U.S. Recognition of Israel –
Realistic or Idealistic?
to Mr. Sanchez
Before W.W. I, U.S. concern in the Middle East was almost exclusively the academic, missionary and philanthropist interests of some U.S. citizens in that part of the world. The American government’s interests there were uncontroversial and worked directly or indirectly for the benefit of Arabs and Jews equally.
After W.W. I, American involvement in the Mideast changed abruptly. The U.S. government still had no special interest of its own to advance, but its influence was vigorously contested by opposing forces which became permanent factors in the Palestine question in its American context. Private interests in the Mideast were now economic and political, as well as religious, humanitarian and philanthropist.
As early as 1920, American oil concerns had appealed to their government to secure them equal opportunity in the Mideast countries under British and French control. The government reacted by striving to obtain commitments from Britain and France to an open-door policy that would not discriminate against American business. The Anglo-American Treaty of 1924 regulated relations between the U.S. and Britain concerning the Palestine Mandate1
and secured the protection of American business and missionary interests in Palestine. The preamble to the treaty was later interpreted to mean that the U.S. had a say in the Mandate, a fact that brought much pressure on the government to take action in the Middle East in the future.
II. Zionism2 and Roosevelt’s Policy Towards the Jews
Franklin D. Roosevelt was loved by the Jews, who gave him of their vote in the 1932 election. But Roosevelt really was pro-Jewish only for political effect, and in reality did almost nothing for the Jews. In 1946, an Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry on Palestine asserted that since 1938, every promise to the Jews with respect to Palestine was accompanied by a letter to the Arabs reassuring them that the situation in Palestine would not change. The State Department, headed by Cordell Hull, did little about the Jewish refugee problem of the time, in line with the Roosevelt policy.
As an example, when a bill in Congress asked for the entry of 20,000 refugee children to the U.S. in 1939 & 1940, FDR rejected it because he wanted $500 million from Congress to expand the air force and build naval bases. He didn’t want confusion by asking for the admission of refugees as well. In a hearing on the matter, the bill was reformed as to negate the original bill.
These refugees couldn’t go to Palestine now anyway. The British had issued a White Paper that superseded the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate. Immigration of Jews to the Holy Land was prohibited. There was to be no partition of Palestine, but the mandate could be turned into an independent state which would be founded within ten years. The Jews were to have a minority rule in government always. Jews could only purchase land in less than 5.2% of the existing mandate. The White Paper was a serious blow to Zionism.
In the U.S., 15 of the 22 members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs filed objections to the White Paper. At the same time, 28 senators issued a similar statement, calling the defense of Jewish interests in Palestine “a moral obligation of the U.S.” With respect to FDR, he said the White Paper was a mistake, but no record of an actual attempt by the U.S. government to prevent issuance of the document has been found. (The League of Nations rejected the White Paper, but could not prevent Britain from shaping her own policies in Palestine.)
By now, most American Jews agreed on four points: a Jewish homeland in Palestine, revocation of the White Paper, more refugees should be allowed to come to the U.S., and the U.S. had to stop Hitler. These beliefs were scattered and had to be focused to do any good. It was now time for American Zionism to take hold.
On April 30, 1941, Emanual Neumann3
revived the American Palestine Committee, with a membership that included 3 Cabinet members, 22 governors, 68 senators, 200 representatives and hundreds of other prominent citizens. This was an organization of pro-Zionist Christians. Some of these joined because they really sympathized with Zionism, others let their names be used simply because it was politically expedient to do so. Neumann used this committee as a powerful propaganda weapon to create the impression that America was unanimously for a Jewish homeland.
The State Department was harder to get to. The middle levels of the department were staffed by bureaucrats who were mostly anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic.
These people assume that any pro-Zionist promises their bosses made were simply to make the Jewish voters happy, and they did all they could to sabotage the attempts of Zionist leaders to influence American foreign policy.
However, the State Department had other concerns on this issue. Any official American support for a Jewish homeland would put the Arabs on the side of the Nazis.
