|ItÕs the Real World After All:
The American-IsraelÐJordan Pavilion Controversy
at the New York WorldÕs Fair 1964/65
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Topics in Performing Culture: WorldÕsFairs
December 9, 2002
Visiting the newly opened New York WorldÕs Fair on a chilly spring day in 1964, Ruth Gruber Michaels paid the requisite 25 cents and entered the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Pavilion, where two Òlovely English-speaking girlsÓ in Òtraditional Arabic gownsÓ guided her through the various displays, including selected fragments of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls.1 Recounting her visit in Hadassah Magazine, Michaels described the wall-sized mural she found at the government sponsored exhibition, depicting an Arab refugee cradling her young son in her arms [fig. 1]. A poem scrolling along the left side of the painting asked the viewer for a moment of her time Òto help...right a wrong.Ó As Michaels related,
[The poem] talked of Ôstrangers from abroad.Õ There could be no question who these strangers were supposed to be, who began Ôbuying up land and stirring up people....The strangers, once thought terrorÕs victims, became terrorÕs fierce practitioners.ÕÓ2
Though Israel was not mentioned by name, the poem went on to question the countryÕs designs on the Jordan River, its Ògains ill-got,/As if the land was theirs and had the right,/ TheyÕre threatening to disturb the JordanÕs course/And make the desert bloom with warriors.Ó Condemning the poem and mural as anti-Israel propaganda, Michaels gravely asked her readers, ÒIs this in keeping with the FairÕs themeÐÐPeace Through Understanding?Ó3
In the same Hadassah Magazine piece, ÒThe American Housewife Goes to the Fair,Ó Ruth Michaels shared her visit to the American-Israel Pavilion, whose 75-cent entrance fee bought her a winding (albeit brief) journey through all of Jewish history, Òfrom biblical days through the Diaspora into the sunlit city of Haifa today.Ó4 There, Michaels encountered tableaux stocked with historical relics and appropriately outfitted mannequins [fig. 2], as well documents, maps, quotes, music, photographs, fine art and sculpture. The ÒIsrael TodayÓ section, sponsored by various American Jewish organizations, offered a portrait of the countryÕs industry, architecture, commerce, and scientific and cultural achievements, with a special emphasis on American contributions to IsraelÕs successes. In his piece Together, meanwhile, exhibition designer Zvi Geyra outfitted the Pavilion with a sculpture of workers heaving irrigation pipes overhead, a muscular symbol indeed of IsraelÕs striving to make the desert bloom [fig. 3]. Replete with gift shops, a cafe and nightclub (as well as a pool and ÒHora platformÓ), the Pavilion punctuated over a century of Jewish presenceÐÐexplicit and implicit, visible and hidden, real and imaginedÐÐat worldÕs fairs. Often, that presence was explored, amplified and mitigated by the historical and symbolic associations of Jews with the Holy Land, itself a pervasive subject of display at worldÕs fairs and expositions ( usually through Christian eyes). 5 Only now, the State of Israel was a political realityÐÐa reality abstracted, packaged and displayed by American Jews for an American and international audience at the New York WorldÕs Fair.
