On February 1, 1944, two unlikely allies in the United States Senate—Robert Wagner (D-New York) and Robert Taft (R-Ohio)—introduced a resolution that caused shockwaves around the globe. Their initiative advocated American support for “free and unlimited entry of Jews into Palestine for the creation of a Jewish commonwealth.” This was a bold move and one that put the Roosevelt administration on the spot.
Nearly five years earlier, the British government had released a White Paper on the issue of Palestine—one that largely abandoned the Jewish people in that region. Since the 1917 Balfour Declaration and during the period of the British Mandate they had been largely supportive of Jewish migration to Palestine and the idea of a Jewish state there. In essence, the White Paper changed all of that. It advocated severe limitations on Jewish immigration to Palestine—this at a time when European anti-Semitism was reaching critical mass.
The gang in Berlin was pleased.
Interestingly, at the time of that 1939 White Paper, two men who would later strongly support the creation of the modern state of Israel saw things differently. Winston Churchill spoke to the House of Commons on May 22, 1939 “as one intimately and responsibly concerned in the earlier states of our Palestine policy,” and insisted that he would not “stand by and see the solemn engagements into which Britain has entered before the world set aside.”
And here at home, Senator Harry S. Truman from Missouri—who had no clue at the time that he’d be a major player on the world stage in a few years--also issued a forthright condemnation that was inserted into the Congressional Record:
“Mr. President, the British Government has used its diplomatic umbrella again,” (this being an unmistakable dig at Neville Chamberlain) “…this time on Palestine. It has made a scrap of paper out of Lord Balfour’s promise to the Jews. It has just added another to the long list of surrenders to the Axis powers.”
But instead of embracing the ideas put forth by Taft and Wagner in 1944, the White House, State Department and other powerful entities in the government pulled out all the stops to make sure that the idea of proposing a homeland in Palestine for Jews went away. They did this even though they knew very well about the ongoing mass extermination of European Jews at the hands of the Nazis.
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