On May 14, we’ll be celebrating the sixty-first anniversary of President Harry S. Truman’s decision to recognize the State of Israel, the first country to do so. The most complex and controversial issue of Truman’s presidency, the official recognition of Israel was a watershed moment in American foreign policy. His daughter Margaret claimed that Palestine was the most difficult dilemma her father encountered while in office. Indeed, Truman faced pressures from all corners of the globe to reach a decision that would have been a challenge to Solomon: the future of the Middle East, the Jews, and the demand to create a Jewish State in Palestine.
In A Safe Haven we seek to answer the persistent question, why did he do it? We follow Truman as he grappled with the pros and cons of supporting the creation of a Jewish state and making crucial decisions that would affect the outcome. Through a narrative history, we view Truman as he confronted the Holocaust, the situation of the Jews still lingering in European DP camps after the war, and the resolve of world Jewry to have a country of their own in Palestine. Supporting this goal were significant numbers of the American public and Congress, key White House advisors, influential opinion-leaders, and ultimately the United Nations.
Along the way, we tried to capture the remarkable cast of characters involved, among them Truman’s Secretaries of State James Byrnes and George C. Marshall, British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, Secretary-General of the newly formed Arab League, Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam, White House Advisors Samuel Rosenman, David Niles, and Clark Clifford, Zionist leaders Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, Rabbis Stephen Wise and Abba Hillel Silver, and Truman’s friend and former business partner Eddie Jacobson.
Strong opposition came from Truman’s own Defense and State Departments, the Arabs, and the British who held the Mandate over Palestine. No wonder Truman claimed the issue left him in a state of “political battle fatigue.” Our research uncovered the fierce fight waged by the State Department to prevent Truman from moving to recognize the new Jewish State. Their opposition began from the moment Truman became President, and increased in intensity as it appeared that he was leaning towards approval of the Zionists’ dream.
The claim made by the head of the Jewish Agency in New York City, Eliahu Epstein, that the State Department was undertaking a “vast conspiracy” against the President, was not far off the mark. Among other things, we pay attention to the major argument against recognition presented to Truman by George F. Kennan, the architect of “containment,” who it turns out was equally involved in attempting to reverse US approval of the UN Partition Resolution of November 29, 1947, that separated Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.
It is our argument that had FDR lived and Truman not become President, Israel most likely would not exist today. It is a dramatic story about the many forces Truman had to deal with, especially his handling of the Arabs who insisted that the only acceptable outcome was for the Jews to live as a minority in an Arab state, the recalcitrant British who gave up their Mandate over Palestine and handed it over to the United Nations to come up with a solution, and his own. Department of State, whose Arabists sought to undermine him.
We hope that Pajamas Media readers will consider reading this story of how a great Democratic Party leader, President Harry S. Truman, came to undertake one of the great moral decisions of his presidency. You can order the book by looking on the right under “Books,” and clicking on the cover of A Safe Haven.
Ronald Radosh is the distinguished historian and author of books including The Rosenberg File (with Joyce Milton), The Amerasia Spy Case, Spain Betrayed:The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War, and, most recently, with Allis Radosh, Red Star Over Hollywood. The Radoshes’ new book, available online and at bookstores today, is A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and The Founding of Israel
Their book has won prepublication plaudits from scholars and writers including Michael Oren and Princeton’s Professor Sean Wilentz. Oren is of course Israel’s newly appointed Ambassador to the United States and a distinguished historian in his own right. Oren writes: “Exhaustively researched, compellingly narrated and conceived, A Safe Haven is an outstanding achievement. The Radoshes succeed in debunking the many myths surrounding President Truman’s policies toward Palestine and Zionism, and answer the lingering questions concerning his decision-making on the crucial issue of Jewish statehood.”
Professor Wilentz adds: “Allis Radosh and Ronald Radosh have written a thorough, powerful, and often surprising account of a fascinating political history, covering everything from diplomacy at the highest levels to the backroom machinations of left-wing Manhattan. It is one of the great stories in modern history, with a seemingly unlikely but steadfast hero in Truman — a book which will absorb anyone who cares about how the world we know came to be.”
Cokie Roberts, NPR Senior analyst and bestselling author of Ladies of Liberty, adds: “Even though I knew how the story would end, A Safe Haven still had me sitting on the edge of my seat, watching Harry S. Truman weight the arguments of his friends and advisers in the months, then weeks, ten days leading up to his recognition of Israel. This widely researched account…puts you inside the room as the new president made his often emotional decisions about a Jewish homeland, and then watched in dismay as the State Department went its own way.”