Certainly, the time was ripe for a public celebration of IsraelÕs achievements, and especially a confident display of the American Jewish communityÕs hand in the young nationÕs triumphs. It had been a decade since the tercentenary celebrations of 1954, a year-long commemoration of 300 years of Jewish life in America that provided the American Jewish community an opportunity to assess its past, present, and future before a public audience. Sounding notes of pride and gratitude for the achievements of the American Jewish experience, the tercentenary had also afforded participants and observers the opportunity to critique the assimilationist trajectory of American Jewish history, and to wonder aloud about the prospects for Jewish survival in the boundlessly permissive United States.6 American Jews were not only poised to refresh their own visibility as a community at the 1964 WorldÕs Fair, but were well primed for the projectÐÐnot only as organizers of the tercentenary events, but as participants in (and visitors to) the previous New York WorldÕs Fair , in 1939-40, both at the Temple of Religion and in The Jewish Palestine Pavilion.7
Though tentative plans for exhibitions sponsored by various American Jewish organizationsÐÐ among them the United Synagogue Council, National Council of Jewish Women, and the Jewish Information SocietyÐÐ were still under discussion as late as 1963, the prime focus for American Jews eager to exhibit at the approaching WorldÕs Fair had already shifted to a proposed Israel-related pavilion.8 Israel withdrew government sponsorship from the projected pavilion in 1962, ostensibly for financial reasons.9 Sponsorship was taken up by the newly incorporated American-Israel WorldÕs Fair Corporation, an offshoot of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry that counted a distinguished cast of American Jewish business men as its members and leaders. Nathan Straus III, President of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry and now chairman of the new CorporationÕs Advisory Board, articulated the multiple opportunities that a composite American-Israel Pavilion (as it was now dubbed) presented. The Corporation, he explained, was established by a group of Òpublic spirited AmericansÓ who recognized Òthe opportunity and need for the American Jewish community to offer a representation of JudaismÕs contributions to civilization, combined with a gesture of good will to Israel,Ó a country that, as he pointed out, encompassed the very foundations of the ÒJudeo-Christian ethic.Ó10 As Harold S. Caplin, chairman of the Board and director of the Corporation, remarked to his colleagues at a luncheon in April of 1964:
It would have been a shame not to see Israel represented along with so many of the small emerging nations in the international section at the fair. In addition it would have been catastrophic not to have the Jewish people represented while every other major religion was to be represented here. We felt this in our heart and in our mind....We are proud of our dream...and know that people from all over the world will see and learn first-hand so much about the Promised Land, the seat of the three world religions, and what has come out of the sweat, toil, devotion and desire to build a modern Israel.[emphasis his]11
If the tercentenary presented American Jews an explicit opportunity to appraise their own contributions to and relationship with the American ethos and public landscape, the American-Israel Pavilion offered an expanded, international arena for popularizing postwar American Jewish ideologyÐÐan ideology in which support for Israel figured prominently. As did the Jewish Palestine Pavilion in 1939, an Israel-related pavilion at the 1964 WorldÕs Fair would serve as a golden opportunity to galvanize and broadcast American Jewish solidarity with the (now actualized) Jewish State. Borrowing Barbara Kirshenblatt-GimblettÕs formulation, the Òslippage between the world itself and the world of the fair,ÓÐÐstemming, in 1939, from the presence of a national Jewish pavilion before the fact of IsraelÕs existence in the real world, and, in 1964, from the construction of a simulated Jewish/Israeli universe excised from the messy realities of the past and presentÐÐafforded a space for choreographing American and international public opinion (as worldÕs fairs have always done).12 ÒMoney is being spent to win public opinion in one way or another,Ó observed the editors of The National Jewish Post and Opinion in November of 1962, upon learning of IsraelÕs decision to withdraw from the fair. ÒLooked at from this angle,Ó the piece continued,
an Israeli exhibit at the World Fair could be supported logically despite the surface ethical entanglements. We hope...that some way will be found to include an Israeli exhibit at the WorldÕs Fair....[T]he Jews of the U.S. are inextricably bound up, most certainly from a goodwill standpoint, with whatever Israel does. This means that American Jewry stands to gain from an outstanding Israeli pavilion at the WorldÕs Fair.13
The American-Israel Pavilion was located in the International Area, across the intersection of the Avenues of Africa and Asia from Guinea, Sudan, and Sierra Leone; its nearest neighbors to the east included the Sermons on Science and the Christian Science pavilions [fig.4]. Israel was now a full participant within an international context; nonetheless, its placement near the religious-themed pavilions hearkened back to the a-national, religious categorizations of Jews at previous fairs, and the legacy of Holy Land exhibits as patently religious (rather than geo-political) in nature.
Senator Kenneth Keating addressed the old-new nature of the young state of Israel, and its freighted symbolic status, in his remarks at the dedication ceremony for the American-Israel Pavilion. As had Nathan Strauss III, the senator also noted that Òthe contributions to the Western world from the area which is today Israel actually started...thousands of years ago, for it is this Holy Land of Israel which contributed the origin of the Judaic-Christian ethics. ItÕs almost prophetic,Ó he continued, Òthat this site lies physically at the corner of the Avenues of Asia and Africa and close to the Vatican Exhibit and the Protestant Center.Ó14 Foreshadowing Senator KeatingÕs assessment, an earlier rendition of the Pavilion also privileged the religious legacy of Judaism above all else: The buildingÕs very form comprised a stylized menorah, the seven-branched Temple lamp that has served for thousands of years as the prime symbol of Jewish identity, and whose image graced the facade of the building and appeared as a sculpture within a nearby fountain [fig.5].15
The structure that was ultimately realized was, instead, a tight-sheathed, slightly asymmetrical spiral, whose back wall arched beyond the buildingÕs body to enclose an outdoor gallery of shops [fig.6].16 Designed by Ira Kessler and Associates (a New York firm), the outer walls was built of African mahogany, Òa gestureÓ as the Souvenir Guide offered, Òsymbolic of the friendly ties between Israel and the new nations of Africa.Ó17 The form was neutral, modern, and understated. The landscaping included stones from KingÕs SolomonÕs Mines and other regions of Israel; a wall near the entrance bore the symbols and names of the biblical 12 tribes of Israel, and a small menorah stretched, antenna-like, from the buildingÕs peak.
