Why would Truman, a staunch anti-Semite, choose to be the American godfather of the State of Israel?
Yet, of all the important decisions the 33rd US president made – the dropping of the atomic bomb, the unification of the armed forces, the war in Korea – Truman’s decision to recognize Israel was perhaps the most misunderstood. decision, which started a fierce international coalition Today being challengedIt was indeed a long time coming.
Truman’s disrespect of Jews and the Jewish people was a running theme in his conversations with his wife and friends—particularly when he discussed Zionist leaders, and what he felt was their unfair treatment of them as the end of the British Empire. There was pressure. mandate near.
“Personally,” writes David McCullough in “Truman“His Pulitzer Prize-winning biography,” Truman was a man who could still use out of mouth old habits [an antisemitic slur] Or, in a letter to his wife, dismissing Miami as nothing more than ‘hotels, filling stations, Hebrews and cabins’.
David Harris, former longtime CEO of the American Jewish Committee, called Truman simply an antisemite, citing his close friendship with his Jewish “army buddy” Eddie Jacobson, his respect for Jewish history and his actions. “would be grossly inappropriate” as a political leader.
In his biography, McCullough highlights a Chicago speech given by Truman in 1943, when he was still a US senator from Missouri and the Nazi extermination apparatus was accelerating, as evidence of Truman’s pro-Semitic sentiments. The roaring address of the United Rally to Demand Rescue of Doomed Jews foreshadowed what was to come.
“The history of America in the struggle for freedom and the history of the Jews in America are one and the same. … It is not enough to just talk about the four freedoms,” Truman declared in an apparent dig at then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom he would serve as vice president. “It is time for action. No one can doubt the sinister intentions of the Nazi ruffians anymore. We know that they are planning the systematic slaughter throughout Europe of not only the Jews but of a large number of other innocent people.
“Not today, not tomorrow,” he said in his closing remarks, “to provide us with a haven and place of safety for all that is humanly possible to be captured by the hands of the Nazi butchers.”
Criticism of President Truman also led to his choosing her as his running mate in 1944, and after Roosevelt’s death, Truman assumed the presidency the following April, serving as his vice president. Although he presided over the end of World War II, Truman and his political advisers were deeply concerned about his chances of re-election in 1948, and they had reason to be. A Gallup poll suggested in February that he would probably lose New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, the eventual Republican nominee, or any of the other popular choices, including General Douglas MacArthur.
Truman’s dwindling chances, McCullough wrote, further encouraged him to recognize Israel. “Support for a Jewish homeland was extremely good politics in 1948,” he said, “in large states like Pennsylvania or Illinois, and especially in New York where there were 2.5 million Jews, possibly significant. Nor was there any doubt that Republicans The Jews were prepared to do all they could for the cause and for those reasons only.
But beyond the so-called “Jewish vote”, McCullough said, there was broad popular support in the United States in 1948 for a Jewish homeland. This was mostly America, a new nation for the Jewish people.
“Politics and humanitarian concern and foreign policy were closely, irrevocably intertwined,” wrote McCullough, who died last year. “Yet for Truman undeniably, humanitarian concerns were foremost.”
Secretary of State George Marshall was among those who believed that Truman and his advisers were focusing too much on both political and humanitarian concerns in their discussions on Palestine rather than on strategic issues. And Marshall told Truman at a tense Palestine strategy conference on May 12, two days before the mandate was to expire.
Truman’s chief political advisor, Clark Clifford, said of American recognition at that historic meeting, “It’s just straight politics.” Marshall rejected Clifford’s argument that Washington recognize the new Jewish state before Moscow, which had supported the UN move to partition Palestine six months earlier, laying the groundwork for independence.
Clifford continues his presentation as McCullough recounts it. “It doesn’t matter what the State Department or anybody thinks,” he said, “we are faced with the fact that there has to be a Jewish state.”
Marshall was undeterred. In the most electric moment of the meeting, and the most harrowing moment for Truman, who respected Marshall, the latter announced that if the president followed Clifford’s advice and recognized statehood, he would vote against him in November.
McCullough wrote, “The President’s expression, grave from the outset, did not change at all”. “He merely raised his hand and said that he was fully aware of the difficulties and dangers involved, as well as of the political risks involved, which he himself would run into.” Truman dismissed the tense meeting, suggesting that all present “sleep on the matter.”
Hence the mystery surrounding Truman’s final decision to recognize the new Jewish state two days later, as well as the shock it caused in some diplomatic circles, including the State Department. “The US delegation to the United Nations was appalled,” McCullough said. “Some US delegates actually broke out in laughter, thinking the announcement must be someone’s idea of a joke.”
It was not. There was jubilation in Jerusalem, dancing in the streets of New York, and horror and anger in Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon and elsewhere, including especially in the Middle East.
Three-quarters of a century later, the decision appears just as momentous.
“What would have happened if Truman had bowed to Marshall and withheld American diplomatic recognition of the Jewish state?” Harris, the former head of the AJC, wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “Would independence have been declared on May 14, 1948 as well? Most likely, I believe. The momentum for Jewish sovereignty was in high gear. But the recognition added immense legitimacy and prestige.
Truman considered the important role he played in Jewish history to be one of his greatest achievements. Israelis wished he would do more in the coming days and months, such as lifting the US embargo on arms shipments, but no one could deny his role as the guarantor of Israel’s independence. When Israel’s chief rabbi later telephoned the White House, he told Truman, “God placed you in your mother’s womb so that you would be the means to bring about the rebirth of Israel after two thousand years.”
In an interview filmed at the Truman Library after his retirement, Truman Said that he “opposed a lot of people by recognizing the state of Israel as well. Well, I went to Potsdam, and I saw some of the places where Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis. Six million Jews were killed outright – men, women and children – by the Nazis.
“And it is my hope,” he said, “that they will have a homeland.”