What can a press conference by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 teach us about the recent murder of an Israeli police officer by a teenage Palestinian Arab terrorist? More than you might think.
On November 5, Muhammad Omar Al-Faroukh fatally stabbed Elisheva Rose Lubin, a 20-year-old police officer who immigrated to Israel from Atlanta, Georgia.
The fact that the killer was just 16 years old has, understandably, sparked some discussion. After all, no child is born a terrorist; somebody influenced him to choose that path.
Palestinian Media Watch has pointed to the extremist teachings by Palestinian Arab school teachers and public figures. Among the latter was the threat by Palestinian icon Ahed Tamimi to “drink the blood” and “eat the skulls” of Israeli Jews, which she announced to her 100,000 followers on Instagram just days before Al-Faroukh murdered Elisheva Lubin.
President Roosevelt, like Ms. Lubin, had a strong connection to the state of Georgia. Beginning in 1924, he spent periods in Warm Springs, an hour’s drive from Atlanta, hoping that exercising in its therapeutic waters would help him recover from polio. He built a home there, which came to be known as the Little White House. It was in Warm Springs that he suffered his fatal stroke in 1945.
On the afternoon of September 7, 1934, FDR held a press conference in his residence at Hyde Park, New York. At one point, a reporter asked the president what was discussed during the president’s recent lunch with a French cabinet minister.
“We spent most of the lunch hour discussing Germany,” Roosevelt replied. He then emphasized—twice—that everything he was about to say had to be “entirely off the record” because “I cannot talk foreign affairs about so-called friendly countries.”
FDR’s policy toward Nazi Germany before World War II was to maintain cordial, sometimes friendly, relations with Hitler. He never criticized the Nazi regime in public and even compelled Interior Secretary Harold Ickes to delete criticism of Hitler from his speeches. Roosevelt supported U.S. participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and opposed the widespread grassroots boycott of German products. FDR’s Commerce Department even quietly advised the Nazi regime on how to deceptively label their products to avoid boycotters. And Roosevelt never publicly mentioned the plight of German Jews, an issue which he considered to be none of America’s business.
But off the record—where there was no danger of offending Hitler—Roosevelt shared an anecdote to illustrate French fears of Germany’s militarization. “The school children in Germany are now going through an educational process,” he said at that 1934 press conference. To explain that educational process, FDR shared with the reporters something that had been witnessed by an American professor who recently visited friends in Germany.
The professor overheard her host’s eight-year-old son saying his nightly prayers. “He kneeled down at his mother’s knee and said his prayers and ended in good German, like a good German boy, and he said, ‘Dear God, please permit it that I shall die with a French bullet in my heart,’” President Roosevelt said. “You get that sort of thing, and that is what has scared the French when ninety percent of the German people are thinking and talking that way. If I were a Frenchman, I would be scared too.”
Unfortunately, FDR’s private recognition that Hitler was raising German children to hate and kill did not alter his policy toward the Nazi regime. In late 1937, Roosevelt even proposed providing helium to Germany to power its Zeppelin airships, which he said would demonstrate that the U.S. was “a good neighbor.” (Secretary Ickes blocked the sale because the gas could be “of military importance” since the Germans had used Zeppelins as bombers in World War I.) The following year, they supported the Munich agreement to dismember Czechoslovakia to appease Hitler.
In our own era, it is no secret that anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda permeates the Palestinian Arab educational system. That system helps produce teenage killers such as Muhammad Al-Faroukh. Yet leaders around the world—including the United States—have echoed President Roosevelt in pursuing friendly relations with the Palestinian Authority rather than confronting the PA’s policy of raising children to be terrorists.
(Dr. Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His most recent book, America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America / University of Nebraska Press. And available on Amazon, as are his other books)Dr. Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His most recent book, America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America / University of Nebraska Press. And available on Amazon, as are his other books)