Truman Statement on Immigration into Palestine Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In 1946, as the debate over whether Jews should be allowed to establish a homeland in Palestine raged, President Harry S. Truman advocated strongly in favor of the Jews' position. However, when a London conference on the issue abruptly ended without a clear series of recommendations for resolution, Truman issued a statement on the eve of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement in Judaism) expressing his disappointment about that conference's outcome. Truman reiterated his position that 100,000 displaced Jews should be allowed to immigrate to Palestine. He urged world leaders to endorse a peaceable solution to the Palestine issue and to create liberal immigration policies that would welcome Jews and other displaced groups to take up residence in their respective nations.

Summary Overview

In 1946, as the debate over whether Jews should be allowed to establish a homeland in Palestine raged, President Harry S. Truman advocated strongly in favor of the Jews' position. However, when a London conference on the issue abruptly ended without a clear series of recommendations for resolution, Truman issued a statement on the eve of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement in Judaism) expressing his disappointment about that conference's outcome. Truman reiterated his position that 100,000 displaced Jews should be allowed to immigrate to Palestine. He urged world leaders to endorse a peaceable solution to the Palestine issue and to create liberal immigration policies that would welcome Jews and other displaced groups to take up residence in their respective nations.

Defining Moment

When Adolf Hitler published his book Mein Kampf (1925, 1927), he outlined a personal philosophy that the Jews and other racial minorities were to be eradicated. Upon assuming power as chancellor (or Führer) of Germany in 1933, Hitler quickly moved to make this idea a reality. By 1945, about six million of Europe's nine-and-a-half million Jews (a 1933 estimate) had died as a result of the Holocaust, with hundreds of thousands more displaced before and during World War II. Most of the survivors moved to the Western Hemisphere, but a sizable population still sought refuge in Europe.

One option for them had been under consideration for decades. In 1917, Russian-born Zionist Chaim Weizmann convinced the British government to honor the Jews, who had supported Britain against the Turks during World War I, by calling for a Jewish state in Palestine. However, by the 1930s, Jews escaping Hitler's genocide began entering Palestine, inciting a political backlash from the Arabs living there. Because Arabs already enjoyed a strong relationship with Britain (which, after World War I, controlled the region), Great Britain withdrew its support of the Jewish state. Zionist coalitions, feeling betrayed by the British change of course, turned to the United States for support.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was supportive of the idea, particularly as the Holocaust showed the world the horrors to which the Jews were subjected. Near the end of World War II, Roosevelt's successor, Harry Truman, also showed great sympathy for the Zionist cause. He was, however, cognizant of the political risks of dividing Palestine into two distinct, autonomous states. In 1946, Truman worked with the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry to address the issue in two areas: first, the Palestine issue, and second, the travel arrangements for 100,000 Jews who would be taken there.

In the United States, Congress was increasingly in favor of the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine. However, the manner by which the state would be established—whether a singular, all-inclusive state or a divided nation (one for Jews, the other for Arabs)—could not be settled. Truman, himself an advocate of a single state, believed that the partitioned model invited conflict and war. In an election year, Truman made the difficult decision of turning down the partition plan in Congress. Nevertheless, he continued to call for a Jewish state, which would be essential to harboring the 100,000 Jewish refugees whose fate had yet to be decided.

In September 1946, a conference was held in London to bring a resolution to the Palestinian issue. However, the conference only lasted three weeks, as a large number of its participants looked to attend the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on October 23. The conference was adjourned abruptly, with its organizers planning to reconvene after the middle of December, though they did not ultimately meet again until February. Truman, in response, issued a statement in which he presented his thoughts on the adjournment and the issue as a whole.

Author Biography

Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884, in Lamar, Missouri. He spent most of his childhood living in Independence, Missouri, outside of Kansas City. He enlisted in the National Guard and served from 1905 to 1911, rising to the rank of captain by World War I. In 1922, he won election as judge in Jackson County, Missouri. In 1934, Truman was elected to the US Senate and won reelection in 1940. In 1944, he was nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt's running mate in the presidential election. In 1945, after Roosevelt's sudden death, Truman assumed the role of president, overseeing the end of World War II and introducing the Fair Deal domestic economic reform package. He won reelection in 1948, faced with the Cold War, and during this term helped form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). After his second term, Truman retired to Independence. He died on December 26, 1972.

