Jews, Catholics Bury the Hatchet…in Forrestal
Here is the text of an e-mail that I sent to Mr. James Barrens, the Executive Director of the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at St. Leo University in St. Leo, Florida, on October 15, 2004, with an open information copy to Rabbi Rudin concerning America’s first secretary of defense, James V. Forrestal. As of this date, October 23, 2004, I have received no response from either man.
Dear Mr. Barrens,
I would like to register my strong objection to a passage in a copyrighted 2003 article by Senior Religious Adviser Rabbi James Rudin of the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies. The article is "Truman's Anti-Jewish Sentiments Revealed in Diary," at http://www.centerforcatholicjewishstudies.org/Content/news/commentary_07_25_03.htm. (Now a dead link, but the organization still has its web site.
The objectionable passage is, "While some historians believe both Marshall and Forrestal harbored anti- Jewish sentiments, that character stain had never touched Truman."
It is most unscholarly, and I must say, most un-Christian, for anyone to contribute to the public spread of a "character stain"* by citing the supposed beliefs of "some" unnamed historians. It really amounts to little more than a slur that can hardly contribute to better understanding and improved relations between Christians and Jews.
I am not all that well-informed on George C. Marshall, but I do know quite a bit about that great Roman Catholic public servant, James V. Forrestal, and I can say with some certainty that the impression that Rabbi Rudin creates of Forrestal is flatly false.
Creating false impressions of Forrestal began with Forrestal's principled, patriotic objection to American sponsorship of the nascent state of Israel and has continued to the present time. The leaders in spreading the Forrestal calumnies in his day were the powerful columnists, Drew Pearson and Walter Winchell. In our own day we have polemicists like John Loftus and Mark Aarons, authors of The Secret War against the Jews: How Western Intelligence Betrayed the Jewish People. Maybe it was such non-historians as these that Rabbi Rudin was thinking of. In addition to repeating the untruths of others about Forrestal's supposed dementia and suicide attempts, with respect to his untimely death, they write: "To his many critics, it seemed that James Forrestal's anti-Jewish obsession had finally conquered him."
Did he have such an obsession? Loftus and Aarons certainly want us to think so. In their index we find under "Forrestal, James" the sub-category, "anti-Semitism of, 156-59, 177-80, 199, 208, 213-14, 327, 365." The primary evidence they give for the assertion are the business dealings of Forrestal's investment banking firm, Dillon, Read, with companies in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and Forrestal's opposition to the creation of the state of Israel, that is, his anti-Zionism. Nowhere do Loftus and Aarons tell us that founding partner of Dillon, Read, Clarence Dillon, who was Forrestal's boss, was Jewish. He was born Clarence Lapowski in San Antonio, Texas, in 1882, the son of an affluent clothing merchant. They also have passages like this: "Forrestal himself admitted that he thought that Jews were 'different, ' and he 'could never really understand how a non-Jew and a Jew could be friends.'" (p. 157)
The passage finds an echo in Neal Gabler's biography of Winchell: "Forrestal had never particularly liked Jews and, according to a friend, had never understood how Jews and non-Jews could be intimates. Now he took his anti-Semitism into public policy, arguing that a Jewish state in Palestine would needlessly antagonize Arabs and jeopardize oil supplies, that the Soviets would eventually be pulled into any Mideast crisis and that American troops would eventually have to defend the Jews there." (p. 385)
If the two books sound quite similar on this point it is because they have the same source, page 191 of Arnold A. Rogow's book, James Forrestal, a Study of Persoanlity, Politics and Policy. Turning to Rogow, we see that his source is not only anonymous, but Loftus-Aarons and Gabler have used the passage very much out of context:
"Here, perhaps, his views were a direct reflection of his background. While Forrestal was not an anti-Semite, his attitude toward Jews was characterized by much ambivalence. Although he maintained good relations with his New York and Washington associates who were Jewish, notably Bernard Baruch (At this point Rogow has a long footnote mainly expounding upon Baruch's great admiration for Forrestal.), his Defense Department legal aide Marx Leva, and Navy Captain Ellis M. Zacharias, he had difficulty accepting Jews as social equals. One of his Wall Street colleagues recalls that Forrestal thought Jews were 'different,' and he could never really understand how a non-Jew and a Jew could be friends. I remember an occasion when I was involved in his presence in an argument with a Jewish friend. At one point I got over-heated and I said something like 'you son-of-a-bitch.' Jim was shocked that I could talk that way to someone who was Jewish. He himself was always very reserved with people who were Jews. I think there was something about them he couldn't understand, or maybe didn't like." (pp. 191-192)
Or maybe not. Forrestal was also very reserved with people who were not Jews. What Rogow has given us here is clearly the very subjective impression of one man, on a very tricky subject. Others have expressed a very different view of Forrestal. Here are the words of the fervent Zionist James G. McDonald, America's first Ambassador to Israel. "He was in no sense anti-Semitic or anti-Israel nor influenced by oil interests. He was convinced that partition was not in the best interests of the U.S., and he certainly did not deserve the persistent and venomous attacks on him which helped break his mind and body. On the contrary, these attacks stand out as the ugliest examples of the willingness of politician and publicist to use the vilest means -- in the name of patriotism -- to destroy self-sacrificing and devoted public citizens." (quoted by Alfred M. Lilienthal in The Zionist Connection II: What Price Peace?, selection online at http://www.alfredlilienthal.com/zionchap12.htm)
