Eleanor Roosevelt to Mrs. Lafayette A. Goldstone

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Mrs. Lafayette A. Goldstone

18 January 1946 [London]

Dear Mrs. Goletstone:2

I fully appreciate your feeling but I think it is necessary to realize that the Jews of Central Europe are in this position, namely, that while they must be treated as human beings and the equals of any other people on earth, they are in dire need of food and clothing and shelter. Nobody questions their right to self-determination.

Unfortunately there are certain rather serious questions that arise as regards their return to Palestine, which many of them ardently desire. The Arabs claim possession and while they are willing to have the Jews that are already established there, they do not want a large influx of new settlers nor do they want it set up as a Jewish state.3 Unless the British and the Americans are ready to protect the Jews by force from the Arabs it would seem like suicide to allow them to go back.4

I will grant you that there are only two things that can be done. First, allow them to go back and decide to defend them. They are not strong enough to defend themselves. It is not established that the land can support this new addition. Some reports are agreed that it can, others disagree.5 The only other thing that can be done is to offer them citizenship in the various countries of the world and apportion them according to population. They would have the choice of countries that they wished to become nationals of up to the quota that each country assumes.6 There are a number of Jews who want to be nationals of Palestine, and on the other hand, there are a number of Jews in our own country who much prefer to be nationals of the United States. They are on the same basis that a great many other people are who have come to us from other parts of the world, except that they have usually come from some European country or from Russia.

This is not a simple question—as some people would have us believe. Having appointed a new committee of inquiry we will have to await its report.7 In the meantime, I think it is essential that material aid go to the Jewish people no matter where they are in Europe since they have a great contribution to make to the world and should not be allowed to die.

                                        Very sincerely,


1. Aline May Lewis Goldstone (1878–1976), a founder of the American League for a Free Palestine and a published poet, was married to the architect Lafayette A. Goldstone ("Aline L. Goldstone," NYT, 6 May 1976, 40; Aline Goldstone to ER, 13 January 1946, AERP).

2. ER misread Goldstone's signature on her letter of 13 January as "Goletstone."

3. In early 1946, delegates from the Arab states told the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine that Arabs had occupied Palestine for more than a thousand years, and, therefore, their claim superseded any recent historical claim European Jews made to the land. The Arabs also testified they considered the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate over Palestine a violation of their right to self-determination, declaring that it forced "upon them an immigration which they do not desire and will not tolerate." Lastly, the Arabs, objecting strongly to being burdened with world guilt regarding Hitler's persecution of the Jews, attached the "highest importance" to the fulfillment of the promises made by the British government in the White Paper of 1939, which limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to 75,000 over the next five years (Cohen, Truman, 122-46).

For more on the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, see n9 Document 79 and n2 Document 123. For ER's interpretation of Arab views on Jewish settlement in Palestine and a Jewish state, as well as the controversy over FDR's views on these issues, see Document 54. For controversies within the State Department and the Truman administration over Jewish immigration to Palestine and Zionism, see n5 below and Document 124.

4. A 1945 study conducted by the War Department determined that the American military had little desire to fight for a Jewish state. At least 400,000 troops, of which as many as 300,000 would have to come from the United States, the War Department report concluded, would be needed to keep order in Palestine in the face of large-scale Jewish immigration (Brands, 171).

5. In August of 1945, the head of the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern and African Affairs, Loy Henderson, sent a report to Secretary of State Byrnes arguing that Palestine did not possess adequate housing to sustain a massive influx of Jewish immigrants from Europe. In fact, Henderson argued, Palestine lacked accommodations for the nearly 200,000 people already there. The same report also concluded that although Jews owned 90 percent of industry in Palestine, they could never provide enough jobs for all the immigrants. Henderson's report mirrored the conclusions of the 1939 British White Paper, which argued that, owing to the natural growth of the Arab population in Palestine, as well as the steady sale of Arab land to Jews, there was "no room for further transfers of Arab land, whilst in some other areas such transfers of land must be restricted if Arab cultivators are to maintain their existing standard of life and a considerable landless Arab population is not soon to be created." Not everyone, however, agreed with these conclusions. A 1937 royal commission of inquiry, headed by Lord Robert Peel, determined that Jewish immigration was not detrimental to the financial well-being of the Arab population, and argued that the issue of Jewish immigration to Palestine could be resolved by the creation there of a Jewish state (Brands, 170; Cohen, Truman, 122-46; Sachar, Israel, 222-23).

6. On December 22, 1945, Truman issued a directive to "expedite" the admission of "displaced persons and refugees," particularly orphaned children, to America up to the authorized limit in the US immigration laws "as an example to the world in relieving human misery." See n7 Document 74.

7. For the origins of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, which began its work on January 4, 1946, see n8 Document 60 and n2 and n6 Document 123. For the committee's report, which was issued in April 1946 and recommended the immigration of 100,000 European Jews to Palestine and argued against the establishment of a Jewish state, see n9 Document 79. For Arab reaction to the report, see n3 Document 123.

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Mrs. Lafayette A. Goldstone