Historical Document

I have learned with deep regret that the meetings of the Palestine Conference in London have been adjourned and are not to be resumed until December 16, 1946. In the light of this situation it is appropriate to examine the record of the administration's efforts in this field, efforts which have been supported in and not of Congress by members of both political parties, and to state my views on the situation as it now exists.

It will be recalled that, when Mr. Earl Harrison reported on September 29, 1945, concerning the condition of displaced persons in Europe, I immediately urged that steps be taken to relieve the situation of these persons to the extent at least of admitting 100,000 Jews into Palestine. In response to this suggestion the British Government invited the Government of the United States to cooperate in setting up a joint Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, an invitation which this Government was happy to accept in the hope that its participation would help to alleviate the situation of the displaced Jews in Europe and would assist in finding a solution for the difficult and complex problem of Palestine itself. The urgency with which this Government regarded the matter is reflected in the fact that a 120-day limit was set for the completion of the Committee's task.

The unanimous report of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry was made on April 20, 1946, and I was gratified to note that among the recommendations contained in the Report was an endorsement of my previous suggestion that 100,000 Jews be admitted into Palestine. The administration immediately concerned itself with devising ways and means for transporting the 100,000 and caring for them upon their arrival. With this in mind, experts were sent to London in June 1946 to work out provisionally the actual travel arrangements. The British Government cooperated with this group but made it clear that in its view the Report must be considered as a whole and that the issue of the 100,000 could not be considered separately.

On June 11, I announced the establishment of a Cabinet Committee on Palestine and Related Problems, composed of the Secretaries of State, War, and Treasury, to assist me in considering the recommendations of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. The alternates of this Cabinet Committee, headed by Ambassador Henry F. Grady, departed for London on July 10, 1946, to discuss with British Government representatives how the Report might best be implemented. The alternates submitted on July 24, 1946 a report, commonly referred to as the “Morrison plan,” advocating a scheme of provincial autonomy which might lead ultimately to a bi-national state or to partition. However, opposition to this plan developed among members of the major political parties in the United States—both in the Congress and throughout the country. In accordance with the principle which I have consistently tried to follow, of having a maximum degree of unity within the country and between the parties on major elements of American foreign policy, I could not give my support to this plan.

I have, nevertheless, maintained my deep interest in the matter and have repeatedly made known and have urged that steps be taken at the earliest possible moment to admit 100,000 Jewish refugees to Palestine.

In the meantime, this Government was informed of the efforts of the British Government to bring to London representatives of the Arabs and Jews, with a view to finding a solution to this distressing problem. I expressed the hope that as a result of these conversations a fair solution of the Palestine problem could be found. While all the parties invited had not found themselves able to attend, I had hoped that there was still a possibility that representatives of the Jewish Agency might take part. If so, the prospect for an agreed and constructive settlement would have been enhanced.

The British Government presented to the Conference the so-called “Morrison plan” for provincial autonomy and stated that the Conference was open to other proposals. Meanwhile, the Jewish Agency proposed a solution of the Palestine problem by means of the creation of a viable Jewish state in control of its own immigration and economic policies in an adequate area of Palestine instead of in the whole of Palestine. It proposed furthermore the immediate issuance of certificates for 100,000 Jewish immigrants. This proposal received wide-spread attention in the United States, both in the press and in public forums. From the discussion which has ensued it is my belief that a solution along these lines would command the support of public opinion in the United States. I cannot believe that the gap between the proposals which have been put forward is too great to be bridged by men of reason and good-will. To such a solution our Government could give its support.

In the light of the situation which has now developed I wish to state my views as succinctly as possible:

1. In view of the fact that winter will come on before the Conference can be resumed I believe and urge that substantial immigration into Palestine cannot await a solution to the Palestine problem and that it should begin at once. Preparations for this movement have already been made by this Government and it is ready to lend its immediate assistance.

2. I state again, as I have on previous occasions, that the immigration laws of other countries, including the United States, should be liberalized with a view to the admission of displaced persons. I am prepared to make such a recommendation to the Congress and to continue as energetically as possible collaboration with other countries on the whole problem of displaced persons.

3. Furthermore, should a workable solution for Palestine be devised, I would be willing to recommend to the Congress a plan for economic assistance for the development of that country.

In the light of the terrible ordeal which the Jewish people of Europe endured during the recent war and the crisis now existing, I cannot believe that a program of immediate action along the lines suggested above could not be worked out with the cooperation of all people concerned. The administration will continue to do everything it can to this end.

