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The Miracle of the November 29, 1947 UN Vote to Establish a Jewish State

Part I

We seek to demonstrate that the United Nations vote that led to the founding of the State of Israel was an event similar to the foiling of Haman’s genocidal plan against the Jewish people. Just as Esther’s strategy and execution of that plan represented political genius but yet would have been insufficient without God’s intervention, the same may be said about the UN vote to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to establish a Jewish state in part of Eretz Yisrael. The United Nations General Assembly voted 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, in favor of the Partition Plan. Amazingly, both the United States and the Soviet Union supported the resolution, at the height of the Cold War. Passage of the resolution required a two-thirds majority of valid votes (not counting abstaining and absent members).

In the days prior to the final vote, when countries indicated their voting intentions, it was evident that the required majority was not available. Diplomatic efforts, which continued to the moments immediately before the vote, focused on changing the minds of many of the negative United Nations member states, and in the end the two-third majority was attained. In his documentary titled “Israel: The Birth of a Nation,” Abba Eban notes that the United Nations partition vote was of profound significance for the Jewish people. He asserts that had the UN declined to establish a Jewish state at that point it was very unlikely to materialize in the future. A negative vote would have proven catastrophic for the Jews.

Believing Jews argue that this vote was a result of divine intervention. Absent a miracle, the United Nations—renowned for its fierce and consistent hostility to Israel—never would have voted to establish a Jewish state in any part of the Holy Land. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenburg, for example, writes that God “placed in the hearts of the United Nations, like Koresh (Cyrus) in his time, to restore to us a portion of our land which was stolen from us.” Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik also holds that the vote to establish a Jewish state was an absolute political miracle, followed by the military miracle of vastly outnumbered and outgunned Israelis managing to overcome six Arab armies invading from three directions.

Some challenge this view, arguing that devoted and intelligent lobbying by Zionist activists brought about this surprising result. While it is indisputable that the Zionist effort to secure this vote was effective and indispensable, we can argue that the UN would never have voted to establish a Jewish state absent divine intervention. Although there were clearly brilliant and brave actions that helped make the state of Israel a political and military reality, these factors alone represent an inadequate explanation for the creation of the State of Israel against overwhelming odds.

One of the key figures in the U.N. vote and the founding of the State of Israel was the then-president of the United States, Harry S. Truman.


The Miracle of Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, is viewed as a modern-day hero and crucial player in the establishment of the State of Israel. This is due to his decision to support the United Nations’ establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine in November 1947 and to recognize the State of Israel only 11 minutes after it declared independence in May 1948.

Hashem’s hand is readily apparent to any individual who ponders Truman’s remarkable ascent to power in 1945 and support for a Jewish state in 1947-1948, both highly improbable events, as we shall discuss. We will base most of our understanding of Harry Truman’s life on David McCullough’s comprehensive Pulitzer Prize-winning biography.


Truman’s Unlikely Support For a Jewish State

We must begin by noting, first and foremost, that had Truman not instructed the United States ambassador to the United Nations to support the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, the Jewish state never would have materialized. As the leader of the free world, Truman exercised influence by encouraging other countries to support the partition plan. His recognition of the nascent State of Israel in May 1948 was critical to Israel’s emergence as a nation, especially at a time when there was strong support for rescinding the November 1947 partition plan in the wake of intense Arab violence that began the day after the U.N. vote.

Truman’s support was highly unlikely from many perspectives. On a personal level, Truman was raised in rural Missouri, where he was not conditioned to be fond of Jews. In fact, he expressed his dislike of New York upon his first visit there before he was sent to fight in France during World War I because of the many Jews who lived there. He even used a highly derogatory term to describe New York due to its many Jewish residents. It is recounted that Bess Truman (the president’s beloved wife who had a great influence upon him) was anti-Semitic to the extent that she would not permit a Jew to enter her house.

Moreover, Truman’s venerated secretary of state General George Marshall (the architect of the famed Marshall Plan) urged Truman in the strongest terms against supporting Israel, warning the president that if he supported the Jewish state he would not vote for him in the next election. Truman’s spurning of Marshall’s advice is astonishing, given the immense respect Truman accorded to Marshall. Truman once remarked that there was not a military decoration big enough for General Marshall.

Marshall’s opposition was not at all rooted in anti-Semitism. It emerged from a sober political calculation that the United States could ill afford to antagonize the entire Arab and Muslim world by recognizing and voting for a tiny country that seemed most likely to be destroyed by Arab armies that vastly outnumbered the Jewish defenders. Moreover, the Arab countries possessed vast weaponry as well as petroleum resources that were feared to be necessary to power United States military vehicles during what seemed then an inevitable military clash with the Soviet Union led by Joseph Stalin. The communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in early 1948 led many prudent politicians and diplomats to fear that many other countries would be vulnerable to a communist takeover. It was feared that the United States’ recognition of Israel would antagonize Arab countries and push them to ally themselves with Stalin against the United States and the democratic world.


