The Jewish community wanted President Truman to demand that the British open the doors of Palestine. But the administration waffled, afraid to clash with the British or anger the Arab world.
“I sensed this was the moment to put some real pressure on Truman and the Democrats over Palestine,” he told me. “I mean electoral pressure. The Democrats couldn’t afford to lose Jewish votes in the midterm congressional elections in November 1946 – or in the 1948 presidential race, which wasn’t far off.”
The White House was already worried about Jews leaving their traditional political home, the Democratic Party. In the autumn of 1945, the British proposed the creation of a joint Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine. Truman agreed in principle but his advisers feared Jewish voters would be angry and might turn against the Democrats in the upcoming hotly contested New York City mayoral race. The fact that the Republican nominee, Judge Jonah Goldstein, was Jewish and that the Liberal Party was also endorsing Goldstein only intensified the Democrats’ worries.
Much to London’s annoyance, Secretary of State James Byrnes insisted on postponing establishment of the committee. Citing the “intense and growing agitation about the Palestine problem in the New York electoral campaign,” Byrnes informed the British that announcement of the committee would have to wait until after the November 6 vote, lest it “inflame” New York’s Jews against the Democratic candidate. The British had no choice but to wait.
The election results seemed to confirm the wisdom of the administration’s strategy: Goldstein was handily defeated by the incumbent Democratic mayor, William O’Dwyer.
Ironically, Goldstein was the author of the famous quip about Jewish support for FDR and the Democrats: “The Jews have three veltn (worlds): di velt (this world), yene velt(the next world), and Roosevelt.”
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By the spring of 1946, when Weintraub began his political work, the midterm congressional elections were shaping up as a referendum on the Truman administration. And the role of the Jewish vote loomed larger than ever.
The British had begun pushing for a scheme known as the Morrison-Grady Plan, which would divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab provinces under continued British rule. The State Department supported it. President Truman personally considered Morrison-Grady “really fair,” according to Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace. But there were other factors: New York State Democratic chairman Paul Fitzpatrick told the president that “If this plan goes into effect it would be useless for the Democrats to nominate a state ticket this fall.”
Wallace described in his diary how at the July 30 cabinet session, the president displayed “a sheaf of telegrams about four inches thick” that he had received from pro-Zionist protesters.
“Jesus Christ couldn’t please them when he was here on earth, so how could anyone expect that I would have any luck?” Truman complained. (Years later, historians would discover many other unflattering remarks about Jews in Truman’s diary and private correspondence.)
The cabinet session concluded with the president opting to reject the plan, in deference to Wallace’s warning that Morrison-Grady was “political dynamite.” Wallace noted in his diary: “I emphasized the political angle because that is the one angle of Palestine which has a really deep interest for Truman.”
The president later complained to Senator Elbert Thomas of Utah that “I thought we had the [Palestine] matter settled” via the Morrison-Grady plan, but “the New York Jews knocked that out…”
That same day, Democratic Party powerhouse Ed Flynn, who often advised President Truman on election matters, wrote Truman that if the administration took an anti-Zionist line, “the effects will be severely felt in November.”
Secretary Byrnes complained to Navy Secretary James Forrestal that White House aides had turned Truman against Morrison-Grady by warning that Democratic congressional candidates would lose in New York State if Truman backed down on Palestine. And New York, with 47 electoral votes, would be crucial to winning the 1948 presidential race as well.
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Bob Weintraub had no political experience, just good instincts. “They were many people in the old neighborhood who were fighting mad about the Palestine situation,” he said. “They just weren’t sure what to do.” One by one, he convinced old friends and neighbors to be part of a grassroots effort to challenge the incumbent New York State assemblyman for their district, Anthony J. Travia, a Democrat.