How good a friend of the Jews was Harry Truman? (JERUSALEM POST) By RENEE GHERT-ZAND, JPOST CORRESPONDENT 04/29/12)
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PALO ALTO –“The Truman administration really crossed a line here.
It’s one thing to have a policy that is anti-Zionist, but to threaten
and intimidate American Jews goes beyond the bounds of the legitimate
political world,” said Dr. Rafael Medoff of a disturbing historical
discovery he recently made.
In the course of conducting research in 2011 for his new book,
Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the ‘Jewish Vote’ and
Bipartisan Support for Israel, Medoff, who is also a Jerusalem Post
columnist, uncovered heretofore unpublished evidence that in late
April 1948, two weeks before Israel declared independence, the State
Department threatened to incite a wave of anti-Semitism in the United
States if Zionist leaders proclaimed the State of Israel.
The evidence was contained in a nine-page report of a conversation
between undersecretary of State Robert A. Lovett and Zionist official
and World Jewish Congress co-founder Nahum Goldmann that the scholar
found in Goldmann’s papers in the Central Zionist Archives in
“I’m not the first person to have looked at Nahum Goldmann’s papers,”
Medoff told the Post, “but it appears that no one had previously
taken notice of this critical section in the middle of this
Although Truman had supported the UN Partition Plan in November 1947,
by March 1948, his administration, fearful that partition could not
be successfully implemented, had changed its position and was calling
for an international trusteeship of Palestine (referred to as “the
truce” in Goldmann’s report).
Goldmann reported that Lovett said to him: “As the situation is now,
we must have a truce. If you prevent it we will become very tough. We
will wash our hands of the whole situation and will prevent any help
being given to you. We will publish a White Paper, which is already
Lovett went on to say that this White Paper would incriminate the
Arabs, the British and the Jews.
“Anti-Semitism is mounting in an unprecedented way in groups and
circles which are very influential and were never touched by Anti-
Semitism. Such a White Paper would do great harm to the Jews in this
country, and once it is published, I am not sure that outstanding
Jewish leaders who are helping you today would go along with you,”
Lovett threatened Goldmann and the Zionist leadership.
These intimidating remarks came within the context of the State
Department’s demand for an indefinite postponement of the declaration
of the State of Israel.
A week after Goldmann’s meeting with Lovett, Zionist leaders from the
US and the Yishuv met in New York to decide how to proceed in light
of the State Department’s threats.
“Goldmann was in favor of giving in to the American demands,” Medoff
said. “But the majority voted to go ahead with the state.”
One of those who were vocal about proceeding was then-Zionist
Organization of America president Emanuel Neumann, who wrote in his
1976 memoir, In the Arena: “I dwelt upon the historic significance of
May 14, 1948, a moment which had to be seized to proclaim the Jewish
state; not a week, nor a day, nor an hour should be allowed to
intervene.... this might be our last chance.”
He said he was certain that the US government would not carry through
on its threats.
“As for the veiled or open threats from the State Department, I was
sure they did not have to be taken seriously,” he said. “With a
presidential election due that November, it was out of the question
that the Truman administration would attempt to harass us – with the
vast and bitter repercussions that this would create in the American
Lovett himself alluded to this fear of losing Jewish votes to the
more pro- Zionist Republicans, in his conversation with Goldmann.
“Jewish political power began emerging in a significant way after the
war. The Democrats were worried about the defection of Jews to the
GOP because of the Democrats’ Holocaust policies,” Medoff noted. “We
would have published it already if we hadn’t been afraid of grave
repercussions in the United States,” Lovett told Goldmann in
reference to the proposed White Paper.
In his research, Medoff did not come across any documents spelling
out exactly what would have been in that White Paper, but he thinks
it would have included suggestions of dual loyalty. In addition, it
might have reiterated the warning to the Zionists by both presidents
Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt that the Zionists would be
responsible for America being compelled to send troops to the Middle
East, resulting in American lives being lost due to Arab attacks
“The State Department was not acting in opposition to Truman. On the
contrary, it was implementing presidential policy,” Medoff explained.
“Truman did not want a major international conflict that would draw
the Soviet Union in, and then necessitate American intervention. He
didn’t have a plan to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. He just wanted
to keep things calm.” In the end, even when the War of Independence
did break out, the US never did have to send in troops. “For Truman,
it was simply a problem of timing,” Medoff said. With the election
just months away, he acceded to his political adviser’s urging to
support the establishment of the Jewish state.
Regardless of how history played itself out, Medoff finds the
document he unearthed “most troubling.”
“It’s one thing for diplomats to get rough with one another. Threats
can be made between the arguing parties,” he remarked. “But to
threaten to harm bystanders? That is unprecedented.
It is deeply disturbing that the State Department would go to such
extremes. Threatening to provoke racial hatred against American
citizens should have been beyond the pale.”
Herbert Hoover and the Jews was authored by Medoff together with US
foreign relations professor Dr. Sonja Schoepf Wentling. It was
published this month by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust
Studies in Washington, of which Medoff is the founding director.
In addition to revealing how concern about the Jewish vote influenced
Truman to recognize the newborn State of Israel in 1948, the book
documents efforts by Hoover and other top Republicans in the 1930s
and 1940s to promote rescue of Jews from the Holocaust and creation
of a Jewish state. It shows how the GOP’s adoption of a pro-Zionist
plank in its 1944 platform forced the Democrats to do likewise,
marking the first competition by the two parties for the Jewish vote.
Medoff believes that the newly revealed information and the events
surrounding it are not only pertinent to the past.
“It’s possible to see 1948 in recent developments,” he
suggested. “The intimidating of American Jewish Zionists for the
possible loss of American lives is happening today. Like when Vice
President Biden made a statement that the construction of apartments
in certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem could lead to attacks on
Americans. The tactic of using leaks to the media to try to pressure
Israel not to take steps to defend itself against Iran does the same
“It’s the same implicit threat that the Jews will be blamed for the
death of American soldiers,” Medoff said. “Is it a coincidence, or is
it a pattern? Whatever it is, it’s as troubling now as it was then.”
(© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/29/12)
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