When the U.S. declared war on Japan and Germany, the Zionist propaganda machine went to work. Two main themes were stressed: the British policy concerning illegal immigration to Palestine and the Nazi destruction of the Jews in Europe.
The British seized and sometimes sank many ships smuggling Jews to Palestine. The Zionists emphasized British atrocities in handling of these ships. They called the British officials “brutal, callous men carrying out inhuman laws in an inhuman way.” In the U.S., even Gentiles became aware of the cruelty of the White Paper. They asked Pres. Roosevelt to say something to Mr. Churchill about the Palestine situation.
The Nazi concentration camps, where over 2 million Jews were killed or died of starvation, disease or otherwise by 1942, were the other focus of propaganda. In this case, exaggerations were not needed, and when the State Department finally “gathered all the facts” and gave the go-ahead for Zionists to expose the horror, the Zionists (and all others) felt that surely now the president would suggest that the White Paper be rescinded and also to allow Jews into the U.S.
But FDR was passive.
The Zionists then tried to stir the President into action through letters, newspaper stories, plays and even begging.
Propaganda was the responsibility of the American Zionist Emergency Council (AZEC). AZEC opened a full-time lobbying office in Washington and established 14 professionally staffed committees to deal with such things as labor relations, contact with the Christian clergy, news dissemination, postwar planning, and community liaison. Over 400 district Zionist Emergency Committees of 8 to 12 persons were created. These committees were composed to just of Zionist activists, but also of B’nai B’rith, synagogue brotherhoods and sisterhoods, congregational leaders and other Jews. Zionist propaganda was now active from federal government levels all the way down to community levels. All the committees were instructed to persuade senators and representatives to their cause. Local communities were to steer political leaders to their cause and persuade them to throw their political influence and power behind their cause. And if the officeholder was of one party, the other party was not to be neglected. As long as Zionism remained nonpartisan, it could play one political party against the other to maximum advantage. The national office of AZEC distributed instructions to the local committees in holding mass meetings and demonstrations, in creating news, in obtaining favorable editorials and interviews, in staging seminars, in getting Zionist speakers into public halls, in arousing the interest of the Gentile majority, and in monitoring anti-Zionist activities in the U.S. AZEC flooded the White House with thousands of letters every day. Also, the Congress was affected. Bills were introduced to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Propaganda in this case was a great factor in the decisions of the people in the federal government and also in the lower levels. Especially effective was the appeal to Congressmen. Most Congressmen were for the Zionist cause by
III. Truman’s Policy
At the San Francisco Conference that started the U.N., it was agreed not to give Palestine to either the Arabs or the Jews. Truman and the State Department took comfort in that the dispute had been settled temporarily without official statement of policy by the U.S. Truman hoped the U.N. could effectively solve the Palestine problem so he would not have to make troublesome decisions that could be harmful to himself and the U.S. Truman thought of opening Palestine to immigration strictly to alleviate the refugees of the war from their terrible position, not as the opening of a Jewish state. This was at the end of 1944. The State Department was still, and had been all along, against any policy favorable to Jews in the Middle East. On October 12, 1945, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon notified the U.S. that they would go to war if any attempt were made to found a Jewish state in Palestine. Thus, Truman now was committed to consulting the Arabs in any move to Jews into Palestine. The U.S. got itself into a hole because it wanted to stay friendly with the Arabs (for their oil) and was getting tremendous pressure from American Jews to open Palestine as a Jewish state.
American Jews were in almost total agreement that large numbers of refugees should be allowed into Palestine at once and that the Jews should rule in Palestine. This articulate and energetic pressure group was unified and vocal enough to ensure that the Truman administration would pay heed to their demands. Many times in the near future, the Jews of America put pressure on Truman and forced him to go their way in Palestine.
By 1947, the main thrust of Zionism was coming from the U.S. American Jews by the hundreds of thousands were engaged in pro-Zionist political agitation, were donating huge sums of money to the Zionist cause, were even working to supply guns and ammunition to the Jewish insurgents in Palestine. American armed services helped get refugees out of detention camps in Europe and were on ships that took them to Palestine. There was a campaign by ultra-Zionists to get money from America to finance this illegal immigration. It gained much support. Meanwhile, in Palestine, Arab terrorists organized, with British support. It was now a battle between Palestinian Arabs and Britain and the Jewish underground and American Jews for Palestine.
