Jewish World Review July 21, 2003 / 21 Tamuz, 5763
Truman was saving his own skin
By Sidney Zion
That is the question in the aftermath of the discovery in the Truman Library of the most vicious remarks ever made about Jews by an American President.
The early returns indicate that Truman gets a grudging pass, since his deed of recognizing Israel overcomes, if not obliterates, his private words.
The underlying assumption is that by his decision to recognize the Jewish state, Truman was responsible for saving and even creating Israel. Against that, who cares what he thought? It's to his credit that he pushed away his prejudices, no matter how primitive.
The trouble with this analysis is that it ignores the fact that Truman imposed a harsh arms embargo on the Jews of Palestine, before, during and after his so-called brave recognition of Israel.
Truman styled it as an embargo on all arms to the Middle East, as if it were evenhanded, but he knew that the Brits were heavily arming the Palestinian Arabs, who went to war with the Jews the day after the United Nations voted to partition the Holy Land into Jewish and Arab states.
By his arms embargo, Truman left the Jews to their fate, which the Brits were sure would finish them off. With America laying off, the odds were overwhelming that 2,000 years of yearning would end with the final Jewish Kaddish.
The Palestinian Jews turned to the Soviets, who armed them through their Czechoslovakian clients. But all the while, the Truman administration not only deprived the Jews of guns, it attempted to double-cross them in the UN.
Months before Israel declared its statehood, the U.S. pushed for a trusteeship, abandoning the partition plan.
The end we know. Israel made it, against all odds - and against Truman. What we forget is the means by which a discarded, wiped-out people finally got a tiny piece of its ancient homeland.
And, irony of ironies, Truman ended up with the credit.
The story told is that Truman, pressed by his old haberdashery partner, Eddie Jacobson, met with Chaim Weizmann, who later became the first president of the Jewish state, and, bingo, there came Israel.
The story also has it that Clark Clifford, the President's young political adviser, convinced Truman that recognizing Israel was the only humane way to go.
Meanwhile, Gen. George Marshall was threatening to quit over the issue. Marshall, then secretary of state, believed that if Truman recognized Israel, it would simply be caving in to political pressure.
Now Truman's diary shows us that Marshall was right - it was all political. And we know that the story about Truman making his decision because he was convinced it was the only humane way to go was off the mark, too.
What really clinched the deal was that Clifford told Truman that he'd lose the 1948 election unless he recognized Israel. And that he'd better do it immediately, because New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, the Republican who would be his opponent, would demand it and take the Jewish vote. Moreover, the Russians were going to recognize Israel, too.
None of this would bother me today if the apologists for Truman would recognize why he did it, this man who wrote in that diary that "neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on" Jews with power.
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JWR contributor Sidney Zion is a columnist for the New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.
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