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United States Diplomat, First Ambassador to Israel: James Grover McDonald Interview

United States Diplomat, First Ambassador to Israel: James Grover McDonald Interview

James Grover McDonald (1886--1964) was a United States diplomat. He served as the first U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

He studied at Harvard University.

Offices Chairman of the Board, Foreign Policy Association (1919--1933) League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Coming from Germany (1933--1935) Member, Editorial Staff, The New York Times (1936--1938) President of the "President Roosevelt Consultative Committee for Political Refugees" Member, U.. Delegation at the Evian Conference (1938) President, Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (1938--1942) Chairman, President's Advisory Committee on Political Refugees (1938--1945) News Analyst, National Broadcasting Company, Blue Network (1942--1944) Member, Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry 1946 United States Special Representative to Israel (1948--1949) United States Ambassador to Israel (1949--1951) Chairman, Advisory Council, Development Corporation for Israel (1951--1961)

McDonald was a member of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine set up 10 December 1945 to examine the possibilities for mass settlement of European Jews in Palestine. Its final report 30 April 1946, called for the immediate admission into Palestine of 100,000 Jewish Displaced Persons.

On 23 July 1948, he was appointed as the Special Representative of the United States to Israel. His appointment was a personal choice by President Truman. It was opposed by Secretary of Defense James Forrestal and resented by Secretary of State George Marshall. He was not a professional diplomat and had a difficult relationship with State Department staff whom he referred to as "technicians".

On his way to take up his appointment, he had a meeting in London with Foreign Secretary Bevin—"I had to tell myself that this was not Hitler seated before me"—at which he provoked Bevin into losing his temper by suggesting that Britain should send a diplomatic representative to Tel Aviv. He arrived in Haifa 12 August 1948. During his first months in the country there were serious concerns for his security. Three months previously Thomas C. Wasson, the U.S. Consul in Jerusalem had been assassinated in West Jerusalem. On 22 August the Chief Code Clerk at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem was kidnapped by the Stern Gang and held for almost 24 hours. Fears were increased following the killing of Count Bernadotte in September.

He was critical of the Provisional Government's refusal to allow any Arab refugees to return to their homes. He argued that this would cause lasting bitterness.[8] But he persistently lobbied the State Department, as well as President Truman personally, for diplomatic recognition. On 24 August 1948, he telegrammed Truman: "I have reached the conclusion that the Jewish emphasis on peace negotiations is sounder than the present U.S. and UN emphasis on truce and demilitarization [of Jerusalem] and refugees." In September he argued that delay in recognition "only encourages Jews in their aggressive attitude." During the election campaign for the first Knesset, December 1948, he repeatedly warned his superiors of the threat of the Soviet Union trying to influence the result. On 25 January 1949, just before election day, he succeeded in getting a U.S.--Israel Export-Import Bank Loan approved.

At the start of the Armistice negotiations, January 1949, McDonald sent the State Department a four-page assessment of Israel's military capacity in which he stated that current Israeli strength was "... 30,000 at present, with an additional 30,000 over-age auxiliaries (including women) who are called up intermittently.... The rumored figure of an 'Israeli Defense Army' of 80,000 fighting men is, in the opinion of the Counselor [himself] and exaggeration." This compares with an assessment made three months later by his own Military Attache for Army Intelligence that, after a 10% demobilization, Israel had a standing army of between 95,000 and 100,000 with some 20,000 to 30,000 reserves.

In early February 1949, his position was upgraded to full Ambassador.

He strongly opposed the U.S. Government's refusal to recognise Israel's occupancy of Jerusalem. His request to the State Department for permission to attend the opening session of the first Knesset in Jerusalem was turned down. He used his position to avoid any highlighting of this policy. On 29 July 1950, he broke the ban on conducting official business in the city when he held a meeting with David Ben-Gurion to discuss the outbreak of the Korean War.

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