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American Friends of the Middle East: The CIA, US Citizens, and the Secret Battle for American Public Opinion in the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1947–1967



In 1951, the CIA secretly funded the creation of an ostensibly private group of US citizens called the American Friends of the Middle East (AFME). Pro-Arab and anti-Zionist in orientation, AFME was repeatedly attacked by pro-Israel groups before seeing its links to the CIA exposed by investigative journalists in 1967. Drawing on recent scholarship about “state–private networks” and the cultural history of US–Middle East relations, this article examines the origins of AFME, its characteristic values and relations with the CIA, and the reasons for the decline of its influence vis-à-vis the emergent “Israel lobby.”



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1 See Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), chapter 10. Although I will argue below that, like other organizations receiving covert subsidies from the CIA, AFME was far from being simply an instrument of government, I will use the term “front” to refer to it and similarly funded groups as a convenient short-form descriptor.

2 Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta, 1999); Giles Scott-Smith, The Politics of Apolitical Culture: The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA and Postwar American Hegemony (London: Routledge, 2002); Wilford, chapter 5.

3 The CIA did recently make available, in heavily redacted form, its own history of its front operations: Michael Warner, Hearts and Minds: Three Case Studies of the CIA's Covert Support of American Anti-communist Groups in the Cold War, 1949–1967 (Langley, VA: Central Intelligence Agency, 1999). Some clues in the unredacted text, such as a reference on page xiv to an organization aimed at “educated Arab Muslims,” suggest that chapter 4 of this work, entitled “A Hidden Policy,” is devoted to the American Friends of the Middle East. The chapter is, unfortunately, entirely redacted.

4 Helen Laville and Hugh Wilford, eds., The US Government, Citizen Groups and the Cold War: The State–Private Network (London: Routledge, 2006).

5 See Michelle Mart, Eye on Israel: How America Came to View Israel as an Ally (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006).

6 Douglas Little, American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East since 1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), chapter 1.

7 Quoted in Miller, Rory, “More Sinned against than Sinning? The Case of the Arab Office, Washington, 1945–1948,” Diplomacy and Statecraft, 15, 2 (June 2004), 303–25, 318.

8 For an authoritative recent account of US–Arab relations emphasizing the missionary tradition see Ussama Makdisi, Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of US–Arab Relations: 1820–2001 (New York: Public Affairs, 2010).

9 Theologian Samuel Hopkins, quoted in Abbas Amanat and Magnus T. Bernhardsson, eds., US–Middle East Historical Encounters: A Critical Survey (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007), 2.

10 The best previous effort to anatomize the emergent Arabist, anti-Zionist state–private network is Matthew F. Jacobs, Imagining the Middle East: The Building of an American Foreign Policy, 1918–1967 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), chapter 5.

11 For a critical history of ARAMCO, see Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007).

12 Thomas A. Kolsky, Jews against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism, 1942–1948 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 1.

13 Jack Ross, Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2011).

14 For conflicting views on this question see H. W. Brands, Inside the Cold War: Loy Henderson and the Rise of American Empire, 1918–1961 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 190–91, and Bergman, Elihu, “Unexpected Recognition: Some Observations on the Failure of a Last-Gasp Campaign in the US State Department to Abort a Jewish State,” Modern Judaism, 19, 2 (May 1999), 133–71, 165–66.

15 Kolsky, 5.

16 Ibid., 138–39.

17 Polly Roosevelt to Berger, no date, Box 4, Folder Kermit Roosevelt Jr. 1954, Addition M67–130, American Council for Judaism Papers (hereafter ACJP), Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison; Levison to Lessing Rosenwald, 20 March 1953, 75.3, ACJP.

18 Kermit Roosevelt, Arabs, Oil, and History: The Story of the Middle East (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1969).

19 Kermit Roosevelt, Partition of Palestine: A Lesson in Pressure Politics (New York: Institute of Arab American Affairs, 1948).

20 Virginia Gildersleeve et al. to Allen Dulles, 21 Feb. 1948, 49.10, Allen W. Dulles Papers, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.

21 Hertzel Fishman, American Protestantism and a Jewish State (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973), 97–98.

22 Berger to Levison, 16 April 1948, 74.9, ACJP.

23 See Thomas W. Lippman, Arabian Knight: Colonel Bill Eddy USMC and the Rise of American Power in the Middle East (Vista, CA: Selwa, 2008).

24 “A Special Survey,” Near East Report, Oct. 1964, B-13.

25 Roosevelt to member, 21 June 1948, 45.3, ACJP.

26 Roosevelt to Berger, 2 March 1949, 106.1, ACJP; Roosevelt, “Report to the Committee from the Executive Director,” no date [May–June 1948], 45.3, ACJP.

27 Fishman, 214 n. 63.

28 See Peter Kurth, American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson (Boston: Little, Brown, 1990); Marion K. Sanders, Dorothy Thompson: A Legend in Her Time (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973).

