It is May 14th, 1948—exactly 70 years ago on the Hebrew calendar—and U.S. President Harry Truman comes into the Oval Office. He summons his trusted aide, Clark Clifford, who had been advocating for the President to recognize the soon-to-be declared State of Israel. However, Truman was under tremendous pressure from the State Department to refuse any formal recognition of Israel.
They were convinced that the 34,000,000 Arabs would destroy the 500,000 Jews in a matter of days. To allow Israel to be a nation would be potentially signing the death warrants of a half million people.
However, Truman told Clifford that he was leaning towards recognition, but wanted to wait a few days. Clifford’s heart sank. That would be too late. Boldly, he declared, “Mr. President, if we are going to recognize the country, it’s best we do it immediately.”
Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president and most prominent pre-nation diplomat had become friends with President Truman. Just days before, Truman had received a letter from Weizmann pleading with him for immediate recognition of the new nation. No doubt Truman was thinking of his friend when he blurted out, “Alright Clark, get a formal request for recognition immediately.”
Clifford straightaway called the head of the Jewish Agency to confirm that they were indeed planning to declare independence later that day. “I haven’t the slightest doubt,” came the reply.
“Then send me a letter immediately, requesting United States recognition,” declared the excited Clifford.
Eliahu Elat, the head of the Jewish Agency, was stunned. He was speechless. When he finally found his voice, he said, “I’ll send it by messenger right away.”
But there was a problem—as they were writing the letter, they realized, they did not know the name of the Jewish nation. The Jewish National Council (JNC) in the Holy Land had not yet decided. So they wrote,
“Dear Mr. President,
“I have the honor to notify you that the Jewish State has been proclaimed as an independent republic…”
Harry Zinder was given the letter and told to rush it over to the White House and give it to Clark Clifford.
Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, the JNC had gathered. They were never all in the same place at one time, lest the Arab forces could take them all out in one strike. But this was different—this was the Declaration of Independence. They gathered for a secret meeting in a Tel Aviv museum. They did not even want the British (who still controlled the region until midnight) to know, for fear they would shut it down.
The text of the declaration was with Ze’ev Sherf, who, after taking care of transportation for everyone else, forgot to arrange a ride for himself to the ceremony. He flagged down a car, which refused to take him. However, Sherf would not take no for an answer. On the way, they were pulled over for speeding and had to explain to the police officer that he was carrying the Declaration of Independence text!
He arrived at 3:59. The ceremony started at 4:00pm. They had to finish before the Sabbath. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion rose to the microphone and the State of Israel was declared!
“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the Bible.
“After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.
Accordingly we, the representatives of the Jewish community of the Land of Israel, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British mandate over the Land of Israel…hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”
Israel was reborn after more than 2,000 years.
When news came to the US that the name of the new nation was Israel, Elat sent his secretary to run down Zinder. She caught him before he entered the White House. Zinder, after learning of the name that had been chosen, took out the document, and with a pen, crossed out the words, “the Jewish State” and wrote by hand, “State of Israel.”
President Truman wrote:
“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 State of Israel.”
You can see in the picture of the President’s response, they did some editing themselves. This shows that the letter had already been written before Israel was declared.
Now, fast forward 70 years. Today, we celebrate 70 years of the rebirthed nation of Israel. Only God could have gathered the Jewish people back to her homeland, and only God could have protected us these 70 years, surrounded by our increasingly violent neighbors.
This article originally appeared on Messiah’s Mandate, April 19, 2018, and reposted with permission.