In 1998, the renowned British historian Paul Johnson wrote an essay in Commentary to commemorate Israel’s birthday. He noted: “In the last half-century, over 100 completely new independent states have come into existence. Israel is the only one whose creation can fairly be called a miracle.”
As Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik writes in his classic essay Kol Dodi Dofeik, “No one can deny that from the standpoint of international relations, the establishment of the State of Israel, in a political sense, was an almost supernatural occurrence.” The Rav expands:
Both Russia and the Western countries jointly supported the idea of the establishment of the [Jewish] state. This was perhaps the only proposal where East and West were united. I am inclined to believe that the entire United Nations organization was created specifically for this purpose—in order to carry out the mission that the divine providence had set for it. It seems to me that one cannot point to any other concrete achievement on the part of the U.N. Our sages, of blessed memory, already expressed the view that at times, “rain” descends for a single person, or for a single blade of grass. I do not know whom the journalists, with their eyes of flesh and blood, saw sitting in the chairman’s seat during that fateful session when the General Assembly decided in favor of the establishment of the state. However, someone at the time who observed matters with his spiritual eye could have sensed the presence of the true Chairman Who presided over the session, i.e., the Beloved (Hashem)! It was He who knocked with His gavel on the podium. Do we not interpret the verse “That night sleep from the king fled” (Esther 6:1) as referring to the sleep of the King of the Universe (Megillah 15b)? Were it Achashveirosh alone who could not sleep, it would have been of no consequence, and the salvation of Israel would not have blossomed forth on that night. However, if it is the King of the Universe Who, as it were, does not slumber, then the redemption will be born. If it had been John Doe who called the session of the United Nations to order, then the State of Israel would not have come into being—but if the Beloved knocked on the chairman’s podium, then the miracle occurred.
In Esther’s story we can identify three “fingerprints” as proof of Hashem’s subtle manipulation of events on our behalf. These include incredible timing, the phenomenon of our enemies acting inexplicably foolish, and the unfolding of many improbable events, against all expectations. We can detect each of these divine “fingerprints” on the events leading to the 1947 United Nations vote to establish a Jewish state. Paul Johnson notes the incredible timing involved in this momentous U.N. vote:
Another paradoxical aspect of the Zionist miracle, which we certainly did not grasp at the time and which is insufficiently understood even now, is that among the founding fathers of Israel was Joseph Stalin. Stalin had no love for Jews; quite the contrary, he murdered them whenever it suited his purposes. In his last phase, indeed, he was becoming increasingly paranoid; had he lived, he might well have carried out an extermination program rivaling Hitler’s. Moreover, like Lenin before him, Stalin had always opposed Zionism. He did so not only as a Great Russian imperialist but as a Marxist, and he was consistent on the matter up to the end of World War II and again from 1950 to his death in 1953. But during the crucial years 1947-48 he was guided by temporary considerations of Realpolitik, and specifically by what he saw as the threat of British imperialism.
Stalin ignorantly supposed that the way to undermine Britain’s position in the Middle East was to support the Jews, not the Arabs, and he backed Zionism in order to break the “British stranglehold.” Not only did he extend diplomatic recognition to Israel but, in order to intensify the fighting and the consequent chaos, he instructed the Czech government to sell it arms. The Czechs turned over an entire military airfield to shuttle weaponry to Tel Aviv; the Messerschmitt aircraft they supplied were of particular importance. Then, in mid-August 1948, Stalin decided he had made a huge error in judgment, and the obedient Czech government ordered a halt to the airlift within 48 hours. But by then the war had effectively been won.
The fledgling Israeli state was equally fortunate when it came to America, benefiting from a phase of benevolence that once again might not have lasted. President Truman was pro-Zionist, and he needed the Jewish vote in the 1948 election. It was his decision to push the partition scheme through the U.N. in November 1947 and to recognize the new Israeli state (de facto, not de jure) when it was declared in May 1948. But the contrary pressure he had to face, both from the State Department under George C. Marshall and from his Defense Secretary, James V. Forrestal, was immense. If the crisis had come a year later, after the Cold War started to dominate the thinking of the West to the exclusion of almost everything else, it is likely that the anti-Zionist forces would have proved too strong for Truman. As it was, American backing for Israel in 1947-48 was the last idealistic luxury the Americans permitted themselves before the realities of global confrontation descended.
