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Responses of Religion and Popular Humanitarianism to Nigeria’s Civil War, 1967-1970
Melani McAlister, George Washington University

Grant details:

Not Just Churches: American Jews and the Nigeria-Biafra War (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Not Just Churches: American Jews and the Nigeria-Biafra War
Author: Melani McAlister
Abstract: In April of 1969, Rabbi James Rudin wrote a report to Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), about a meeting with Clyde Ferguson, President Nixon’s personal representative for responding to the Nigeria-Biafra war. Things were not going well in Biafra; the nightly relief flights were being shut down, and the option for a relief corridor through Nigeria did not look likely to get approval. Biafrans were dying, not just from starvation but attendant diseases like tuberculosis. This paper explores how American Jews positioned themselves as part of the debate over Biafra, including their work in responding to what the Biafrans and others described as genocide. The claim was controversial, however, and many African and African American intellectuals felt that the division of Nigeria, so recently independent, was a travesty. The paper examine show American Jews were positioned as part of the global pro-Biafra movement. It considers not only the politics of Holocaust memory as it played out in the wake of Biafra, but also how American Jewish organizations (led by the AJC) took up the Biafran cause in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. I ask how Biafra figured among the constellation of political causes that were of interest to American Jews from 1967 to 1970, including Vietnam, Israel, and anti-apartheid. I argue that Jews responded to the Biafran cause both because they saw resonances with Jewish history and because they saw in Biafra an opportunity for relatively non-controversial ecumenical cooperation. At a time when Jews were at the heart of the liberal and left-wing coalitions against apartheid and the US war in Vietnam, and were also increasingly identifying with Israel in the wake of the 1967 war, Biafran relief was a non-political politics clothed in ecumenism, one that served well for a group still uncertain about its own whiteness, and its rapidly evolving status as an ethnic-religious minority.
Date: 11/8/2018
Conference Name: American Studies Association (Database/Archive/Digital Edition)
Author: Melani McAlister
Abstract: Digital Humanities Resource for teachers: Timeline + Knowledge Library that consolidates and annotates primary sources for scholarly and student research on the war and global responses to it.
Year: 2018
Primary URL: http://www.
Access Model: Open access

From the 1967 War to the 1968 Crisis: American Jews and Biafra (Article)
Title: From the 1967 War to the 1968 Crisis: American Jews and Biafra
Author: Melani McAlister
Abstract: This article will explore American Jewish Committee and Joint Distribution Committee as political actors, exploring how they responded to the Nigeria-Biafra civil war in light of the 1967 Arab-Israel war. The two wars began within a week of each other, and American Jewish activists often saw emotionally powerful resonances between the Holocaust of WWII, the Biafra war, and what they believed to be the existential threat faced by Israel in 1967. To be submitted in January 2019.
Year: 2019
Format: Journal
Publisher: To be submitted to Diplomatic History