From Open Windows to Opening Doors

Diplomatic tiptoeing  from Dhaka to Jerusalem

By Adv. Craig Snoyman

I came across an article in this week’s news in which there were suggestions that Bangladesh might open diplomatic relations with Israel.  This reminded me of a recent consultation in which I had occasion to consult with some Bangladeshis or Banglis, as they call themselves. My principal client was not fluent in English and had brought an interpreter with him. After having concluded our legal business the conversation moved to the issue of Israel,  as it almost inevitably seems to do when Muslims and Jews get together.

My clients seemed to see little difference between Jews and Israelis and offended my five-generation South African lineage by asking if I was born in Israel. Banglis were not supporters of Israel, he told me, they supported the Palestinians.  As proud Banglis, they explained just how widely dispersed the Bangli diaspora was and how successful they were. Then from diasporas of the Bangli and Jewish nature, we moved onto the topic of Bangladeshi-Israeli relationship. It started with my principal client telling me that the Banglis did not particularly like the Israelis. And then I received a quick crash course in Bangli history. Originally referred to as East Pakistan, it was separated from West Pakistan by a huge swath of the Indian sub-continent. (interesting fact – he told me that Bangladesh is the most densely populated country on earth – so move over Gaza!) In the early 1970’s, West Pakistan mounted an operation to eliminate the Bengali nationalist movement. This resulted in millions of refugees fleeing into India and to the Bangladeshi war of independence against Pakistan, in which India took part.

Man on a Mission. Lt. Gen. (retd) Jack Farj Rafael (JFR) Jacob was head of the Indian Army’s eastern command during the 1971 India-Pakistan war that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.

It was at this that the interpreter stepped in and introduced a Jewish -Israeli dimension to the history lesson. There was a Jew by the name of General “Farj Jacobjee” ( I  subsequently found out his name was Jack Farj Jacob,  the “jee”  attached to the name as a sign of respect) who was the head of the Indian Army (or something like that) that fought against the Pakistanis on the side of the Bangladeshis. He took his troops and carefully avoided fighting in the little cities and attacked the capital, Dhaka, directly. This surprise strategy resulted in the quick defeat of Pakistan and the independence of Bangladesh. The interpreter  continued with more amazing details. The Israelis had been supportive of Bangladesh, while the Palestinians had been supporting Pakistan. The “Israeli woman prime minister” immediately recognised the independent state of Bangladesh, but Bangladesh would not recognise Israel.

Golda Meir (1898-1978) Was an Israeli politician, teacher who served as the fourth prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974. 

Now with  talks of recognition between Dhaka and Jerusalem, will it be that General Jack Farj Raphael Jacob  may be one of the forgotten men who is instrumental  in advancing the cause of Israeli diplomacy? After all,  how many people still remember the names of  Eddie Jacobson and  Ivan Maisky?

Surprise Support. Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky (1884 – 1975), the Soviet Ambassador to the Court of St James may have been instrumental in influencing Josef Stalin to support a vote at the UN surprising in favour of a Jewish state.

In the desperate times when the Zionists were seeking the independence of Palestine, many people – some now only  vague footnotes to history – strove very hard to make this ideal a reality. One tends to forget that the United States of America was not particularly in favour of the independence of Palestine.  General George Marshall, the great WWII military general, father of the Marshall Plan, and Secretary of State to President Harry S Truman was adamantly opposed to the recognition of a Jewish State. This position was supported by the Foreign Office as well as the CIA. Truman refused to even meet with the Zionist delegation. As Golda Meir states in her biography, it was only because he agreed to meet with his old war-buddy and business partner, Eddie Jacobson, that Truman had a change of heart (it appears that Marshall and the Foreign Office did not) One crucial but relatively unknown meeting resulted in  the USA crucially voted for Israel’s  independence.

Ivan Maisky, Russian ambassador of the Court of St James, may also have been instrumental in obtaining the consent of the virulently anti-Zionist Josef Stalin of the USSR to give a favourable vote.  In trying to gain support, Chaim Weizmann may have suggested that an independent Jewish State would move out the sphere of the detested British to a more socialist outlook, but Maisky seems to have played a part in Stalin’s inexplicable decision so surprisingly announced at the United Nations by Andrei Gromyko. A Jew, and a Russian diplomat, being pushed by Weizmann, Maisky also  visited Palestine and then submitted a secret memorandum to Lenin. While the details still remain unknown, the change of stance by the USSR occurred shortly after the delivery of that memo. Its effect may have impacted the politburo, but it was also strongly felt in the heart of the British Empire  where  Harold Laski, the British socialist leader, later told Ben-Gurion that “I read Maisky’s secret report, and I became a Zionist.”

Missouri Men Making History – Together . Former President Harry S. Truman (left) with Eddie Jacobson (right) in Kansas City, Missouri.

My favourite historian Paul Johnson wrote “in terms both of Soviet and of American policy, Israel slipped into existence through a window that briefly opened, and just as suddenly closed. Once again, timing—or, if one likes, providence—was of the essence.”

In the delicate negotiations that are no doubt going on behind closed doors, one hopes that the late General Jack Farj Raphael Jacob may yet serve proverbially and ‘providentially’ to  hold open another window to reshape history.

Story of Jacob. A file picture from 2015 of Lt Gen JFR Jacob on Israel’s Independence day celebrations. Lt. Gen. (retd) Jack Farj Rafael (JFR) Jacob was one of the most prominent members of India’s relatively small Jewish community, serving as a Lieutenant General in the Indian Army and later as a Governor of two Indian states-Goa and Punjab.

About the writer:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

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