Truman’s persuasive Army pal

02/22/2014 12:00 AM

02/22/2014 10:12 PM

The role played by Eddie Jacobson, Kansas City men’s clothing retailer, in the 1948 diplomatic recognition of Israel remains cinematic.

In the early 1920s, he and his Army pal Harry Truman had presided over the failure of their downtown Kansas City haberdashery.

Fast-forward some 25 years.

They’ve stayed friends. In 1945, as president, Truman visits Jacobson in his Westport menswear shop.

In 1948, Jacobson visits Truman at the White House.

He asks Truman to receive Chaim Weizmann for a formal visit. The Zionist movement leader is eager to see the United States become the first nation to grant diplomatic recognition to Israel, which is preparing to declare its independence on May 14.

Jacobson, a member of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, has not been an especially ardent supporter of a Jewish state. But he responds to the requests of American Jewish leaders that he gain Truman’s ear.

Truman is resentful that Jacobson brings up the subject.

But Jacobson proves shrewd, noting on Truman’s desk a miniature statue of Andrew Jackson, one of Truman’s political heroes. Your hero is Jackson, Jacobson says.

Then he says his own hero is Weizmann.

Truman agrees to see Weizmann and, two months later, authorizes de facto recognition of Israel.

Jacobson’s intervention lends such momentum to the story that it’s tempting to conflate Truman’s resolve on the issue into that one episode.

But, as made clear in “Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict,” by John B. Judis, Truman’s evolution on the question was complicated. Truman at first opposed the creation of a Jewish state and instead attempted to promote other options, such as a federated Palestine with autonomous Jewish and Arab regions.

Zionist leaders disagreed, and Truman gave up that position.

Judis doubts that a federated Palestine would have been viable anyway.

“The only way it could have worked would have been if Truman had been willing to send American troops to Palestine to enforce it, and he was unwilling to do that,” he said recently.

By 1947, Judis said, “the Cold War was beginning, and Truman was worried he would have to use American troops in Europe and didn’t want them bogged down in Palestine.”

Judis speaks at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. For more information, go to

KCLibrary.org.

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