How good a friend of the Jews was Harry Truman?

Research shows Truman changed his position, called for an international trusteeship of Palestine.

US and Israeli flags 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
US and Israeli flags 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
PALO ALTO –“The Truman administration really crossed a line here. It’s one thing to have a policy that is anti-Zionist, but to threaten and intimidate American Jews goes beyond the bounds of the legitimate political world,” said Dr. Rafael Medoff of a disturbing historical discovery he recently made.
In the course of conducting research in 2011 for his new book, Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the ‘Jewish Vote’ and Bipartisan Support for Israel, Medoff, who is also a Jerusalem Post columnist, uncovered heretofore unpublished evidence that in late April 1948, two weeks before Israel declared independence, the State Department threatened to incite a wave of anti-Semitism in the United States if Zionist leaders proclaimed the State of Israel.
The evidence was contained in a nine-page report of a conversation between undersecretary of State Robert A. Lovett and Zionist official and World Jewish Congress co-founder Nahum Goldmann that the scholar found in Goldmann’s papers in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem.
“I’m not the first person to have looked at Nahum Goldmann’s papers,” Medoff told the Post, “but it appears that no one had previously taken notice of this critical section in the middle of this particular report.”
Although Truman had supported the UN Partition Plan in November 1947, by March 1948, his administration, fearful that partition could not be successfully implemented, had changed its position and was calling for an international trusteeship of Palestine (referred to as “the truce” in Goldmann’s report).
Goldmann reported that Lovett said to him: “As the situation is now, we must have a truce. If you prevent it we will become very tough. We will wash our hands of the whole situation and will prevent any help being given to you. We will publish a White Paper, which is already in preparation.”
Lovett went on to say that this White Paper would incriminate the Arabs, the British and the Jews.
“Anti-Semitism is mounting in an unprecedented way in groups and circles which are very influential and were never touched by Anti-Semitism. Such a White Paper would do great harm to the Jews in this country, and once it is published, I am not sure that outstanding Jewish leaders who are helping you today would go along with you,” Lovett threatened Goldmann and the Zionist leadership.
These intimidating remarks came within the context of the State Department’s demand for an indefinite postponement of the declaration of the State of Israel.
A week after Goldmann’s meeting with Lovett, Zionist leaders from the US and the Yishuv met in New York to decide how to proceed in light of the State Department’s threats.
“Goldmann was in favor of giving in to the American demands,” Medoff said. “But the majority voted to go ahead with the state.”
One of those who were vocal about proceeding was then-Zionist Organization of America president Emanuel Neumann, who wrote in his 1976 memoir, In the Arena: “I dwelt upon the historic significance of May 14, 1948, a moment which had to be seized to proclaim the Jewish state; not a week, nor a day, nor an hour should be allowed to intervene.... this might be our last chance.”
He said he was certain that the US government would not carry through on its threats.
“As for the veiled or open threats from the State Department, I was sure they did not have to be taken seriously,” he said. “With a presidential election due that November, it was out of the question that the Truman administration would attempt to harass us – with the vast and bitter repercussions that this would create in the American Jewish community.”
Lovett himself alluded to this fear of losing Jewish votes to the more pro- Zionist Republicans, in his conversation with Goldmann.
“Jewish political power began emerging in a significant way after the war. The Democrats were worried about the defection of Jews to the GOP because of the Democrats’ Holocaust policies,” Medoff noted. “We would have published it already if we hadn’t been afraid of grave repercussions in the United States,” Lovett told Goldmann in reference to the proposed White Paper.
In his research, Medoff did not come across any documents spelling out exactly what would have been in that White Paper, but he thinks it would have included suggestions of dual loyalty. In addition, it might have reiterated the warning to the Zionists by both presidents Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt that the Zionists would be responsible for America being compelled to send troops to the Middle East, resulting in American lives being lost due to Arab attacks there.
“The State Department was not acting in opposition to Truman. On the contrary, it was implementing presidential policy,” Medoff explained.
“Truman did not want a major international conflict that would draw the Soviet Union in, and then necessitate American intervention. He didn’t have a plan to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. He just wanted to keep things calm.” In the end, even when the War of Independence did break out, the US never did have to send in troops. “For Truman, it was simply a problem of timing,” Medoff said. With the election just months away, he acceded to his political adviser’s urging to support the establishment of the Jewish state.
Regardless of how history played itself out, Medoff finds the document he unearthed “most troubling.”
“It’s one thing for diplomats to get rough with one another. Threats can be made between the arguing parties,” he remarked. “But to threaten to harm bystanders? That is unprecedented.
It is deeply disturbing that the State Department would go to such extremes. Threatening to provoke racial hatred against American citizens should have been beyond the pale.”
Herbert Hoover and the Jews was authored by Medoff together with US foreign relations professor Dr. Sonja Schoepf Wentling. It was published this month by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, of which Medoff is the founding director.
In addition to revealing how concern about the Jewish vote influenced Truman to recognize the newborn State of Israel in 1948, the book documents efforts by Hoover and other top Republicans in the 1930s and 1940s to promote rescue of Jews from the Holocaust and creation of a Jewish state. It shows how the GOP’s adoption of a pro-Zionist plank in its 1944 platform forced the Democrats to do likewise, marking the first competition by the two parties for the Jewish vote.
Medoff believes that the newly revealed information and the events surrounding it are not only pertinent to the past.
“It’s possible to see 1948 in recent developments,” he suggested. “The intimidating of American Jewish Zionists for the possible loss of American lives is happening today. Like when Vice President Biden made a statement that the construction of apartments in certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem could lead to attacks on Americans. The tactic of using leaks to the media to try to pressure Israel not to take steps to defend itself against Iran does the same thing.”
“It’s the same implicit threat that the Jews will be blamed for the death of American soldiers,” Medoff said. “Is it a coincidence, or is it a pattern? Whatever it is, it’s as troubling now as it was then.”