Move over, Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, and Menachem Begin: it turns out that the man most responsible for the founding of Israel was, in fact, Franklin D. Roosevelt. This astonishing claim is being circulated by FDR partisans in a new effort to rescue their hero’s reputation in the Jewish world.
The depiction of Roosevelt as a Zionist hero, first presented in the 2006 book Saving the Jews, by divorce lawyer Robert Rosen, has recently been resurrected by Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman in their new book, FDR and the Jews. Both works emphasize the president’s rhetoric rather than his policies. Boilerplate pro-Zionist messages sent by Roosevelt to Jewish organizational events serve their narratives better then his actual policies regarding Palestine and Zionism.
The case made by Breitman and Lichtman also relies heavily on bit of curious reasoning: since a German conquest of Palestine would have resulted in the destruction of the Jewish community there, and since U.S. military equipment played a significant role in the Allied defeat of the Nazis in North Africa, thus stopping the Germans from reaching Palestine, therefore FDR’s approval of the transfer of that equipment means that if not for Roosevelt, there would have been “no Jewish state, no Israel,” as they put it.
At about the same time the Breitman-Lichtman book came out earlier this year, I happened to be doing some research at the Central Zionist Archives, in Jerusalem. There I came across new documents that illustrate the contrast between FDR’s public expressions of sympathy for Zionism and his behind-the-scenes coldness on the subject.