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Arno Rosenfeld 6/8/2010

Harry Truman and the Creation of the State of Israel

The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was the product of an immense, multifaceted effort. No single group, country, or individual can be held solely responsible for the creation of Israel. However, the United States President Harry S. Truman played a substantial role in the creation of the State. There is much reason to suggest that Truman would have supported Zionism regardless of any outside influences due to his strong held personal convictions due in part to his religious beliefs. However, he was often reluctant to publicly express this support. His public support for Zionism came from his close advisers, Jewish and otherwise, who were strong supporters of Zionism. When Franklin D. Roosevelt died, vice-president Harry S. Truman took over the presidency. Roosevelt, while often opaque publicly about his view on Zionism, did in private support the creation of a Jewish state (Radosh and Radosh). Truman decided to hold onto many of FDR's personal advisers. Two advisers that he retained from the Roosevelt administration were David Niles, special administrator to the president, and Justice Samuel Rosenmann. These two advisers proved essential to American Zionist's attempts to get into the president's ear. Additionally, Clark Clifford, an attorney from Truman's native Missouri, who became a member of the White House staff also played a key role in shaping Truman's positions on Zionism and subsequently on the State of Israel. The most trusted by Truman out of any of the aforementioned figures in the effort was by far David K. Niles. David K. Niles was born to Jewish family in a Boston slum (Snetsinger). He rose up the

through the political system of the Democratic party to become an adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt treated him as a close confidant, a role that he also played in the Truman administration. Truman kept him on because he knew him to be a competent adviser and the two quickly became very close. John Snetsinger writes in Truman, the Jewish Vote and the Creation of Israel that Niles was Possibly the Zionists' most important asset... While Niles avoided the spotlight and was always upset when he found his name in the paper, he did allowed himself to be courted by Zionist organizations and was crucial in helping to garner Truman's support for a creation of a Jewish state (Snetsinger). Eliahu Epstein, who was an top member of the Jewish Agency referred to Niles as our friend in the White House. Nearly every top Zionist leader in America praised Niles as essential in keeping Truman on the side of a Jewish state. This is interesting because many Zionist leaders believed that Niles was not actually an ardent Zionist, and yet helped the Zionists nonetheless (Snetsinger). Niles was able to convince Truman to meet with Dr. Chaim Weizmann and with Eddie Jacobson1 at a time during which Truman was almost closed off to hearing about the Palestine issue but the issue desperately needed addressing (Snetsinger). In stark contrast to Nile's quiet, unassuming ways, Clark Clifford provided a louder and more substance based argument for the Jewish state. Clifford was an attorney St. Louis, in Truman's native Missouri (Snetsinger). He was brought into the White House as a staff attorney and eventually rose up to become special council to the president (Radosh and Radosh). Clifford was a religious Christian and he was not courted by the official Zionist movement in America. He was heavily influenced by Justice Samuel Rosenmann though. Rosenmann was a prominent Zionist who was working in the administration. Rosenmann noticed that Clifford was receiving little work in the White House and decided to take him under his wing and mentor him (Radosh and Radosh). Without this mentorship Clifford may never have became a supporter of Zionism. Rosenmann heavily influenced Clifford's views on Zionism during their
1 Eddie Jacobson was a friend of Truman and a Jewish businessman from St. Louis who was a strong supporter of Zionism.

time working together. Of Rosenmann, Clifford would later write, I learned a good deal [about Zionism] from Judge Rosenmann, he also wrote that by the time he consulted with Truman about the Palestine issue he had become an advocate of the Jewish State. Clifford personally believed the Jews should have a homeland because it was the right thing, but his argument to Truman on why Truman should support the creation of the Jewish State was based in hard facts. Clifford was a strong believer in the importance of the Jewish vote, a constituency in which a Jewish State was viewed with great favor. While many other advisers also believed in the importance of the Jewish vote, Clifford was the most assertive in convincing Truman to publicly support a Jewish state in order to get the Jewish vote (Snetsinger). While Jews did not make up a large percentage of the overall population of the country, they were concentrated in great numbers in crucial states. Jews had large populations in California, Illinois and New York. These states had a lot of delegates in the electoral college and could make or break the Democrats chances both in the midterm elections of 1948 and the presidential election of 1950 (Snetsinger). While Jews were generally liberal and would most likely not vote for Republicans, there was the serious risk, of New York Jews especially, abandoning the Democratic Party for Henry Wallace's Progressive Party which was to the left of the Democratic Party. There were also some moderate and conservative Jewish voters who were being courted by the Republican party, which support of a Jewish state by Truman and the Democratic party helped to combat (Radosh and Radosh). Clifford succeeded in personally persuading Truman to release statements of support for a Jewish State before both the 1948 election, and the 1950 election (Snetsinger). It should be noted that not everyone believed that Truman needed the Jewish vote or was even trying to court it was heavily as it may have appeared. In fact, in order to combat charges that Truman was pandering to a political minority at the expense of the rest of the country, he presented a 47 page campaign memo. The campaign memo presented a strategy for Truman that involved him courting Southern and Midwestern states and ignoring New York and other states with heavy Jewish populations (Radosh and Radosh). However, there are certain actions on Truman's part that clearly point

