The first country to recognize the State of Israel was the United States. That recognition almost didn’t happen. It was purely by the will of the President, Harry Truman, that the UN Partition Plan was implemented.
Throughout the months leading up to May 14, 1948, the President made his wishes clear, he wanted a homeland for the Jewish People, not because of political reasons, but because it was the right and moral thing to do.
But the rest of the world (including the US State Department) was looking to invalidate the mandate, an effort that was still ongoing in the UN when Truman announced the recognition of the declared Jewish State of Israel.
What I am trying to do is make the whole world safe for Jews,” Harry Truman wrote as he wrestled over the decision to recognize a Jewish state in Palestine. Deeply affected by the Holocaust, Truman sympathized with Jewish aspirations for a homeland. In November 1947 he lobbied for the U.N. resolution that divided Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Britain announced it would hand authority over Palestine to the U.N. by May 14, 1948. Secretary of State George Marshall advised against recognition, warning Truman that Arab countries would cut off oil and unite to destroy the Jews.
Does that sound Familiar? Today we have a President, who bows down to the Arab nations at the expense of the Jewish State. He appeases the terrorist organizations that would destroy the Jews as well as the terrorist states such as Iran and Syria that has the same intent.
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, “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. “
God put you in your mother’s womb,” the Chief Rabbi of Israel later told Truman, “so you would be the instrument to bring the rebirth of Israel.” With Truman’s decision, the hopes of the Jewish people were realized, but so too were Marshall’s fears. Arab opponents of the new nation immediately declared war, prompting a bloody struggle over Israel’s existence that would rage into the next century.
Marshall the Secretary of State who Truman called the greatest living American, was just as opposed to the creation of the nascent Jewish state as the president supported to it. Officials in the State Department had done everything in their power to prevent, thwart, or delay the President’s Palestine policy in 1947 and 1948 (some things NEVER change). The President’s policy eventually won out because it rested on the realities of the situation in the region, on America’s moral, ethical, and humanitarian values, on the costs and risks inherent in any other course, and on America’s national interests.
Clark M. Clifford served as Special Counsel to President Truman from 1946 to 1950 and fought with the president regarding Israel and against the State Department. Below is a small segment of his recollection of the internal US fight regarding the recognition of the Jewish State— the final discussion in the President’s office. It was supposed to be about the President having a major press conference to recognize Israel, but it turned out to be an angry battle about the Jewish state itself:
I had noticed Marshall’s face reddening with suppressed anger as I talked. When I finished, he exploded: “Mr. President, I thought this meeting was called to consider an important and complicated problem in foreign policy. I don’t even know why [Clark] Clifford is here. He is a domestic adviser, and this is a foreign policy matter.”
I would never forget President Truman’s characteristically simple reply: “Well, General, he’s here because I asked him to be here.”
Marshall, scarcely concealing his ire, shot back, “These considerations have nothing to do with the issue. I fear that the only reason Clifford is here is that he is pressing a political consideration with regard to this issue. I don’t think politics should play any part in this.”
Lovett joined the attack: “It would be highly injurious to the United Nations to announce the recognition of the Jewish state even before it had come into existence and while the General Assembly is still considering the question. Furthermore, such a move would be injurious to the prestige of the President. It is obviously designed to win the Jewish vote, but in my opinion, it would lose more votes than it would gain.” Lovett had finally brought to the surface the root cause of Marshall’s fury – his view that the position I presented was dictated by domestic political considerations, specifically a quest for Jewish votes.
When that didn’t work, Lovett tried another approach the red scare (because you know all of those Jews are commies).
“Mr. President, to recognize the Jewish state prematurely would be buying a pig in a poke,” Lovett continued. “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 concluded, Marshall spoke again. He was still furious. Speaking 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 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.
…at the end of that day[after the meeting was over], still steaming, he [Marshall] did something quite unusual, although the President and I were unaware of it at the time. Certain that history would prove him right, he wanted his personal comments included in the official State Department record of the meeting. It is normal for the records of such meetings kept by the State Department to water down or leave out personal comments; Marshall did exactly the opposite. His record, exactly as he wanted historians to find it when it was declassified almost three decades later, reads as follows:
I remarked to the President that, speaking objectively, I could not help but think that suggestions made by Mr. Clifford were wrong. I thought that to adopt these suggestions would have precisely the opposite effect from that intended by Mr. Clifford. The transparent dodge to win a few votes would not in fact achieve this purpose. The great dignity of the office of the President would be seriously diminished. The counsel offered by Mr. Clifford was based on domestic political considerations, while the problem which confronted us was international. 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.
General Marshall’s position was grossly unfair, not only had no one besides the anti-recognition forces mention politics,it set up the dual loyalty canard and the nonsensical claim that Jews only vote based on the Israel Issue. Republican James Baker one of our most fiercely anti-Israel Secretary of State realized that party affiliation and other issues are much more important when he said, “F**K the Jews, they won’t vote for us anyway.” Or recent polls regarding Obama and the Jews. The Obama administration is the most anti-Israel administration in the nations history. Yet while his ratings in the Jewish community are falling, they have not fallen as quickly as the general population, suggesting that there are other issues generating Jewish support.
On May 14th the day Israel was to be proclaimed, the State Department relented (sort of):
….Around 4 p.m., Lovett made the telephone call I had waited so long to receive: “Clark, I think we have something we can work with. I have talked to the General. He cannot support the President’s position, but he has agreed that he will not oppose it.”
“God, that’s good news.” I was truly thrilled. I thanked Lovett for his efforts, and asked if he could get Marshall to call the President directly with the news. Lovett said he would try. Marshall never did make the call himself – I assume it was too painful for him to do so – but Lovett confirmed Marshall’s position directly with the President a few minutes later. As Lovett called the President.
….Just after 6 p.m., I walked hurriedly past the White House press corps, who were lounging, as usual, on the worn sofas in the lobby of the West Wing, to the office of Charlie Ross, the President’s press secretary. Impatient to be told there would be no more news that day, the reporters wondered what story they were waiting for so late in the day. Handing Ross a piece of paper, I asked him to gather the press as quickly as possible. At 6:11 p.m., Ross read aloud to them: “Statement by the President. This government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine….The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel.”
In 1961 long after was out of office, Truman met with Israeli PM David Ben Gurion in NY. Ben Gurion said this about the meeting.
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.
Its interesting when you compare that spring 63 years ago vs. today. In 1948 we had a President who used a moral compass to decide foreign policy direction. 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 to do for our future and the future of the world. Truman saw the Presidency the leadership position of the entire world.
Our President today sees the US as nothing special, not a leader but one of many countries on the planet. His foreign policy has been described as “leading from behind” Doing the right thing is not as important as finding favor among those countries that hate us because of what we represent. And if that means we have to throw our historical allies under the bus, so be it.
The morality behind Truman’s direction helped to make America strong. Like most of his agenda, Obama’s “lets be friends with the people who hate us,” based foreign policy will only serve to drive this country towards mediocrity and put our children and grandchildren in danger.