Blog
Nirit Shalev Khalifa
August 21, 2017

U.S. Policy in the Middle East is (Much) Older Than You’d Expect

U.S. presence and diplomacy in the Middle East, specifically the Holy Land, goes back much farther than you’d expect. You can listen to curator Nirit Shalev Khalifa and Dr. Ron Bartour discuss this topic with Gilad Halpern. Discover more on this topic at our online exhibition, Dreams and Diplomacy in the Holy Land: American Consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th Century.

Transcript

Host:
You’re listening to a TLV 1. This is The Tel Aviv review. And I’m a now joined here in the studio by Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa, the curator of the exhibition Dreams and diplomacy in the Holy Land, American consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. That’s currently showing at the national library in Jerusalem. Also, here in the studio is Dr. Ron Bartour, a historian specializing in American attitudes towards the Holy Land, as well as a former broadcaster on Israel Radio and a rhetorician. Welcome both to the studio. Hello.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Thank you.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Thank you.

Host:
Nirit, we’ll start with you. There are a few striking things about the history of American consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. One of them is the great proactiveness and political involvement at a time when Washington’s official foreign policy was isolationists and non-interventionist. Why is that? What motivated them to be so active?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
This is one of the most amazing things, that all those consuls came to Jerusalem. And if you see the motivation they had, it was mainly because they really wanted to come. They wanted so hardly that their friends colleagues tried the best they can do. They convinced the minister in Washington. And that even sent us to the first consul or almost consul in Jerusalem Warder Cresson. Warder Cresson-

Speaker 1:
Almost consul because he was [crosstalk 00:01:49] officially appointed.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Almost consul… He appoin and then it was canceled even before he came to Jerusalem.

Host:
Right.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
The journey took about a month. And that time, the people in the government in a Washington, they found out who is the person, but it was-

Host:
[crosstalk 00:02:06] Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
The reason- Yes, the reason that they appointed him, because he was very religious person and he wanted to come to Jerusalem. He had no idea about the real Jerusalem.

Host:
Sure.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
He thought about Jerusalem in the-

Host:
[crosstalk 00:02:22] He had the Jerusalem syndrome.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
The biblical Jerusalem.

Host 1:
Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And some kind of. And I think that was a, you mentioned the Jerusalem syndrome, maybe you can say that the American diplomacy, that time was some kind of Jerusalem syndrome. Because, they came with ambitions. And also, we say, all the thinking of American about liberty, about freedom, but what you think in America, the new world, the new zion [crosstalk 00:02:50] they wanted to create. They came to Jerusalem and they found it.

Host:
Sometimes it went over the top because Warder Cresson, for example, the reason his appointment was revoked was that he was mentally unstable and his ex-wife even tried to institutionalize him.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Yes. But you see, the reason was religion. Some of them came, if we say Warder Cresson was very dramatic and extreme-

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
…example, but we can say about many other consuls. They won because the help of them or some relatives. They wanted to come. And when they came to Jerusalem, they came as the new guy in the neighborhood.

Host:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And then, was no support, no policy from Washington. And then they had to deal with two main subjects. One of them was the American settlers-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
…who is the American colonies and the other was the Jewish communities.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Ron. What’s the thing that led the American policy in the land of Israel in Palestinian, in the Holy land. Was it just a Christian Zionism or were there other interests involved?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
In one word, Geopiety. Namely, if you look at this map, which was produced for the bicentennial, by my professor, Moshe Davis, the head of the Hebrew University, Institute of Contemporary Jewry, with his wife, you can see Moses and other distinguished guests from the Bible running around in the American map. And as a matter of fact, there were like 340 settlements, American, Puritan, Colonial settlements, and from the national [inaudible 00:04:41] period named after the Bible. So, geopiety speaking, Zion in America was in that nature. Furthermore, American students at Harvard in the 17th century had to study biblical Hebrew and they claimed it’s difficult. So, this led the government to appoint religious, mostly, people as consuls in the Holy land.

Host:
Because, in many ways the American Ethos is very similar to the Zionist Ethos. It mentioned the new Jerusalem, the new Zion, this whole thing about going back to the roots while discovering the new land. And some of those people that are covered in the exhibition were, you could say pro to Zionist, Zionist even before Herzl.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Even though some of them had some hesitations, for example, the side of Cresson, who tend to be Jewish who became a Rabbi and married this- [crosstalk 00:05:50].

