Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Jew, a Baptist, Oklahoma and the State of Israel

"Before there were position papers, or parlor meetings, or a policy conference, before there was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), before there was the State of Israel, one man changed the course of history. His name was Eddie Jacobson."    Ron Cohen, President of AIPAC
Eddie Jacobson
Edward Jacobson was Harry Truman's life-long best friend. President Truman would say of Jacobson, "He was one of the finest men I ever had anything to do with."

Though Eddie and Harry grew up in Kansas City, they became friends in 1917 while living in Oklahoma and training with 129th Field Artillery, 60th Brigade, 35th Division, U.S. Army at Fort Sill, preparing to enter World War I.  Private Eddie Jacobson clerked for Lieutenant Harry Truman at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Harry wrote to his future wife Bess that he had “a Jew clerk” running his canteen and he was a “crackerjack.” The Baptist (Truman) and the Jew (Jacobson), turned their initial $2 investment into a $10,000 windfall. It was also at Fort Sill that Truman met Lieutenant James M. Pendergast, nephew of Thomas Joseph (Tom) Pendergast, a Kansas City political boss. This second friendship would have a profound influence on Truman's later political life when Harry S. Truman decided to enter local politics.

Eddie Jacobson (left) with President Truman
After the war had ended, Jacobson and Truman took their large earnings from the canteen, as well as their winnings from the occasional poker game, and they pooled their money to open a clothing store in downtown Kansas City called Truman & Jacobson Haberdashery (104 West 12th St., Kansas City, Missouri). The store would eventually go bankrupt, precipitating Harry Truman's entrance into politics, but Harry and Eddie remained life long friends. Eddie would be the one person who could walk into President Truman’s office uninvited.

Harry S. Truman became the unlikely President of the United States on April 12, 1945, following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. President Truman faced many important decisions while President, including the dropping of the atomic bomb. But no decision would have as profound of an influence on current world geopolitical concerns as the United States recognition of the new state of Israel.

That would have never happened without the fateful friendship and partnership that developed between Eddie Jacobson and Harry Truman while in Oklahoma.

In 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour expressed on behalf of the British government the belief that the Jews should have a homeland in Palestine. This public statement, which came to be known as The Balfour Declaration, opened the door officially to the modern Zionist Movement.

After World War II and the discovery that Nazi Germany tortured and killed over 6,000,000 Jews, the United Nations, on November 29, 1947, adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution), which would create both a Jewish State and a Palestinian State in the land of Palestine still under British control. The Brits agreed to pull their army out on May 14, 1948, and the new Jewish State and the new Palestinian State would be formed.

The Jews were ecstatic! The Arabs were furious. 

Everyone knew that war was on the horizon. Whom would the United States back Israel or the Arabs?

In 1948. Dr. Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, arrived in New York from London to meet with U.S. President Harry S. Truman. But Truman canceled the meeting. He was in no mood to discuss the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Truman was backing away from support of Israel.

The President was offended by the Zionists. Earlier in the year, an American Zionist delegation had met with him in the White House and demanded immediate action on behalf of the thousands of homeless Holocaust victims seeking refuge in a Jewish state.

When Truman's response fell short of their expectations, the visitors became adamant. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of Cleveland, OH literally pounded on the president's desk. Truman was outraged. "No one, but no one, comes into the office of the President of the United States and shouts at him, or pounds on his desk. If anyone is going to do any shouting or pounding in here, it will be me," and with that, Truman had them ushered out of the Oval Office. "I've had it with those hotheads," he told his staff. "Don't ever admit them again, and what's more, I also never want to hear the word Palestine mentioned again."

When Weizmann learned about the incident, he was devastated. "Who," he kept asking, "who could get the president to change his mind?" One name came up repeatedly: Truman's lifelong friend, Eddie Jacobson.

Because Jewish leaders in the U.S. knew Jacobson was a friend of the President, they approached him to lobby Truman on behalf of the new Jewish state. This request was difficult for Jacobson because he had never once asked his lifelong friend for anything, even when he became President of the United States. But because he was a Jew, and because he believed in a Jewish state for his people, Eddie Jacobson decided to leave his home in the middle of the night and travel to the White House. 

According to Truman's biographer David McCullough, Jacobson arrived at the White House and was escorted into the Oval Office through a private entrance to avoid the media. The president welcomed him warmly and pointed to a chair. Jacobson sat down. Truman asked about Eddie's family. (Truman had visited the Jacobson home frequently and, on occasion, had played piano duets with Eddie's daughter, Gloria.) Jacobson responded in kind, inquiring about Mrs. Truman and Margaret.'

"They're all fine. What brings you to Washington this time?"

"Harry, you know me. I'm no diplomat. I don't know how to beat around the bush. Please. I want you to talk to Dr. Weizmann."

"You what! I can't believe this. Despite my objection, you dare ask that I see Weizmann?"

"Well, Mr. President, at least I honored your request. I didn't mention Palestine."

Truman interrupted harshly. "Eddie, I'm fed up. I'm sick and tired of Zionists who think they can tell me what to do. They will eventually prejudice everyone trying to help them. They came in here and shouted at me, and made threats concerning the future political support of American Jews."

Placing both hands on his desk, Truman leaned forward and exclaimed, "If Jesus couldn't please them when he was on earth, how can you or anyone else expect me to have any luck?"

Listening to the president's outburst, Jacobson was dumbfounded. In all their years of friendship, no sharp words had ever passed between them; yet here was Harry Truman bellowing at him. At that moment Eddie Jacobson felt for the first time that his dear old friend was close to becoming anti-Semitic. He sat frozen in his chair, tears in his eyes.