IV. A Note on Russian Policy to the Jews
Russian attitude towards Zionism was, after the Communists took over, very negative. The Communists declared Zionism illegal and forbade the emigration of Russian Jews to Palestine. Thus, the U.S. government had to take into consideration that Russia might oppose a Jewish state by winning favor for itself with the Arabs. This helps to explain the many cautious moves the U.S. made with respect to Palestine.
However, in 1947, the Soviet Union changed its policy to support of Jewish national aims. One reason for this was to get Britain out of the Middle East, and this would be accomplished by the U.N. resolution to form an Arab state and an Israeli state out of Palestine. This would replace the British with two tiny, helpless states, opening the way for Soviet penetration of the area. Therefore, if the U.S. went into the Mideast, the threat would always be there for Soviet opposition.
V. The Creation of Israel
The partition plan suggested in the U.N. was favored by the majority of American Jews. So letters and telegrams were forwarded to the White House to get Pres. Truman’s approval. The president was confused; the State Department warned that any policy favorable to the Jews would be detrimental to AmericanArab relations. And these relations were vital because of the oil situation. Secretary of Defense Forrestal predicted that the U.S. could get along another 15 to 20 years on her existing oil, but her West European allies were almost solely dependent on Arab oil. However, the Soviet Union was self-sufficient in oil. In the coming world struggle, the only way to meet the Soviet threat would be with Arab oil.
Despite the State Department, Truman on Oct. 9, 1947 made a statement supporting partition. Until this time, Truman had refused to make any statement on the issue, for fear of its consequences.
He changed his mind because he received advanced word that the Soviet Union favored partition, and he wanted to make the first move. If the Russians were favoring Zionism, Truman thought, then the fear that the Arabs would go to the Russians was solved.
The U.S. offered a partition plan to the U.N. and so did the Russians. Surprisingly, a compromise was worked out between the two versions whereby the U.N. would administer the Palestine area after Britain pulled out on May 1,
For the partition plan to be approved, a 2/3 majority of the General Assembly was needed. There were 56 members; 6 Arab states and many others with large Moslem populations that would reject the plan. The Zionist propaganda machine now had to move again.
The Zionists undertook a desperate last-minute lobbying campaign to try and get the necessary votes. It was told that “the telephones rang madly. Cablegrams sped to all parts of the world. People were dragged from their beds at midnight and sent on peculiar errands. And, wonder of it all, not an influential Jew, Zionist or non-Zionist, refused to give us his assistance at any time. Everyone pulled his weight, little or great... In one day we met with tens of delegations.”4
The Zionists made requests to prominent government and business officials to swing over the uncommitted countries, and put on incredible pressure to these people to do so.
The vote came on November 29. The measure now decreed, “The Mandate for Palestine shall terminate as soon as possible, but in any case not later than August 1, 1948... Independent Arab and Jewish States, and the specific international regime for the City of Jerusalem shall come into existence in Palestine two months after the evacuation of the armed forces of the Mandatory Power (Britain) has been completed, but in no case later than October 1, 1948.” The vote was in alphabetical order. Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Sweden, South Africa, Uruguay, the U.S.S.R., the U.S. and Venezuela all voted for partition. Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Yemen voted against. Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, the United Kingdom (Britain) and Yugoslavia abstained. Thailand was absent. The final vote came out to be 33 to 13, and it provided the necessary majority. (This vote illustrates the Arab and Third World bloc in the U.N. today. It is also probably the last time the Soviet bloc nations voted the same way as the American bloc nations did.)
Within two days of the partition vote, general chaos spread through Palestine. Then the Arab countries formed armies to attack the Jewish part of Palestine.5
The U.S. stayed out of it, and even imposed an arms embargo on the whole Middle East. The Jews now had to fight for a nation, and the U.S. government, that had helped the Jews get this far, now did nothing and therefore left it up to the Jews to get their nation themselves.
