“John Roy Carlson” was one of several pen names used by the Armenian-American journalist Avedis Boghos Derounian, whose 1943 book Under Cover was a tremendously popular expose of Nazi sympathizers in America in the years leading up to World War II.
A lesser-known effort of Carlson’s was Cairo to Damascus, published in 1951, in which the author recorded his undercover travels in the Middle East during the seminal year of 1948. It’s a worthwhile read because Carlson not only wrote from an eyewitness perspective, he did so at a time before Israel’s enemies had succeeded in burying the true story of the country’s birth under multiple layers of myth and falsehood.
Carlson stopped off in London on his way to the Middle East in January 1948 and found many examples of collaboration between English anti-Semites and Arab groups seeking to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. He wrote of visiting and dining with British fascists who kept busts of Hitler in their homes and who boasted of friendships with escaped Nazis and such world-renowned Jew baiters as Arab League secretary-general Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha and the grand mufti of Jerusalem.
At one such dinner meeting, the host told Carlson, “Palestine is the only country in the world where the Gentiles can get theirs in against the Jews.” One female guest said she had bought some property in Palestine years before and sold it to some Jews. “I plan to have my property back after the Jews have been disposed of,” she announced.
“I give the Jews two years after the Arabs win,” her host helpfully responded. “The Arabs will do it [dispose of the Jews] gradually.”
Added another guest” “If we break the back of the Jew in Palestine, we have broken it for a long time to come.”
These, then, were demonic anti-Semites who had come to see Arabs as successors to the Nazis in the age-old effort to destroy the Jews. The excuses and rationalizations for being anti-Israel with which we’ve become all too familiar did not yet exist.
There was no talk of an independent Palestinian state, for the elemental reason that the very concept of a distinct Palestinian Arab people was unknown in the Middle East, let alone in Great Britain; nor was there any suggestion that in the interests of peace the Jews relinquish the West Bank or dismantle settlements, since there were no settlements, no Jewish control of the West Bank, no Jewish state at all.
No, it was the very idea of a Jewish state, no matter how small, weak or inconsequential, that set such people’s teeth on edge.
Carlson’s next stop was Cairo, where he took in the atmosphere of intense Jew-hatred permeating the streets and bazaars. The Egyptians had pined after Hitler, with King Farouk virtually begging the German leader to establish closer ties with Egypt. Carlson quoted a former Egyptian defense minister who told him wistfully, “If the Nazis and Fascists had won they would have been friends to the whole Arab world. And there would have been no Zionist problem because there would have been no Zionist Jews or any Jews at all left.”
The fascination with Nazism was hardly limited to Egypt. “So pronounced was pro-Axis sentiment throughout the Arab world,” noted Carlson, that the phrase “In heaven Allah, on earth Hitler” became commonplace.
Carlson confronted the same anti-Jewish hysteria in Arab Jerusalem. Talk of butchering Jews was widespread. One Jerusalem Arab, a man named Ali, told Carlson: “I must kill Jews, many Jews. I must kill till my arm is tired. I must not stop killing Jews till the bodies are this high [bringing a hand up to his chin].”
Ali then made a request of Carlson. “When I catch a Jew alive I want you to be with me . I want you to take one picture of me holding the living Jew by the throat. I want you to take another picture while I stab the Jew in the neck. Then I want pictures as I stab him again and again in the neck, in the face, in the heart, in his belly . After I have killed the Jew I want you to photograph me drinking his blood.”
Upon his return home to New York, a Jewish state having been established and Arab dreams of an epic massacre of Jews having gone unfulfilled, Carlson sat down to write his book a transformed man.
“I left Israel,” he wrote, “believing in miracles – that God still speaks, that prayers are answered, that the laws of Good and Evil still rule. By the same token, I believe that Israel, after many tribulations, will survive .”
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org