Then Jacobson caught sight of a table with a miniature statue of General Andrew Jackson mounted on a horse, one of Truman's most prized possessions. Walking over to the statue, Jacobson placed one hand on Jackson's shoulder and reached out with the other to the president. In an almost inaudible voice he made a final plea.

"Harry! All your life you've had a hero. You probably know more about Andrew Jackson than anyone in America. I remember you were always reading about him. Then when you were county judge you had a new Jackson County Court House built in Kansas City, and you had a life-size statue of this very model cast and placed on the lawn in front of the courthouse. "Well, Harry, I too have a hero. A man I've never met, but a real gentleman and a great statesman. I'm talking about Chaim Weizmann. He is a very sick man. Yet he traveled thousands of miles just to see you and plead the cause of his people. Now you refuse to see him because you were insulted by some impudent American Zionists, even though you know that Weizmann had absolutely nothing to do with them. It doesn't sound like you, Harry. I thought you could take this stuff. I wouldn't be here if I didn't know that you would see him so you can be properly and accurately informed about the situation as it exists in Palestine."

When Jacobson finished, Truman didn't say a word; he turned and looked out over the Rose Garden. All Jacobson could see was the back of his friend's chair.

As they sat there in silence, Jacobson remembered Truman telling him about the time he spent two days alone, looking out another window, before making up his mind to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. "The longer we sat," Jacobson later recalled, "the more I prayed he wouldn't drop one on me!"

Then the stillness in the room was broken by the sound of Truman's fingers drumming on the arm of his chair. Slowly he turned around, stopped, looked directly into the eyes of his old friend, and said, "Okay. You baldheaded son of a bitch.... I'll see him."

Keeping his word, Truman invited Weizmann to the White House on March 18, 1948. During the
meeting the president assured Weizmann that he wished to see justice done in Palestine without bloodshed. If a Jewish state is declared, with or without United Nations affirmation, the United States would recognize it without delay, he promised.

On that same day, the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine reported its failure to arrange any compromise between Jews and Arabs. It recommended that the UN undertake a temporary trusteeship of Palestine.

Truman had promised both Jacobson and Weizmann that the U.S. would recognize a Jewish state if it were proclaimed. Yet, on March 19, 1948, Warren Austin, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, without the president's knowledge or White House clearance, announced on national radio that the American government opposed the partition of Palestine.

Truman quickly contacted Jacobson and Weizmann to reassure them that Austin had misrepresented the U.S. position. He wrote in his diary: "This morning I find that the State Department has reversed my Palestine policy. The first I know about it is what I see in the papers! Now, I am placed in a position of a liar and double-crosser. I never felt so low in my life. What is not generally understood is that the Zionists are not the only ones to be considered in the Palestine question. There are other interests that come into play, each with its own agenda. The military is concerned with the problems of defending a newly created small country from attacks by much larger and better trained Arab nations. Others have selfish interests concerning the flow of Arab oil to the U.S. Since they all cannot have their way, it is a perfect example of why I had to remember that 'The Buck Stops Here.'"

On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, read a "Declaration of
Independence" proclaiming the establishment of the State of Israel. Ben-Gurion was in a bunker in Tel-Aviv because he knew that five Arab nations would attack the moment Israel declared itself a state. Eleven minutes after reading the Declaration of Independence, the United States issued the following statement, signed by President Truman: "This government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the provisional government thereof. The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel." The United States and Russia became the first two nations to officially recognize the new State of Israel. 

The 1948 War of Independence began at midnight, May 15, 1948 when five Arab nations - Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon - attacked Israel. With only one tank and no airplanes, it is truly a modern miracle that Israel won the war.

But the State of Israel might never have been declared were it not for a Jew and a Baptist who formed their friendship in Oklahoma three decades earlier. 

Eddie Jacobson's grandson, Tulsa oilman Charles Shusterman, and Charles' wife, Lynn, established the Charles and Lynn Shusterman Family Foundation. The proceeds from this $5 billion dollar foundation goes to support Jewish (75%) and Oklahoma (25%) causes. 

The legacy of Eddie Jacobson lives on.

Courtesy of


Bob Cleveland said...

Love the story and the presentation! And I was 10 at this time and wish now I'd been more interested in all the history that was taking place all around us.

Unknown said...

Your interest and love of history definitely sparks my imagination and curiosity.
This is a story worth sharing!

Rex Ray said...

I believe Truman was one of the most honest presidents America has ever had.


Wade Burleson said...

Thanks, Bob and Gina - and Rex, I agree! An honest man of integrity!

RB Kuter said...

Thanks a lot for sharing this extraordinary insight into some of those hidden aspects of how Israel was re-established as an independent state. God's providence at work! Say what you will about all other political issues, but I'm so thankful that our country has a leader who unapologetically proclaims our allegiance with Israel. I believe this has a lot to do with God's blessing the US.

Rex Ray said...


I’m glad we had a different president when Wade’s group toured Israel as shown below. states:

“The White House’s decision last week to abstain from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution that demanded Israel stop settlement construction on occupied Palestinian territory infuriated Benjamin Netanyahu, further straining an already tense relationship between the Israeli prime minister and President Obama, according to ABC News.
In what is likely the final parting shot in a bitter political divorce, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly accused President Barack Obama of conspiracy.
The always candid and often cold relationship between the two has resulted in the worst U.S.-Israel dialogue in decades. Now Netanyahu says that he had “unequivocal proof” that Obama orchestrated an anti-Israel resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council in December.
These harsh words between old allies were the capper to Obama’s simmering passive-aggressive relationship with Israel which has only deteriorated during the eight years of his presidency.”

Joyous said...

Thank you for sharing this amazing story. It's like another version of the Esther story. Beautiful!