Book Review: Consulting Harry’s ghost

A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel
By Allis Radosh and Ronald Radosh
448 pages

From the campaign trail to the White House there has been much talk about Barack Obama’s polices toward Israel, specifically their nature and significance. Historically speaking, every president since Harry Truman has been “pro-Israel,” but there have been many differences with regard to the amount of pressure exerted on Israeli governments.

Moreover, the type of Jews with which a president surrounds himself is a significant factor when examining the prism through which he views American-Israeli ties.

Allis and Ronald Radosh in their latest book, A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel present a timely, well-researched work covering the early stages of what has become a challenge of American foreign policy since World War II. They guide us through the rivalries among the Jewish factions in Palestine and the United States, and explore the Anglo-American relationship.

But in the end, they commend Truman for his sense of purpose and determination – not always evident to his peers – in standing behind the creation of the newJewish state.

Even more important, the authors underscore the impact of the relationship between Truman and Chaim Weizmann. Not to mention Truman’s close friendship with Eddie Jacobson – an American Jewish businessman who served with the future president in World War I and was instrumental in arranging his meeting with Weizmann.

The Truman-Weizmann meeting was a catalyst on the one hand, and on the other a key to persuading the American president to override both the State and Defense Department objections to the United Nations’ 1947 “two-state solution” and give his blessing to the creation of the modern State of Israel. Putting aside his irritation with the American Jewish lobby, Truman benevolently saw the Middle East through Weizmann’s eyes. Israel ‘s first president convinced the American that Jews had every right – historically and morally – to renew their presence in the Holy Land.

During their meeting on March 18, 1948, Weizmann succeeded in securing a US pledge of support by reminding Truman that freedom is something that must be constantly fought for and always defended, as it was in the American Revolution. The next day, the State Department orchestrated a speech at the UN by US ambassador Francis Sayre that attempted to overturn Truman’s commitment to Weizmann. Yet Truman never wavered, recognizing the independence ofIsrael on May 14, 1948.

Thematically speaking, the authors are able on the one hand to highlight and on the other to chronicle Truman’s political courage as he clashed with the British and his own State Department first to push for a two-state solution and then to quickly recognizeIsrael after its official founding.

Arab rejectionism is the recurring mantra throughout this tale, embodied in the pressure exerted by Palestinian and Arab leaders on both the British and the US State Department not to agree to aJewish majority in Palestine.

When the UN was poised in 1946 to decide the fate of Palestine, the authors write, “the Arab states remained steadfast in their position: Palestine must be an Arab state in which Jews could live as a minority.”

The authors are able to show that 61 years after the creation of the modern state we still face the same challenges Truman struggled with.

To most Americans it is clear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists simply because the Palestinians reject peace, continuing to favor terrorism over compromise. This is abundantly visible in their media, textbooks, sermons and unremitting acts of violence. As such, if Obama wants to truly achieve peace in the region he would benefit by asking himself: What would Harry do?

The writer is a PhD candidate in Mediterranean studies at Kings College London and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum.


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