Denial of the charge that he turned anti-Zionist because the Zionist Organization of America had refused his request for $1,500 for a number of lectures he had agreed to deliver on Zionism, a charge made by Meyer W. Weisgal, editor of the “New Palestine,” and published in the “Jewish Daily Bulletin” on November 19, was made yesterday by Vincent Sheean, Jerusalem correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. The charge against Mr. Sheean followed his testimony before the Palestine Inquiry Commission in which he explained the source of his material on which he based his anti-Zionist cables to the American newspapers.
Mr. Weisgal, in replying, declares that Mr. Sheean’s letter in no way alters the facts contained in Mr. Weisgal’s charge of November 19.
The following is Mr. Sheean’s letter: The Editor of the “Jewish Daily Bulletin”
On my return from Palestine and Europe I have been shown a copy of the “Jewish Daily Bulletin” of November 19th, 1929, containing a statement from Mr. Meyer Weisgal, editor of the “New Palestine,” headed: “Says ‘World’ Correspondent Turned Anti-Zionist Because of Refusal of Zionist Organization to Grant $1,500.” This accusation is entirely untrue, but since the statement has been summarized in a number of Jewish newspapers, and has been made the basis of editorial comment in some others, I sincerely hope that you will print this letter, copies of which I am sending to the Jewish press of New York and Jerusalem. The facts are these:
There was no question about my sympathy with Zionism before I went to Palestine. For several years I had been in this frame of mind, and had planned a visit to the country as long as three years ago. Therefore, when I was planning my trip last spring, and it was suggested that the Zionists were eager to have the progress of their experiment described by non-Jews, I was greatly interested. At the suggestion of someone else, Mr. Weisgal telephoned me. At the interview which followed, and which was not of my seeking, Mr. Weisgal suggested that “The New Palestine” would buy four articles from me and pay $500 in advance, and that another of the internal committee or groups in his office (of which I knew nothing and was told nothing) would be willing to pay me $1,500 during the summer of 1929 for speeches which I would make before Zionist groups in the spring of 1930. The material for these articles and speeches was to have been descriptive and non-political, about Zionist colonies and for Zionist audiences. The $500 was paid and I went to Palestine.
Until I went to Palestine I had no idea that a genuine, fundamental conflict between Jew and Arab existed, or that the Zionist experiment meant Jewish nationalism of the most assertively political sort inside an Arab country. It was the discovery of these facts, and that discovery alone, which changed my view.
Until I returned to New York, I had never heard that the $1,500 had been “refused” by the Zionist Organization. In fact, I thought that it was I who had refused the $1,500. The facts can be clearly understood by reference to my correspondence with Mr. Weisgal last July and Augustâ€”a correspondence which he totally omits to mention. On July 9th, 1929, I wrote to Mr. Weisgal as follows:
“Dear Mr. Weisgal,
“I have decided, after thinking everything over for the two weeks I have spent in Jerusalem, that it will be impossible for me to take any further engagements with the Zionist Organization or any of its subsidiaries.
“That is, I don’t see how I can pledge myself to speak for the organization or to write anything for it beyond the four articles which I have agreed to write for the ‘New Palestine,’ and for which I have already been paid. It seems to me quite obvious, now, that for an outsider like myself to write or speak in a partisan way about a situation so confused and so delicate as this would be both impertinent and dishonest. Whatever I write for my own publishers or my own magazine editors must be written in perfect freedom. If I were under engagment to speak for the Zionists in America this freedom could not exist. Therefore our tentative arrangement, whereby you were to pay me $1,500 for a series of speeches to be made in the spring of 1930, must be considered to be at an end, and you will please not send me the money.
“I ought to have seen this in New York, but I am one of those unfortunate people who can never realize anything except by actual experience. I now see very clearly that for me to speak even on descriptive or non-controversial subjects for you would beâ€”whatever I chose to call itâ€”propaganda. I do not feel sure enough of any of my opinions on any subject to try to influence other people. And I should feel very uncomfortable if anything I said or did could be used to influence anybody, one way or another, in this situation here in which I have no concern.
“I hope this is clear. I don’t in the least mean that I intend to write or speak against Zionism. I only mean that I consider myself absolutely free to do as I please. In point of fact I don’t see why I should write a book about Zionism at all. If I do, however, it will be my own without restrictions or qualifications.
“I know you are busy and I don’t like bothering you about this, but the impression seems to have got abroad in Zionist circles here that I am under some engagement or obligation to the Organization. I should like to have my status clearly defined as independent, and this would be impossible if I considered further engagement with any part of your organization. I should certainly have realized this in New York. In any case I realize it now.
