A Country Formed in a Day

A Country Formed in a Day

from the May 09, 2016 eNews issue



by Dr. Steve Elwart

Jewish men standing together with flag of Israel

(Image: United with Israel)

Who has ever heard of such a thing? And who ever sees such things? Can a country be born in a single day, or can a nation be brought forth in a single moment? Yet no sooner was Zion in labor than she delivered her children.

Isaiah 66:8 (ISV)

The evening of Wednesday, May 11, marks the start of Israel’s Independence Day (Yom ha-Atzma’ut). It is the Hebrew date of the formal establishment of the State of Israel when members of the “provisional government” read and signed a Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv. The original date corresponded to May 14, 1948. Israelis also observe the day before Yom Ha-Atzma’ut as Yom ha-Zikaron, Remembrance Day. This solemn holiday honors the memory of the soldiers and others who have been killed defending the State of Israel. It is reminiscent of a national memorial observance. When sirens are sounded, Israelis throughout the country stop their activities to remember those who lost their lives in defense of the nation.

On May 15, 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence, it was attacked by five Arab nations: Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Though greatly outnumbered and poorly armed, the Israelis were able to repulse the invading nations. By the end of 1948, they had defeated the Arab nations, and in so doing had conquered half of the territory the United Nations had planned for the new Arab nation. The other half was divided between Jordan and Egypt. Israel controlled the western half of Jerusalem and Jordan the eastern half, including the Old City and the Temple Mount. The State of Israel was established in both the diplomatic ring and battlefield.

It has been fighting for its survival in both arenas ever since.

Jehovah on the Battlefield

The story of the fight for Israel’s independence on the battlefield is one of a series of miracles.

The day after Israel declared its statehood, five mechanized Arab armies invaded the country defended by 35,000 men and women. The fledgling army consisted mostly of war refugees, many coming from the death camps of Europe. They had no air force to speak of and six tanks. The Egyptian army alone had 40,000 soldiers, 135 tanks, heavy guns and an air force of over 60 planes, including Spitfires and bombers. The Jordanians had the Arab Legion, trained by the British and led by an Englishman, Sir John Bagot Glubb, along with 48 British officers.

The Egyptian army launched an attack along the Mediterranean coast against the kibbutz Yad Mordechai on May 19, 1948, as part of an offensive to take Tel Aviv. The force of about 5,000 men was expected to take the kibbutz of 130 residents in three hours. Instead, the battle raged for days. The Jewish defenders held off the entire Egyptian army longer than anyone expected, using homemade weapons that many times did nothing more than make noise. They even used cutout wooden soldiers, which they moved from trench to trench, to give the appearance of greater numbers. Rather than taking the kibbutz in hours, the Egyptians captured their objective only after several days with their morale badly shaken.

In the north, the Arabs were firmly dug in on top of Har Canaan, overlooking Safed. The Jews could not gain control of the road to Safed or the city itself as long as they were there. Then the Israelis brought up the Davidka, a mortar that was extremely inaccurate and of little tactical value. It did, however, make a lot of noise. One Friday afternoon, the Israelis fired Davidka several times and then a miracle happened. It rained. It never rains in May and June there. The Arabs were sure the Jews had the atomic bomb. What else could make it rain? Consequently, they fled their positions on top of Har Canaan. The Israelis captured Safed and drove the Arabs out of the entire northern area of the Galilee.

A Miraculous Backstory

These are just two of the hundreds of stories of God’s hand in preserving Israel as it struggled to keep its national identity. However, the backstory of the events that led up to Israel’s declaration of statehood is every bit as miraculous.

Ben-Gurion’s announcement of Israel’s statehood was not done in a vacuum. There was a flurry of diplomatic back-channel negotiations going on before Ben-Gurion’s address.

In 1948, Britain announced its intention to give up its mandate and withdraw its army along with its administration. The question then was, “What was to become of Palestine?” The British favored turning Palestine over to the United Nations. The Jewish Agency, of which David Ben-Gurion was the president, proposed partitioning Palestine into two parts — one Jewish, one Arab. The neighboring Arab states warned that any declaration of a Jewish nation would result in full-scale war.

One must remember the events in Palestine occurred after World War II and the United States was now the de facto pre-eminent world hegemon. As the United States went, so went the world, so to speak. Therefore, the world waited to see what the United States would do.