Truman’s Rise to the Presidency Against All Odds

Only a decent man of extraordinary character with common sense and religious devotion would have spurned geopolitical considerations in favor of ethical values, such as compassion for the Jewish refugees and recognition of the morality of the Jewish right to establish a state in part of Palestine. Both Truman’s predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, were not supporters of a Jewish state and would have been highly unlikely to recognize the State of Israel. It is improbable that either of these two tough-minded politicians would have favored basic morality over geopolitical considerations.

Hashem’s guiding hand in bringing Truman to power follows the Megillah’s pattern, with a series of highly improbable events coordinating seamlessly in our favor. Truman was an unsuccessful farmer and clothing-store owner when chosen in the early 1920s to serve as a county judge in western Missouri’s Jackson County. He subsequently made a most unlikely leap from county judge to United States senator in 1934. He was given almost no chance of reelection in 1940 after a relatively lackluster performance in the Senate during his first term in office. Four years after his remarkable reelection, he was chosen by the Democratic Party to serve as Roosevelt’s running mate in the 1944 presidential election. This was yet another astonishing development in light of the fact that Truman did not make an effort to secure this position. In fact, he supported another Democrat, to the extent that he even prepared a nomination speech for the man he felt best suited for the position.

In addition, Hashem’s hand is evident in that the decision whether to recognize the nascent Jewish state had to be taken in an American election year (1948), when Truman needed to gain the Jewish vote, especially in key “battleground states.” Courting the Jewish vote was a significant factor in Truman’s deliberations about the issue of the Jewish state.


Cyrus as a Hero to Truman

At a young age, Truman, who had developed a love of the Bible and passion for history, counted the ancient Persian Emperor Cyrus (Koresh) as one of his heroes. Cyrus was the Persian emperor who permitted Jews to return from exile and build the Second Temple. Much later in life, after being introduced to a Jewish group in 1953 as the one who contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel, Truman protested that he did not merely assist in its creation, but rather he felt truly responsible for the Jewish state. “I am Cyrus, I am Cyrus,” he proclaimed. How fortunate, or rather providential, it was that Cyrus was one of Truman’s idols from a young age!


Clark Clifford

One of President Truman’s aides, Clark Clifford, countered General George Marshall’s opposition to the establishment of the State of Israel. McCullough describes Clifford’s presence on Truman’s staff as “almost chance.” That Truman followed the young Clifford (whose arguments for recognizing the Jewish state included citations from Deuteronomy) over the highly experienced Marshall is remarkable, seeing that his very presence in the White House was highly unlikely.


Eddie Jacobson

The most extraordinary figure of our discussion is Truman’s Jewish friend Eddie Jacobson. Truman remarked to a visiting Israeli diplomat many years later that Jacobson “was the best friend anyone could ever have.” That someone with strong anti-Semitic leanings would develop such a strong friendship with a Jew is simply astonishing.

Truman met Jacobson during stateside training for World War I. Together they administered the camp’s canteen, and upon returning from the war they decided to become business partners. They opened a men’s clothing store, which failed after a few years. It took both men many years to pay off the large debt accumulated while running this establishment. Remarkably, Truman and Jacobson remained very close friends despite this painful experience.

Eddie Jacobson played a decisive role in convincing President Truman to recognize the State of Israel. Zealous advocates for Israel, such as Reform Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, who pounded on the president’s desk and even yelled at the president demanding Truman’s support for a Jewish state, had only succeeded in souring Truman on Zionism. When the legendary Chaim Weizmann traveled to America to make the case for supporting a Jewish state, Truman initially refused to meet with him. It was Eddie Jacobson who managed to convince Truman to meet with Weizmann, whose considerable charm and powers of persuasion strongly affected the president. When Jacobson was at first rebuffed by Truman, he somehow (we see it as Hashem’s influence) was inspired to compare Weizmann with one of Truman’s heroes, Andrew Jackson. The mostly-inapt analogy somehow managed to change Truman’s mind, eventually leading to Truman’s ultimate decision to support the Jewish state.


Rabbi Herzog and President Truman

After the establishment of the State of Israel, Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, visited President Truman to offer his thanks. Present at the meeting was a secular Jew who served as Truman’s adviser for minority relations. Rabbi Herzog told Truman that God placed him in his mother’s womb in order to be the first world leader in more than 2,000 years to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. The Jewish adviser, who viewed Rabbi Herzog’s words as hyperbole, was astonished to see tears streaming down President Truman’s face. Truman, described by McCullough as a spiritual man who lived to a great extent by the Bible, deeply appreciated Rabbi Herzog’s insight.

Thus we already see that the involvement of President Truman, which was only one factor in the establishment of the Jewish state, required a combination of many unlikely events. As in the Book of Esther, we recognize Hashem’s subtle hand in the workings of the world. As stated in Song of Songs: “Here He is, standing behind our walls… peering through the lattice-work.” The Book of Esther should inspire us to seek Hashem hiding behind the “latticework,” as we have sought to do in the case of President Harry S. Truman’s most improbable support for the establishment of the State of Israel. Even when reading a book of history, one can encounter the Divine.

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.

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