Recognizing Israel

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In some of the revisionist writing about this period, reference is made to a memorandum I submitted to President Truman in November, 1947. The strategy it recommended was based on the premise that if the Democrats won the South, and the states west of the Mississippi, we could afford to write off the electoral votes of New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Ohio with their large Jewish urban constituencies. I suggested that if we were to win the Jewish vote, it would be won on the Democratic party’s long-standing commitment to political and economic liberalism. An interesting quote from the memorandum is as follows: In the long run, there is likely to be greater gain if the Palestine problem is approached on the basis of reaching decisions founded upon intrinsic merit.

But the fact is, the President’s policy on the subject was his and his alone. He was angered by the charge that domestic politics was the determining factor in his decision. The charge implied that the President and those Americans who supported his policy were somehow disloyal and acting in opposition to our country’s best interests.

During 1947 and 1948 I heard President Truman express himself many times with reference to the Jewish problem. He had a deep, natural resentment against intolerance of any kind. He deplored the existence of Jewish ghettos and the cruel and persistent persecution. He never ceased to be horrified at the murder of some six million Jews by the Nazis. He was fully aware of the miserable status of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who had been displaced by the Second World War. As a student of the Bible, he believed in the historic justification for a Jewish homeland, and it was a conviction with him that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 constituted a solemn promise that fulfilled the age-old hope and dream of the Jewish people.

The effort of the revisionists to portray President Truman as risking the welfare of his country for cheap political advantage is bitterly resented by all of us who admired and respected him.

Some years later President Truman met David Ben-Gurion while both men were still in office. In Ben-Gurion’s memoirs he recalls the following: At our last meeting, after a very interesting talk, just before [the President] left me—it was in a New York hotel suite—I told him that as a foreigner I could not judge what would be his place in American history; but his helpfulness to us, his constant sympathy with our aims in Israel, his courageous decision to recognize our new State so quickly and his steadfast support since then had given him an immortal place in Jewish history. As I said that, tears suddenly sprang to his eyes. And his eyes were still wet when he bade me good-by. I had rarely seen anyone so moved. I tried to hold him for a few minutes until he had become more composed, for I recalled that the hotel corridors were full of waitingjournalists and photographers. He left. A little while later, I too had to go out, and a correspondent came up to me to ask, “Why was President Truman in tears when he left you?”

I believe I know. These were the tears of a man who had been subjected to calumny and vilification, who had persisted against powerful forces determined to defeat him, who had contended with opposition even from within his own administration. These were the tears of a man who had fought ably and honorably for a humanitarian goal to which he was deeply dedicated.

These were tears of thanksgiving that his God had seen fit to bless his labors with success.

From Volume V, Foreign Relations of the United States, published by the U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976

March 8, 1948. Memorandum, Clark Clifford to President Harry Truman:

”… the Palestine problem should not be approached as a Jewish question, or an Arab question, or a United Nations question. The sole question is what is best for the United States of America.”

May 12, 1948. Memorandum of Conversation, Secretary of State George C. Marshall:

“The counsel offered by Mr. Clifford was based on domestic political considerations, while the problem which confronted us was international. I said bluntly that if the President were to follow Mr. Clifford’s advice and if in the elections I were to vote, I would vote against the President.” An Exclusive Interview with Clark Clifford