Monday, March 27, 2017

Columbia University's Barnard College Dean Gildersleeve: Supported Palestinian Rights In 20th Century--Part 1

In her 1954 autobiography, Many A Good Crusade: Memoirs of Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve, the Dean of Barnard College of Columbia University between 1911 and 1947, Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve, wrote the following:

"...In October 1895...I entered Barnard College...On February 1, 1911, I took Office as Dean...As I look back over my 36 and a half years as Dean, it seems to me that the most thoroughly pleasant part of the job was my association with the Barnard undergraduates...

"....The Jews were of course an important element in the make-up of our student body. Once in a printed statement early in my Deanship I alluded to them as a nationality or race, mentioning them along with the English, the French, the Russians, and so on. Mrs. Annie Nathan Meyer, our very zealous Trustee and herself a Jew, insisted that I recall this document and have it corrected, since the Jews were not a race or nationality but a religion. This I did...Several of the outstanding personalities among the original group of Trustees who had started the College I came to know intimately over many years. One was Mrs. Annie Nathan Meyer...Mrs. Meyer and her husband, Dr. Alfred Meyer, signed the lease for the house the College was to occupy, and...the infant Barnard started courageously on its way...

"In the difficult and complex world of the Middle East there was now developing in Palestine, land of the Holy Places of three great religions, a movement which was to plunge much of the region into war, sow long-lasting hatred, and make the Arabs consider America not the best liked and trusted of the nations of the West, as she had been, but the most disliked and distrusted as she is today.

"The movement was International Zionism, the plan to convert Palestine into a `homeland'' for the Jews. The Zionists wished to bring back the Jews to the country which, they believed, their God had given them and which their forefathers had held for a time two thousand years ago.

"The small land of Palestine, about the size of our state of Vermont, had been inhabited for over a thousand years by Arabs, who naturally looked forward, when the British mandate should expire, to becoming an independent state, as had Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, their brother Arab nations...The Zionist movement, however, had been growing in strength, and was immensely stimulated by Hitler's terrible persecutions of the Jews in Germany and the need of finding asylum for some hundreds of thousands of survivors...

" all decent Americans, when Hitler perpetrated his persecutions and massacres, I felt a wave of horror sweep over me.

"I can vividly remember that deep emotion. These appalling outrages seemed so terrible as to be unbelievable...

"Partly to meet the need of providing some sanctuary for thousands of Jewish refugees, and building on the sympathy aroused in other countries by these persecutions, the Zionist movement now rose quickly to much greater strength. It had first received important international recognition when in 1917 the British Government approved the famous Balfour Declaration, which stated, `His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.' Subsequently the League of Nations assigned Great Britain the Mandate for Palestine to carry out their Declaration,--this very ambiguous statement of which only the first half is generally quoted.

"What right had Great Britain, asked the Arabs as the years went on, or indeed the League of Nations, to give away any part of Paelstine without the consent of the inhabitants who had lived there and tilled the soil for over a thousand years? What right had they to say that foreigners might come to the ancient land and there establish a `national home,' whatever that may mean? Surely this was contrary to all the principles of democracy and self-determination..."
(end of part 1) 

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