to his deliberate support of a Jewish state for political purposes. On the eve of Yom Kippur in 1948, at the urging of Niles, Truman released his first unequivocal public statement of support for a Jewish state. Niles encouraged him to do this because it was right before the day in which more Jews would be in front of their rabbis then any other day of the year and Niles wanted the rabbis to understand that support for Truman meant support for Israel (Snetsinger). While it was truly in the president's best interest to secure the support of the Jewish community, without Clifford Truman may not have so publicly supported a Jewish State (Snetsinger). Another factor in Truman's support of a Jewish state were his religious beliefs. Truman was raised as a Baptist and he felt a strong personal connection to the Bible even at a young age (Radosh and Radosh). Allis and Ronald Radosh write in A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel that Truman had an almost fundamentalist bleief in the Bible and as an adult looked to if for inspiration and guidance. With this belief he saw in the Bible that God wanted to Jews to return to Palestine. His favorite Pslam was number 137 which talks about the Jews in exile and their longing to return to their home. After the creation of Israel Truman became absorbed in the religious meaning of what he had helped to create and would often talk with Clifford about his religious feelings on the matter and exchange biblical quotes with him regarding the matter. One of Truman's favorite quotes was Behold, I have given up the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land to which the Lord has sworn unto your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. (Radosh and Radosh) Truman often grew emotional when the topic of Israel was at hand. In 1949 after the creation of Israel the Chief Rabbi of Israel Isaac Halevi Herzog came to Washington and met with Truman. Truman inquired as to whether the Chief Rabbi knew what he had done to help the Jewish refugees after the war and to help the creation of Israel. Rabbi Herzog told him that the Lord had bestowed upon him the mission of helping his Chosen People at a time of despair and aiding in the fulfillment of His promise of Return to the Holy Land. While he was still in his mothers womb. After hearing this Truman rose from

his chair with tears in his eyes (Radosh and Radosh). Truman got along swimmingly with his personal advisers in the White House and was open to listening to their arguments for Zionism, but many advocates for Zionism outside of the White House infuriated Truman. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver is one example of these outside advocates. Silver led the largest Reform congregation in the nation at the time, Temple Tiferet-Israel in Cleveland (Jewish Virtual Library). He was of questionable political loyalties with some accusing him of being a Republican, though he insisted he was an independent who first of foremost believed that both parties should support a Jewish State (Radosh and Radosh). Silver led protests in Washington, D.C. and frequently attempted to meet with Truman. Truman found him so obnoxious that he was permanently banned from the White House (Radosh and Radosh). If it was not for Truman's close personal advisers, people like Rabbi Silver could have soured Truman to Zionism completely. He often became sick of the vim and vigor exhibited by the activists in favor of Zionism lobbying in Washington and this was one of the factors that worked to dissuade him from supporting Zionism publicly (Radosh and Radosh). His advisers were able to speak to him on a level which the activists could not and their personal appeals were able to keep him on the side in favor of creating a Jewish state. In conclusion, David K. Niles, Justice Samuel Rosenmann and Clark Clifford played a crucial role in ensuring President Harry S. Truman's essential public support for the creation of a Jewish State. Without these advisers Truman may have been quite a bit more reluctant to support a Jewish State and he may have been turned off by pushy Zionists outside of his White House staff.

Works Cited


Snetsinger, John. Truman, the Jewish Vote and the Creation of Israel. Palo Alto, California:

Hoover Institution Press. 1974. 2. Radosh Allis, Radosh Ronald, A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel