TWO MEETINGS IN THE WHITE HOUSE:
DECEMBER 8, 1942, AND MARCH 5, 2012
By Eliyho Matz
The March 5, 2012, visit to the White House and the long conversation held there between the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the American President Barak Obama achieved what the American President set out to do with the politically pompous and religiously fanatic Israeli Prime Minister.
The atmosphere was calm, the official photo shoots looked good. The American President clearly stated his concerns in his warning to the Israeli Prime Minister not to do foolish things in order that the Middle East does not become engulfed in flames. Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to explain his position, doing so by first trying to clarify who he is, ideologically, religiously and politically. He used all the tricks nonsense ideology and emotional pressure, along with Israeli political naiveté, to explain to his audience of American Jews and the religious Israelis, via his lecture to President Obama, that Israel is a sovereign nation of the Jewish people, and therefore, that as a Jewish State Israel is entitled to take whatever measures it wants to express the Jewish religious feelings of the Jewish Israelis. All in all, Netanyahu said what he said, President Obama said what he said, and the world continues to do what it does best, that is, speculate about the meeting.
It is almost seventy years since another important meeting took place in the same White House. At that special meeting on December 8, 1942, the leader of the Free World, President Franklin D.Roosevelt, invited the entire American Jewish leadership to a meeting. Here, FDR, in American English, explained his stance, summarized as follows: America is well aware of the massacre of European Jewry (at that time it was estimated that 2.5 million Jews had already perished in Europe), and most important, with all sympathy, American is in a war to defeat the Nazis. Therefore, now, nothing can be done to save European Jewry.
One difference between the 1942 meeting with the American Jewish leadership and FDR, and the meeting in 2012 between Obama and Netanyahu, is that no official White House record is available from the 1942 meeting (I’m reasonably certain that this is not the case in 2012). In 1942, it was one of the Jewish leaders who left us an account of what transpired at that December meeting. His report of the meeting was totally unknown until I discovered it though my research at the end of the 1970’s, and published an article based on it in Midstream magazine (August/September 1980). The minutes, written by Adolph Held, the President of the Jewish Labor Committee, reflect his own first-hand impression of the meeting:
The meeting with the President was arranged for Tuesday, December 8,
1942, at 12 o’clock. We were originally notified that the President would give
us 15 minutes, but the conference lasted 29 minutes…
When we were seated, the President opened the conversation by saying: “I am a sadist, a man of extreme sadistic tendencies. When I appointed Governor Lehman as head of the new Office of Relief and Rehabilitation, I had some very sadistic thoughts in my head.
I know that Governor Lehman is a great administer, and I wanted a great administrator for this post. I had another thought in my mind, however. I had hopes that, when God spares my life and the war is over, to be able to go to Germany, stand behind a curtain and have the sadistic satisfaction of seeing some “Junkers” on their knees, asking Lehman for bread. And, by God, I’ll urge him to give it to them….
Rabbi Wise did not read the details of the committee’s statement but simply said: “Mr. President, we also beg to submit details and proofs of the horrible facts. We appeal to you, as head of our government, to do all in your power to bring this to the attention of the world and to do all in your power to bring this to the attention of the world and to do all in your power to make an effort to stop it.”
The President replied: “The government of the United States is very well acquainted with most of the facts you are now bringing to our attention. Unfortunately we have received confirmation from many sources. Representatives of the United States government in Switzerland and other neutral countries have given us proof that confirm the horrors discussed by you. [My emphasis – E.M.] We cannot treat these matters in normal ways. We are dealing with an insane man – Hitler, and the group that surrounds him represent an example of a national psychotic case. We cannot act toward them by normal means. That is why the problem is very difficult. At the same time, it is not in the best interests of the Allied cause to make it appear that the entire German people are murderers or are in agreement with what Hitler is doing. There must be in Germany elements, now thoroughly subdued, but who at the proper time will, I am sure, rise, and protest against the atrocities, against the whole Hitler system. [My emphasis, E.M.] It is too early to make pronouncements such as President Wilson made, may they even be very useful. As to your proposal, I shall certainly be glad to issue another statement, such as you request.”
The President turned toward the delegation for suggestions. All, except rabbi [sic] Rosenthal, put in suggestions. Mine was about the possibility of getting some of the neutral representatives in Germany to intercede in behalf of the Jews. The President took notice of that but made no direct replies to the suggestions. The entire conversation on the part of the delegation lasted only a minute or two. As a matter of fact, of the 29 minutes spent with the President, he addressed the delegation for 23 minutes.
…We rose from out seats, and as we stood up, the President said: “Gentlemen, you can prepare the statement. I am sure that you will put the words into it that express my thoughts. I leave it entirely to you. You may quote from my statement to the Mass-Meeting in Madison Square Garden some months ago, but please quote it exactly. We shall do all in our power to be of service to your people in this tragic moment.”
The meeting on December 8, 1942, as is well known, was the only meeting that FDR held throughout the war with the entire American Jewish leadership. That epic meeting in fact bore little fruit, and at least for a year’s time FDR did nothing to save a single Jew.
The meeting in 2012, seventy years later, gave Netanyahu another fine opportunity to evoke the Holocaust as a cause for President Obama to act to help the Israelis. The difference is that this time there exists a sovereign Israeli nation, established in 1948 with the help of the United States, that Netanyahu prefers to call a “Jewish State.” The Israeli nation, the same one that is no longer considered “Israeli” by Netanyahu, does have weaponry and an air force, and can defend itself. The fact that Netanyahu is not really sure how to do so, and has come to Washington to seek support for his half-baked ideas about Israeli security, is just a farce.
The solution to the Middle East problems does remain in the hands of the American President, but not in the way that Netanyahu is appealing for. What is needed here is for some logic to be applied. If done with cautious rationality, both nations can benefit. However, Netanyahu does not recognize that in 1948 a new nation of Israelis was born, yes, with Jews declaring and receiving recognition by the world community as a new Israeli nation. Sadly, Israel, as a modern nation, has been regressing in the last forty years vis-a-vis its Israeliness, and consequently Israel has become more and more a Rabbinical Jewish nation for its Jewish and non-Jewish population – ironically, a total betrayal of original Zionist principles. Israeli propaganda and politics have been incoherent as well as misleading. The fact that the American Jewish leadership has gone along with the Israeli propaganda is beyond my understanding. The current state of affairs in Israel today is the classical situation of a nation that has gone intellectually and politically insane; as an example of this, one need only look at the March 18, 2012, article in Ha’aretz in which A.B. Yehoshua epitomizes this confusion.
The cure will be, for Israel’s own national security, to declare itself an Israeli Republic with a written constitution for its Israeli inhabitants (not a constitution for American Jews or Jews of the world), and thus, try to resolve the political differences with the Palestinians. For his part, Barak Obama should call for the creation of a Middle East Block that will include all Middle East awakening nations. Perhaps thus, with American help, this Block of nations in inter-cooperation can build a future for themselves and the entire region.