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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Israelis should be grateful to Harry Truman

Today's Washington Post has the full story of US President Harry S. Truman's decision to make the United States the first country to recognize the nascent State of Israel on May 14, 1948 (corresponding to the 5th day of the Jewish month of Iyar - which is this Saturday - in the year 5708). Truman's determination overcame the powerful anti-Semitism of the US State Department (yes, then too). Here is an excerpt from an article that must be read in full:
On May 12, Truman held a meeting in the Oval Office to decide the issue. Marshall and his universally respected deputy, Robert Lovett, made the case for delaying recognition -- and "delay" really meant "deny." Truman asked his young aide, Clark Clifford, to present the case for immediate recognition. When Clifford finished, Marshall, uncharacteristically, exploded. "I don't even know why Clifford is here. He is a domestic adviser, and this is a foreign policy matter. The only reason Clifford is here is that he is pressing a political consideration."

Marshall then uttered what Clifford would later call "the most remarkable threat I ever heard anyone make directly to a President." In an unusual top-secret memorandum Marshall wrote for the historical files after the meeting, the great general recorded his own words: "I said bluntly that if the President were to follow Mr. Clifford's advice and if in the elections I were to vote, I would vote against the President."

After this stunning moment, the meeting adjourned in disarray. In the next two days, Clifford looked for ways to get Marshall to accept recognition. Lovett, although still opposed to recognition, finally talked a reluctant Marshall into remaining silent if Truman acted. With only a few hours left until midnight in Tel Aviv, Clifford told the Jewish Agency to request immediate recognition of the new state, which still lacked a name. Truman announced recognition at 6:11 p.m. on May 14 -- 11 minutes after Ben-Gurion's declaration of independence in Tel Aviv. So rapidly was this done that in the official announcement, the typed words "Jewish State" are crossed out, replaced in Clifford's handwriting with "State of Israel." Thus the United States became the first nation to recognize Israel, as Truman and Clifford wanted. The secret of the Oval Office confrontation held for years, and a crisis in both domestic politics and foreign policy was narrowly averted.

Clifford insisted to me and others in countless discussions over the next 40 years that politics was not at the root of his position -- moral conviction was. Noting sharp divisions within the American Jewish community -- the substantial anti-Zionist faction among leading Jews included the publishers of both The Post and the New York Times -- Clifford had told Truman in his famous 1947 blueprint for Truman's presidential campaign that "a continued commitment to liberal political and economic policies" was the key to Jewish support.


Israel was going to come into existence whether or not Washington recognized it. But without American support from the very beginning, Israel's survival would have been at even greater risk. Even if European Jewry had not just emerged from the horrors of World War II, it would have been an unthinkable act of abandonment by the United States. Truman's decision, although opposed by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, was the right one -- and despite complicated consequences that continue to this day, it is a decision all Americans should recognize and admire.
Read the whole thing.

And on that note, I thought this would be a good time to stick in a song that was one of my favorites as a teenager and that has lyrics that are still appropriate today, more than thirty years later. Enjoy!
This clip is from Chicago's New Year's Rockin' Eve 1975.

This song was written and sung by Robert Lamm and reached the American Top 20.

He wrote this song after reading a book named 'Plain Speaking' by Merle Miller who died in 1986. This was a much more light hearted approach at addressing American politics for Robert Lamm.

This song was kind of a novelty in 1975. It obviously rode on Chicago's previous and current hit ride.


You could say that this song truly peaked on the Summer 1975 "Beachago" tour. Chicago and the Beach Boys performed this song in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium to a packed house of Truman adorers. KC was the home of President Harry Truman and the place where he died, just two years earlier. This song has not been performed since.

Both America and Israel could use a Harry Truman today. He is sorely missed.


At 9:16 AM, Blogger Batya said...

Carl, you disappoint me. You should know better than support the myth. Truman wasn't a true supporter of Israel. He was going to let the State Dept do their damage until his old buddy came in and begged him to support the formation of a Jewish State.

At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Batya. It's true that at the critical moment, Truman did force his morals to override his political expediencies but overall this was not the case.

On the other end (far, far away) of the spectrum of people to thank, there's Josef Stalin.

And while I'm here, I have just one thing to say about the bible quiz controversy - JUST KIDDING!!!!

At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a smattering of not-all-complimentary Truman mentioning in this WSJ article by Michael Oren: Israel Is Now America's Closest Ally.

I disagree with Oren's bottom line:

"Such rifts have grown increasingly infrequent, however, and today there are few visible fissures in the U.S.-Israeli front."

He must be joking!

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


Bottom line: At the end of the day when it counted, Truman did the right thing. How many politicians of today have done the right thing when it counted? The last one I can think of in either country is Yitzchak Shamir.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Harry Truman made that decision on the basis of deeply felt moral principle. He felt it was the right thing to do and politics never entered into it. There are times when a politician is a statesman and is looking out for the higher interests of his country. That's what Truman did in recognizing the new State Of Israel. Now its true politicians can act of political calculation and cynicism but there are some who believe public life demands a degree of self-detached selflessness at key moments of history.

To put it more simply: Truman was at the right place at the right time. Israel's cause at its birth and today is just and people need to see it.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Freedom Fighter said...

Sorry,Carl...I'm not with you on this one.

Batya is correct..and another consideration is that the Soviets recognized Israel early and Truman wanted to take no chances.

Truman imposed an arms embargo on Israel when they were fighting for their very lives,only three years after the Shoah.

He did this even though he and the US State Department were aware that Britain was arming the Egyptians,and the British trained and armed Jordanian Arab Legion. The Arab Legion, as you may know, was British officered and commanded by the notorious anti-Semite. Colonel John Glubb.('Glubb Pasha')

Truman made no attempt to intervene with the British or to do anything else to protect the Jews of Israel.

It was a uniquely despicable act.

The Israelis actually resorted to buying WWII surplus arms from places like Czechoslovakia and private arms dealers.In some cases, they made their own,like the famous Davidka mortars.

Truman also put an embargo on American Jews going to fight for Israel.

My father of blessed memory was part of a contingent that had been training with the Irgun in Brooklyn.When Israel declared its independence, they tried to get to Israel via Canada, but a number of them were caught at the border. A record was made of their identities and they were fingerprinted and photographed. Their passports were then confiscated and they were threatened with jail time if they were caught trying it again.

Signing a piece of paper is all very well,but it's actions that count.

All Best,


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