As I wrote earlier today, most Israelis are unimpressed with the Obama administration’s Jewish charm offensive which is aimed at convincing Jews that the president’s first three years of fights with the Jewish state was a figment of our collective imagination. But the fact that three quarters of Israelis don’t seem him as friend isn’t stopping the Democratic campaign from doubling down on this push. Predictably, Vice President Joe Biden, a man for whom hyperbole is as natural as breathing, is taking this effort to extremes. While, as Alana noted, most of Biden’s foreign policy address at New York University yesterday was devoted to trashing Mitt Romney, one passage in which he waxed lyrical about the president’s devotion to Israel deserves our notice. In it, he not only exaggerated Obama’s record in terms of helping Israel, he went way out on a rhetorical limb and declared, “no president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama.”
As I have written previously, there is a case to be made for Obama as a friend of Israel or at least not a foe. But Biden’s taking credit for the Iron Dome missile defense system without noting that the project was conceived, initiated and funded first by the Bush administration is absurd. His claims about Obama’s efforts to isolate Iran have a leg to stand on but may also be undermined by the fact that the diplomatic process the president has embarked on is more likely to lead to a result that will please Iran than Israel. But by claiming that Obama is a better friend to Israel than any president since Truman — and that includes men like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush who were ardent friends of Israel — the vice president is making an assertion that is so detached from reality that it boggles the mind. Yet even as we sort out this piece of hyperbole it should also be pointed out that the comparison with Truman is not as flattering as Obama’s fans might think.
President Truman is rightly revered by friends of Israel for his courage in standing up to the foreign policy establishment when he chose to support the partition of Palestine into one Jewish state and one Arab state in 1947. He also bucked the State Department and his Secretary of State, General George Marshall, a legendary figure whom Truman practically idolized, when he famously became the first to recognize the newborn State of Israel on May 15, 1948. These acts, which help set in motion the process whereby Israel joined the community of nations were of inestimable help to Israel and for doing so he is rightly honored as among the great friends of the Jewish people in the 20th century.
But to claim, as Biden did, that Truman aided Israel’s security more than his successors — or did anything in that regard — is simply not true.
It is generally forgotten but prior to the Six Day War, the United States offered little aid to Israel of any sort. John F. Kennedy was the first president to authorize the sale of weaponry to Israel when he okayed a limit package of anti-aircraft equipment. It was only after 1967 that Washington began to look at Israel as a strategic asset and Lyndon Johnson helped lay the foundation for the alliance that blossomed under Ronald Reagan and was strengthened in turn by each successive administration.
As for Truman, as much as his diplomatic support was important, the United States never lifted a finger to help Israel during the life and death struggle of its War of Independence when approximately one percent of its population was killed. No arms were given or sold to Israel nor did the United States use its superpower clout to stop the Arab nations that invaded the new Jewish state on the date of its birth. In terms of its security situation, Israel was on its own during that war. Though Truman certainly wished it well, something that could not be said of his State Department, he was merely a bystander as the besieged and bombed new country fought for its existence.
Indeed, in a touch of historical irony that is rarely appreciated, it might be said that the Soviet Union did more for Israel’s security in 1948 than the United States since it allowed its Czech satellite to sell vital arms and ammunition to the Jews that it could not obtain from any Western source. It was those guns and bullets and not Truman’s telegram of recognition that saved Israel on the battlefield. Indeed, as Israeli veterans of that conflict will invariably point out, it was the sacrifice of thousands of Jewish youngsters — the “Silver Platter” immortalized in verse by poet Natan Alterman — that secured the Jewish state, not the words of diplomats.
In the years after the War of Independence, Truman offered Israel no assistance and, despite his goodwill, it often found itself isolated in the diplomatic world with even the U.S. calling for it to retreat from the 1949 armistice lines to accommodate the Arabs.
As for Obama, it must be said that Truman did far less than the current resident of the White House for Israel’s security. But as far as the Israelis are concerned the question is whether, like Truman, he will stand by and watch passively, if their lives are placed in jeopardy. That is hardly a comparison that Biden or any other Democrat should wish to make.