The International Campaign for the Defendants
International opinion in Great Britain and North America was generally inclined to accept the Israeli version of events, and the trial coverage of the major newspapers mirrored the Israeli press. Leading figures in the Jewish community and the government of Israel pressured the U.S. and British governments to intervene in the Cairo proceedings. Nonetheless, both governments were disinclined to make public statements because they were attempting to maintain good relations with the Egyptian government and because they had doubts about the Israeli version of the case.
In December 1954, the government of Israel officially asked the British Foreign Office to intervene on behalf of the Operation Susannah conspirators. This request was reinforced by a delegation of leading representatives of the World Sephardi Federation and the Anglo-Jewish Association. The leader of the delegation consulted with the Israeli Embassy in London before the visit to the Foreign Office and reported its results to the embassy afterwards. The British government avoided making any specific commitments. The permanent secretary of the foreign office, Anthony Nutting, advised A. L. Easterman, head of the political department of the World Jewish Congress, not to visit Egypt to observe the trial. Israeli officials claimed that Chief Rabbi Haim Nahum's statement of November 10, 1954, that Jews were not subject to systematic persecution in Egypt was issued under duress and had no value, but the British did not accept this argument. The Foreign Office regarded the trial as fair and unofficially determined that the defendants were not being mistreated. It discouraged the delegation from approaching the U.S. government. In opposition to the policies of the Conservative government, Labour MP Maurice Orbach, who was also a leader of the World Jewish Congress, visited Cairo from December 6 to 16 in an effort to convince the Egyptian government to be lenient with the accused.
On several occasions before the discovery of Operation Susannah, Egyptian Jews had been arrested on unrelated charges of membership in communist or Zionist organizations. American Jewish leaders met several times with State Department officials in Washington and requested inquiries into these arrests under the presumption that they must be part of an anti-Semitic campaign of the government. Jefferson Caffery, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo, was repeatedly directed to investigate and closely monitor the situation of Jews. Caffery consistently reported that there was no significant official anti-Semitism in Egypt. Only months before the apprehension of the Operation Susannah conspirators he wrote,
There probably have been and still are instances of molestations, of discrimination against, individual Jews by various government departments and officials. There does not appear, however, to be any organized campaign by the present regime against the Jewish community as a whole. On the contrary, Jews in Egypt are probably better treated than those in other Arab states.
Caffery was close to Gamal Abdel Nasser and was not overly concerned about the welfare of Jews. He seems to have taken the many official statements about the equality of all Egyptian citizens and the formal gestures of cordiality to Jews by high government officials at face value. Nonetheless, because of the constant pressure on him from Washington on this matter, he probably would have reported anything of a substantial nature.
We do not know if the U.S. Embassy in Cairo considered the Operation Susannah defendants guilty. The available declassified embassy records contain no reference to an investigation indicating who, in its opinion, was responsible for the firebombings in Cairo and Alexandria and what the objectives of the perpetrators might have been. This is a very suspicious omission because the library of the United States Information Service in Cairo was among the targets. It is difficult to believe that no inquiry into this matter was undertaken; very likely Caffery knew that the Operation Susannah conspirators had attacked U.S. government property in Egypt.
When the case came to trial, the government of Israel and a large number of American Jewish organizations pressed the State Department to intervene in favor of the defendants. The department resisted making a formal protest to the Egyptian government, probably because it knew that the charges were well founded and because it was still seeking good relations with Egypt. After the trial was concluded, Caffery visited Egyptian Foreign Minister Husayn Fawzi on at least two occasions to urge him not to permit any executions in the case. The message from John Foster Dulles delivered by Caffery made no mention of the defendants' innocence or guilt. It referred only to the likelihood that executing any of the convicted prisoners would disrupt the possibility of progress in reducing tensions in the Middle East—a reference to ongoing secret talks between Egypt and Israel. These talks were indeed disrupted by the execution of Shmu’el Azar and Moshe Marzuq on January 31, 1955, and Israel's February 28 assault on Gaza.
Shortly after the Cairo trial began, representatives of Israel asked the American Jewish Committee to send their honorary president, Jacob Blaustein, to observe the proceedings. He was unable to make the trip, so the committee arranged for Roger Baldwin, U.S. chairman of the International League for the Rights of Man, who had a reputation of being sympathetic to the Arabs, to attend. Baldwin arrived in Cairo on January 8, 1955, after the trial was concluded, and left on January 27, before the verdicts were announced. This brief stay while the trial was not actually in session did not provide Baldwin the firmest basis for judgment. However, his reports did undermine many of the assertions circulating in Israel and the West. His most significant conclusion was, “There seems to be no doubt of some guilt of all the defendants.” He was also quite clear that “By accepted western standards the trial was not fair,” though in Egyptian terms proper procedures were followed. Based on assurances that he and the U.S. Embassy had received from the Egyptian authorities, Baldwin reported to the American Jewish Committee leadership that he did not believe that death sentences would be imposed. When the sentences were announced and two of the accused were condemned to death, he termed this “shocking,” “savage,” and “vindictive” because
[t]he conspiracy did not involve any serious acts of espionage or sabotage. It was, as the defense said, a childish and irrational affair of young people acting on instructions of two agents [Dar and Seidenwerg, alias Paul Frank] who escaped and were not condemned.…The explanation for such severity is to be found not in the trial record, but politics.
When the sentences were announced, their severity became the focal point of Western attention. Many of the major U.S. and British papers editorialized against the trial or the sentences, including the London Observer, the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, and the Manchester Guardian. A Washington Post editorial termed the trial a “show trial…of 13 Jews…under trumped-up charges” and was so strong that the American Jewish Committee considered using it in its publicity work. A Washington Star editorial called the sentences a “judicial lynching.”  This barrage of criticism against the procedures and sentences of the trial inevitably drew attention away from Roger Baldwin's correct conclusion that the defendants were guilty.