history of Palestine which raises the question of who, after all, is the displaced brother.) But I ask Izzy Stone to grapple with the question—what if the “displaced brother” doesn’t recognize Israel as a brother? What if the “displaced brother” openly calls for the death of his brother? What does the Jeremiah in Izzy Stone do about that?

He says that he wants “no hate Arab campaign or a Jewish hysteria about Israel so irrational that it strengthens the hardliners there and invites anti-Semitism here.”

But what are the real sources of this “Jewish hysteria,” if such it is? Have we not reason for hysteria when the world seems prepared to sell out for oil a martyred people whose “displaced brothers” joined the fascists in bringing about such unwelcome martyrdom? Would that we were so hysterical in the late Thirties when Hitler was destroying one third of our people. Has Izzy Stone heard the PLO say it would respect the integrity and existence of Israel? If so, let him tell us. If not, let him preach to them.

Finally, as to anti-Semitism here because Jews are “hysterical” in defense of Israel. Anti-Semitism is not and never has been the result of Jewish attitudes or behavior. Izzy Stone knows that as well as I do. He knows that the virus exists no matter what Jews do or say, or even if they remain silent as many of the German Jews did. He knows it is a Christian disease, not a Jewish one.

That he would make so blatant an error suggests again that in his effort to safeguard Israel’s survival he has not seen the truth with both eyes. I know that he is a concerned Jew as well as citizen. That doesn’t make him less wrong in his current views on Israel and his people.

Michael Blankfort

Los Angeles, California

I.F Stone replies:

I acknowledge an unintended injustice to Mr. Ravenal. Unfortunately his article “The Oil-Grab Scenario” was on the press at The New Republic (the issue dated January 18) when mine was coming off the press at The New York Review and I did not see it until a few days after mine was printed. I agree 100 percent with his conclusions in The New Republic, though this does not alter my disquiet about the kind of “disengagement” he proposed in his earlier article in The Washington Post January 5.

I am sorry to note that two weeks after Mr. Ravenal’s antiwar article appeared in The New Republic (the last issue under Gilbert A. Harrison’s long and fruitful editorship), that publication (under another friend, Martin Peretz) began a turnabout in its leading editorial, “On Force: Learning The Wrong Lessons,” which said Robert Tucker’s article in Commentary had “performed a public service.”

I am sorry my old friend Otto Nathan disagrees with me so violently. I hope he will forgive me if I add that I believe his lifelong friend Albert Einstein would have taken a position very similar to mine. I remember as a reporter covering Professor Einstein’s appearance before the Anglo-American Committee on Palestine in Washington, January 11, 1946. I felt proud then as now of the fact that the greatest Jew and one of the greatest human beings of my time did not take a narrow nationalistic position on Palestine. While he pleaded that it be opened to settlement by Jewish refugees from the Hitler holocaust, he advocated a UN trusteeship to replace British rule and did not join the official Zionists in calling for a Jewish state.

Einstein qualified his support of Zionism very early by his belief, as Ronald W. Clark puts it in his thorough and fascinating Einstein: The Life and Times, “that a first priority should be agreement with the Arabs.”

In a letter in 1929 to the great Zionist leader Weizmann, Einstein wrote, “Should we be unable to find a way to honest cooperation and honest pacts with the Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing during our 2,000 years of suffering, and deserve all that will come to us.” He added in a later letter (see pages 402-403 of Clark’s biography), “it would be unworthy of us to maintain a nationalism à la Prussienne.”

After World War II, in a letter to the National Labor Committee for Palestine, a Labor Zionist group, Einstein wrote, “My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain….” I would like to believe that my attitude, in trying to combine devotion to my own Jewish people with concern for the displaced Arab too, owes something to the tradition of Einstein as of Ahad ha-Am and the Hebrew prophets.

Professor Gottheil accuses me of inconsistency. I’ve never been afraid of inconsistency but in this case I have been consistent from the beginning.

On my return from the reportorial experience I cherish more than any other in my lifetime, my trip with Jewish illegal immigrants from Poland to Palestine in the spring of 1946, I concluded my account in the New York newspaper PM by expressing the hope for “a bi-national Arab-Jewish state made up of Palestine and Trans-Jordan, the whole to be part of a Middle Eastern Semitic Federation.” I even suggested a ten-year international trusteeship “in the course of which, first through consultative and then representative bodies, Jews and Arabs, Christians and Moslems would begin to work together as they do so successfully today in the half-Arab, half-Jewish municipality of Haifa.” (See pages 238-239 of the reprint in book form, Underground to Palestine, published by Boni and Gaer, 1946.)

I was glad that Israel won its wars in 1948 and 1956 and 1967, but each time I stressed the fact that its long-range interests demanded reconciliation and that this required amends to the Arab refugees and to their national aspirations. After 1967 I wrote of this as “The Harder Battle and the Nobler Victory,” but in 1956, the year of Suez, I published a similar two-page piece in the Weekly (April 30, 1956). The headlines sum up the theme: “The Road to Peace Lies Through the Arab Refugee Camps”…”Theirs Is a Moral Challenge to World Jewry and Israel—New War and New Victory Would Only Perpetuate the Cycle of Hatred.” A similar call for reconciliation and peace may be found in the epilogue of my book This Is Israel, which embodied my reportage of the 1948 war.

I am grateful for the tone of the letter from my old friend Michael Blankfort, and think he deserves as close a reading as I do. I share his anxieties and respect his differing views.

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