Thus, in terms of both Soviet and American policy, Israel slipped into existence through a window that briefly opened, and just as suddenly closed. Once again, timing—or, if one likes, providence—was of the essence.
Soviet and American support for the establishment of a Jewish state affected other countries’ votes as well. The East European communist bloc—Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Byelorussian SSR along with the Soviet Union—all voted for a Jewish state. Had it not been for Soviet influence it is extremely unlikely that Poland and Ukraine, with their long and deep history of anti-Semitism, would have voted for the establishment of Israel. Benny Morris notes the direct impact the United States had on the votes from Haiti, the Philippines and many Latin American countries that otherwise planned to vote against the establishment a Jewish state.
One is not, as Paul Johnson assumes, required to choose between timing and providence. As we noted, providence expresses itself through incredible timing. The fact that the U.N. vote on the partition of Palestine came to the fore during the “window that briefly was opened” in 1947-1948, both in terms of American and Soviet culture, makes God’s involvement in 1947 readily apparent to a thinking and informed individual.
One last point of critical timing was involved in the U.N. vote. In May 1947, the U.N. formed a special committee (UNSCOP) to prepare a report on recommendations for Palestine. In July 1947 the UNSCOP committee members arrived in Eretz Yisrael as part of their international investigation. On July 12, 1947, the Haganah-owned ship “Exodus 1947” set sail to Palestine. Benny Morris writes that “the Haganah-Mossad dispatched the Exodus in mid-July for tactical and operational reasons, not out of a political desire to splice the journey with the work of UNSCOP.” Zionist leaders brought the UNSCOP members to witness British treatment of the Jewish immigrants from the post-World War II Displaced Person’s camps. Morris notes the strong impression this dramatic moment had upon the UNSCOP members, with the Yugoslav leader of his mission remarking, “It is the best possible evidence [of the need for a Jewish state] we have.”
Our Enemies’ Foolish Mistakes
Another way we can detect Hashem’s delicate involvement is when our enemies act in a curiously foolish manner. Arab behavior in regard to the U.N. partition vote undoubtedly satisfies this description. Benny Morris writes that Arab leaders “came to the [United Nations] assembly cocky and disorganized and remained so until the bitter end.” Morris further states:
The AHC (Arab High Command, leaders of the Palestinian Arab community) announced its intention to boycott UNSCOP and failed completely to prepare for its visit. The AHC charged that UNSCOP was pro-Zionist and accompanied the committee’s deliberations with uncompromising radio broadcasts (“all of Palestine must be Arab”). Opposition figures were warned that they would pay with their lives if they spoke to UNSCOP…
The Arabs [of Palestine] displayed sourness, suspicion or aggressiveness [to UNSCOP]. Everywhere the Arabs refused to answer the committee’s questions… In the Arab village of Rama the inhabitants evacuated the village and UNSCOP was greeted by a delegation of children who cursed them. The committee was impressed by the cleanliness and development in the Jewish areas, and conversely by the dirt and backwardness of the Arab villages and towns. They were particularly horrified at the common sight of child labor and exploitation in Arab factories and workshops.
One UNSCOP member wrote in his memoirs, “There is nothing more extreme than meeting all the representatives of the Arab world in one group…when each one tries to show that he is more extreme than the other.”
In general, until the last three days before the vote, Arab diplomats and their governments refused to believe that partition would gain a two-thirds majority and made no concerted effort to mobilize votes. The old foreign office hand Harold Beeley tried to orchestrate a last-minute postponement and compromise. But the AHC declined to consider any concessions after replacing their more moderate spokesmen with hardliners.
Overall, the Arab leadership acted in an astonishingly foolish manner that served only to strengthen the case for the creation of a Jewish state in part of Palestine. The destructive Arab behavior served only to highlight the justice of establishing Israel.
Events That Defy Normal Probability
God’s subtle involvement can also be detected when events occur that dramatically defy normal expectations. The very fact that the U.N. voted to create a Jewish state was a striking defiance of expectations. Benny Morris writes:
The Arabs were not averse to the [Palestine] problem going before the United Nations, where they anticipated a favorable outcome. With five member states and a handful of reflexive Islamic and third-world supporters, they expected an easy victory. Zionist leadership, by contrast, was “wary” (1948, p.38) and quite worried about the United Nations voting on the disposition of Eretz Yisrael where a two-thirds majority of the 57 U.N. members was needed to establish a Jewish state. They had every reason to be worried as many of the U.N. member states were not initially strongly in favor of establishing a Jewish state.
