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Chanan Reich on H. V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist

Filed under: Israel
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 19:1-2 (Spring 2007)


Reviewed by Chanan Reich

Daniel Mandel’s book represents a rare combination of fine scholarship and personal involvement. It shows that one can be at the same time committed to a political movement-in this case, Zionism-and to sound scientific research. This rather uncommon ability is essential in historical and social science research. As scholars are naturally drawn to subjects that are personally significant to them, they often produce biased accounts of limited value.

Mandel, an Australian now living in the United States, is associate director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Middle East Policy, and a fellow in history at Melbourne University. He has understandably been drawn to H. V. Evatt’s (and Australia’s) controversial role in the establishment of the state of Israel. Yet he has managed to produce an objective (as far as possible) and valuable scholarly account.


A Question of Motivation

Israeli diplomats, Australian Zionist activists, and scholars have been puzzled by the question: why did Australia support the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine in 1947? At that time Australia largely followed the British and Americans in their foreign policy. The British opposed the establishment of a Jewish state and the Americans vacillated. Likewise the Federal Opposition in Australia, led by Robert Menzies, faithfully followed British policy.

For his part, Dr. Herbert Vere Evatt, deputy prime minister and minister of external affairs in Australia’s Labor government (1941-1949), wanted to be president of the United Nations General Assembly and needed the votes of the Arab states to fulfill this personal ambition. Hence one could logically have expected Australia to oppose Israel’s establishment. Yet Evatt’s commitment to Zionism became the dominant factor tilting the scales in the opposite direction.

The majority of states on the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), of which Australia was a member, recommended partitioning Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state and placing Jerusalem under an international regime. Australia, under Evatt’s strict personal instruction, abstained-only to support the same decision at the subsequent Ad-Hoc Committee, chaired by Evatt, and the historic decision of 29 November 1947.

This apparent confusion led Howard Adelman to conclude that Evatt was in fact pro-Arab and anti-Zionist.[1] Mandel and this author, however, have each independently refuted this challenging contention, revealing that Evatt was a loyal supporter of Zionism who also cared about his own personal career and managed to maneuver between the two.[2] Therefore, Evatt instructed Australia’s delegation to abstain on UNSCOP’s final report, hoping to gain Arab support for his candidacy; but once he had not been elected, thanks partly to Arab votes against him, he showed his true colors and ordered his delegation to vote for partition.

Mandel’s highly readable book illuminates this dramatic period in the modern history of Australia and the Jewish people. It is a meticulous work and provides detailed historical background for each event. It includes a rich, helpful bibliography and thorough index.


The Issue of Jerusalem

Mandel also analyzes in great detail Evatt’s important role in the United Nations’ resolutions in 1947, 1948, and again in 1949 to internationalize the city of Jerusalem. Here again Mandel reached similar conclusions to those of Rodney Gouttman[3] and this author-namely, that Evatt represented a combination of the idealist who believed Jerusalem should come under international control so as to ensure free access to its holy places to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and the opportunistic politician who was well aware of the Pope’s support for internationalizing the city and hoped to gain the backing of Catholic voters in Australia.

Mandel also highlights Evatt’s consistent support for partition after the UN resolution of 1947, even in the face of the United States’ withdrawal of support for partition and its alternative proposal for a UN Trusteeship in Palestine, and Count Folke Bernadotte’s proposals that deviated from the partition plan and led to his assassination by a militant Zionist group. The book also describes the role of the Australian Jewish community as a pressure group with important influence on Evatt and other prominent Australian decision-makers.

The book is based mainly on painstakingly documented, primary declassified documents from archives in Israel, Australia, Britain, the United Nations, and the United States. It also includes some personal interviews with prominent diplomats and officials from the period in question. In addition, it uses well-documented secondary sources as background material. It has much to offer readers in a broad spectrum of disciplines including Australian and Israeli history, international relations, and modern Jewish history.

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[1] “Jews and the U.N.: The Seeds of Distrust,”


[2] See Chanan Reich, Australia and Israel: An Ambiguous Relationship (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002), passim.

[3] See Rodney Gouttman, “First Principles: H.V. Evatt and the Jewish Homeland,” in W. D. Rubinstein, ed., Jews in the Sixth Continent (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1987).

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DR. CHANAN REICH is head of the Department of Political Science at the Yizre’el Valley Academic College, visiting lecturer at the University of Haifa, and honorary research associate at the Centre for the Study of Jewish Civilisation in the School of Historical Studies at Monash University. He is the author of Australia and Israel: An Ambiguous Relationship (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002).