And here is what the most recent Forrestal biographers, Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley have to say about Forrestal's presumed "anti-Jewish obsession" in Driven Patriot, the Life and Times of James Forrestal:
"Forrestal was not in any sense motivated by anti-Semitism. He had worked in harmony with many Jewish bankers and friends, both on Wall Street and in the government. In 1951, two years after Forrestal's death, Herbert Elliston, the editor of the Washington Post, wrote that the Zionist charge of anti-Semitism was 'absurd...no man had less race or class consciousness.' Robert Lovett wrote, ‘He was accused of being anti-Semitic. The charge is false. Here I can speak with sureness.’ Forrestal's Jewish assistant, Marx Leva, thought him 'patriotic, sensitive, intelligent, and just,' entirely sympathetic to the plight of the European Jews and their desire for a homeland, but unable to agree that that desire should be allowed to override every other national consideration. 'He was not anti-Semitic,' Leva said flatly. Anyone, however, who expressed doubts about the primacy of a Jewish homeland became a Zionist target. Middle East experts in the State Department, who were mainly pro-Arab, were denounced as 'anti-Semites.' The New York Times and its publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, were openly attacked when the newspaper in 1943 criticized Zionism as a 'dangerously chauvinist movement' not representative of mainstream Jewish opinion. The trouble was, as Dean Acheson later observed, that the Zionist position was propelled by a passionate emotionalism which virtually precluded rational discussion. Acheson had come 'to understand, but not to share, the mystical emotion of the Jews to return to Palestine and end the Diaspora,' for he saw that a realization of the Zionist goal would 'imperil not only American but all Western interests in the Near East.' By pressing the U.S. government to support a state of Israel, American Zionists were, in his view, ignoring "the totality of American interests." (pp. 390-391)
Cornell Simpson in his book, The Death of James Forrestal, puts it this way: “Others chose to tar Forrestal with anti-Semitism when they spotted a chance to distort his stand on the Palestine partition issue. Forrestal was not anti-Semitic; he had simply urged that Truman not play domestic politics with the Palestine question....” p. 162
I do not have the book handy, but Professor Jeffrey Dorwart of Rutgers University at Camden tells me that he addresses the false anti-Semitism charge in his book, Eberstadt and Forrestal, on page 157.
In short, the consensus of all living biographers of James Forrestal is that he was in no way anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. Those who would perpetuate that impression do a grave disservice to Forrestal's memory and to the public.
Neither Mr. Barrens nor Rabbi Rudin responded to my email, and no retraction was ever made of Rabbi Rudin's slander of James Forrestal. The offending article, however, can no longer be found on the Internet.
Originally posted on October 23, 2004, with an update on August 26, 2008.
It probably goes without saying that I never received a response from either Mr. Barrens or Rabbi Rudin. However, I believe that my efforts on behalf of the truth with respect to the reputation of James Forrestal have been fruitful. An Internet search of the terms “Forrestal anti-Semitic” now turns up almost exclusively sites that refute the charge. What remains are the well-refuted calumnies of Loftus and Aarons and an oddball by the name of Manfred R. Lehman who died in 1997. The main support for his charge is Forrestal’s principled opposition to the creation of the state of Israel in Palestine, and this quote:
His old-time anti-Semitism often came to light, as for example when he privately told Henry Wallace, Vice President under Franklin Roosevelt: "Jesus could not please the Jews when he was here on earth, I can't do it now."
In fact, that is a statement made by President Harry Truman to Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (See David McCullough Truman, p. 599). It would have been completely out of character for the very reserved and cautious Forrestal, who was also hardly on speaking terms with the pro-Zionist and Communist dupe Wallace.
I might also be faulted for having referred in my letter to Forrestal as a Roman Catholic, although he is generally identified as such. He was not a practicing Catholic at the time of his commitment to the Bethesda Naval Hospital, but gave strong indications of his desire to return to the faith of his upbringing shortly before his untimely death.
*Another topic worth discussing, which I did not address in my letter, is just what is meant by the expression “harbored anti-Jewish sentiments”and how that constitutes a “character stain.” I was raised as a Southern Baptist in North Carolina and almost everyone I knew could be said to have harbored anti-Catholic and anti-Yankee sentiments. By Rabbi Rudin’s standards, I suppose, that would make us all stained in character, unless, as is entirely possible, he reserves such a charge only for those whose negative feelings are toward Jews. In that case, we would have been, by his lights, all of sterling character because I can honestly say that I was well into my adulthood before I ever heard anything negative spoken to me about Jews. To us, Jews were mainly just characters in the Bible, some good and some bad, but mainly good. “Dorothy,” the serious Catholic in my previous article, would also likely be labeled as character-stained by Rabbi Rudin because she laments the fact that so many people who call themselves Jews are actually atheists and because she is distressed over their hostility toward Christianity.
Most of us are “anti” one group or another, particularly religious group. In fact, we are all actively encouraged by the molders of public opinion in the country to be anti-Muslim. But, apparently at this organization whose mission statement is, “Building mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation among Jews, Catholics, and all people of good will by providing opportunities for interfaith education and dialogue,” one group can be as reckless toward others as it wants while remaining uniquely protected itself.
September 11, 2013