The Zionists faced a major challenge in the twenty-member Latin American bloc, the United Nations’ largest, where the anti-Zionist influences of the Catholic
Church—the Vatican opposed partition and Jewish statehood—and local Arab and German communities were strong, and where anti-American feeling, which affected attitudes to Zionism, was widespread.
As late as November 25, 1947 (four days before the critical vote), six Latin American countries abstained, Paraguay absented itself and Cuba voted against in the UNSCOP committee vote.
Regarding Western Europe, Benny Morris writes that it was hardly “in the bag.” France was not readily in favor due to its traditional alliance with Britain and the 16 million Muslims under its rule in North Africa. Moreover, France’s vote would affect Belgium, Denmark, Holland and Luxembourg.
The four countries in the British Commonwealth—Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa—were not readily on board either. For example, New Zealand’s U.N. deputy head of delegation, J.S. Reid, was strongly anti-Zionist. These four countries almost always voted in line with Great Britain, which was unsupportive of creating a Jewish state. China was a particularly difficult sell due to its population of 20 million Muslims. Finally, the United States was not strongly in favor of the partition until 72 hours before the vote.
With these facts, the Zionist leadership correctly assessed that it did not have the votes for a Jewish state. And yet, the United Nations voted on November 29, 1947, in favor of the partitioning of Palestine into two states. The United States and France voted for the establishment of a Jewish state as did the four commonwealth countries. Astonishingly, 13 Latin American countries voted for a Jewish state and only one (Cuba) voted against. The five Soviet bloc states voted in favor, which was especially astonishing for reasons explained above. China shifted from outright rejection to benevolent neutrality and ultimately abstained. Liberia, Haiti and the Philippines voted in favor even though they were vacillating until the last moment. Eventually Belgium, Denmark, Holland and Luxembourg all voted in favor. Yugoslavia abstained despite its large Muslim population, Argentina abstained despite the many Nazis that took refuge there and its large Arab population, and Ethiopia’s abstention was a happy surprise in light of its high percentage of Muslims.
More Evidence of
Benny Morris cites a prominent Arab leader who correctly noted that the partition would never have been approved had the vote been conducted in secret as demanded by the Arab states. With God’s help, this demand was not accepted by U.N. leaders.
Moreover, it is reasonable to argue that the Divine hand ensured that the U.N. vote took place in New York (Lake Success to be exact, just outside of Queens, which had and still has a very large Jewish community) and not San Francisco (where the United Nations had been founded) or Geneva (the headquarters of the League of Nations). As Benny Morris explains:
Delegates with no firm instructions from their governments were no doubt influenced by the prevalent atmosphere in New York and Flushing Meadow, where the media broadcast ‘that an enemy of partition was an enemy of the American people’…[At Flushing Meadow the] almost exclusively Zionist audience…applauded declarations of support for Zionism. They hissed Arab speakers. They created the atmosphere of a football match, with the Arabs as the away team.
One could argue that the success of the U.N. partition vote was a happy coincidence or a result of massive and wide Zionist lobbying. However, this victory required the coordination of so many delicate factors to attribute the success exclusively to Zionist efforts. Just as the many and varied circumstances that had to work in order for Esther’s brilliant plan to save the Jews leads us to attribute her success to Divine intervention, so too the fact that so many countries were persuaded to vote in favor of a Jewish state must be a result of Hashem’s understated yet influential manipulation of events.
The United Nations was skewed against Zionism and Israel even in its early stages, as illustrated by its staunch anti-Israel stance during the 1956 Suez War. Benny Morris writes that the United Nations cramped the Israel Defense Forces’ style and curtailed its battlefield successes in a series of cease-fire and truce resolutions beginning in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Morris notes that all U.N. interventions after June 1948 decisively favored the Arabs.
And yet, despite its anti-Israel inclination, the United Nations voted to establish a Jewish state. Perfect timing, unwise Arab behavior and dozens of unfriendly countries voting for a Jewish state (or at least abstaining) were indispensable factors for this amazing outcome. Was it simply coincidence and human effort that brought about this result? The reasonable conclusion is that Hashem was slanting the United Nations to act in a manner contrary to its normal behavior. No one individual or country has that much good fortune or talent. This November 29 (which this year coincides with Chanuka), let us take a moment to reflect and proclaim Baruch she’asa nissim bizman hazeh, bless God Who made this miracle at this time!
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.