The greatest miracle of the 20th Century was the re-establishment of the state of Israel. It was a fulfillment of Bible prophecy, and the United States played a key role in that fulfillment.
How have we interacted with the state of Israel since that time, and what does the Bible say about our future relationship? Let’s begin by taking a look at the history of our relationship, considering each U.S. Administration since 1948 when the state of Israel came back into being.
Our relationship with the state of Israel began on the best possible terms in 1948 when President Harry S Truman recognized the state of Israel immediately after David Ben Gurion had read the Declaration of Independence.1
Truman had already shown a heart for the Jewish people in his speeches during World War II when he referred to Hitler as a “mad man” and warned that the “Nazi beasts” were carrying out a “systematic slaughter” of the Jews.2 He favored allowing Jewish refugees into the country during and after World War II. But the Congress balked at his proposal, so after he became President, he issued an executive order called the “Truman Directive,” on December 22, 1945.3 This order opened the door and 23,000 Jewish refugees came in during the next two years.
Truman continued to pressure the Congress, and in 1948 he finally got legislation that permitted 80,000 Jewish refugees to enter the country.4
Truman’s swift action on May 14, 1948 made the United States the first nation to recognize the state of Israel — and our recognition gave legitimacy to the state in the eyes of the world.5
Truman took this action because he was a student of the Bible, and he believed the Jewish people had a right to the land.6 Amazingly, he took the action despite the fact that almost every person in his administration opposed it. The opponents included the Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, and the Secretary of State, George Marshall, both of whom strongly opposed recognition.
In fact, one of the only persons in the Truman Administration who encouraged recognition was the president’s personal legal counsel, Clark Clifford, who cited verses from Deuteronomy to verify the Jewish claim to the land. Clifford also believed that recognition would be an “act of humanity” in response to the Holocaust.7
Truman later referred to his decision as “one of the proudest moments of my life.”8
But despite the crucial support Truman gave, he instituted an arms embargo on Israel in the naive hope that it would prevent violence in the Middle East.9
Dwight Eisenhower always supported Israel in words, but behind the scenes, he applied great pressure for Israel to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula after the Suez War ended in 1956.10
In fact, he became the first president to threaten Israel when the Israelis dragged their feet about withdrawing. He told them either to withdraw or else he would withhold more than $100 million in U.S. aid. He also supported a UN resolution condemning Israel for not withdrawing.11
These actions in defiance of our allies — Britain, France and Israel — brought accolades from the international community at the United Nations, especially from the Arab and Muslim states.
It is interesting to note that in 1965, while being interviewed by a biographer, Eisenhower “wistfully commented” that “looking back at Suez, I regret what I did. I never should have pressured Israel to evacuate the Sinai.”12 President Nixon later reported that Eisenhower had told him the same thing.13
One other thing Eisenhower did was to continue the arms embargo that had been initiated by President Truman.
President John F. Kennedy was a strong supporter of Israel in both word and deed. He called Israel “the child of hope and the home of the brave.”14 He added: “Israel carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.”15
He lifted the arms embargo and extended the first informal security guarantees to Israel in 1962. And beginning in 1963, he authorized the sale to Israel of advanced U.S. weaponry, including surface-to-air Hawk missiles.16
But he firmly opposed Israel’s development of nuclear weapons. In a letter to Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, dated May 18, 1963, he insisted that American inspectors be allowed to visit the Dimona nuclear reactor located in the Negev desert. He warned against using the reactor to develop nuclear weapons. Prophetically, he wrote, “Development of a nuclear weapons capability by Israel would almost certainly lead other larger countries that have so far refrained from such development to feel that they must follow suit.”17 Kennedy’s plea was ignored by the Israelis.
The President’s brother, Bobby, was also a strong supporter of Israel. During his 1968 campaign for the Democrat nomination for President, Bobby declared at a Los Angeles synagogue that he would maintain “clear and compelling support for Israel.” His assassin, a Palestinian named Sirhan Sirhan, later said these words drove him to shoot the candidate.18
In the second part of this series on the historical relations between the USA and Israel, we’ll see how other presidents handled or mishandled Israel.
1) For detailed information about President Truman’s recognition of Israel, see “Israel’s 60th Anniversary,” by Dr. David R. Reagan, Lamplighter magazine, March-April 2008, pages 3-9.
2) David McCullough, Truman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), page 286.
3) Jewish Virtual Library, “Harry Truman Administration: Statement and Directive on Displaced Persons,” www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/truman_on_dps.html.
4) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “United States Policy Toward Jewish Refugees, 1941-1952,” www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007094, page 2.
5) Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, “The Recognition of the State of Israel,” www.trumanlibrary.
6) Dr. David R. Reagan, “Israel’s 60th Anniversary,” page 8.
7) Richard Holbrooke, “Washington’s Battle Over Israel’s Birth,” The Washington Post, May 7, 2008.
8) Michael T. Benson, “Truman’s Actions Speak Much Louder Than His Words,” www.snow.edu/publicr/speeches/truman1.html.
9) Shlomo Slonim, “The 1948 American Embargo on Arms to Israel,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 94, No. 3, Autumn, 1979, pages 495ff.
10) Jewish Virtual Library, “The Sinai-Suez Campaign: President Eisenhower & PM Ben-Gurion on Israeli Withdrawal from Sinai,” www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/phantom.html.
11) Donald Neff, “How Eisenhower Forced Israel to End Occupation After Sinai Crisis: When an American President Said No to Israel,” Institute for Historical Review, www.ihr.org/jhr/v16/v16n2p14_Neff.html, page 2.
12) Israel Resource Review: Behind the News in Israel, “Eisenhower Regretted That He Pushed For Sinai Withdrawal,” http://israelbehindthenews.com/eisenhower-regretted-that-he-pushed-forsinai-withdrawal/2804/.
14) John F. Kennedy, “Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Zionists of America Convention, Statler Hilton Hotel, New York, NY, August 26, 1960,” www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=74217.
16) Stephen M. Walt, The Origins of Alliances, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987) pp. 95-96.
17) Jewish Virtual Library, “John F. Kennedy Administration: Letter to Israeli PM Ben-Gurion Regarding Visit to Dimona,” www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/FRUS5_18_63.html.
18) Stephen Kinzer, “Shot heard round the world: It is now clear that Robert Kennedy’s assassination 40 years ago was in fact an eminently political act,” www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/jun/13/israelandthepalestinians.usa.