29 Eddy to Engert, 29 Dec. 1950, uncataloged box, Postwar Correspondence and MSS, FOLDER 1950–51, Cornelius Van H. Engert Papers, Special Collections, Georgetown University Library, Washington, DC.

30 Berger to Thompson, 16 March 1951, 2.10, Dorothy Thompson Papers (hereafter DTP), Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, NY, original emphasis.

31 Thompson to Hamilton Fish Armstrong, 11 April 1951, 62.1, Hamilton Fish Armstrong Papers, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.

32 M. Snyder to Miss Sansom, 11 May 1951, 24.12, Dulles Papers.

33 AFME Annual Report, 1951–52, 59.1, John Nuveen Jr. Papers (hereafter JNP), Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

34 Eliot to Samuel and Elsa Eliot (his parents), 18 Nov. 1951, 1.5, Papers of the Eliot Family, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh.

35 “American Friends of the Middle East: Second Meeting of the Charter Members,” 12 Dec. 1951, 2.13, DTP; Wilford, Mighty Wurlitzer, 152.

36 “Heard in Washington,” Near East Report, 7 March 1967, 19.

37 Berger to Levison, 20 Dec. 1951, 75.1, ACJP.

38 AFME Annual Report, 1951–52; “Application for Consultative Membership to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations,” no date, 4.13, DTP; AFME Annual Report, 1953–54, 59.1, JNP.

39 Eddy to Robert A. McClure, 9 Jan. 1951, 2.14, DTP; Eddy to Thompson, 7 June 1951, 2.4, DTP.

40 Quoted in Lippman, Arabian Knight, 277.

41 Hopkins to John Foster Dulles, 19 June 1953, 611.80/6–1953, Records of the Department of State, Record Group (hereafter RG) 59, National Archives and Records Administration (hereafter NARA), College Park, MD; J. M. Troutbeck (British Embassy, Baghdad) to Anthony Eden, 28 May 1952, FO 371/98247, The National Archives of the UK, London.

42 “Tentative Draft of Press Release,” no date [1951], 4.13, DTP.

43 Yaacov Shimoni, “Meeting with Garland E. Hopkins,” 3 Sept. 1952, HZ 415/10, Israel State Archive (hereafter ISA). I am extremely grateful to Giora Goodman for sharing this and other ISA documents with me.

44 Berger to Levison, 30 July 1952, 75.2, ACJP.

45 See for example, AFME Annual Report, 1955–56, 59.1, JNP.

46 Berger to Levison, 29 Oct. 1951, 75.1, ACJP.

47 Minutes, “American Friends of the Middle East,” 5 April 1954, HZ 116/19, ISA.

48 Thompson to Berger, 5 Dec. 1952, 122.2, ACJP.

49 Quoted in Kurth, American Cassandra, 428, original emphasis.

50 See, for example, Eddy to Thompson, 11 Oct. 1951, 2.14, DTP.

51 Armin H. Meyer to G. Lewis Jones, “American Friends of the Middle East,” 24 Sept. 1959, quoted in Joyce Battle, ed., US Propaganda in the Middle East: The Early Cold War Version, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 78, 13 Dec. 2002, available at, consulted 2 Dec. 2014.

52 Berry to State, “Special IIA Projects for Islamic Countries,” 1 Oct. 1952, 511.80/10–1952, RG 59, NARA.

53 Wilbur Crane Eveland, Ropes of Sand: America's Failure in the Middle East (New York: W. W. Norton, 1980), 125; confidential source.

54 Eliot to parents, 31 May 1953, 1.6, Eliot Papers; Patrice Gaudefroy-Demombynes (Norton's son), telephone interview by author, 7 July 2009.

55 See for example H. Ben Smith to Nuveen, 15 Sept. 1958, 59.3, JNP.

56 Wilford, Mighty Wurlitzer, 163.

57 Hopkins to Stobart, 11 May 1954, 3.7, DTP.

58 AFME Annual Report, 1951–52.

59 Lorraine Nye Norton, interview by author, 15 Aug. 2009, Seattle, WA. This might explain why the Near East division appears to have kept control of AFME at a time when oversight of other front groups was consolidated in Tom Braden's International Organizations Division.

60 Eliot to parents, 29 Dec. 1953, 1.6, Eliot Papers.

61 Quoted in Isaac Alteras, Eisenhower and Israel: US–Israeli Relations, 1953–1960 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993), xiv.

62 Kolsky, Jews against Zionism, 192.

63 “Edward L. R. Elson Dies at 86; Influential Cleric in Washington,” New York Times, 28 Aug. 1993, 26.

64 For an entertaining account of this operation, see the memoir by Roosevelt's lieutenant, Miles Copeland, The Game of Nations: The Amorality of Power Politics (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969).

65 See, for example, Neil Caplan, Futile Diplomacy, Volume IV, Operation Alpha and the Failure of Anglo-American Coercive Diplomacy in the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1954–1956 (London: Frank Cass, 1997).

