Dennis Ross
Dennis RossUri Lenz/Flash 90

Dr. Medoffis founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His latest is America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, published by the Jewish Publication Society & University of Nebraska Press.

Hamas has built “a labyrinth of tunnels under Gaza, as wide as a city,” CNN reported on October 14. The tunnels were used to facilitate the Hamas pogrom, and the 200 Israelis whom Hamas kidnapped probably are being held there.

So how did Hamas acquire the cement, despite Israel’s blockade of such materials?

Apparently Hamas had some help from former U.S. Mideast envoy Dennis Ross—according to Ross himself.

Ross has been appearing as an expert commentator on major media outlets in recent days, including on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” on October 8, CNN’s “Amanpour and Company” on October 13, and Fox News on October 14, among others.

Yet Ross did not think it was relevant to mention in any of those interviews that he himself pressured Israel to let Hamas obtain the cement—a role he admitted in a Washington Post op-ed on August 8, 2014.

In the op-ed, Ross described how, as a U.S. envoy, he urged Israel to allow Hamas to import cement even though he knew, at the time, that Hamas had been using cement for military purposes.

“At times,” he wrote in the Post, “I argued with Israeli leaders and security officials, telling them they needed to allow more construction materials, including cement, into Gaza so that housing, schools and basic infrastructure could be built. They countered that Hamas would misuse it, and they were right.”

In the 1930s, Americans were divided about permitting U.S. exports to another terrorist regime, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt maintained trade with the Nazis, arguing that the persecution of the Jews in Germany was none of America’s business.

But Jewish organizations, and many other Americans, participated in a boycott of German goods. One noted supporter of the boycott was the mayor of New York City, Fiorello La Guardia.

In 1935, the city’s Bridge Authority purchased five hundreds tons of sheet steel from Nazi Germany, in order to build the Triborough Bridge.

La Guardia learned of the deal while bedridden at Mount Sinai Hospital after a painful attack of sciatica. But he did not let his illness deter from him intervening.

In a telegram to Bridge Authority chairman Nathan Burkan, the mayor announced that he did not want that “damned steel” in his city. “The only commodity we can import from Hitlerland now is hatred,” La Guardia declared, “and we don’t want any in our country.”

Technically, the Bridge Authority was an independent agency that did not require the mayor’s approval for its construction purchases, but the mayor found grounds to block the deal: he bore responsibility for New Yorkers’ safety, and he could not vouch for the reliability of Hitler’s steel. He wrote to Burkan: “I cannot be certain of its safety unless I first have every bit and piece of German made material tested before used.” He added, in German: “Verstehen Sie [Do you understand] ?”

La Guardia took his share of heat for his one-man campaign against Hitler Germany. Six thousand German-Americans held a rally in New York City and pledged to vote him out of office. Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels threatened to bomb New York City. Secretary of State Cordell Hull complained that La Guardia’s actions were harming German-American relations.

The mayor was not fazed. “I run the subways and [Hull] runs the State Department–except when I abrogate a treaty or something,” he declared in classic La Guardia style.

One dissenter within the Roosevelt administration regarding Nazi Germany was the secretary of the interior, Harold Ickes.

In late 1937, President Roosevelt approved the sale of helium to power Germany’s Zeppelin airships, telling Congress it was “sound national policy” for the United States to be “a good neighbor” to Germany.

After initially supporting the sale, Secretary Ickes reversed himself in the wake of Hitler’s annexation of Austria in March 1938. That aggression proved it would be dangerous to provide the Nazis with a gas that was “of military importance,” Ickes declared. News of the dispute leaked to the press. A number of members of Congress then publicly opposed the sale, and mail to the White House ran heavily against it as well.

At a White House conference between Roosevelt, Ickes, and the administration’s legal experts in May, the solicitor general informed the president that the sale could not go forward without the interior secretary’s approval.

But FDR refused to give up. At a cabinet session two days later, the president again pressed Ickes to support the sale; Roosevelt was backed by all but two of the cabinet members. (Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. said nothing).

FDR suggested he could relieve Ickes of responsibility by giving him a letter stating it was Roosevelt’s “judgment, as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, that this helium was not of military importance.” Ickes still refused to budge.

It’s a pity that statesmen of the caliber of La Guardia or Ickes weren’t around when Dennis Ross was urging Israel to let Hamas import cement. One suspects they would have offered very different counsel.

First published by the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles