The Shwadran Collection in Context

This is Martin Kramer’s introduction to An Index of the Shwadran Collection, incorporating the research files of the American Zionist Emergency Council and the Council for Middle Eastern Affairs, Inc. (Tel Aviv: The Moshe Dayan Center, 2000).

The Moshe Dayan Center has been home to what is known as the Shwadran Collection for thirty years. This name, suggesting as it does the private archives of one scholar, is misleading.

In fact, the collection is comprised of highly organized files of press clippings and documents first assembled by Benjamin Shwadran (1907–2001) in his capacity as head of the research department of the American Zionist Emergency Council (AZEC). This coordinating body of American Zionist organizations, famously associated with the figure of Cleveland rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, directed Zionist political action in the United States during the Second World War and the creation of Israel. The AZEC later created a spin-off, the Council for Middle Eastern Affairs, which sponsored a monthly journal, Middle Eastern Affairs. Shwadran edited the journal from its inception in January 1950 until its closure in December 1963, during which time he continuously expanded the files inherited from the AZEC. And so the outstanding collection now called the Shwadran Collection is really an institutional collection: these are the very rich research files of the AZEC and its offshoot, the Council for Middle Eastern Affairs.

Yet the collection is also a reflection of the organizational energy of Benjamin Shwadran, whose own genesis as a scholar of the Middle East followed a trail from Jerusalem to America and back. Born in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1907, Shwadran was one of the first students (and the youngest) to enroll in the Institute of Jewish Studies at the new Hebrew University, when it began to offer instruction at the end of 1924. Shwadran went to America in 1927, and completed his studies at Clark University, whence he received his doctorate in 1945. He also taught Middle Eastern studies at the New School for Social Research in New York, before his appointment as professor of Middle Eastern studies and director of the Middle East Institute at Dropsie College. Shwadran rounded out his formal academic career as professor of political science at Hofstra University. In 1973, he retired to Jerusalem, and continued to teach on an occasional basis at Tel Aviv University. His major books included The Middle East, Oil, and the Great Powers (1955 and two subsequent editions, in 1959 and 1973), Jordan, A State of Tension (1959), The Power Struggle in Iraq (1960), and Middle East Oil Crises since 1973 (1986).

For all the variety of Shwadran’s academic career, the Shwadran Collection is the product of his extracurricular activities–his work at the AZEC and his fourteen-year tenure as the editor of Middle Eastern Affairs. The AZEC, the leading Zionist lobby in America, had a wide-ranging political agenda, the pursuit of which required a constant flow of information. Its research department collected press releases and pamphlets, clipped newspapers, acquired issues of journals and magazines, and tracked the information campaigns of Jewish and Arab organizations, and Middle Eastern embassies. The resulting collection is rich, and it covers the entire Middle East, although it is strongest for mandatory Palestine, the first decade of Israeli independence, Arab-Jewish and Arab-Israeli relations, and American Zionism.

The Council for Middle Eastern Affairs continued to collect these same materials, in order to ensure the accuracy of Middle Eastern Affairs. To some extent, Middle Eastern Affairs represented a response to the Middle East Journal, which had been published by the Middle East Institute since 1947. These two periodicals intellectualized the old rivalry between the AZEC and the Department of State–“a game of wits,” wrote the historian Phillip J. Baram, “the central question being who could outfox whom.” The two publications propounded alternative and sometimes opposite views of the Middle East, at a time when the United States sought to define its new role as a great power in the region. Both periodicals actually demonstrated far more intellectual range than their sponsors, and both enjoyed widespread credibility. But they were rivals all the same, and in this rivalry, the (Washington-based) Middle East Journal encountered a worthy adversary in the (New York-based) Middle Eastern Affairs.

Leafing through Middle Eastern Affairs, it is clear how the periodical built its reputation for timeliness. As a monthly, it could respond more rapidly to events than the quarterly Middle East Journal, and many of its pieces constituted a kind of extended news analysis. Politics dominated the journal, but economics and culture featured often in its pages. Chronologies, bibliographies, and book reviews enhanced the research value of the product. In sheer volume of published material, Middle Eastern Affairs in the mid-1950s equalled the Middle East Journal, and its editorial board featured scholars of international renown.

Many of the articles were written by Shwadran himself, and by other Jewish and Israeli scholars. But the contributors grew more diverse over the years, and in its pages, one could even find articles by Malcolm Kerr (on the 1960 elections in Lebanon) and Hisham Sharabi (on the university in Damascus). For such contributors, Middle Eastern Affairs had transcended its parochial origins, and represented an effective medium for reaching all American audiences interested in the Middle East. The journal’s contents are eminently accessible today, thanks to a detailed general index which Shwadran published as a parting act in 1968.

Neither the last issue of the journal, nor the subsequent index, offered an explanation as to why Middle Eastern Affairs folded at the end of 1963. One can only assume the usual reason: no journal is profitable, and so all journals require subsidies, which often dry up during reorganizations. Shwadran spent the 1968-69 academic year as a visiting research associate at the Shiloah Center (precursor of the Moshe Dayan Center). At that time, he arranged the transfer of the research files of Middle Eastern Affairs to the Center’s Library, which published a listing in 1971. That listing was very basic, and did not suggest the wealth of the collection.

The period covered in these files is one of intense interest among historians of Israel and the Middle East, and the Shwadran Collection, which is so exceptional in its own detailed organization and classification of materials, deserves their attention. This new index, the conscientious work of librarian Dorit Paret, is now offered to the scholar and student, with an invitation to visit and explore.