A SAFE HAVEN Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel
Source: NYT, 7-26-09
Although Harry Truman left office widely disliked and dismissed more than half a century ago, the effort to resurrect his reputation is now a thriving industry, with politicians and pundits of all stripes trying to tie themselves to the tough, blunt old cold warrior. Contributing to this effort, the husband-and-wife team Allis and Ronald Radosh have written “A Safe Haven,” the story of Truman’s integral role in the birth of Israel.
While some of Truman’s foreign policy accomplishments — the creation of the Marshall Plan, the United Nations and NATO, and his defiance of the Soviets — have gotten the credit they deserve, the Radoshes say, his involvement in the creation of Israel remains overlooked. That may not be quite right. Most modern histories already acknowledge Truman’s early support of the Jewish state; it’s hard to overlook the fact that he recognized newborn Israel just 10 minutes after its delivery. That said, what these histories don’t recognize — and here’s where the Radoshes make their contribution — is just how hard Truman had to work to get there, battling enemies, allies and many in his own administration to make certain that Israel made it to independence with American backing.
It was, as the Radoshes make clear, a long, tough slog. Truman, who fell into the presidency unprepared after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, inherited a mess in the Middle East. The suave and urbane Roosevelt (one of the Radoshes’ villains) had pursued a policy of “obfuscation” on Palestine, assuring both Jews and Arabs that he was sensitive to their concerns. This meant that on taking office, Truman had to deal with a tangle of contradictory commitments. He also had to face down two implacable opponents of Jewish statehood: Great Britain, the colonial power in Palestine, and his own State Department, which bitterly opposed granting the Jews a homeland.
Yet Truman — a biblical literalist and a Christian Zionist — had long been a fierce believer in Jewish statehood for reasons both religious and moral. The Old Testament said that Jews belonged in Israel. And Truman was appalled by the Holocaust (which gave him nightmares), as well as by the scandalously poor treatment of postwar Jewish refugees in European displaced-persons camps. And so this “simple man” waged a long and often bitter diplomatic campaign to help ensure that the Jews got a country of their own….