Wendell Willkie—the President Who Might Have Been—and the Jews

As the Republican presidential nominee in 1940, Wendell Willkie opposed the isolationist stance that dominated both parties at the time. Willkie lost the election to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who then made him a sort of informal ambassador at large. In this capacity he visited Palestine, met with Jewish and Arab leaders, and criticized the British government there. Reviewing a new biography of Willkie by David Levering Lewis, Elliot Jager considers this now-forgotten statesman’s attitude toward Jews and Zionism and wonders what a Willkie presidency would have meant for Jewish history:

Willkie backed the Committee for a Jewish Army, [which during World War II sought to raise a force] to fight Hitler. He sided with the American Zionist Emergency Council in its campaign against the 1939 White Paper, [which effectively reversed the Balfour Declaration]. He supported a 1943 congressional resolution that would have urged FDR to effectuate a plan to save European Jewry (it did not pass). In 1944, when U.S. newspapers disgracefully printed very little about the destruction of European Jewry, Willkie agreed to lend his name to the American Jewish Conference’s National Committee against Nazi Persecution and Extermination of the Jews.

Willkie was generally sympathetic to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. . . . He leaves me thinking he would have also been “good for the Jews.”

Meantime, the Jews hero-worshipped Franklin D. Roosevelt. [But] before the war FDR sidestepped conflict with the powerful isolationist camp. He abetted the British in keeping the gates of Palestine closed to Jews. No less egregiously, he refused to allow Jews desperate for asylum into the U.S. And during the war, FDR found imaginative ways of not getting in the way of Hitler’s industrialized destruction of European Jewry. From Evian in 1939 to Bermuda in 1943, the Roosevelt administration was resolute in not rescuing Hitler’s victims.

[I]n May 1939, Roosevelt denied asylum to 937 Jewish passengers aboard the St. Louis seeking to escape Germany. Willkie would later tell a campaign rally, “We have been sitting as spectators to a great tragedy.”

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Read more at Jager File

More about: American Jewry, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Holocaust, Israeli history, U.S. Politics

 

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf