Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel
by Michael T. Benson
Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997. 217 pp. $57.95.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Everyone knows that Harry Truman provided help to the Zionists because he could count votes, and there were few Arab votes in 1948. That, anyway, is the thesis developed by John Snetsinger in 19741 and since repeated ad nauseum. Well, it turns out not to be true. In a masterful and exciting presentation, Benson proves that Truman's policies resulted not from nose-counting but from deeply-held beliefs. His pro-Israel outlook "was based primarily on humanitarian, moral, and sentimental grounds, many of which were an outgrowth of the president's religious upbringing and his familiarity with the Bible." Extensive research into Truman's biography and earlier career shows his impressive consistency. Benson, of the University of Utah, establishes Truman as a studious child and deeply religious young man who, when he unexpectedly found himself in the Oval Office, lived faithfully by his precepts. In the case at hand, he expressed sympathy for Zionism as early as 1939 and reiterated his views many times subsequently.
Truman's determination had great importance; of the many momentous issues in his presidency, he personally involved himself most directly with what he called the "puzzle of Palestine." In Benson's words, these personal interventions against the entirety of the American foreign policy establishment "constantly rescued" the Jews from defeat. The author concludes that the standard account of Truman risking U.S. security interests for cheap political advantage is deeply unfair to this most moral and honorable of American presidents.
1 In his Truman, the Jewish Vote, and the Creation of Israel (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1974).
Related Topics: History, Israel & Zionism, US policy | Daniel Pipes | September 1998 MEQ
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