In his first mission as Israel’s president, Chaim Weizmann met with President Harry Truman at the White House on May 26, 1948, and presented Truman with a Torah in a ceremony in the Rose Garden as a symbol of friendship between the American and Israeli peoples. “I always wanted one,” Truman said.
The purpose of Weizmann’s meeting was to ask the president to lift the arms embargo on Israel, which he said was urgent. He later told the press that Israel needed tanks, planes, and anti-tank guns. He also criticized the British for training and supporting Transjordan’s Arab Legion (which was also led by a British officer). “It is almost inconceivable,” Weizmann said. “‘that Jerusalem’ should be invaded by Arab hordes led by a Christian nation.”
Weizmann also requested a loan of $90,000,000-$100,000,000 for purchasing arms and to bring 15,000 displaced persons to Israel from Germany each month. He said, “These displaced persons have been in camps for several years and the American and French authorities are anxious to see them settled. We want to bring them in with dignity and honor.”
Details of Weizmann’s request are in an aide-mémoire he gave to the president.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Weizmann came away from the interview with the impression that his pleas had not been in vain, although some time would elapse before the United States Government would act on either matter.”
Regarding the loan, which he called small by American standards, Weizmann said Truman told him there shouldn’t be a problem because the Jews paid their debts.
At a press conference, Weizmann said: “I tried to explain that it was essential to our safety to lift the arms embargo.” Her received no commitment but said he “left with some sort of hope that we might achieve this at some later date.”
When asked about a truce, he said that if the Arabs agreed, Israel was prepared to evacuate Jaffa, “which doesn’t belong to us,” and Acre, which was both to be part of the Arab state according to the partition plan.
Because of an illness, Weizmann was not asked to stand up for the press conference, and photographers took pictures without a flash because he was having trouble with his eyes and wore dark glasses.
The same day, the New York Times reported that the British were “virtually despairing…finding common ground with the United States on the Palestine issue.” They also objected to the U.S. providing a loan of arms to Israel because it “played into the hands of extremists.” The British claimed King Abdallah’s forces were only in Jerusalem because “he had to placate his extremists.”
The same day as their meeting, Weizmann wrote a thank you letter to the president and asked him to consider another matter of importance, the exchange of diplomatic representatives.
Despite Weizmann’s optimism, the U.S. did not lift the arms embargo for the duration of the 1948 War. Truman did make good on the commitment to provide Israel with a loan, but not until after the presidential election in November 1948.
Sources: Anthony Leviero, “Weizmann Visits Truman; Loan and Arms Indicated,” New York Times, (May 26, 1948).
Clifton Daniel, “Plan To Aid Israel Upsets The British,” New York Times, (May 26, 1948).