TRUMAN, HARRY S.°

TRUMAN, HARRY S.° (1884–1972), 33rd president of the United States. From 1922 to 1924 his partner in an unsuccessful haberdashery business in Kansas City was Eddie Jacobson, a Jewish businessman. Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1935, in 1945 became vice president, and a few months later (April 12, 1945) – on Roosevelt's death – president. Among the vast problems faced by Truman following the defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945 were Jewish refugees and the disposition of Palestine. In 1945 and 1946 they were only remotely related to the major crisis of the Cold War, but it nevertheless proved uncommonly difficult to find a solution. In the short run, Truman desired to bring 100,000 displaced Jews to Palestine. This was supplemented by a request to Congress, repeated in his address of Oct. 4, 1946 (which fell on the Day of Atonement), to liberalize the immigration laws so that more displaced persons, "including Jews," might enter. The U.S. Legislation permitting 200,000 displaced persons to enter above the quota was passed in 1948. Truman's desire to   send Jewish DPs to Palestine was subsequently supported by the recommendation of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry (April 1946) and also by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP; August 1947). But Truman was less certain regarding the establishment of a Jewish state, maintaining that the UN was the proper agency for handling the long-range solution of the Middle East problem. Even such steps as Truman was willing to advocate – the entrance of more Jewish refugees into Palestine and tentative support of the concept of partition – faced the stubborn opposition of his closest advisers in the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and resentment by the British government. When the State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, Truman personally made certain that within its first half hour of existence de facto U.S. recognition was extended to it. Nevertheless, he continued to advocate a temporary UN Trusteeship for the area. He subsequently opposed severing the Negev from the new state, a key element of the Bernadotte partition plan. There was some speculation concerning Truman's motives in precipitously reversing U.S. policy for Palestine. The critical situation of the Democratic Party preceding the election of 1948 fueled suspicion that Truman acted purely for political reasons. It had become clear in the years after Roosevelt's death that the coalition of southern conservatives and urban-based liberal elements which formed the core of the Democratic Party, was no longer viable. The former components broke away from the party to form the Dixiecrats. At the same time a strong pull from the left developed when Henry Wallace formed the Progressive Party. Its platform of "progressive capitalism" and sincere negotiations with the Soviet Union to nip the developing Cold War in the bud exercised a strong attraction for the traditional left-wing elements in the Jewish voting bloc. At the same time the imposition of an arms embargo for the Middle East in December 1947 and the fact that the Republican Party candidate, Thomas Dewey, had given strong pledges of support to the U.S. Zionists, threatened to capture the Jewish vote or at least deny it to the Democrats, who needed it desperately to keep their chances alive. In February 1948 the worst fears of Democratic leaders regarding the loss of the Jewish vote were confirmed when Leo Isaacson ran on the Wallace platform in a largely Jewish congressional district in the East Bronx, New York, and won by a two to one margin. It was at this juncture that Truman supposedly decided to make an all-out bid to win back the Jewish vote. He did so by recognizing the State of Israel in May 1948. Undoubtedly some political capital did accrue to Truman as a result of this step and his strong support for the new state between May and the election in November. The election results show that the Republican ticket was able to attract only two to three percent more of the Jewish vote in the election of 1948 as compared to 1944. But like the theory that Truman chose to recognize Israel because of the influence of his long-time friend and former business partner Eddie Jacobson, such theorizing is too simplistic to fit the facts. The considerable vote for Henry Wallace, especially in the poorer Jewish districts of the urban northeast, indicates that the great majority of Jewish voters were still drawn to the party of liberalism and Franklin Roosevelt which both Truman and Wallace were heir to. Truman himself adamantly denied that his recognition was based on domestic political imperatives: "The fate of the Jewish victims of Hitlerism," he explains in his memoirs, "was a matter of deep personal concern to me…" It may well be that in Truman the Jewish voter finally found the powerful Christian leader who personified that sense of civilized world conscience which they had hopefully assigned to his predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt. On the whole, it can be said that the liberal, "Fair-Deal" administration over which Truman presided from 1948 to 1952 remained popular with Jewish voters even when the tide of general public opinion began to run against it as a result of the Korean War. The Jews were the one constituent of the original New Deal coalition put together by Roosevelt to show practically no defection to the Republican camp during the Eisenhower-Stevenson campaign of 1952, a fact which reflected on Truman's ability to satisfy Jewish sentiments both in his policy toward Israel and his stand on domestic issues. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Harry S Truman, Memoirs: Year of Decision, 1 (1955); Years of Trial and Hope, 2 (1956); C. Phillips, Truman Presidency: History of a Triumphant Succession (1966); F.E. Manuel, Realities of American Palestine Relations (1949); N. Safran, United States and Israel (1967); E. Jacobson, in: AJA, 20 (April 1968), 3–15. (Henry L. Feingold)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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