1948 State Department cables threaten to unleash antisemitism
A top official in President Harry Truman’s State Department threatened to stoke anti-Semitism by publicizing documents that would “do great harm to the Jews” as retribution for the establishment of an independent State of Israel, according to newly unearthed diplomatic cables.
As Jews across the globe celebrate Israeli Independence Day today, the cables reveal that, despite public overtures, the U.S. was highly wary of Israel’s creation. They also provide definitive proof of what experts describe as a profound anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bias at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
Undersecretary of State Robert Lovett made the threat in a meeting with Zionist official Nahum Goldmann on April 22, 1948, according to a diplomatic cable obtained by the Free Beacon.
In that meeting—which took place in the tense weeks before Jewish leaders declared independence—Lovett threatened to unleash a wave of anti-Semitism that could destroy the fledgling Jewish government’s support base in the U.S. and elsewhere.
“As the situation is now, we must have a truce [with the Arabs]. If you prevent it, it will become very tough. We will wash our hands of the whole situation and will prevent any help being given to you,” Lovett is quoted as saying in the document. “We will publish a ‘White Paper’, which is already in preparation, giving all the facts and documents.”
This White Paper, Lovett explained, “will incriminate the Arabs and the British, but not less the Jews. You cannot expect us to be attacked all the time without striking back. We would have published it already if we hadn’t been afraid of grave repercussions in the United States.”
“Anti-Semitism,” Lovett continued, “is mounting in a profound way in groups and circles which are very influential and were never touched by anti-Semitism. Such a White Paper would do great harm to the Jews in this country, and once it is published, I am not sure that outstanding Jewish leaders who are helping you today would go along with you.”
“What this document from 1948 shows is the crude threat to foment anti-Semitism unless Zionist leaders would give in to the State Department’s demands,” said Rafael Medoff, the historian who unearthed the documents while researching his newly released book, Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the ‘Jewish Vote’ and Bipartisan Support for Israel. “The State Department does have a long record of unfriendliness towards Jews and Israel.”
Medoff, the director of The David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, said the startling exchange is proof that behind public overtures of support for Israel, many government officials work to undermine the Jewish state.
“It happens again and again in the history of Israel-American relations that a prominent U.S. official publicly insisted he’s sympathetic to Israel, and then we find out later that in fact was not the case,” Medoff said, referring to, among others, President Jimmy Carter, who has built a lengthy anti-Israel resume since leaving the White House.
“In 1948, President Truman was insisting he was sympathetic to the Jews, but behind the scenes, his State Department was engaged in these kinds of threats against Jewish leaders and was lobbying fervently to stop the establishment of the State of Israel—it’s yet another example of what we were told at the time being contradicted by the history.”
Medoff said that there are clear parallels between 1948 and 2012, when, once again, the White House is working to undermine Jewish leaders.
“In 1948 they’re threatening to leak docs that could incite anti-Semitism. In 2012 they’re making comments and leaking stories to intimidate Jewish and Israeli leaders to not build apartments in Jerusalem or to strike Iranian nuclear sites,” Medoff explained. “It’s a disturbing willingness of some in Washington going back 60 years and going on today of using these tactics to intimidate Jewish leaders.”
Former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams told the Free Beacon that the documents are “striking” historical proof of the State Department’s anti-Israel prejudice.
“What is striking to me about this is how far top officials of the State Department were willing to go on their own, because they’re not speaking for Harry Truman here—they’re speaking for themselves,” said Abrams, who served as a senior National Security Council adviser to former President George W. Bush. “What’s dangerous here is that Lovett is not appealing to Goldmann about what is really in the best interest of Israel or the US—what he is doing is threatening Goldmann and to harm the position of American Jews. That, really, I think would be seen as beyond the pale today.”
On the heels of the U.S. failure to intervene in the Holocaust during World War II, the documents in question are all the more disquieting.
The diplomatic cable from 1948 also notes that the State Department believed the “Zionist leadership has made many mistakes,” and that senior U.S. leaders were not comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State.
“The administration had not abandoned partition,” the cable quotes Lovett as saying. “They still believe in it as the only final solution.”
Lovett pressured the Zionist government to accept an agreement that permits Jews to live in the area without a formal state.
The document also reveals that Lovett and Goldmann engaged in a political dance of Jewish support for Soviet Russia.
Goldmann states to Lovett that, in lieu of a brokered peace agreement, Jewish leaders would declare a sovereign Jewish state on May 16, 1948—and turn to the Communist Soviet Union for support.
If “the Soviet Union may immediately recognize—[and] the USA won’t—then the position of the Jewish state will be exactly the same with regard to the Soviet Union as the position of Transjordan is towards England,” Goldmann explained. “The USA has not recognized Transjordan. … Don’t you realize the danger in case the Jewish state, abandoned by you and Great Britain, will in despair turn to the Soviet Union for help? The Soviets would have exactly the same legal right to come to Palestine as the British have in being in Transjordan.”
“Well,” Lovett retorted, “if the Jewish people want to commit suicide, nobody can prevent them from doing so.”
He added: “Do you really think that we didn’t contemplate such a possibility? You have no high opinion of our diplomacy, but we are not as silly as that, to overlook that possibility. It will be suicide for the Jews and don’t think for a moment that we will sit quietly and see the Russians coming into Palestine, directly or indirectly–legally or illegally.”
“There are certain measures we can take, although it is not this department, but another one which will have to do it,” Lovett declared, referring to the U.S. Department of War.
Medoff insisted that these cables must be viewed in the context of current U.S. tensions with the Israeli government over Iran’s nuclear intransigence and continued settlement building in disputed areas of Jerusalem and elsewhere.
“Over the past year several top Obama administration officials have said or implied that if Israel strikes Iranian nuclear facilities, it could lead to the deaths of Americans,” Medoff explained. “These are echoes of what some in Washington tried to do in 1948: It’s an attempt again to intimidate Jewish leaders. They tried it in 1948 and now they’re trying it again.”