Host:
Converted.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
…as far as the wife and recently his tomb in Mt. Olives was found-

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Thanks to the exhibition we found the- [crosstalk 00:05:59]

Host:
Oh, really?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so in his book, you can see this Magen David with his soul, his Jewish soul. And he’s saying in his book, the key of David, one true God, who was blessed forever and underneath his Hebrew name, Michoel Boaz Israel, which he shortened for my Mccovey. That’s the first-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
…Mccovey, modern Mccovey.

Host:
And he’s the one who actually converted to Judaism, but others who were practicing Christians. So, the mission primarily, but I don’t know if primarily, but you know, a big part of the mission, to establish good relations with the Jewish communities in Jerusalem and in many ways to give them the patronage.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Yes. Especially extraterritorial rights, which was the core of the American capitulations in this regime with the Ottoman Empire in which foreigners could have acquired land, houses and outside of the Ottoman, Texas.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Ron Bartour:
So, this was very important for Jews who came in growing number to the Holy land, because Europeans usually [inaudible 00:07:17] for their rights and between them and the Turkish, the Ottoman Empire. And the Jews were afraid of losing their extraterritorial rights, they’re privileges. There were proteges. And from Russian protection, British protection, they were led to America. Now American had the Monroe Doctrine since 1823, this isolation [crosstalk 00:07:44].

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
So, the question is why the Turks were so eager or agreed to- [crosstalk 00:07:48]

Host:
That’s what I was going to ask. How was it received by the Ottoman authorities, who ruled this piece of land? It was part of the empire at the time.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And why America? Because, American official non-involvement was liked by the Ottomans, but specifically they liked American know-how, technologically speaking, of building ships, which the European destroyed in 1823 in Navarino where Greece was fighting for its independence. This was the real reason why in 1830, this- [crosstalk 00:08:21]

Host:
Basically it’s a cross-atlantic Alliance, even before it-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
[crosstalk 00:08:27] The consul was established.

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Yeah. Right.

Host:
So, basically they were looking towards America as a potential potential ally. While the British, the French and the Russians were gradually becoming their enemies. That’s what you’re saying.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Right.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Nirit, we’ll go back to you. This Friday, on the 10th of January, there’s a gallery tour at the National Library where the exhibition is. And it will be dedicated to a specific consul, Victor Beauboucher, who’s actually a Frenchman.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Yes. And one of the amazing thing is about all those characters that we see during… We’re talking about 16 consuls, because they couldn’t survive many years in Jerusalem. They just had to ask for another job after a few years and even after some months. And Victor Beauboucher was another very important consul, because he was involved in few major affairs, like, first day American colony in Jaffa.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And we are going to talk about the American colony in Jaffa, and also to see a film made by professor Yael Katzir, who documented the story. I guess most of the people knows now where the nice wooden building in Jaffa Tel-Aviv-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
-street. But…

Host:
And also Jerusalem, the famous hotel.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
No. But this is another American colony.

Host:
Oh, right. Okay.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
That was with another consul that had made them a lot of problems [inaudible 00:10:15]. But Victor Beauboucher actually was… He came and he had to help them to go back to America because they came here and [crosstalk 00:10:27]

Host:
Yeah. Who are these people? I mean, we know that the American colonies exists to this very day, like you said, in Tel Aviv near Jaffa and in Jerusalem and other places in the country.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And another American colony, which was actually the first one that we are talking about in Mt. Hope-

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Which is [crosstalk 00:10:45]

Host:
Yeah. That never survived. It existed for a few years and… Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
All of them, I think-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
The forefather John Steinbeck, the famous American writer was murdered there.

Host:
Really?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And I had [inaudible 00:10:57] back in 1855, and you can find it in the Senate document.

Host:
Okay. That’s really fascinating anecdote, but who were these people who established the American colonies here?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
In 1866, this American colony in Jaffa. Their leader was the preacher, George Adams. And he convinced them to come again to, to the Bible and to be farmers here. And they came with their wooden houses. This is an amazing thing that just came from Maine and they came with everything with them. But of course they came to nothing and they couldn’t survive. And after a while, they needed a real help just to help them to go back to America and to build their life. Only few families stay here. And one of them is the Floyd family.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And Rolla Floyd, he was the first tour guide. He actually invented the tour guide in the Holy land.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) When was that? What the decade of 19th century?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
We are talking in the ’60s.

