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      Holbrooke Dies at 69, Exposed State Dept. Anti-Semitism

      US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who two years ago praised Truman for recognizing Israel despite State Department opposition, dies at the age of 69.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 12/14/2010, 2:32 PM / Last Update: 12/14/2010, 3:14 PM

      Richard Holbrooke, a key U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan who two years ago praised President Harry Truman for recognizing Israel despite State Department opposition, died at the age of 69 Monday.

      Holbrooke collapsed at the State Department on Friday, and he died after doctors operated on a torn aorta for more than 20 hours. He was most noted as chief negotiator at the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia.

      As President Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, his death “leaves the administration with a substantial hole to fill [and] is a significant blow to the Obama administration just days before it is scheduled to announce the latest review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan,” the London Guardian wrote.  

      Besides working for U.S. President Barack Obama, Holbrooke also was the American ambassador to the United Nations during the government of President Bill Clinton, who said that Holbrooke "saved lives, secured peace and restored hope for countless people around the world".

      Born to a mother whose family was Jewish, he grew up an atheist but an idealist. He was not prominently involved in American-Israeli relations, but in a column in the Washington Post two years ago, he wrote that President Truman should be admired for having recognized Israel as a state in 1948.

      His article also shed light on the deep animosity of the State Department towards Israel that has plagued Israeli governments ever since.

      “In the celebrations next week surrounding Israel's 60th anniversary, it should not be forgotten that there was an epic struggle in Washington over how to respond to Israel's declaration of independence on May 14, 1948,” Holbrooke wrote.

      “The British planned to leave Palestine at midnight on May 14. At that moment, the Jewish Agency, led by David Ben-Gurion, would proclaim the new (and still unnamed) Jewish state. The neighboring Arab states warned that fighting, which had already begun, would erupt into full-scale war at that moment.

      "The Jewish Agency proposed partitioning Palestine into two parts -- one Jewish, one Arab. But the State and Defense departments backed the British plan to turn Palestine over to the United Nations. In March, Truman {pictured) privately promised Chaim Weizmann, the future president of Israel, that he would support partition -- only to learn the next day that the American ambassador to the United Nations had voted for U.N. trusteeship. Enraged, Truman wrote a private note on his calendar, ‘The State Dept. pulled the rug from under me today. The first I know about it is what I read in the newspapers! Isn't that hell? I'm now in the position of a liar and double-crosser. I've never felt so low in my life. . . .’

      “To overrule State would mean Truman taking on Marshall, whom he regarded as ‘the greatest living American.’

      "Beneath the surface lay unspoken but real anti-Semitism on the part of some (but not all) policymakers. The position of those opposing recognition was simple -- oil, numbers and history. ‘There are thirty million Arabs on one side and about 600,000 Jews on the other,’ Defense Secretary Forrestal told [Clark] Clifford. ‘Why don't you face up to the realities?’

      “On May 12, Truman held a meeting in the Oval Office to decide the issue. Marshall and his universally respected deputy, Robert Lovett, made the case for delaying recognition -- and ‘delay’ really meant ‘deny.’ Truman asked his young aide, Clark Clifford, to present the case for immediate recognition.

      “In the next two days, Clifford looked for ways to get Marshall to accept recognition. Lovett, although still opposed to recognition, finally talked a reluctant Marshall into remaining silent if Truman acted. With only a few hours left until midnight in Tel Aviv, Clifford told the Jewish Agency to request immediate recognition of the new state, which still lacked a name. Truman announced recognition at 6:11 p.m. on May 14 -- 11 minutes after Ben-Gurion's declaration of independence in Tel Aviv. So rapidly was this done that in the official announcement, the typed words "Jewish State" are crossed out, replaced in Clifford's handwriting with "State of Israel." Thus the United States became the first nation to recognize Israel, as Truman and Clifford wanted.”

      Holbrooke added that despite the arguments and political considerations, “Israel was going to come into existence whether or not Washington recognized it. But without American support from the very beginning, Israel's survival would have been at even greater risk…. Truman's decision, although opposed by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, was the right one -- and despite complicated consequences that continue to this day, it is a decision all Americans should recognize and admire.”