In the United States, there was no consensus as to what to do about the “Jewish Problem”. The State Department led by former Army Chief of Staff and current Secretary of State George C. Marshallfavored turning Palestine over to the United Nations and not have a Jewish state. The Defense Department took this position as well. Their primary reason for this was to maintain good relations with the oil producing states in the region.

The Oil Card

Up through 1947, American exports of oil had exceeded imports. Then the balance shifted. The economic boom that came to post WWII America brought a dramatic increase in oil usage. In 1948, imports of crude oil and products together exceeded exports for the first time. No longer could the United States continue its historical role as petroleum supplier to the rest of the world. Now it was dependent on other countries for that marginal barrel, and an ominous new phrase was being heard in the American vocabulary — “foreign oil.” That oil was being supplied by the same countries that were the sworn enemies of Israel. The foreign policy establishment of the United States was worried that if the U.S. supported the Zionist cause, oil imports would dry up.

Ibn Saud (King of Saudi Arabia) was as outspoken and adamant against Zionism and Israel as any Arab leader. He said Jews had been the enemies of Arabs since the seventh century. American support of a Jewish state, he told Truman, would be a deathblow to American interests in the Arab world, and should a Jewish state come into existence, the Arabs “will lay siege to it until it dies of famine.” In his opposition to a Jewish state, Ibn Saud held what a British official called a “trump card”: He could punish the United States by canceling the American oil concessions. That possibility greatly alarmed not only the interested oil companies, but also the U.S. State and Defense departments.

When they discussed what do to about Palestine, Marshall said, “If you follow [this course of action towards Jewish statehood] and if I were to vote in the election, I would vote against you.” This had ominous implications for the president. At the time, Marshall was considered the most popular man in America. One time a reporter commented to Truman, “Mr. President, many Americans think General Marshal should be the president.” (He was always called General Marshall even as Secretary of State.) Truman replied, “He should be the president, but I am the president.”

Clearly, Truman’s political life was at stake.

Leading from Behind?

(Left to Right: Chaim Weizmann, Harry Truman, Eddie Jacobson. Image: Truman Library, Wikipedia)

(Left to Right: Chaim Weizmann, Harry Truman, Eddie Jacobson. Image: Truman Library, Wikipedia)

Truman was inclined to stay out of this fight. He seemed to be satisfied to “lead from behind” as far as the Palestine issue was concerned. He was in no mood to discuss the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Besides, past discussions about the subject had infuriated him.

To try to convince Truman to support the Zionist cause, Jewish leaders dispatched Chaim Weizmann to talk to the American President. Weizmann, a Russian Jew, who would later serve as Israel’s first president, was by then an old man and half-blind. He tried repeatedly to see Truman, but the Man from Missouri refused to see him. Earlier in the year, an American Zionist delegation had met with him in the White House and demanded immediate action on behalf of the thousands of homeless Holocaust victims seeking refuge in a Jewish state. When Truman’s response fell short of their expectations, the visitors became adamant. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of Cleveland, Ohio literally pounded on the president’s desk.

Truman was outraged. “No one, but no one, comes into the office of the President of the United States and shouts at him, or pounds on his desk. If anyone is going to do any shouting or pounding in here, it will be me,” and with that, Truman had them ushered out of the Oval Office. “I’ve had it with those hotheads,” he told his staff. “Don’t ever admit them again, and what’s more, I also never want to hear the word Palestine mentioned again.”

If it had not been for a little-known Jew from Kansas City, Missouri, there might not have been a State of Israel.

Dr. Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, had arrived in New York from London to meet with the U.S. President. However, Truman canceled the meeting.

A Trump Card of Their Own

That is when the Jews played a “trump card” of their own. They called Eddie Jacobson. Edward “Eddie” Jacobson was a New York Jew who had moved to Missouri in 1893. They had first met when Eddie was 14 and Harry was 20. Eddie worked as a stock boy at a shirt store, Harry as a bookkeeper at a nearby bank. Their differences in age and religion (Harry was a Baptist, Eddie a Jew) did not matter. Harry left his position at the bank to take over the family farm, but the two men kept in touch.

The friendship was rekindled when they discovered each had joined the Missouri National Guard, Harry as a second lieutenant in Battery D and Eddie as a sergeant in Battery F. With the outbreak of World War I, their units merged into the 129th Field Artillery. Truman was put in charge of the regimental canteen in addition to other duties. Having little knowledge of merchandising, he immediately requested Sergeant Jacobson be transferred to his unit. Together they ran the most successful canteen in the area. Recognized for its exemplary management, Truman was promoted to the rank of captain and appointed battery commander.

