Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2000, Pages 21, 22
Alabama Statesman Says U.S. Biased Against Palestinians
By Sam Hodges
(Normally the Washington Report confines reprints from other publications to “Other Voices,” the monthly supplement to this magazine. However, we’ve made an exception for this reprint from the Mobile (Alabama) Register, about the “Alabamian-Arabist” who happens to be the Washington Report’s founder-publisher.)
WASHINGTON—On one wall of Andrew I. Killgore’s office is a map of the Middle East. On another is a map of his Sumter County farm.
Killgore, 80, is that most unlikely of hyphenated creatures, an Alabamian-Arabist. He’s also a former U.S. ambassador who for many years has criticized American foreign policy as unfairly and unwisely tilted toward Israel.
Long retired from the U.S. Foreign Service, Killgore remains a controversial figure here as publisher of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, a pro-Palestinian magazine denounced by lobbying groups for Israel.
Tall, courtly and still in possession of a strong Alabama Black Belt accent—despite being fluent in Arabic—Killgore considers the Deep South his touchstone. It gave him many good experiences, and provided early exposure to injustice.
“I saw black people mistreated in the South, and I reacted negatively to that,” Killgore said. “I saw Palestinians mistreated, and I reacted negatively to that, too. Especially since we [in the United States] were paying for it.”
Killgore grew up in Marengo County, between Linden and Gallion, southeast of Demopolis. During the Depression, his family lost its dairy farm, and moved to a rented place. They got by with row crops, hay, cattle, sheep and hard work. When Killgore’s mother died of a stroke at 49, she left behind 1,400 Mason jars of preserved fruit, vegetables and meats.
His parents were industrious, but unconventional. They didn’t go to church, and openly sympathized with the plight of the black people among them. Killgore’s father took the Montgomery Advertiser, but also read Karl Marx. (He died a large landholder, and left Killgore 600 acres in Sumter County on Alabama’s western border.)
Killgore remembers his childhood as happy, but the chores he had to do, especially plowing behind mules and milking cows, made him vow to get off the farm. He was bookish, and a good student at Linden High.
“He was the best,” said Lena Tutt, 78, of Mobile, who attended Linden High with him. “He really was smart. Quiet, reserved. Just such a nice fellow.”
Killgore rode a county school bus to and from Livingston State Teachers College (now the University of West Alabama), where he got a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate. Days after his graduation, in 1943, he left for Navy officer’s school. He served the last phase of World War II in the South Pacific, as an officer in the 7th Amphibious Fleet.
After the war, Killgore played poker around the Black Belt for a few months, then entered the University of Alabama law school on the G.I. Bill. Classmates included future Alabama Attorney General Richmond Flowers and future U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin. Killgore recalls leading an effort—defeated handily—to eliminate the language “Caucasians only” from the admission policy of his legal fraternity.
He considered hanging out his shingle in Demopolis, with the long-range plan of running for statewide office as a progressive Democrat in the tradition of Alabama Sens. Lister Hill and John Sparkman. Killgore did run for a delegate spot at the 1948 Democratic Convention, finishing second in his district.
But he worried that his belief in integration would render him permanently unelectable in a state gripped by Jim Crow.
“I couldn’t lie about it,” he said of his racial views. “That would have been a disgrace to my family.”
Killgore’s options were limited in a happier way by his marriage, in late 1948, to Marjorie Nicholls, a widowed University of Alabama sociology professor with young twins. He needed a salaried job to support his new family, and he got a tip that he might find one with the U.S. Displaced Persons Commission in Germany. Killgore wrote Senator Hill, who sent him the application forms, and apparently arranged for his swift hiring.
That assignment, a great adventure for him and his family, ended in about a year. But Killgore scrambled into the Department of State, first in a support staff position, next as a staff lawyer, and then—after passing the Foreign Service exam—as a diplomat. He signed up to study Arabic, a hard language for native English speakers.
“Colonialism was over,” Killgore said. “Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Sudan—they were all getting independence. I knew we had or would have embassies in all of those places. I figured if you could get into Arabic and do well, you could get a job as a political officer, a guy who is really writing reports and analysis and making recommendations.”
Killgore studied for 22 months, passed the Arabic exam, and was assigned as U.S. consul to Jerusalem in 1957. From then until his retirement in 1980, he worked steadily as a diplomat, serving in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Bangladesh, Bahrain and Washington, DC, where he ran the State Department’s Jordan/Iraq desk in the early’60s. He retired after a three-year stint as U.S. ambassador to Qatar, a small oil sheikdom on the Persian Gulf.