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Despite the intentions of its organizers and friends, however, the American-Israel Pavilion itself was quickly overshadowed by the developing controversy in which it found itself embroiled. Ruth MichaelÕs column in Hadassah Magazine was not the first indication of trouble in simulated paradise; notice of the brewing controversy over the Jordan Pavilion mural surfaced first in a New York Times article of April 25, 1964, which cast the spat as a poisonous spillover of Middle East discord into the world of the Fair.18 Citing JordanÕs mural as anti-Israel propaganda, officials at the American-Israel pavilion dispatched a telegram to Robert Moses, president of the WorldÕs Fair Corporation, demanding its removal. The message ran:
We are shocked and disturbed to learn that the Jordan pavilion has used its premises at the fair to spread propaganda against Israel and its people. The use of the fairgrounds for the dissemination of such propaganda runs counter to the spirit of the fair as expressed in its theme ÔPeace Through UnderstandingÕ and counter to the regulations of the fair.
American Israel Corporation president Zechariahu Sitchin reiterated the point a few days later, in a second telegram that cited a violation of the FairÕs legal duty to bar Òthe operation of an exhibit which reflects discredit upon any nation or state.Ó19 Moses refused to concede to the American-Israel CorporationÕs demands, repeatedly expressing the sentiment that the Corporation and its supporters were exacerbating a minor matter, and urging all parties to damper the tone of the waxing debate. In his official response to the American-Israel Pavilion, Moses noted the muralÕs political tone, but insisted that the fair could not censor poem or painting, even if the theme was Òsubject to misinterpretation.Ó He concluded that Òno good purpose would be served by exaggerating the significance of this reference to national aims or attributing racial animus to it.Ó By the summer, however, the Fair Corporation had hardened its lineÐÐbranding the anti-mural clamor as an assault on the principle of free speech, the Fair averred that censorship of the Jordanian Pavilion was unconstitutional and Òalien to American principles.Ó20
Meanwhile, in city hall and on the streets of the Fair, the drama continued to escalate. Mayor Wagner called for the muralÕs dismantling; Jordan promised to close its pavilion if pressed to remove it.21 The City Council, in turn, sought to legally prohibit the public display of Òany material which portrays depravity, criminality, unchastity or lack of virtue of a class of persons of any race, color, creed or religion,Ó the mural being the inspiration for and immediate offender of the proposed law (which soon passed).22
When the American Jewish Congress requested permission to picket the Jordan Pavilion, Moses portrayed his refusal as a (now familiar) defense of the FairÕs honor: ÒWe shall not license picketing,Ó he announced, Òto encourage international incidents in a fair primarily devoted to promoting friendship through increased understanding.Ó23 (The ban on picketing, in fact, was initially a response to opening-day civil rights demonstrations by the Congress of Racial Equality.)24 In the meantime, The Anti-Defamation League branded the mural antisemitic, and petitioned the New York State Supreme Court to force the closing of JordanÕs Pavilion.25 Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol canceled his visit to the Fair, wishing to prevent further flare-ups between the warring pavilions.26 On May 26, twelve leaders of the American Jewish Congress (including the organizationÕs president, Joachim Prinz, and folk singer Theodore Bikel) were arrested on the fairgrounds for demonstrating unlawfully and for disorderly conduct.27 And in perhaps the most bizarre turn of events, the national flag was stolen from the Jordan Pavilion in the middle of a June night, the flag of Israel hoisted in its place.28
The American-Israel Pavilion answered what they saw as JordanÕs explicit propagandizing with changes to their own exhibition. In early May, a cannon used in the Israeli War of Independence surfaced in its own display. Harold Caplin, for his part, penned a parody of the Jordan Pavilion poem, which appeared in the exhibition space and was printed at the front of the souvenir guide. His poem lauded the blood, sweat and dreams of the Israelis, Òbrothers who suffered the fanaticÕs terror learning to work and live in harmony.Ó He ended by saluting all the PavilionÕs neighbors at the Fair. ÒWe degrade them not,Ó the poem promised, Òand ask the same in return.Ó