Because of their experience with the canteen, the pair decided to open a haberdashery after the war. Truman and Jacobson’s Gents Furnishings flourished for a couple of years until the depression of 1921 and the business failed. That business failure saddled the two of them with a debt that took years to pay off.

When the business failed, Truman went into politics and Jacobson became a traveling salesman, a vocation that allowed him to see Truman often when he was in Washington.

Chaim Weizmann realized he had to play the only card he had—Eddie Jacobson. Through an intermediary, he contacted Jacobson. Hearing about the rude behavior of the Zionists in the president’s office, Eddie, himself a non-Zionist, refused to get involved. “In my 37 years of friendship with President Truman, I have never asked a favor of him and when you tell me he doesn’t ever want to hear the word Palestine mentioned again, I’m certainly not going to jeopardize our friendship by antagonizing him now.”

After some persuasion, Jacobson reluctantly agreed to go see the president on Weizmann’s behalf. Jacobson called the White House and was told the president would be glad to see him as long as the subject of Palestine was not mentioned.

An Oval Office Meeting

Arriving at the White House, Jacobson was escorted into the Oval Office through a private entrance to avoid the media. The president welcomed him warmly and pointed to a chair. Jacobson sat down. Truman asked about Eddie’s family. (Truman had visited the Jacobson home frequently and, on occasion, had played piano duets with Eddie’s daughter, Gloria.) Jacobson responded in kind, inquiring about Mrs. Truman and Margaret.

“They’re all fine. What brings you to Washington this time?”

“Harry, you know me. I am no diplomat. I do not know how to beat around the bush. Please, I want you to talk to Dr. Weizmann.”

“You what! I can’t believe this. Despite my objection, you dare ask that I see Weizmann?”

“Well, Mr. President, at least I honored your request. I didn’t mention Palestine.”

Truman interrupted harshly. “Eddie, I’m fed up. I’m sick and tired of Zionists who think they can tell me what to do. They will eventually prejudice everyone trying to help them. They came in here and shouted at me and made threats concerning the future political support of American Jews.”

Placing both hands on his desk, Truman leaned forward and exclaimed, “If Jesus couldn’t please them when he was on earth, how can you or anyone else expect me to have any luck?”

Listening to the president’s outburst, Jacobson was dumbfounded. In all their years of friendship, no sharp words had ever passed between them; yet here was Harry Truman bellowing at him. At that moment, Eddie Jacobson felt for the first time that his dear old friend was close to becoming anti-Semitic. He sat frozen in his chair, tears in his eyes.

Then Jacobson caught sight of a table with a miniature statue of General Andrew Jackson mounted on a horse, one of Truman’s most prized possessions. Walking over to the statue, Jacobson placed one hand on Jackson’s shoulder and reached out with the other to the president. In an almost inaudible voice he made a final plea.

Harry! All your life you’ve had a hero. You probably know more about Andrew Jackson than anyone in America. I remember you were always reading about him. Then when you were county judge you had a new Jackson County Court House built in Kansas City, and you had a life-size statue of this very model cast and placed on the lawn in front of the courthouse. Well, Harry, I too have a hero. A man I’ve never met, but a real gentleman and a great statesman. I’m talking about Chaim Weizmann. He is a very sick man. Yet he traveled thousands of miles just to see you and plead the cause of his people. Now you refuse to see him because you were insulted by some impudent American Zionists, even though you know that Weizmann had absolutely nothing to do with them. It doesn’t sound like you, Harry. I thought you could take this stuff. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t know that you would see him so you can be properly and accurately informed about the situation as it exists in Palestine.

When Jacobson finished, Truman didn’t say a word; he turned and looked out over the Rose Garden. All Jacobson could see was the back of his friend’s chair.

As they sat there in silence, Jacobson remembered Truman telling him about the time he spent two days alone, looking out another window, before making up his mind to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. “The longer we sat,” Jacobson later recalled, “the more I prayed he wouldn’t drop one on me.”

Then the stillness in the room was broken by the sound of Truman’s fingers drumming on the arm of his chair. Slowly he turned around, stopped, looked directly into the eyes of his old friend, and said, “OK. You baldheaded #$$%^&…. I’ll see him.”

