From Truman to Trump

U.S. support for Israel, which began with Truman and continues to this day with President Donald Trump, has been critical to Israel's success.

April 19, 2018 23:22
3 minute read.
US President Donald Trump places a note in the Western Wall, 22 May 2017

US President Donald Trump places a note in the stones of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 22, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS / JONATHAN ERNST)


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US president Truman was a Zionist. But how committed was he to the creation of a Jewish state?

It is undeniable that Truman’s endorsement of David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of independence on Friday, May 14, 1948, just 11 minutes after it was made, was instrumental in shoring up international support for the nascent Jewish state.

Truman also endorsed the 1945 Harrison Report and the 1946 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine calling to allow 100,000 Holocaust survivors to be admitted to Palestine.

However, Truman’s support for the Jewish national project was not unreserved. He resisted pressuring the British to accept the 100,000 Holocaust survivors and rejected American Zionists’ request to make a US loan to Britain conditional upon its change in immigration policy.

Under his leadership, the US maintained an arms embargo as the War of Independence raged. Most of the arms Israel used at the time came from Soviet Bloc countries.

And while de facto recognition of the Israeli state was extended in May 1948, Truman delayed de jure recognition until January 1949.

Entries from Truman’s diary, which came to light in 2003, include antisemitic tirades including the claim that when the “selfish” Jews “have power, physical, financial or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog.”

However, a document recently uncovered in the archives of the former president’s library offers new insight into the extent of Truman’s support for the Zionist cause.

The Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief Michael Wilner obtained a handwritten note on White House letterhead that an archivist at the Truman Library said was drafted by his press secretary more than a year before the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. It details a concerted effort by the US administration to whip up votes at the United Nations in support of the Partition Plan.

Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Cuba and Greece were all the targets of American lobbying efforts to get them to vote in the UN in favor of the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, a vote that ultimately took place on November 29, 1947.

Truman’s conflicting policies seem to reflect conflicting influences. Truman was a Christian Zionist who was a fierce believer in Jewish statehood in the Holy Land for religious reasons. From a moral perspective, he was haunted by the Holocaust and saw in a Jewish state rectification of a historic injustice. Pragmatically speaking, he realized that Americans would oppose large-scale immigration to the US and that the creation of a Jewish state would provide an option.

At the same time, Truman was up against the US State Department and the British government, which were pro-Arab and which, therefore, strongly opposed US involvement in the creation of Israel for fear it would hurt relations with Arab nations. Also, Truman, who sought, and won, the US presidency in the 1948 election, factored in the Jewish vote in electoral considerations. Perhaps he realized that his de facto support for Jewish statehood was enough and that it was politically unnecessary to be more outspokenly pro-Zionist in a way that would hurt his relations with the State Department, the British and the Arab world.

Undoubtedly, Truman’s support was instrumental in helping bring about the creation of the state. The tradition continues with President Donald Trump, who has proven to be a real friend of Israel and who in a tweet for Independence Day, reiterated his promise that next month the US Embassy will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Still, the real work of building a viable Jewish state was not, and still is not, in the White House or in the UN’s corridors, but on the ground in the Land of Israel. It is no less than amazing that a group of ragtag emigrants from Europe and Arab countries and refugees from the Holocaust, who did not even speak the same language, managed to come together and fight to overcome a vastly larger Arab military force. To this day we have never asked a single US soldier to fight our fight.

As we celebrate the state’s 70th year of existence, its creation remains an odds-defying story of how improbable developments came together leading to a wildly successful endeavor.

And US support for Israel, which began with Truman and continues to this day with President Donald Trump, has been critical to this success.

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