The argument that the mural violated the spirit of the Fair was echoed again and again in the anti-mural letters and postcards that poured into MosesÕ office. Those who wrote in hailed from all over the country, although the majority were residents of the New York metropolitan area. Many who expressed extreme displeasure had visited the Fair itself; others, having read or heard about the controversy, promised never to visit, or threatened to cancel planned trips as a statement of protest. Some wrote as individuals; others signed petitions condemning the Fair; yet others wrote under an organizational banner, from the Vallejo, California chapter of Hadassah to the Jewish Information Society of America (based in Chicago) to the Jewish Labor Committee of the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. From Oklahoma City to the Bronx, the message was essentially unanimous: the mural espoused hatred and prejudice against Israel and the Jews, and clearly violated the internationalist spirit of the fair. The solution was also clear to those who wrote to Moses: Remove the mural, and help restore peace to the world, within and outside of the Fair.29
Many who wrote sought to highlight the egregiousness of JordanÕs violation by contextualizing the controversy in terms of current world events or recent history. What would happen, protesters asked, if everyone acted this way?In the words of one complainant:
It is obvious that Jordan is carrying on through this exhibit a polemic against the Jewish people and the State of Israel. If Jordan is being given this privilege, contrary to the purposes of the Fair, then any nation could proceed to air controversies and its own particular ideology at the Fair, perhaps the Russian government against Capitalism, Mississippi against civil rights for Negroes. These propaganda messages have no place at the WorldÕs Fair.30
According to a Montana rabbi:
This hate campaign, though seemingly directed only against Israel and the 5 million American Jewish citizens, has been exploited...to blackmail the United States, by keeping the Middle East turbulentÐÐfor the profit of NasserÕs imperialist ambitions, and that Communism might Ôfish in troubled waters.Õ I recall that HitlerÕs hatred campaign originally was also directed merely against the JewsÐÐonly at the beginning, as a camouflage toward World War II...this is not even a question of CENSORSHIP but of elementary RESPECT to the host country and to civilized humanity.31
A host of participants in the write-in campaign voiced their authority as New York City taxpayers or veterans of the United States army (or wives and widows of veterans). The protesters made very clear that they condemned the Jordan Pavilion (and MosesÕ decision to leave the mural standing) not only as outraged Jews, but as angry American citizens. President of Hadassah Lola Kramarsky shared the logic of the great bulk of protesters when she affirmed that the mural was Òoffensive not only to those of us who are Jews but to Americans everywhere who seek peace through understanding.Ó 32
Aside from American Jewish individuals and organizations, some American politicians did take note of the controversy. They too underscored the destabilizing influence of what they considered to be flagrant propaganda. Emanuel Celler, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, testifying that the mural was shocking and unpleasant to Òpeople of all creeds,Ó sounded a note of caution. ÒWere I to draw an analogy of a Soviet Union Pavilion on our fairgrounds,Ó he offered, Òbearing a message addressed to the Western World, ÔWe will bury you,Õ would you not agree that such a statement of hostility would be out of place?Ó33 Ernest Gruening, a senator from Alaska, considered the Jordan exhibition a matter of national concern, certain to exacerbate matters in the Middle East by inciting Ònation against nation and people against people.Ó34 Others spoke as concerned New Yorkers: Representative Seymour Halpern, a congressman from New YorkÕs 4th District, noted that the mural not only offended local citizens, but violated Fair by-laws.35