However, American Jews did help intensively. Arms were smuggled to the Jews in Palestine against the embargo. A Jewish air force was assembled from smuggled planes and equipment. Almost all Jews were supporting their cause in Palestine, and many volunteered for the air force, especially American Jews. The U.S. government tried to prevent these volunteers from fighting. Any American who wore a uniform of a foreign army was denied his citizenship.
Meanwhile, the State Department came up with an alternate plan for Palestine; one of a single power governing Palestine after the British left. They knew that if the Zionists were to declare a state right away, the Arabs would declare war on the state and annihilate it. They tried to convince Zionist leaders to refrain from announcing statehood until a truce could be worked out, through various "threats". Truman used stalling tactics to ensure partition, the plan he thought was best. Truman had promised that the U.S. would recognize a Jewish state immediately, under the partition plan, but his promise remained secret until it was made public in 1962. – Why do you think he made that promise?
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion6
proclaimed the independent state of Israel. Truman had to recognize Israel, – Why??
and did so in spite of State Department opposition. The Soviet Union recognized Israel on May
Truman had politics on his mind when he recognized Israel. He needed the Jewish vote to give him a chance in the upcoming election. But Truman also was guessing at the consequences. He guessed that Arab threats to endanger American oil interests in the Mideast were just bluffs. He was right. Even though he recognized Israel, Truman did little else to get Jewish votes that summer. good point!
The May 14 recognition granted unconditional recognition of the existence of the State of Israel, but only tentative recognition of Israel’s provisional government. Before de jour or full recognition, Israel would have to satisfy certain requirements that the State Department regarded as essential. These were: a stable government, honor of its international obligations, and its effective control of a recognized territory, a constitutional assembly and free elections. Under the arms embargo, arms could not be legally sent to Israel. And, at the request of the U.N., the U.S. disallowed all Jews between 18 and 45 years of age to leave refugee camps in American-occupied Germany and Austria. Despite all this, Truman got the majority of the Jewish vote and defeated Thomas Dewey, who was supposed to win decidedly. – Do you believe that the Jewish vote was what won the presidency for Truman?
The independent Arab state the U.N. had hoped to create was never born. Jerusalem did not become the international city the U.N. hoped and decreed it would be. However, Israel did exist, and on January 25, 1949, she held her first elections. As promised, Truman granted full recognition, on Jan. 31. On March 7, Israel became the 59th member of the U.N., after two unsuccessful attempts.
American Zionists continued their political activities, even after the creation of Israel. From 1948 on, they constituted themselves as a lobbying group devoted to pleading Israel’s case in Washington. They worked to bring about generous grants to Israel under the American foreign aid programs, they urged the government to make arms available to Israel, they attempted to get from the government a promise to defend Israel from attack if necessary, and they cleared up any mess that Israel got itself in to with the U.S. As an example of American Jewish support for Israel, between 1949 and 1959, American Jews contributed about of Israel’s capital import through loans, investments and donations.
VI. U.S. Policy Towards Israel
By 1949, the world was polarizing into American and Soviet blocs, and American foreign policy was drawn with the intent of getting as many nations on our side as possible. Israel was not an exception.
Israel tried to remain neutral because both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. helped her gain her present status. But soon the basic Russian hate of Jews pulled the Soviet Union and Israel farther apart. Israel joined the American bloc. Russia took this as American imperialism, and since 1952, has helped the Arabs against Israel, in order to gain power in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., Eisenhower took over, and with him, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who, for the sake of peace in the Mideast, decided to gain the Arabs’ favor. He also wanted to see the recently independent countries of the Mideast develop into progressive countries, free from communism (these countries were: Iraq, Syria and Egypt). The new U.S. policy was “friendly impartiality”.
In the summer of 1955, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser purchased weapons from the Soviet Union, after getting a no answer from the U.S., Great Britain and France. This put the U.S. in the position of defending against communism by helping Israel to defend itself against Egypt. When Israel made tremendous gains as a result of the Suez War,7
the U.S tried to undo this, because Israel was now considered an aggressor, and U.S. aid to an aggressor was risky in the world picture.
