When I as a high school student at Akiba Hebrew Academy in Philadelphia in the 1960’s, our high school history teacher, Dr. Harold Gorvine, did everything that he could to make history come alive for us- which including examining the documents and first drafts of the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, readily available at the U of Penn library.
We would also partake in role playing activities, where everyone in class would play a different character when we wanted to understand how decisions were made in history.
One of those role playing classes involved the debate over the US decision to recognize Israel, and the pressures that the Zionist leadership bore on the Truman Administration at the time.
One of the speakers that Dr. Gorvine brought to “brief” our class was Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, then an esteemed scholar at Philadelphia’s Dropsie University.
Prof. Netanyahu explained to us about his role in showing how the Zionist movement did indeed show Truman how it could influence the US elections, by telling us how he had mobilized American Jews pressure Truman during the 1946 midterm congressional elections.
Prof. Netanyahu was then the head of the Revisionist Zionist movement in the USA.
The trigger for Prof. Netanyahu was the Mufti of Jerusalem,Haj Amin el-Husseini, who had worked with Hitler throughout World War II.
The Mufti had signed a pact with Hitler in 1941 to assure mutual cooperation in the mass murder of the Jews, receiving Hitler’s promise to help the Mufti create a “Juden Rein” Palestine.
Testimony at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials cited the Arabic language radio tirades of the Mufti and the Mufti’s active involvement in the training of an Islamic unit of the Waffen SS in the Balkans, and the pressure that the Mufti brought to bear on the Nazis not to ransom Jews, but only to kill them.
However, the Mufti was only convicted of war crimes in absentia at Nuremberg: He somehow managed to escape to Cairo.
What Prof. Netanyahu told our class was that the Zionists were upset there was no US pressure on the UK, then in control of Egypt, to apprehend the Mufti, who would live on to inspire the Arab League’s war to exterminate the new State of Israel
The Mufti would also live to inspire his young relative and protégé, Yassir Arafat, to forge the PLO and its covenant, also dedicated to exterminating the state of Israel.
In an interview with HaAretz in December 1996, Arafat’s younger brother and sister described how the Mufti was of seminal influence on him, and that Arafat saw the Mufti as a surrogate father.
Prof. Netanyahu told our class how his movement took out ads in the papers and encouraged Jewish voters to register a protest vote against Truman in the midterm congressional elections in 1946.
And he told us that there were those who ascribed the Republican victory in the 1946 congressional elections to that Jewish pressure.
Until a few months ago, I had never seen any documentation of this episode.
However, on January 26, 2012, while I was on a visit to the US, historian Dr. Rafael Medoff published an article in the JTA, where he documented how the American Zionist Emergency Council sent the State Department a 13-page memo urging the United States to indict the mufti and how Prof. Netanyahu had taken out ads in major US newspapers, headline, “The Mufti Must Be Brought to Trial!” while featuring a photograph of Husseini meeting with Hitler.
Dr. Medoff confirmed that the Truman administration had indeed ignored the protests and that this “contributed to the Republican landslide in the 1946 midterm congressional elections (including the election of the first Republican senator from New York in 30 years) and the shocking defeat of Truman’s candidate in a congressional election in New York City in early 1948”.
Dr. Medoff concluded that “these developments doubtless had a profound impact on Truman. Fear of losing Jewish votes to the Republicans moved Truman to endorse the idea of a Jewish state in 1946, when he heard Dewey was about to do so; to support the 1947 U.N. partition plan, when his advisers told him failure to do so would cost him “two or three pivotal states” in the 1948 presidential election; and surely influenced his decision in May 1948 to recognize the newborn State of Israel”.
This week, as Israel’s prime minister mourns the loss of his father, the historian Prof. Ben Zion Netanyahu, it would be fair to say that Prof. Netanyahu not only wrote history – he made history.