A number of important dates and events define the modern State of Israel, most of them wars and conflicts: the Suez War (1956), the Six-Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the First Lebanon War (1982), the First Intifada (1987), the Oslo Accords (1992), which provided for the establishment of a Palestinian state within Israel, the Second Intifada (2000), and the Second Lebanon War (2006). But most prominent of all was, of course, the War of Independence (1948).
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was officially established with the words of David Ben-Gurion in Israel’s Declaration of Independence: “By virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, [we] hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” There is also a less well-known date that is almost as important in this context: November 29, 1947 — the day the U.N. passed Resolution 181, and the day that marked the initial beginning of Israel’s decades-long struggle for independence and recognition. For the next six months, prior to the official May 1948 declaration, Israel fought for its independence and even its very existence while the world sat back and watched.
Israel, without Christ in the world
This year, 2008, marks an important milestone in Israel’s history — not one of war or defense, but of growth and development, and of success retrieved from the very brink of failure. This year is the 60th anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel. Sixty years of struggle and fighting, bitterness and anxiety. Sixty years of passion for freedom and hope for the future. Israel was born out of the fires of Nazi Germany and continued to be paid for with yet more sacrifices in its struggle for nation status. It has grown and developed through the 20th and 21st centuries, despite overwhelming odds against it.
The irony is that, while all of this may be impressive from a historical perspective, it is Israel’s continuing failure to recognize God and His Son that leaves us, for now, unsatisfied.
Of course we take an interest in events and happenings involving Israel. It is the Land of Promise, the inheritance God promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. It will be the center of His soon-coming Kingdom and the place where God will dwell with man. But we also need to remember that the Jews are still lacking a belief in Jesus as their Messiah. Most practicing Jews do acknowledge Jesus as a historical figure, but to them he is primarily a “Christian” figure who means very little to them. Some might admit he was a prophet, but still feel that Christians have been carried away with their belief in him. And just as in our own society, some won’t acknowledge him at all, while others couldn’t care less, one way or the other.
Who can blame them for their lack of interest in Christ, given the examples that Christianity has provided? The mainstream Church incorporates polytheism in the guise of monotheism, a devil with his demons resembling nothing so much as a pagan deity, and a history of intolerance toward the Jews (and no, not just by the Catholic Church) over the last two millennia. Christian theology has changed so much from the first century, when true Christians still met in Jewish synagogues and argued in the Temple courts. Even modern Jewish theology bears the marks of those 2,000 years of dispersion from their land. Absent the correcting influences of God and His message, as delivered through His prophets and His Son, the Jews are at least as far from God as the priests and Pharisees were in the time of Christ.
Despite this, they are still God’s people
But there are still Biblical aspects to this most improbable of nations and its history. God’s people may have left Him and wandered far from His sheltering wings, but they are still His people and He still has plans for their future, and ours. In observing the modern world, there is perhaps nothing as remarkable as seeing God’s hands almost visibly pulling strings and orchestrating events on the world stage.
Just such an example was hinted at in Richard Holbrooke’s article “Washington’s Battle Over Israel’s Birth”, published recently in The Washington Post (see May 7, 2008 article). It is a brief account of President Harry Truman’s efforts in support of the birth and recognition of the State of Israel. Holbrooke focuses on the immediate happenings around the May 14, 1948, declaration of independence. We see a president who, against the advice of some of his most senior and trusted advisers, purposefully chooses to support the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine. It was not a politically expedient thing to do, despite the part Jews played in American politics at the time. And as in today’s world, so in 1948: a Jewish state in the Middle East did not go over well with its Arab countries.
Did Truman choose Israel, or did God choose Truman?
What was Truman’s reasoning for recognizing the nation of Israel? What did the United States stand to gain from aligning itself with Israel in the face of both national and international opposition? Why did Truman put himself out to help Israel when he had little to gain but a lot to lose by so doing? Holbrooke suggests this was a moral choice for Truman, as stated by one of the principals, presidential aide Clark Clifford. He suggests that Truman acted out of a sense of duty to support a potential democracy in the face of opposition, and that it was also the reasonable thing to do for a people which had just suffered, and barely survived, the Nazi death camps.
Presidents, prime ministers, and other rulers may seem to come to power by selection processes or by political maneuvers, but to Bible believers there is no doubt that God picks individual leaders for His own purposes. Truman’s support of Israel may best be explained by this larger divine purpose.
However, Truman’s personal history seems to explain God’s choice. He had a religious upbringing and was well read on both Biblical and historical topics. He grew up with Jewish neighbors, was close friends with their son, and would help them perform necessary household functions forbidden to Jews on the Sabbath. After World War I, he became a friend and business partner of a fellow Army veteran, a Jew named Eddie Jacobson, who would later prove to be of considerable influence in the State of Israel.
Doubts and misgivings
Despite all of this, however, Truman still exhibited the mild anti-Semitism that was typical in America at the time. Numerous private letters from Truman to friends and family indicate a stubborn annoyance with and resistance to Jewish lobbying. Upon taking office in 1945, President Truman alternated between supporting and criticizing Jewish initiatives at home and abroad, as well as the Zionists’ aims of creating a Jewish state in Palestine. He endorsed increased immigration of Jews from Europe to the United States while at the same time decrying the appeals for
U.S. troops to support a Jewish state. He refused Jewish lobbying delegations at times while still secretly meeting with Chaim Weizmann, leader of the Zionist movement, and the man who would become the first President of the State of Israel. Public support for Israel rose and fell, as did the President’s attitudes. Prior to the very public return of the refugee ship Exodus from Palestine to Germany in July 1947, public sentiment was fairly split. However, upon seeing film and photos of the ship, the condition of its inhabitants, and their treatment on either end of their journey, many Americans made a pronounced swing toward the partitioning of Palestine.