But Killgore’s long, impressive résumé does not reflect the controversy that accompanied his tenure. He became an Arabist not just in language training but also in perspective. He decided soon after his arrival in Jerusalem that the creation of a state of Israel in 1948 had been a “madness” that displaced many thousands of Palestinians and embittered the Arab world generally.
“It was the Western Christians who persecuted the Jews shamelessly, most horribly under the Nazis,” he said recently. “There isn’t any history of the Arabs and Muslims beating up on Jews. Incidents, yes. But nothing like the pogroms in the Western world.”
Killgore accepted that the state of Israel was a fact of life, but he argued—in unusually candid cables and reports—that the United States was foolish to give it such extensive financial and political backing.
Hasn’t Changed Outlook
He still holds that view, and he insists that it’s in Israel’s long-term interest for the United States to back off.
“The only way for Israel to make it is for them to make a peace that the Arabs can live with. But as long as the Israelis can get all the money they want from Uncle Sam, they’re unlikely to make a deal.”
Killgore said he toned down his analysis sufficiently to stay employed in the State Department, but was vetoed for more important ambassadorships and “exiled” to New Zealand for two years. (He served there under the late Ambassador Armistead Selden, a former Alabama congressman and Killgore’s law school classmate.)
Two years after retiring from the State Department, Killgore joined former British Ambassador Edward Henderson in starting the magazine they called Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
It was, and is, anything but diplomatic, providing a steady stream of articles and columns about mistreatment of Palestinians by Israelis and pressure tactics by Israeli lobbying groups in Washington. It doggedly follows the case of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard and continues to call for a congressional investigation of Israel’s bombing of the Navy ship USS Liberty in 1967. (Israel maintains it was an accident, but others think not.)
Killgore insists that Washington Report, which has climbed to about 30,000 in circulation, is not lopsidedly against Israel.
“Not true at all,” he said. “In the first place, the real answer is you don’t need anything favorable about the Israeli side published by us, because the media is suffused with it.”
But, he said, the magazine applauds Peace Now, an activist group in Israel, “which is a Jewish outfit mainly. And we push very hard for Resolution 242” (the U.N. resolution calling on Israel to exchange “land for peace”).
In 1996, Killgore was given the prestigious Foreign Service Cup by the Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired (DACOR). The group praised the “perseverance and courage he has shown in consistently promoting peace” in the Middle East, and said his magazine “includes accounts of events which much of the rest of the media has been reluctant to cover.”
Not surprisingly, given the hothouse atmosphere of Middle East politics, others take a different view of him and the magazine.
In Robert Kaplan’s 1993 book The Arabists , about U.S. diplomats serving in the Arab world, Killgore is described as an “extreme anti-Zionist” and a “Jewish lobbyist’s worst-case caricature of an Arabist.” A review of that book in the Jerusalem Post called Killgore an “anti-Semitic crusader.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is similarly pointed about Washington Report.
“Its open bias and strident hostility toward all things Israel has rendered it little more than an inside-the-Beltway joke,” said Kenneth Bricker, AIPAC spokesman, in a prepared statement. “The good news is serious people do not take it seriously.”
Responds Killgore, who has sued AIPAC to try to get it to disclose its membership and financial records: “That’s what they’d like to think.” He also vehemently denies that he and his magazine are anti-Semitic, though he accepts the label “anti-Zionist,” one who opposes a Jewish state in Palestine.
Still Plenty Busy
Killgore remains highly involved with Washington Report, raising funds and writing columns. But because of the death of his wife, Marjorie, two years ago, he concedes he is subject to periodic “blue” periods. He is cheered by frequent contact with his four grown children (a nurse, accountant, doctor and lawyer) and seven grandchildren.
About once a year he goes back to the Middle East. He also makes an annual trip to the Alabama Black Belt, where he visits his sister Grace Killgore Perolio in Demopolis, his sister Merle Killgore Harrison in Marion, and checks on his Sumter County farm.
Thanks to good timber stands and lucrative hunting leases, that land has appreciated in value considerably in recent years. Killgore has had offers to sell, and he admits his magazine could use the money.
But committed as he is to getting across his perspective on the Middle East, Killgore isn’t ready to let go of his little piece of Alabama.
“I raised the price so high,” he said, smiling in triumph, “people finally quit calling.”
This article appeared in the Dec. 27, 1999 issue of the Mobile, AL Register. Reprinted with permission.