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“We had nothing against Travia,” Weintraub recalled. “And of course, the Palestine issue had nothing to do with an election in Brooklyn for New York State Assemblyman. But we were determined to make it into an election issue – to send a message to President Truman that if he abandoned Zionism, we were going to abandon the Democrats.”
“One of our people visited the offices of the local of Board of Elections and obtained lists of all registered voters in the 22nd Assembly district,” he said.
It was publicly available information – just not the kind of information ordinary citizens usually sought. Weintraub and his friends singled out all the Jewish-sounding names on the list. And then they went door to door, day after day, personally urging thousands of voters to send a message to the White House about Palestine by supporting the Republican candidate, Joseph Soviero.
The Soviero candidacy was a long shot, to say the least. Incumbent Travia had the backing of the powerful Democratic Party machine. Travia was also a rising political star – he would eventually serve as Speaker of the Assembly. Moreover, the 22nd district was as solidly Democratic an area as one could imagine – the only time in the district’s history a Republican had been elected to the state assembly was more than twenty years earlier, and then only because the GOP candidate ran unopposed. Soviero himself had run twice before, once against Travia, both times without success.
But there was a wild card in the political mix: the American Labor Party.
As election day approached in the autumn of 1946, the White House was feeling the heat. From assembly races such as the one in Brooklyn to congressional races in New York and elsewhere, there were troubling signs of a shift in the Jewish vote. And adding to the president’s worries was the emergence of the American Labor Party (ALP) as a factor on the political scene.
Corruption scandals involving the New York Democratic Party in the 1930s had alienated some Jewish voters from the party, but they still wanted to vote for Roosevelt. The American Labor Party (ALP) was created to give Jews the opportunity to cast their ballots for FDR without having to vote Democratic.
Dean Alfange, who chaired the ALP from 1937 to 1939 and was its candidate for governor of New York in 1942, was a prominent supporter of the Bergson Group, Jewish activists who lobbied for the rescue of European Jewry and creation of a Jewish state. In part because of Alfange’s influence, the ALP strongly supported the Zionist cause.
“By 1946, the American Labor Party was becoming more pro-Soviet,” Weintraub explained. “And the Soviets supported creating a Jewish state, as way of pushing the British out of the Middle East.” As a result, Weintraub became active in the party. “I had no interest in the ALP’s positions on various domestic issues,” he explained. “But they supported a Jewish state and I supported a Jewish state, so we made common cause.” He did volunteer work, distributed ALP literature on street corners, gathered signatures for ALP candidates to get on the ballot – “whatever they asked, I did.”
To Weintraub’s delight, the ALP threw a monkey wrench into the Democratic Party’s expectation of another easy victory in the 22nd District Assembly race by endorsing the Republican challenger Soviero over the Democratic incumbent Travia.
Although it was a relatively minor race in the broader scheme of things, even smaller races could be seen as omens of what could happen in congressional and gubernatorial races. The ALP’s role in the East New York race became yet another political headache for the embattled Truman administration.
Matters reached a critical point in early October 1946. White House adviser David Niles informed the president that New York Governor Thomas Dewey, the likely Republican presidential nominee in 1948, planned to deliver a strongly pro-Zionist speech to a Jewish gathering on October 6. Niles urged Truman to act first, since “the Jewish vote in New York is going to be crucial.”
On October 4, the eve of Yom Kippur, barely a month before the 1946 midterm congressional elections, Truman issued a statement in which, for the first time, he expressed support for creation of a Jewish state, although its size and other details were left undefined.
About the Author: Dr. Rafael Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and coeditor of the Online Encyclopedia of America's Response to the Holocaust.
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