Host:
Okay, 1860s.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
It was between ’66 and ’67.

Host:
Right.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And they had to leave. And one of the things that maybe to mention about this exhibition, because we have so many firsts, we tried to look for every consul. What’s happened during staying here?

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And some of them said it was very boring and asked to leave.

Host:
Yeah. Exactly. That was going… Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
But it wasn’t so boring. I guess, for most of them, it was too much interesting. [Crosstalk 00:12:35]

Host:
Exactly. That’s my question to you, Ron, now. Another thing that struck me is that we were talking about, I don’t know, maybe a dozen consuls in just over half a century. And all of them asked to be transferred prematurely. [crosstalk 00:12:54] I don’t know all of them, but a great majority of them. And some of them, like Nirit said, found it boring. Others just couldn’t handle the network of pressures that was applied on them from the Turkish authorities, from the Department of State, in Washington, and from the Jewish community here. Many of them were embroiled in controversies that hit the very few newspapers that were here. All of this, of course you can see at the exhibition, but what do you think brought them to this situation?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
First of all, you have to remember that the settlers and most of the consul came from the geopietic feeling. Not just them, Edward Robinson, the famous American archeologist who found the Robinson’s Arch in Jerusalem and there was the wall.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Near the Western Wall. [crosstalk 00:13:56]

Dr. Ron Bartour:
It said that he remembered his grandfather’s Bible, which led him to this profession, which led him to come to the Holy land. And so, under the Spoils system, this was the name of the department of States system until 1906, people were chosen because of personal reasons. Other missionary, like this Beauboucher for example, who actually was involved with his deputy Jewish wants before it was converted to Christianity named Finkelstein who became the private secretary later of Sewald, the famous secretary of state.

Host:
Right.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Okay. And this Sara Steinberg affair, where Beauboucher went Friday night to a Rabbi’s house to take out a small child rose so much fear. [crosstalk 00:14:52]

Host:
Why did he do that?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Because he was, in his heart-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
…a religious missionary.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So, he wanted to protect her from-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
So to speak.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Yeah. Her family was converted when-

Host:
Right.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
…their parents died and only sister was a Christian, already.

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And then there was a fight, who’s going to get the-

Host:
So, they were all-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And this guy went to President Grant.

Host:
Who’s that?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
It’s Rabbi Schneersohn.

Host:
Okay.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Grandson of the famous Schneersohn, who established Chabad. And he, as you see, speaking about geopiety, spoke to President Grant about this missionary consul, that should go home-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
…so to speak. And as you can see, he was dressed like a prophet. This Rabbi said-

Host:
So this-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
As a matter of fact, he was the one who, for himself asked to become an American diplomat in Tiberia.

Host:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And-

Host:
But it was denied.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
It was denied because it was involved in the scandal in which he was beaten up by extreme Jews in the Galilee who didn’t want to go for modern agriculture and beaten him. But he succeeded in removing this consul Beauboucher from his office.

Host:
Right. Okay.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And he died in diaspora dreaming about a Tiberian-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
…colony, [crosstalk 00:16:13] which was established.

Host:
So, like-

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And that’s why we don’t have [inaudible 00:16:16] American Consulate in Tiberia [crosstalk 00:16:18].

Host:
Yeah, because his mission failed. A lot like-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
But President Grant came to the Holy land, maybe as a result of this.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And wrote about it, a diary, which we have.

Host:
Okay. Like we see, those many, many dreams that penetrated diplomacy and vice versa, which makes the name of the exhibition so apt, Dreams and diplomacy and the Holy land, American Consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. Thank you very much for coming into the studio, Dr. Nirit Shalve Khalifa, the curator and Dr. Ron Bartour, a historian specializing in American attitudes towards the Holy land. And I encourage our listeners to come on Friday, the 10th of January at 11 o’clock in the morning?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
At 10:30 in the morning.

Host:
10:30 o’clock in the morning. 10:30 in the morning, to the National Gallery in Jerusalem for a gallery tour dedicated to Victor Beauboucher. Thank you very much and we’ll be right back.

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