A small number of groups and individuals wrote to Moses expressing their support of his refusal to censor the mural. The American Friends of the Middle East, for instance, defended the mural as brave and truthful; in a letter to Moses, the president of the organization balked at the muralÕs alleged offensiveness and lauded the PavilionÕs efforts to direct attention to the Òtragic facts of lifeÓ for the Arab refugees in Jordan and neighboring countries.36 The Christian Anti-Defamation League, for its part, sent a letter questioning the patriotism of indignant American Zionists. According to the organization, permission to picket the fairgrounds should be denied the American Jewish Congress on the grounds that, as a Zionist organization, it accorded prime patriotic allegiance to Israel rather than the U.S.ÐÐpermission to demonstrate, so the letter argued, should have been filed with the State Department instead.37
The American Council for Judaism, one of the few remaining bastions of classical anti-Zionism among American Jewry, defended the Jordan Pavilion mural as a sober observation of political facts. Executive vice president Elmer Berger considered the mural a welcome wake-up call to Americans generally and American Jews in particular. In BergerÕs estimation, a benighted American Jewish public had unwittingly supported, through monetary contributions first to the Yishuv and then to Israel, a Òforeign nationalistic campaign to establish a foreign state,Ó whose victory in 1948 was predicated on Òterroristic activities.Ó Having been led astray by Zionist groups, he continued, American Jews were blind to the fact Òthat their ÔcharityÕ to assist ÔJewish refugeesÕ [was] helping finance the Israeli diversion of the Jordan River,Ó a program sure to foment Òpolitical, economic and even military crises in the Middle East.Ó At any rate, he argued, the American public should have the right to decide the matter for themselves. 38
Berger was particularly angered by the Anti-Defamation LeagueÕs efforts to bring the New York WorldÕs Fair Corporation to justice (before the New York State Supreme Court) for its support of the Jordan PavilionÕs right to display the incendiary mural. Lambasting the ADLÕs assertion that the mural was an antisemitic diatribe, Berger challenged the ADLÕs claim to speak for American Jewry as a whole. Others in the American Jewish community perceived his efforts as so much internecine jockeying, as well as a wildly delusional attempt to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community. At any rate, BergerÕs support was fully embraced by Moses and Governor George Poletti (a vice president of the WorldÕs Fair Corporation), who used BergerÕs arguments to buttress their case before the State Supreme Court and to rebut those who wrote to Moses in complaint. 39
The sparse but forceful voices of Arab and Arab-American organizations and officials added a further dimension to the defense of the Jordan Pavilion. Mustafa Zein, vice president of the National Organization of Arab Students sent an angry telegram to Moses in late May of 1964, having just witnessed a demonstration outside the Jordan Pavilion. Shaken by the protesters (30 to 40 souls, by his estimation), whose activities, he insisted, could not Òbe put into decent words,Ó Zein explained that Òthis and many other incidents are wearing out the patience of Arab students in the United States. It makes us wonder sometimes,Ó he continued, Òif we are living in America or Israel.Ó Zein concluded the brief telegram with a personal appeal to Moses to maintain a fair and open mind about the muralÕs display. He was contacting Moses, Zein contended, simply Òto demonstrate for the thousands [sic] time our sincere desire to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between the American people and our Arab nation.Ó40
Abdul Monem Rifai, JordanÕs ambassador to the U.N., sent a letter to his American counterpart detailing the increasingly hostile threats the Jordan Pavilion had received since the stolen flag incidentÐÐincluding telephoned threats to bomb or burn down the pavilion. Rifai heaped condemnation on the Òhostile activities of a certain group of citizens in New York who are trying to make a case out of the ÔMural of the RefugeesÕ in the pavilion.Ó41 Like Zein, Rifai expressed bafflement and indignation that the anti-mural protests had reached such intensity. For both, the behavior of the American Jewish protesters was an aberrant manipulation of all that America was supposed to stand forÐÐparticularly, freedom of expressionÐÐand a pernicious effort to sway public opinion on the Middle East generally.
