A Few Humble Coins and the Making of Israel

The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 is largely a result of President Truman and his administration.

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The creation of Israel in May of 1948 and its survival afterwards depended in large part on the Truman Administration’s willingness to recognize and support the Jewish state. In the few weeks before independence, President Truman’s commitment wavered. Without the efforts of American Jewish leaders such as Dewey D. Stone and Frank Goldberg and the unlikely efforts of Eddie Jacobson it is not clear whether Truman would have kept America’s weight behind Israeli statehood.

AJHS LogoOn November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to divide Palestine so that a Jewish national homeland could be created from one of its parts. As Abba Eban observes, “No sooner had the partition resolution been adopted than attempts were made to thwart it.” The surrounding Arab states threatened to make war on any Jewish political entity. The British, who had administered Palestine before partition, took a hands-off policy toward Arab attacks on Jewish settlers.

Most significantly, the American government, which had been championing partition, began to have second thoughts. The outbreak of fighting between Jews and Arabs in Palestine after the partition vote gave the State Department, which had never been enthusiastic about creating a Jewish state, an excuse to ask the United Nations to delay partition and place Palestine under a temporary trusteeship. Partition and the creation of a Jewish homeland might be put on hold. 

david ben gurion

Prime Minister David Ben Gurion greeting

Dewey D. Stone in Jerusalem, November 1958.

Courtesy of American Jewish Historical Society
 

In contrast to the State Department, President Harry Truman had strongly favored partition. In 1945, soon after Truman took office, European Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann convinced him of the justice of creating a homeland for Jewish Holocaust survivors. Truman considered many American-born Zionists excessively strident critics of Administration policy, however, and in the early months of 1948, while reevaluating American policy, Truman refused to meet with any American Zionist leaders’ even with Weizmann, a man he admired. The Administration’s positive attitude toward the creation of the State of Israel seemed on the verge of changing.

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Michael Feldberg, Ph.D. is executive director of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom. From 1991 to 2004, he served as executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, the nation's oldest ethnic historical organization, and from 2004 to 2008 was its director of research.

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