66 Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, 27 Jan. 1955, Foreign Relations of the United States, 14 (1955–57), 28.

67 Dorothy Thompson to Senator William A. Jenner, 6 Jan. 1955, 39.19, DTP; Byroade to Thompson, 17 Jan. 1955, 3.9, DTP.

68 Gamal Abdul Nasser, Egypt's Liberation: The Philosophy of the Revolution (Washington, DC: Public Affairs, 1955). Other network activities in support of ALPHA included orchestrating the publication of the anti-Zionist book Violent Truce, lobbying the New York Times concerning its coverage of Nasser's Egypt, and sponsoring Elmer Berger to undertake a two-month tour of the Middle East in the summer of 1955.

69 “Take the Middle East out of Domestic Politics! An Open Letter to Every American Citizen,” New York Times, 25 Jan. 1956, 20.

70 State to Damascus, “AFME Views on Arab–Israel Problem,” 11 Jan. 1956, 684A.86/1–1156, RG 59, NARA.

71 See Salim Yaqub, Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

72 Jerome Unger to local committees, American Zionist Council, 20 March 1951, HZ116/18, ISA.

73 “Propaganda Pressures,” Near East Report, 3 June 1957, 24.

74 See, for example, “AFME Report,” 17 Nov. 1953, HZ 359/12, ISA.

75 See, for example, James H. Sheldon, “American Friends of Israel's Foes,” American Zionist, 5 April 1953, 10–13.

76 See, for example, Minutes, “American Friends of the Middle East,” 5 April 1954, HZ 116/19, ISA.

77 See, for example, T. Harry Levin (Washington Embassy) to N. Lorch (Los Angeles Consulate) and I. Unna (Chicago Consulate), 9 May 1955, HZ 415/10, ISA.

78 Alfred A. Lilienthal, “A Report on Operations of the AFME from a Member to Other Members,” 25 Jan. 1955, 3.9, DTP.

79 Walter Van Kirk to [Roswell P.] Barnes, 25 Jan. 1954, and Martha A. Roy to Van Kirk, 5 Feb. 1954, 16.2, RG 6, National Council of the Churches Records, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia.

80 Richard H. Sanger and Stephen P. Dorsey to Henry Byroade, 4 Feb. 1954, 511.80/2–454, RG 59, NARA.

81 “A Special Survey,” B-16; AFME Annual Report, 1954–55; “Heard in Washington,” 19.

82 Engert to Thompson, 10 July 1956, 3.16, DTP.

83 Hopkins to Stobart, no date [Sept. 1956], 3.16, DTP. Revelations that Hopkins had sexually abused boys may have contributed to the CIA's decision to remove him from AFME. See Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York: Random House, 1988), 496–97.

84 AFME Annual Report, 1956–57, 59.2, JNP.

85 See, for example, “A Special Survey,” B-19.

86 Memorandum of Conversation, “United States Relations with the Middle East,” 8 May 1958, 4, Lot 68D99, RG 59, NARA.

87 “A Special Survey,” B-19.

88 “Who Pays the Bill?” Near East Report, 16 July 1963, 61.

89 Rodger P. Davies to Mr. Twinam, 27 Jan. 1972, 3, Persian Gulf, 1972, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Subject Files of Rodger P. Davies, 1967–74, RG 59, NARA. My thanks to Roland Popp for drawing my attention to this document.

90 “5 New Groups Tied to CIA Conduits,” New York Times, 17 Feb. 1967, 1.

91 “Halt Asked for CIA Millions for Friends of Middle East,” National Jewish Post and Opinion, 31 March 1967.

92 Orin D. Parker, interview by author, Oceanside, CA, 10 July 2009.

93 Orin Parker, “Interesting Times … and Places … and People: Comments on My Life Experiences,” unpublished memoir, 238; Director of Programs to Board of Directors, 26 June 1967, 60.2, JNP; “News about AFME,” Special Issue No. 1, 1967, 60.2, JNP. AFME was later reconstituted as AMIDEAST, a genuine nongovernment organization specializing mainly in student exchanges between the US and the Middle East.

94 “Draft, Story of a Purpose,” 19 Dec. 1958, 59.3, JNP.

95 For an excellent discussion of Israeli official involvement in the film adaptation of Uris's novel see Goodman, Giora, “‘Operation Exodus’: Israeli Government Involvement in the Production of Otto Preminger's Film Exodus (1960),” Journal of Israeli History: Politics, Society, Culture, 33, 2 (2014), 209–29.

96 See Wilford, Mighty Wurlitzer, chapter 8.

Research for this article was generously supported by the University of Sheffield, California State University, Long Beach, and the Friends of the Princeton University Library. The following offered invaluable feedback on various drafts: Houri Berberian, David Blank, Patricia Cleary, Giora Goodman, Mary Ann Heiss, Brandon High, Ussama Makdisi, Orin Parker, Roland Popp, and Salim Yaqub.

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