In the immortal words of WWII-era radio commentator Gabriel Heatter, “There’s Good News Tonight.” Known for exuding a “dignified optimism,” Heatter brought to the air human-interest narratives that became, as some said, “a bright light in a dark time for America.”
More than six decades later, we often find it difficult to locate any good news to lift our spirits and inject a much-needed shot of optimism into yet another dark time for America and the world. But wait, there is a spate of “good news” that almost slipped by most of us during the holiday season at year’s end.
On July 9, a new nation was born: the country of South Sudan, a region comprised mostly of Nuba Christians who had suffered systematic, genocidal slaughter, starvation, rape, pillaging and expulsions led by Islamist Arabs in Khartoum who killed almost two million Nubas.
Now the remnants of this beleaguered but tenacious people have walked into what Mr. Heatter might have called the bright light of a better world. Among the first to extend a welcoming hand of recognition to the fledgling state was Israel. In return, South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit chose Israel for one of his initial presidential visits in a trip described as “low-key” and “under-the-radar.”
Our question is, why low-key and under-the-radar? This president and his newly born country have not only recognized the Jewish state’s legitimacy but are reportedly prepared to be the world’s only nation to do the right thing and place its embassy in Jerusalem. The gesture demonstrates there are still rare instances of national integrity, when leaders know how to say thank you to allies who have stood with them in their struggle for survival and independence.
It is illuminating that, with only hours in the land, President Kiir scheduled time to tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Everyone who holds a significant office anywhere in the West should be required to do the same. Kiir is not tainted by revisionist teaching; he understands Yad Vashem because he has walked in the blood of his own fallen people.
So why are we afraid to celebrate enthusiastically this small but significant eruption of good news and positive accomplishment? Whom do we fear? The radical thugs in Khartoum? The Arabs? Or, perhaps, the Islamist invaders of the West whose fear-mongering intimidates politicians, journalists, law enforcement agencies, and ordinary citizens?
The principle issues recall the 1940s when the rebirth of Israel was prominent on the world stage. Then-US president Harry S. Truman’s character, political decisiveness and strength of leadership were severely tested. At issue was the November 1947 UN decision to partition what was left of British Mandate Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. The Jewish people accepted the plan; the Arabs rejected it.
It was then announced that the Jewish people would declare an independent Jewish state. Arabists in the US State Department, as well as other presidential advisors, demanded Truman not recognize the Jewish state, viewing such a move as catastrophic. Nonetheless, on May 14, 1948, Jewish statesman David Ben-Gurion stood in what is now the Israel Museum in Tel Aviv and read Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Defying his advisors, Truman conveyed America’s official recognition of the Jewish state 11 minutes later.
In 1948 there was far more to fear from neighboring enemies than there is today. Yet Jewish people danced the Hora in high-stepping circles, and much of the civilized world danced with them. Despite the odds against survival, there was no low-key flying under the radar that historic day.
America’s president had taken the long view. The United States became the first government to recognize the legitimacy of Israel. Had Truman not been a man who knew how to honor a commitment, the Middle East would be a very different place today.
Why did he do it? Two probabilities stand out. First, he had made a promise to former president Chaim Weizmann, a brilliant Jewish scientist at the time. Weizmann visited Truman at the White House in March 1948 in a meeting arranged by Eddie Jacobson, Truman’s former business partner in Kansas City, Missouri. Truman called Weizmann “one of the wisest men I’ve ever met” and gave him his word that, if a Jewish state was declared, he would recognize it.
The second was noted by Clark Clifford, special counsel to Harry Truman from 1946 to 1950, in his memoirs Showdown at the Oval Office, published in 1991. Truman, he wrote, “was a student and believer in the Bible since his youth. From his reading of the Old Testament he felt the Jews derived a legitimate historical right to Palestine, and he sometimes cited such biblical lines as Deuteronomy 1:8: ‘Behold, I have given up the land before you; go in and take possession of the land which the Lord hath sworn unto your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’”
Despite the new winds of hard-line secularism blowing through the halls of statehouses and the steeples of mainline churches these days, most Americans still agree with Truman. Thus the birth of a pro-Israel, pro-Semitic, pro-Christian nation in Sub-Saharan Africa should give us all a reason to feel good. Yes, we can say loudly, without apology or under-the-radar trepidation, a burgeoning South Sudan “is good news tonight.” I think Gabriel Heatter would be glad to hear it.
The writer is executive editor for The Friends of Israel.