Sixty-six years ago tonight (by the Hebrew calendar) is the anniversary of Israel declaring her independence. That independence would have been very short lived were it not for the strong will of President Harry S Truman, who became the new State’s first international supporter. Truman recognized Israel not because of any political stance, but because he thought it was the right thing to do. When Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Isaac Herzog, visited the White House after Israel declared her independence he told Truman, “God put you in your mother’s womb so that you would be the instrument to bring the rebirth of Israel after 2000 years.”
If Barack Obama was president 66 years ago, Israel may very well have been cast aside in deference to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Arab League. He most probably would have tried to negate the UN Partition Plan, as most in the State Department recommended in 1948, because President Obama believes the United States should lead from behind. That wasn’t Harry Truman’s style.
“What I am trying to do is make the whole world safe for Jews,” Harry Truman wrote as he agonized over his decision to recognize a Jewish state in Palestine.
Secretary of State George Marshall (Time’s 1947 Man of the Year) was just as opposed to the creation of Israel as Truman was for it. Clark M. Clifford, Special Counsel to President Truman at the time, remembered the internal US fight regarding the recognition of the Jewish State — the final discussion in the Oval Office. The meeting turned out to be an angry battle with Clifford and the President on one side, Marshall and Undersecretary of State Robert Lovett on the other.
The argument used many of the same memes as used today. Lovett first argued that Truman was supporting Israel was solely for political gain and he warned the President the move would lose more votes than it would gain. When that didn’t work, Lovett tried another approach the red scare (because you know all of those Jews are commies). As Clifford recalls:
Mr. President, to recognize the Jewish state prematurely would be buying a pig in a poke. How do we know what kind of Jewish state will be set up? We have many reports from British and American intelligence agents that Soviets are sending Jews and Communist agents into Palestine from the Black Sea area.
Lovett read some of these intelligence reports to the group. I found them ridiculous, and no evidence ever turned up to support them; in fact, Jews were fleeing communism throughout Eastern Europe at that very moment.” When Lovett was done speaking it was the “hero” Marshall’s turn:
With barely contained rage and more than a hint of self-righteousness, he made the most remarkable threat I ever heard anyone make directly to a President: “If you follow Clifford’s advice and if I were to vote in the election, I would vote against you. Everyone in the room was stunned. Here was the indispensable symbol of continuity [from FDR] whom President Truman revered and needed, making a threat that, if it became public, could virtually seal the dissolution of the Truman Administration and send the Western Alliance, then in the process of creation, into disarray before it had been fully structured. Marshall’s statement fell short of an explicit threat to resign, but it came very close.” General Marshall’s position was grossly unfair. Just like to day opponents of the Jewish State believed the sole reason for the president’s support was politics.
But Truman’s mind was made up– he was going to do the right thing. At 4 p.m. Friday May 14, 1948 just before the start of the Jewish Sabbath, David Ben Gurion read a 979-word declaration of independence in front of a small audience at the Tel Aviv Art Museum. He finished in his usual terse manner. “The state of Israel is established! The meeting is ended.” At midnight, British rule over Palestine lapsed; 11 minutes later White House spokesman Charlie Ross announced U.S. recognition.
In 1961 long after was out of office, Truman met with Israeli PM David Ben Gurion in NY. In writing about the meeting, Ben Gurion said:
At our last meeting, after a very interesting talk, just before [the President] left me – it was in a New York hotel suite – I told him that as a foreigner I could not judge what would be his place in American history; but his helpfulness to us, his constant sympathy with our aims in Israel, his courageous decision to recognize our new state so quickly and his steadfast support since then had given him an immortal place in Jewish history. As I said that, tears suddenly sprang to his eyes. And his eyes were still wet when he bade me goodbye. I had rarely seen anyone so moved. I tried to hold him for a few minutes until he had become more composed, for I recalled that the hotel corridors were full of waiting journalists and photographers. He left. A little while later, I too had to go out, and a correspondent came to me to ask, “Why was President Truman in tears when he left you?” I believe that I know. These were the tears of a man who had been subjected to calumny and vilification, who had persisted against powerful forces within his own Administration determined to defeat him. These were the tears of a man who had fought ably and honorably for a humanitarian goal to which he was deeply committed. These were tears of thanksgiving that his God had seen fit to bless his labors with success.
How times have changed. In 1948 our president used a moral compass to decide foreign policy. Truman was a president who judged not whether things would make us popular in Europe and the Arab world, but whether it was the right thing for the US. The man from Independence, Mo. knew the best thing for America’s future was for to grab the leadership position of the entire world.
Today our president today sees the US not as the leader, but one of many countries on the planet. He has described his strategy as “leading from behind” Just look at what he has done for Ukraine, a nation being attacked by Russia because they want to be friends with the west. Instead of strong sanctions on Russia and arming the Ukraine, he is imposing weak sanctions and supply the Ukraine with MREs (Meals ready to eat). He made an ill-advised line in the Syrian sand and when push came to shove was out maneuvered by the Russians, and now there are new reports of Assad using chemical weapons.
Like most of his agenda, Obama’s “lead from behind strategy” will only serve to drive this country towards mediocrity and put our children and grandchildren in danger. Would Barack Obama have had the moral courage to recognize the new Jewish State the way that Harry Truman did 66 years ago or would he have led from behind?