Eleanor Roosevelt: supporting Zion, denying Palestine

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Kidd, Geraldine M.
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University College Cork
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Eleanor Roosevelt, as a renowned humanitarian, portrayed an inconsistency by supporting Zionist ambitions for a national homeland in Palestine while simultaneously ignoring the rights of the indigenous Palestinians. Because of this dichotomy, this dissertation explores her attitudes, her disposition and her position in light of the conflict in the region. It conveys how her particular character traits interplayed with the cultural influences prevalent in mid-century America and encouraged her empathy with the plight of European Jews after the Holocaust. As she evolved politically, initially under the tutelage of Franklin Roosevelt and latterly as a UN delegate, she outgrew the anti-Semitism of the period to become a committed Zionist. Judging the Palestinians as ‘primitives’ incapable of self-government and heartened by Jewish development, she supported the partition of Palestine in November 1947. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war the 800,000 Palestinian refugees encamped in neighbouring Arab states threatened to destabilise the region. Her solution was to discourage repatriation and to re-settle them in Iraq – a plan that directly contravened the principles of the December 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the UN committee she had chaired. No detailed work has been conducted on these aspects of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life; this dissertation reveals a complex person rather than a model of ‘humanitarianism’, and one whose activities cannot be so simply categorised. In the eight chapters that follow, her own thoughts are disclosed through her ‘My Day’ newspaper column, through letters to friends and to members of the public that petitioned her, through a scrutiny of her articles, books and autobiography. This information was attained as a result of archival research in the US and in The Netherlands and was considered against an extensive range of secondary literature. During the Cold War, to offset Soviet incursion, Eleanor Roosevelt promoted Jewish usurpation of Palestinian lands with equanimity in order that an industrious Western-style democracy would bring stability to the region. These events facilitated the exposure of a latent Orientalism and an imperialistic lien that fostered paternalism in a woman new to the nuances of international diplomacy.
Roosevelt , US foreign policy , Palestine , Middle East , Human rights , Zionism , Orientalism
Kidd, G. M. 2015. Eleanor Roosevelt: supporting Zion, denying Palestine. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.