Source: The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, 6-12-09
Yes, President Harry S. Truman played an essential role in the achievement of Israeli independence. And yes, his old friend Eddie Jacobson helped to steer him onto that path.
So say Allis and Ronald Radosh, authors of the new book “A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel” (Harper).
“In every single Jewish audience we speak to, there is someone who says ‘Wasn’t there a guy named Eddie who influenced Truman?’ Every Jew over the age of 50 knows about Eddie,” said Ronald Radosh.
The common wisdom on the overall subject of Truman and Israel is accurate, too, said Ronald Radosh.
“There would probably be no Israel today if there was no Truman,” he said. “Roosevelt wouldn’t have done what Truman did.”
Ronald Radosh is professor emeritus of history at the City University of New York, where his wife has also taught, in addition to her work as an official of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is his 14th book, and their second together. They spoke with The Chronicle from their home in Martinsburg, W. Va.
The Radoshes said the subject of Truman and Israel deserved book-length treatment.
“So much has been written about Truman,” Ronald Radosh said. “I wanted to look for something new. Except for chapters in (David) McCullough (“Truman,” 1992) or Al Hamby’s book, (“Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman,” 1995) … there was nothing for the general reading public that told the story.
“So we decided it would be perfect to do a history chronologically through time; to see how he functioned in the White House and lay the whole story out. …Three years ago, we began to write it. The research took two years, and the writing one year.”
Opening the door
The Radoshes twice visited the Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo., among many other archives, seeking documents that would shed new light on the old story. They said they found surprises throughout their research — some hiding in plain sight.
“So many people think they know the story, but they never knew this or that,” said Allis Radosh. “One thing we do that nobody else has done is to lay out concretely and chronologically the State Department’s attempts to prevent American recognition of a Jewish state and to undermine Truman, even after the U.N. vote” to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.
The Radoshes said they uncovered a memo written by U.S. adviser and then-State Department official George F. Kennan “giving advice to Truman as to why there should be no Jewish state. Lots of people were stunned when they read that. … You realize that there is always something in a topic that has already been done; something someone has overlooked. Look at all the Lincoln books. There is something new to say always.”
The Radoshes’ book begins with a scene-setting chapter about FDR and the Palestine question. It then describes how the new President Truman was whipsawed by political and religious forces, events and personalities. Men like presidential adviser David Niles, American Zionist leader Rabbi Stephen Wise and Congressman Emanuel Celler come to life as the story progresses, not to mention hometown heroes Jacobson and his good friend, A.J. Granoff.
“Probably the most important thing he (Jacobson) did was opening the door to Chaim Weizmann into the White House to talk to Truman. Weizmann was very convincing and important in dealing with Truman and making his case to him about why he should support a Jewish state,” Allis Radosh said.
“When there was a dispute about the Negev desert, Weizmann saw Truman after Eddie persuaded him.”
Finally, during the run-up to the United Nations vote on partitioning Palestine, the Radoshes say, Truman got fed up with “Zionist extremists” who, in their eagerness to convince him, sometimes disrespected the president.
That was when Eddie’s finest hour occurred.
“He was very instrumental at the end, when the State Department was trying to scuttle partition at the U.N.,” said Ronald Radosh. “When it looked like it was all going to go down the tubes, one person was able to convince Truman to chart a steady course, and that was Weizmann. Although Truman didn’t want to see any Zionists, B’nai B’rith called Jacobson in the middle of night and said ‘Charter a plane; come to Washington and convince Truman to see Weizmann.’ ” He does and convinces Truman to see Weizmann. … Weizmann’s wife said that was the most important thing he did.”
After Israel’s War of Independence, he said, Jacobson “became the actual liaison between the White House and the Jewish Agency and the new state. He was an informal ambassador.”
Jacobson and Truman remained friends long after Truman’s presidency. In fact, the men and their wives were scheduled to make a grand tour of Europe and Israel together when Jacobson died of a heart attack in 1955.
“Truman wrote Eddie a letter about what their itinerary was going to be,” Allis Radosh said. “It would have been the trip of a lifetime.”
And what about the seemingly anti-Semitic comments that sometimes escaped from Truman’s lips?
“The whole thing with anti-Semitism is kind of bifurcated,” said Allis Radosh. “On the one hand, he is in business with Eddie, and played cards with him and other Jews, but he still lives in the house of his mother-in-law, and Jews weren’t allowed there.
“Loeb Granoff says it very well … Truman was a man of his time. He grew up with such standard slurs, but he (Granoff) never saw an anti-Semitic bone about him, nor did his father. So on the personal level, there was not one bit of anti-Semitism. You put that in context of what’s important, and you see Truman surpassed the stereotypes he grew up with. They came out when he was frustrated. On a personal level, he just wasn’t. His in-laws, the Wallaces, were.”