Keeping his word, Truman invited Weizmann to the White House on March 18, 1948. During the meeting, the president assured Weizmann that he wished to see justice done in Palestine without bloodshed. If a Jewish state is declared, with or without United Nations affirmation, the United States would recognize it without delay, he promised.

It was because of Eddie Jacobson that President Truman met with Chaim Weizmann. The result of that meeting was U.S. recognition of Jewish state.

The Story Does Not End There

That would be quite a story if it ended there, but there is more to the story and it speaks to the qualities of leadership and character.

The very day after the Truman–Weizmann meeting, Warren Austin, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, without the president’s knowledge or White House clearance, announced on national radio that the American government opposed the partition of Palestine. Truman now had a dilemma. He made a private promise to Weizmann to support a Jewish state, but there was a public declaration in the media that the United States would oppose such a plan. How would the government handle the situation? It would be easy to say there were “mixed signals,” that Weizmann “misunderstood” the conversation. That it was “unfortunate” he did not have the correct “takeaways” from the meeting.

However, Truman quickly assured both Weizmann and Jacobson that Austin misrepresented the United States position. The American President wrote in his diary:

This morning I find that the State Department has reversed my Palestine policy. The first I know about it is what I see in the papers! Now, I am placed in a position of a liar and double-crosser. I never felt so low in my life. What is not generally understood is that the Zionists are not the only ones to be considered in the Palestine question. There are other interests that come into play, each with its own agenda. The military is concerned with the problems of defending a newly created small country from attacks by much larger and better-trained Arab nations. Others have selfish interests concerning the flow of Arab oil to the U.S. Since they all cannot have their way, it is a perfect example of why I had to remember that “The Buck Stops Here.”

On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, read a “Declaration of Independence” proclaiming (and using officially for the first time) the establishment of the State of Israel.

U.S. statement recognizing the State of Israel (Image: The Truman Library)

(Image: The Truman Library)

Eleven minutes later, the United States issued a statement, signed by President Truman recognizing the State of Israel. It was put together so quickly the words “Jewish state” had to be crossed out and “State of Israel” written in by hand.

Years later, Eddie Jacobson’s daughter, Ellen said Jacobson was lying on his deathbed. He said to Ellen, “You know, I’ve been going back and forth from Kansas City to Washington, and that has depleted the inheritance that I could leave for you.” Ellen says, “Dad, you left me with the greatest inheritance. You left me with the state of Israel.”

After his death, the state of Israel remembered Jacobson by naming the Eddie Jacobson Auditorium in the B’nai B’rith Building in Tel Aviv after him. During the dedication ceremony, a letter was read by former President Truman that said, in part:

Although my sympathies were always active and present in the cause of the State of Israel, it is a fact of history that Eddie Jacobson’s contribution was of decisive importance. He deserves all the recognition that he is receiving and his name should be forever enshrined in the history of the Jewish people.

Coincidence is not a Kosher Word

Historically many Rabbis have taught that “coincidence” is not a kosher word. Was it a coincidence Harry Truman and Eddie Jacobson, a Baptist Kansas farm boy and New York Jew, became lifelong friends? Or was it a divine appointment? People have differing opinions on the matter.

There were certainly factors working against them. There was their age difference to be sure. There was also their backgrounds. What differences there were, there was something that drew them together. Truman once wrote Eddie Jacobson was “as fine a man as ever walked.”

There is something else that is very strange that should have kept them very far apart, for as you see in all the years they knew each other, Eddie Jacobson was never allowed into the Truman home in Missouri, before or after the White House years. According to historian Michael Beschloss, all of Truman’s conversations with Jacobson took place on his porch because Bess Truman, Harry’s wife, was anti-Semitic. Truman explained, “This is Bess’ house,” and Jews were never granted admittance.

The Answer to the Question

The answer to the question of coincidence or appointment, be it with Jacobson or the larger question of Israel itself, can be found in the book of Romans:

And we know that for those who love God, that is, for those who are called according to his purpose, all things are working together for good.

Romans 8:28 (ISV)

A Promise to Remember

In these times, there is also one other promise the nations of the world are forgetting about Israel:

I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse the one who curses you, and through you all the people of the earth will be blessed.

Genesis 12:3 (ISV)

We forget this promise at our peril.

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– FROM: KHouse.Org

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