One particularly outspoken critic of the American-Israel PavilionÕs role in the controversy was Dr. Mohammed Mehdi, an Iraqi immigrant (and Berkeley Ph.D.) who established the American Arab Relations Committee in 1964, as a specific response to the agitation against the Jordan pavilion mural. Charging the American-Israel Pavilion with Òpropaganda and insultÓ against Arabs as well as Americans,42 Mehdi asked permission to picket the American-Israel Pavilion. Mehdi decried the hybrid nature of the Òanomalous pavilion,Ó neither American nor Israeli. He too conceived of the struggle as a test of American liberty . As he wrote to Moses:
We would not have raised the issue except for Zionist totalitarianism which is as intolerant as fascism or communism. Full of hatred against the Arabs, the Israeli-Americans behaved as if they were in Israel and not in the midst of an open society. We resent Zionist endeavors to remove JordanÕs mural. Freedom of expression must be protected despite Zionist intolerance.43
It was most unfortunate, Mehdi opined, that Òan intolerant minority should cause unnecessary troubleÓ at an otherwise magnificent worldÕs fair.44
The mural affair garnered some notice in the mainstream press;45 no publication devoted more space to the matter, however, than the New York Times, which charted the controversy from beginning to end in its pages. Aside from tracing the mounting conflict and its widening cast of characters, the Times focused particular attention on the arrest of the 12 members of the American Jewish Congress and the court hearing that followed . The day after the arrest, the newspaper offered a blow-by-blow account of the attempted picketing and resulting arrests. Surrounded upon their arrival at the Jordan Pavilion by police, reporters, photographers, and television crew, the group (led by AJC president Joachim Prinz) was never actually able to demonstrate. Prinz, confronted by a captain of the police, conceded his intention to demonstrate without a permit. Informed that defiance would result in arrest, Prinz retorted that Òin the exercise of our constitutional rights, we shall picket.Ó Indeed, en route to the pavilion, Prinz had earlier proclaimed his determination to protest. ÒI have been arrested before,Ó the Times reported him saying, Òby the GestapoÐÐso I am not afraid of that.Ó The scuffle unfolded just as celebrations got under way at the Jordan Pavilion, marking Independence Day of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
If anything encapsulated the tension between the real world and the world of the fair, though, it was the trial itself. After hearing arguments in Queens Criminal Court, Judge Bernard Dubin ruled in favor of the accused, stating that the picketers were in fact peaceful and, furthermore, were entitled to disobey the police if their directives were unlawful. While the attorney for the WorldÕs Fair, Pincus Berkson, argued that bans on demonstrating were intended to preserve the safety of the public, Howard Squadron, special counsel to the AJC, insisted that the streets of the Fair were public in nature. Angrily dismissing BerksonÕs assertion that the Fair provided Òneither the time nor the place for political picketing,Ó Judge Dubin challenged him to examine what he perceived as the hypocrisy of BerksonÕs argument:
... [I]tÕs all right to put something up that is provocative and offensive if you have a million dollars to set up a pavilion, but if you only have $2 to pay for an admission you canÕt raise even once the slogan, ÔThou shalt not bear false witnessÕ? ArenÕt you taking a risk by allowing a Jordan Pavilion to put up a sign that will excite people? Why do you allow such a thing? IsnÕt that a risk?46
Dubin ruled, ultimately, that the Fair was a quasi-public forum, its streets, in essence, city streets.47
The controversy was taken up by the Jewish press, who (albeit briefly) introduced the topic to their readers in editorials (MichaelsÕ piece in Hadassah was by far the most extensiveÐÐand intimateÐÐtreatment of the Fair, the pavilions, and the controversy.) The Reconstructionist and The American Zionist, for instance, addressed the matter in a few sentences, alerting its readers to the presence of the mural and the intransigence of the New York WorldÕs Fair in refusing to remove it from the Jordan Pavilion. ÒThe mural incites strife,Ó The Reconstructionist averred, Òand prevents understanding by distortion and fabrication.Ó The editorial sounded a note of further anxiety, noting that Òreports indicate that otherwise intelligent Americans are easily misled by Jordan propaganda.Ó48
The Congress Bi-weekly, mouthpiece of the American Jewish Congress, devoted a bit more space to the cause in its ÒTimely TopicsÓ news roundup. The piece opened with notice of Mayor WagnerÕs efforts to remove the mural from the Pavilion, and offered his stance as a stark contrast to that of Robert Moses. The bulk of the editorial, in fact, was dedicated to criticizing MosesÕ role in the proceedings. MosesÕ rationale for preserving the muralÐÐthat Òexaggerating the significanceÓ of the mural was a uselessly inflammatory exerciseÐÐcame under particular scrutiny. Moses, in endeavoring to shield the Fair from controversy, was willfully ignoring the simple fact that it was too late; in the editorsÕ estimation, Jordan had released the evil genie of strife and propaganda into the streets of the Fair, to do what damage it may. As the editorial ran:
