Thursday’s New Republic features a major article by John B. Judis, “Seeds of Doubt: Harry Truman’s concerns about Israel and Palestinians were prescient-and forgotten,” which pulls together material from his new book. My review of his book will appear in a forthcoming issue of The Jewish Review of Books, so I will only briefly comment on this article.
Both in this essay and in his book, Judis joins writers like Max Blumenthal and the BDS movement in attacking Israel and questioning its right to exist. Nevertheless, Judis makes assertions in the TNR excerpt that deserve attention, because they show how he uses history not to learn from the past, but for current political purposes. In this case, he uses history to bolster his belief that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East should tilt towards the Arabs rather than Israel, and that Israel itself was created “against the opposition of its neighbors” and hence plays a “destabilizing” role — and is “a threat to America’s standing in the region.”
Judis argues that Harry S. Truman, who recognized Israel upon its creation in May 1948, not only opposed the creation of a Jewish state, but even after he recognized it, privately expressed regret and blamed his actions on the Zionist lobby in the United States. Judis has disdain for the “Zionist lobby,” which he seems to equate with the vast majority of American Jews and non-Jewish Americans who overwhelmingly supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine at the end of World War II.
Judis dismisses evidence that Truman was a Christian Zionist influenced by his religious upbringing and study of the Bible. Not so, says Judis: Truman’s supposed love for the Bible was “based on his flawed eyesight. The family Bible, with its extra large print, was one of the few books at home the young Truman could read.”
Even if this was the case, large print or not, Truman read the Bible many times, studied it profusely, and knew much of it by heart. From it, he developed a sympathetic view of Palestine as the eternal homeland of the Jews, to which they would someday return. When he suddenly became president after FDR’s death, he assigned other areas of foreign policy to the State Department, but felt competent to handle the issue of Palestine from the White House. Visitors were amazed when he took out a well-worn map of the area and was familiar with its geography and history.
Judis, however, claims that Truman “had little knowledge of Palestine.”
Most importantly, Judis gives far too much importance to Truman’s supposed endorsement of the Morrison-Grady Plan. (I cover this in detail in my forthcoming review.) He attributes its defeat, once again, to the “Zionist lobby.” Judis barely acknowledges that the Arab League and its representatives were just as opposed to the plan as the Palestinian Jews in the Yishuv – and omits that its members refused to even sit down to discuss it in London if there were any Jews who would be participating.
Judis repeats the widely held charge that Truman eventually supported the creation of Israel because of the Democratic Party’s need to obtain Jewish votes. He ignores that public opinion polls at the time established that the American public overwhelmingly favored support for a Jewish state, including states in which no or hardly any Jews lived. British Ambassador to the U.S. Lord Inverchapel was amazed to hear a speech by Democratic Senator Edwin Johnson — the British supposed that support for the creation of a Jewish state was confined to areas of the U.S. where a lot of Jews lived, yet Johnson was from Colorado, which, as Inverchapel reported home to the prime minister, did not “contain any appreciable Jewish population.”