The Times Says the Israel Lobby Doesn’t Go Back to Truman. What About Wilson?

Today the Times at last quotes Steve Walt fairly, in an article by Steve Erlanger and David Sanger about why Israel and the U.S. are joined in a war on terror from Gaza to Baghdad, and maybe on to Tehran.

Though, rest assured, the Times is careful to dismiss Walt and Mearsheimer’s paper on “The Israel Lobby” as an antisemitic canard:

Former Israeli ambassadors to Washington like Mr. Rabinovich, Mr. Arens and Mr. Shoval all scoff at the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis, which echoes criticisms of Jewish influence as far back as the presidency of Harry S. Truman.

Wait—why stop at Truman? Pro-Israel forces in the U.S. have played a crucial role in the life of the settlement and state, going back to the Wilson administration. Saying so doesn’t make you an Israel critic. It might even make you a dispassionate scholar:

1.Albert Lindemann (of UC Santa Barbara) in his book on antisemitism, Esau’s Tears:

Leading State Department professionals came to resent bitterly what they considered a Jewish power so great that It was able to contravene completely the established role of the State Department. A most striking case in point was the meeting in Washington, D.C., in May 1917 between [British foreign secretary] Balfour and Justice Brandeis [lately appointed the first Jew among the Supremes]. Although he was close to President Wilson, Brandeis had no official authority to speak on foreign relations. Nevertheless, he communicated to Balfour a strong American support for the ideas of Zionism. Historian Peter Grose has commented that “as an illustration of back-channel diplomacy at its most effective, the Balfour-Brandeis meeting was exceptional. A Foreign Minister seeking understanding on a delicate political issue turned not to his official opposite number, the Secretary of State, or even to the other foreign policy advisers known to be close to the president.” [Grose, Israel in the mind of America] Of course Balfour had every right, even obligation, to seek out spokesmen for American Jewry on such an issue. What is remarkable is that State Department officials, including the secretary of state, were totally ignored…

2. Melvin Urofsky and David W. Levy [of Virginia Commonwealth U. and Oklahoma U], in The Family Letters of Louis D. Brandeis:

Following the Balfour Declaration in November 1917, American Zionists pleaded with President Wilson formally to endorse the pledge that there would be a Jewish homeland in Palestine after the war. The State Department, however, adamantly opposed this request, pointing out to Wilson that the United States was not at war with the Ottoman Empire. Wilson finally decided to yield to Jewish requests and, without consulting the State Department, addressed a Jewish New Year’s greeting to the Jewish people through [Reform rabbi] Stephen Wise, dated 31 August 1918. In the letter Wilson approved the Zionist program…”

The fascination here is the extent to which the Balfour declaration of 1917 in England, granting a homeland to Jews in Palestine, and Wilson’s affirmation of it a year later, grew out of the only thing Jews had going for them then: access to power of highly-successful men of wealth or learning. In England it was the great chemist Chaim Weizmann. Here it was men like Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter (later to be appointed the third Jewish Supreme Court Justice) and Jacob Schiff, the N.Y. banker.

As for Truman, in 1948, C.L. Sulzberger of the Times met with David Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv, and the P.M. stated the need for an Israel lobby: The purpose of Israel is to “bring here all those Jews in the world who wish to come. That calls for a partnership between Israel and outside organizations, and all the Jews of the world must help.”

Call it a good thing or a bad thing, call it influence, help, a back-channel, requests, or a lobby. Call it anything you like; just don’t pretend that it is a fantasy.

The Times Says the Israel Lobby Doesn’t Go Back to Truman. What About Wilson?