...Mr. MosesÕs plain obligation was to asses the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of JordanÕs propaganda, but whether its mural did violence to his ownÐÐand wiseÐÐregulations designed to prevent the Fair from becoming an international cockpit. His disingenuous observations on the Jordan mural, his soft-pedaling of its manifest intent, was rather strange in view of the fact that the Jordan pavilion officials were blunt about it. One official quoted by the New York Times asserted Ôthat all pavilions are propaganda. We are not against Jews but we are against Israel and the foreigners who took our homes and property.Õ The Arab states for many years have been emboldened to flout rules applicable to all other nations, and to export their anti-Israel bias without hindrance, precisely because officials like Mr. Moses wish to avoid trouble.49
Wondering at MosesÕ demurral in the face of what it perceived as flagrant prejudice, the editorial concluded by praising Mayor WagnerÕs Òbold standÓ against the Jordan Pavilion. A mere two weeks later, of course, the American Jewish Congress took its own Òbold stand,Ó picketing the pavilion in defiance of Moses. 50
Extensive coverage of the swirling controversy was given by Arab News and Views, an English-language journal that had been published by the Arab Information Center in New York City since 1954. The journal devoted two pages of its 1964 issue to the topic, including a printing of the full text of the poem accompanying the mural. The editors presented the controversy as a crass Zionist effort to embarrass King Hussein of Jordan during his visit to the United States and to cast aspersions on the Pavilion generally; it branded this effort a resounding failure, for Òthe Zionist machinery did not
take into account the attachment of the American public to the truth and to the desire of hearing both sides of the story.Ó Rather than driving visitors away, the journal maintained, the controversy had brought a great deal of attention to the Jordan Pavilion, exposing American citizens to an alternate version of recent Middle Eastern history. Quoting an article in the New York Times that presented ambiguous reactions to the mural on the part of some visitors, the journal evinced faith in the American public, who were Òinterested and eager to learn the facts.Ó Taking the New York City Council resolution as an exemplar of typical ÒZionist tactics,Ó the journal pilloried the language and intentions of the proposed law:
This maneuver serves as an excellent example to the American public illustrating the campaign of Zionist propaganda and distortion launched against the Arabs, not only over this incident, but for the past 15 years. The American public is asked to believe that the presentation of the Arab point of view, and the portrayal of the misery of refugees living on international charity is tantamount to Ôdepravity,Õ Ôcriminality,Õ and Ôunchastity.Õ This is indeed an excellent example of pressure politics and a Machiavellian distortion of good into evil. This time, however, Zionist propaganda has made a big mistake. The mural is there for all to see. The American public has a clear vision and an honest conscience. No amount of Zionist pressure can affect that.51
In the August issue of Arab News and Views, the readers themselves voiced their disgust with the affair. Responding to the American-Israel PavilionÕs parody of the Jordan Pavilion poem, several readers sent the journal their own rhymed rebuttals to the new poem, in which they chastised Israel for hoarding land, instilling disharmony, and casting out the countryÕs former peace-loving inhabitants.52
By the time the Fair closed in the autumn of 1965, the controversy had simmered to a kind of open-ended, low-level hostility. The last notices of discord in the New York Times are almost farcical: a scuffle outside the American-Israel Pavilion between members of the American Arab Relations Committee (passing out leaflets against Israel Bonds) and an incensed gang of Cafe Israel musicians and dancers; a spurned al fresco lunch of bologna sandwiches and Israeli beer left for the pro-mural contingent, with a sign reading ÒFor your misguided picketsÐÐkosher food, compliments of the American-Israel Pavilion.Ó53 Despite the protests, resolutions, and legal wranglings, the WorldÕs Fair Corporation prevailed, and the mural was left intact, if not in peace.
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Analyses of the New York World's Fair of 1964-65, which was a financial fiasco for its organizers, generally seek to expose and explain the FairÕs resounding failure to capture the public imagination. Diagnosed with bad weather and bad publicity, the Fair represents, for many, the last gasp of Fair President Robert MosesÕ autocratic designs on the city, whose face he had greatly altered in the decades of his tenure as City Parks commissioner. Under his close guidance, the Fair was essentially (despite its international theme of ÒPeace Through UnderstandingÓ) Òa piece of white-bread AmericaÐÐreligious, conservative, middle-classÐÐplunked down in the heart of ethnic New York CityÓ in the words of historian Morris Dickstein.54
In scholarship and in popular memory alike, the FairÕs status as an international forum was eclipsed by its standing as a commercial and technological smorgasbord, a place where giant corporations like IBM and Disney vied for the brand loyalty of avid postwar consumers. It was, as Michael Smith has shown, a place where technology was offered as both a cultural commodity and a kind of spiritual salve; in which visions of the future Òcreated for the fairgoer a sensation of well-being about the present,Ó55 a present marked by increasingly visible signs of social unrest at home and, in the international arena, by the long cold shadow of nuclear war.