“I accepted payment for four articles from you exactly as I accept such payment from other magazine editors. I shall write the articles: if they are not suitable for ‘The New Palestine’ they will be published elsewhere and your payment returned to you. But in the meantimeâ€”although I am profoundly grateful for the kindness of the Zionist officials I have metâ€”I want it to be very clearly understood that I am to write and speak as I please. I believe you understand this, but the people here don’t. Hence this letter.
(signed) “Vincent Sheean.”
To this Mr. Weisgal replied on August 5th from Zurich, expressing his regret at my decision, explaining his delay in replying as due to an illness and concluding:
“I know that your honesty of purpose and your enthusiasm cannot for one moment be questioned, and even though you reserve for yourself the right to judge, I know that your judgment will be fair and impartial and will give due recognition to Jewish achievements in Palestine.”
Needless to say, Mr. Weisgal’s statement that the New York “World” (or any other paper belonging to the North American Newspaper Alliance) suppressed my despatches after the Zionists had protested, is untrue. They ceased appearing in the papers for the best of reasonsâ€”I had ceased to send them.
I have returned to Mr. Weisgal the $500 which “The New Palestine” advanced me. I am under no obligation to anyone with respect to anything which I may write about what I saw in Palestine. My interest is to tell the truth as I saw it. That has always been my practise as a foreign correspondent.
Reply of Weisgal
To the Editor of the “Jewish Daily Bulletin:
The statement of Mr. Sheean which you were good enough to submit to me does not in the slightest alter the facts which were contained in my statement which appeared in your paper of November 19th. This statement was made following Mr. Sheean’s appearance before the Commission of Inquiry as a witness for the Arabs, and in the course of which he read into the record the letter to me which he quotes in his statement. The statements which Mr.. Sheean made before the Commission were so patently untrue and so effectively repudiated by another witness who was with Mr. Sheean at the Wailing Wall on the night of the demonstration, that no one could for a moment doubt that Mr. Sheean, instead of being an impartial American newspaperman had turned for one reason or another into an advocate for the Arab murderers and looters.
When Mr. Sheean wrote to me from Jerusalem on July 9, he did so not only because he wanted to remain independent but because he had been charged by the Arab papers in Palestine with planning to write a book “for the Zionist Organization.” In a subsequent letter to me, while still asking to be relieved from the arrangement made to write and lecture for the Zionist Organization, he added: “…so I am writing to say that I take back what I said about ‘the impression in Zionist circles.’ So far as I know there is nothing wrong with the impression in Zionist circles. I have talked to Agronsky about it and he assures me that everything is all right. I should add that Agronsky, like Sacher, and every other Zionist I have met here has been very kind and helpful. He is going with me on a tour of the colonies this week-end….”
I wrote to Mr. Sheean from Zurich as I did, for I believed in his honesty which I had no reason to doubt. The Zionist Office in New York, however, knew nothing of this correspondence which Mr. Sheean for reasons best known to himself revealed for the first time before the Commission. It was quite natural therefore that when the riots broke out in Jerusalem, and when Mr. Sheean was the only newspaper man to blame the Jewish youth and absolve the Arabs, that the persons temporarily in charge of the Zionist Office here should, in view of repeated appeals they received for the balance of $1,500 assume that Mr. Sheean had been affected in his judgment by the refusal of the Zionists to send him the balance of the money.
The following two cablegrams which I received on the SS Berengaria and in Zurich indicate how urgent these appeals were:
July 18, 1929
“SS Berengaria (sailed July 16)
“Sheean Jerusalem asks fifteen hundred dollars. UPale took no action. Cable what commitments you made.
July 25, 1929.
“Cable immediately arrangements with Sheean he wrote Bernsteins brother requesting money no record concerning arrangements other Newpal five hundred. UPA refused fifteen hundred. Awaiting instructions.
It is not my purpose to exonerate those in the Zionist Office who at the time made the charge against Mr. Sheean. They might have been hasty in their conclusions, but it was understandable when it is remembered that Mr. Sheean was the only American correspondent to condone the outrages of the Arabs in Palestine against the Jews. For Mr. Sheean to have appeared before the Commission as the only foreign correspondent, to go out of his way to plead the Arab case, only strengthens the impression that he was motivated not by profound conviction of the justice of the Arab case, but by grievances against the Zionists. All of Mr. Sheean’s utterances, his articles in “Asia,” give the impression of a man not desiring to be impartial but utterly blinded by a partisan anti-Jewish feeling which is sufficient to discredit him as an objective impartial observer.
I regret exceedingly that the question of money has been injected into this matter and that an injustice may have been done to Mr. Sheean by the hasty conclusions that were drawn here during the first days of the riots. At the same time, I cannot escape the feeling that Mr. Sheean has been grossly unfair to the Zionists, the Jews of Palestine, and has misrepresented and is continuing by his articles in “Asia” to misrepresent the true situation in Palestine.
Very truly yours,
Meyer W. Weisgal.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.