Document Analysis

Even prior to his first term as president, Harry Truman had a reputation as a Zionist advocate. Truman and the rest of the international community had an opportunity to reach this goal at the end of World War II, as millions of refugees (a large number of whom were Jewish) sought safe havens after years of Nazi persecution. However, Truman was surprised and disappointed to learn that the international community could not come to an agreement on whether to allow 100,000 Jewish refugees to immigrate to Palestine. On the eve of Yom Kippur, Truman issued this statement, underscoring his commitment to peaceably enabling Jewish refugees to settle in the predominantly Arab region.

Truman begins his statement by expressing regret that the September Palestine Conference in London adjourned with no resolution and would not reconvene until the winter. Truman suggests that such an impasse undid the groundwork that he and other leaders laid over the course of decades. The preceding year, he says, Earl Harrison (the US representative of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees and dean of the University Pennsylvania Law School) issued a moving report depicting the plight of the Jews immediately after the Holocaust. Given the treatment the Jews had received by the Nazis and their continuing misery, Truman and the British government looked to relieve at least some of this suffering by giving 100,000 Jews entry into Palestine. As part of a bilateral commission, the US and British governments worked to generate attention about the Jews; Truman says that that commission's report suggested that these 100,000 refugees and their potential entry into Palestine could not be made a separate issue from the larger issue of postwar refugees.

Truman acknowledges, however, that the notion of moving a large number of Jews into the predominantly Arab area of Palestine was politically charged. The initial plan, dubbed the Morrison plan, entailed the division of Palestine into either two federated parts or two autonomous states. Truman says that although he supports the Morrison plan in theory, neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party in Congress would agree to such a plan. He, therefore, begrudgingly abstains from supporting it. Nevertheless, he says, he will continue to advocate for the Palestine option. Other versions of the Morrison plan still existed, each of which calling for a Jewish state in Palestine and for the immigration of Jewish refugees to that state. Such proposals received a great deal of attention from the media and political leaders, he adds, ensuring that the issue itself remained highly relevant.

He argues that the US and other governments should liberalize their immigration policies to give safe haven to Jews and other wartime refugees. Second, according to him, the Palestine proposal should be immediately revisited and settled. Given the experiences of the Jews before and during the war, Truman says, it was only right that they be given prompt attention.

Essential Themes

President Harry Truman's statement served as a reiteration of his position on the plight of Europe's Jews. Truman expressed disappointment that the London conference adjourned without resolution. Keenly aware of the reports that came out of German-occupied territories before and during the war, Truman reiterated his call for to allow 100,000 Jewish refugees to enter and live in Palestine as well as the liberalization of international immigration policy to address the broader refugee crisis.

Truman used the opportunity to summarize the work that he, the US government, and their counterparts in Great Britain had performed to date in order to resolve this issue. He stated that there appeared to be forward momentum on the matter, particularly as the world was becoming increasingly aware of and sympathetic toward the plight of the Jews. However, he acknowledged, there were political forces at work that impeded the process. At home, during an election year, there was congressional partisanship with which to contend; Truman knew that were his effort to succeed, he needed not only congressional support, but the support of the voters as well. Internationally, the landscape was also challenging: the Arabs had successfully lobbied against the effort before, and the pressure was on the president to encourage a peaceful, diplomatic solution that would ensure that both Arabs and the increasing Jewish population would live in peace. Regardless how the Palestine concept would take shape—whether as a single state or as a binational state—it was imperative to address the refugees' welfare promptly.

The decisions made at that time continue to have resonance in the twenty-first century. The Palestinians were ultimately promised a state of their own, alongside that established for the Jewish people, Israel. However, wars soon ensued between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the contentious debate over the “one-state solution” and the “two-state solution” remains.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Benson, Michael T. Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel. Westport: Greenwood, 1997. Print.
  • “Jewish Population of Europe in 1945.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 20 Jun. 2014. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.
  • Judis, John B. “Seeds of Doubt: Harry Truman's Concerns about Israel and Palestine Were Prescient—and Forgotten.” New Republic. The New Republic, 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.
  • “London Conference on Palestine Suddenly Adjourns until after U.N. General Assembly.” JTA. Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 2015. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.
  • McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon, 2003. Print.
  • “The Recognition of the State of Israel.” Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, 2014. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.
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