As discussion of the partition of the land of Palestine (U.N. Resolution 181) progressed in late 1947, pressure also increased on Truman. Despite general leanings toward helping the Jews, Truman was hesitant, due to the sizeable numbers of troops thought necessary to enforce the ruling, as well as the impact on existing Middle East relationships. Significant members of his staff and of the State Department were also distinctly opposed to partitioning Palestine. However, in an October 1947 meeting brokered by his friend Eddie Jacobson, Truman was finally convinced by Chaim Weizmann to support the partition initiative, rather than a U.N. trusteeship or a scaled-down partition plan (one that gave significant portions of Palestine to the Arabs).
As the vote approached, Truman aligned U.S. policy in support of partitioning. Initial polling of voting countries indicated that the resolution would not get the two-thirds majority necessary for ratification. Voting was pushed back several times as lobbying on both sides increased, even including the private threat of a rubber embargo of Liberia by the U.S. manufacturer Firestone. As late as the morning of November 29, achieving a two-thirds majority was still in doubt. However, the resolution did pass with a vote of 33 in favor, 13 opposed, 10 abstentions, and one absent. (A change of only three votes would have defeated the measure.) Countries that opposed the resolution were Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen. Eleven of the nations were Arab or Islamic countries, or had significant Muslim populations, while both Cuba and Greece were opposed to it based on disagreements with the United States.
But U.S. support of partitioning was also contingent on a peaceful existence between Jewish immigrants and their Arab neighbors, since Truman still did not want to use troops to support the Jews in Palestine. War broke out in December 1947, when Arab forces within the disputed territory of Israel, as well as neighboring countries, began fighting for every inch of land the Jews sought to claim. With very little support, and quite a bit of resistance from local and international sources, the fledgling State of Israel pushed forward with securing its proposed borders in advance of the May 14, 1948, deadline. But this very fighting, without the aid of U.S. troops, allowed Truman to continue his support for Israel, even if privately for the moment.
Opposition to Truman’s choice
Outside the land of Israel, political winds were shifting, sometimes for and sometimes against Israel’s fight. The divide between Truman and his State Department continued to widen after his support for the partition in November. One occasion in the months leading up to May 14 highlights this continuing rift. In March the
U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Warren Austin, announced publicly that the U.S. did not consider partitioning a viable option any longer, despite Truman’s support for the plan. Truman did not find out about this until the next day, and he did not react well. From Truman’s diary we read: “This morning I find that the State Department has reversed my Palestine policy… I’m now in the position of a liar and a double-crosser.” Further meetings with Weizmann in April 1948 resolved the issue personally for Truman, but still left the U.S. with a seemingly divided foreign policy regarding Palestine, since it had first supported partitioning but then publicly condemned it.
Truman was also personally informed, a month in advance, that the Jews in Palestine would announce the formation of the State of Israel promptly on May 14, 1948, at 6:00 pm Washington time. However, he kept decidedly quiet about it, not even informing the U.S. delegation to the U.N. or anyone in the State Department. On the evening of May 14, a letter was delivered to the President informing him of the State of Israel’s declaration of independence and asking for his recognition. The letter was received and signed shortly after 6:00 pm, though the actual announcement of official U.S. recognition of the State of Israel was delayed until
10:00 pm, when the U.N. was no longer in session. Upon hearing the news, U.N. Ambassador Austin resigned, and several countries harshly criticized the U.S. for what they saw as its duplicitous policy.
“In your mother’s womb”
However, it was not till the years following the official recognition of the State of Israel that we see more of the remarkable motivation behind Truman’s actions. In a 1949 meeting with Truman, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Isaac Herzog, told him, “God put you in your mother’s womb so you would be the instrument to bring about Israel’s rebirth after 2,000 years.” A witness to the meeting reports that: “On hearing these words, Truman rose from his chair and, with great emotion, tears glistening in his eyes, he turned to the Chief Rabbi and asked him if his actions for the sake of the Jewish people were indeed to be interpreted thus. Was the hand of the Almighty in the matter?” While this is a remarkable admission from a rabbi, it also shows what Truman thought of his own actions.
“I am Cyrus!”
Later, while visiting a Jewish theological seminary in New York, Truman was introduced by his friend Eddie Jacobson as “the man who helped to create the State of Israel.” Truman’s response is remarkable on its own merit but also because of the possible insight into Scripture. Interrupting Jacobson, Truman exclaimed, “What do you mean ‘helped create’? I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus!”
“This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me… I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty” (Isa 45:1-4,13).
“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you — may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem’ ” (Ezra 1:2).
While one might question whether Truman really fulfilled prophecy or not, Truman’s own motive is clear. Over the course of several years, while Israel’s very existence was being hotly debated, Truman battled his own mix of emotions and interests. These included support for the Jews, a touch of anti-Semitism, international politics, national concerns, personal friendships, contrary advisers, and a sense of his place in history and God’s plan. It is this last factor that shows just what the passages above might have meant to him.
The hand of God
For a brief moment, we may glimpse the hand of God at work in the world. Truman saw it in his own actions and marveled. In the end, however, all the presidents and prime ministers, all the kings and emperors, matter very little. God planned for the Jews to be gathered and restored to their own land. God set the stage and placed the pieces perfectly. He will continue to do so until the time of His Son’s return. By comparison, men’s plans are absolutely fleeting and inconsequential.
But God’s plans are eternal and steadfast. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, one of the prominent figures in the history of the world, and of Israel, testified:
“The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men… His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ ” (Dan 4:17,34,35).