Though the fact remains that the corporate showcases were much more popular (and, by most accounts, memorable) than the international pavilions, the International Area of 1964 New York WorldÕs Fair merits a closer look. The contest over the meaning of, and access to, the Jordan Pavilion mural sparked a very public struggle between Fair bureaucrats, politicians, local and national Jewish leaders, Jordanian notables, and American citizens who visited the pavilions or read about the controversy. The battle itself was framed, variously, as a fight against antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment; against anti-Arab prejudice; and, above all, against encroachments on free speech. The Fair acted, then, as a critical arena for rehearsing and enacting Israeli and Arab nationalisms and American citizenship (for American Jews and Arab Americans alike) in a new, postwar, international reality. Flushing Meadows had become contested territory; at the center of the seemingly placid ÒunisphereÓ lay the black hole of reality, sucking the world Òout thereÓ into its orbit.
As Arthur Goren and others have shown, American Jews in the postwar period coalesced around two critical, and related, imperatives: to safeguard the young state of Israel, and to secure the liberal promise of America for all her citizens. This Òfunctional consensusÓ was predicated on a particular narrative about the alternately cataclysmic and euphoric events of the mid-centuryÐÐa story of destruction and redemption in which democracy (and, indeed, a sober but tolerant religiosity) served as the shining hero. The State of Israel was freighted with symbolic weight, Òas both a haven for the persecuted and a doughty democracy surrounded and threatened with destructionÓ from its totalitarian neighbors and an acquisitive Soviet Union.56 The ÒGolden DecadeÓ for American Jews that followed World War II was marked not only by increasing affluence, social well-being, and religious earnestness, but by a developing sense of political responsibility at home and abroad. Jewish communal and religious organizations metamorphosed, in the space of a decade, from ad hoc defense agencies to activist institutions, whose newly broad commitments to civic equity were made manifest by vigilant lobbying, litigating, and protesting for civil and religious rights. The organizations that had mobilized American Jewry to emphatically support and embrace Israeli statehood politically and financially galvanized an increasingly confident community to champion liberalism as the quintessential American valueÐÐand to uphold IsraelÕs sanctified role in this broad liberal vision.
Certainly the American Jewish CongressÕs role in the controversy illuminates the new activist spirit of American Jewish organizations in the postwar period. Its activities also betray a continuing commitment to its dream of a liberal America and a progressive Israel, fighting side by side to rout injustice and shine the light of democracy on the world at large. Indeed, the AJC refused to concede the moral high ground to the Jordan Pavilion and its supporters, asserting the constitutionality of free speech even as it sought to silence nascent pro-Palestinian rhetoric at the fair. Safeguarding the image of Israel from slander was simply too important; their hopes for Israel were intimately bound up with their vision for an equitable America.57
Likewise, the response of American Jewish citizens to the controversy underscores the political genesis of the American Jewish community in the immediate postwar years. Thus, the letter campaign reveals a continuing trend that first surfaced in ÒGolden Decade,Ó in which ÒAmericaÕs role in the defeat of Nazism and its emergence as leader of the free world...induced American Jews not only to participate in the civic and political life of postwar America, but to do so with unprecedented vigor and effectiveness.Ó58
In this light, the rhetoric and behavior of American JewsÐÐboth institutionally and as individualsÐÐvis-a-vis the mural controversy at the 1964/65 New York WorldÕs Fair attests to substantial ideological continuity with the first placid postwar decade. From another angle, however, this moment illuminates telling fissures in the bedrock of the American Jewish liberal consensus. Flushing Meadows became the site, for American Jewish critics of the Jordan Pavilion, of an unwitting tug-of-war between pro-Israel piety and the liberal legacy. For Jews, blacks, Arab Americans, and anti-war agitators, the Fair itself, as aÒfocus for the new sixties style of protest and confrontation,Ó59 was ultimately a theater for rehearsing a new, inchoate understanding of America as Òa nation deeply divided against itself.Ó60 Historians usually offer the year 1967ÐÐthe year of IsraelÕs victory in the Six-Day War, and a time of increasingly explosive racial and urban strife in AmericaÐÐ as the dawn of a new Jewish politics, in which Jewish organizations and their constituents began to turn inward and to reconsider the platforms and alliances of the broad liberal agenda. But a foundry for this Òchanged Jewish temperÓ61 can be found three years earlier, on the streets of the New York World Fair, in the city courts, and in the press. Revisiting the Fair, we may begin to see it, not as a quaintly utopian Òend of an era,Ó62 but as the beginning of a new one.