Eisenhower sent a note to Abba Eban, Israel’s Foreign Minister, saying that Russia would crush Israel if she did not move off the Sinai Peninsula. At first, Israel stood firm but after the threat of economic sanctions from the U.N., she yielded all the territory she had won in the 1956 war. This strained U.S.-Israeli relations, and put resentment in many Israelis for America and its false promises.
The Eisenhower Doctrine was the main foreign policy for the Mideast right after the war. It said that any country in the Mideast to ask for help from the use of armed aggression from any communist-controlled country would have the use of American armed forces and provided million economic and military aid for all Mideast countries. Except for Egypt and Syria, all the countries in the Mideast received arms from the U.S. under the Eisenhower Doctrine, by making anticommunist statements. Only once were U.S. forces used, and not for Israel. Of course, the Soviet Union gave Egypt and Syria plenty of aid. This set the stage for the Six-Day War, in which U.S. and U.S.S.R. equipment was used, but Israeli and Egyptian and Syrian forces were used; both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. agreed they were not going to send troops to the Mideast at this time.
As far as public support for Israel in the Six-Day War is concerned, most people thought Israel would be crushed, therefore they started emergency funds, paraded on the U.N. and prayed for Israel’s perseverance. However, a poll taken in June, 1967 said that only 16% of those who followed the war would advocate supporting Israel with economic and military aid, and only 5% with American troops. In March, 1970 only 14% favored direct American aid. This opinion was mainly caused by U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the adverse public opinion on the issue. People didn’t want the U.S. to get into another Vietnam. Furthermore, they thought that our domestic problems were far more important than other nations’ problems. This opinion was represented in Congress by a resolution to prohibit American troops from being sent to Israel.
The Yom Kippur War proved that Israel is almost totally dependent on the U.S. for its existence. France and Britain have abandoned her, African nations of long friendship have shut themselves off from Israel, and Russia is arming the other side. Only the military and diplomatic resources of the U.S. is keeping Israel going. After the Yom Kippur War, and now with the P.L.O. trying to get rid of Israel, and with the threat of another war approaching, U.S. commitment to Israel is more crucial than ever.
However, the Arab oil embargo pointed out to the U.S. that she has to stay friendly with the Arabs. But we continue to give military aid to Israel on a large scale. –Why?
When Truman recognized Israel in 1948, he guessed that the Arabs were bluffing about their oil. He was right then, but now the Arabs aren’t bluffing anymore. The question remains, what will the U.S. do, support the Arabs by letting Israel die, or keep Israel going because of the U.S. goodwill towards democratic-style countries and Jewish pressure from around the world?8 – Bob, the paper is very well done excellent material & well written. I would have liked you to try & answer the final question that you posed! Well done! A. Sanchez
The League of Nations gave out mandates to the big powers to supervise. These areas would be readied for eventual independence by the mandatory power. The Palestine area, the area which is now Israel and parts of the surrounding countries, was given to Britain to administer.
Zionism is the movement whose objective it was to bring all Jews together to a national homeland in Palestine, where they were driven out of thousands of year before, and scattered around the globe since.
He was a prominent Zionist leader who worked for the Jewish Agency (for Zionism) later on.
David Horowitz of the Jewish Agency, a Zionist group, said this about the votegetting campaign.
Refer to map below for a description of the Jewish part of Palestine (at that time).
Ben-Gurion later became the first Prime Minister of Israel, and a good leader.
Britain and France wanted to get rid of Nasser, so they plotted with Israel to fight an apparently defense war against Egypt. But the U.S. forced a truce, and Nasser still remained; however, Israel made great gains in territory in the war. These were the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip and the Gulf of Aqaba.
U.N. DECISION OF NOVEMBER 29,1949
If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem by Robert Silverberg
The U.S. and Israel by Nadav Safran
“American Interest in the Palestine Question and the Establishment of Israel”, by E.M. Wilson, in Annual Academic, Vol. 401, pp. 45-55, May
“Is Israel Losing Popular Support?”, by Earl Raab, in Commentary, Vol. 57, No. 1, January
Also used were some articles from the paper and news of recent developments in the Middle East.