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Gen. Eisenhower Was Admired by Jews; He Was Friendly to Israel Despite 1956 Events

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Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who died in Washington Friday was admired by American Jews, regardless of their political leanings. The professional soldier who commanded the Allied “Grand Coalition” that liberated Europe from the Nazis and destroyed the Third Reich demonstrated understanding and compassion for the victims of Nazism. His treatment of the remnant of emaciated death camp survivors, the genuine horror he displayed when he viewed the final results of Hitlerite persecution, showed him to be a man of innate decency and humanitarian instincts. In later years when he spoke out against bigotry, as he frequently did, he always referred to the ravages of the holocaust.

As President, his attitude toward the young State of Israel was friendly and one of encouragement. He had admiration for the fighting spirit and the skill of the Israel Army and often spoke of the high military quality of the Palestinian Jewish Brigade, a unit of the British Army, that served under his command in North Africa in the liberation of Italy and in France in World War II. There was one episode in Eisenhower’s Presidency however that angered some Jews and saddened many more. In the autumn of 1956, during the heat of a Presidential election campaign, Israeli forces invaded the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip in order to secure the Gulf of Aqaba, threatened by Egyptian blockade, and to put an end to the incursions of Egyptian fedayeen who were taking an increasing toll of Israeli civilians. President Nasser had just nationalized and shut down the Suez Canal, a move said to have been taken in retaliation for the Western power’s withdrawal from bidding to build the Aswan High Dam. With Israeli forces driving to the banks of the canal, Britain and France saw an opportunity to regain the waterway and launched their own invasion of Egypt. The U.S. balked and, in concert with Russia, acted in the United Nations to forestall the attack on Egypt. The Anglo-French invasion was a fiasco and Israeli forces were ordered to withdraw from Egyptian territory and from Gaza. There was talk of Eisenhower Administration support of a UN proposal for sanctions against Israel if it refused to comply. There was doubt, however, whether the President himself favored sanctions. Friends of Israel were bitter over the forced withdrawal, but many attributed the U.S. position to Mr. Dulles rather than to Mr. Eisenhower. The President wrote a letter to then Prime Minister David Ben Gurion on March 2, 1957 expressing gratification “at the decision of your Government to withdraw promptly and fully behind the armistice lines.”

In 1958, President Eisenhower proposed a Mideast program that would include a guarantee of the frontiers of all nations, including Israel. Mr. Eisenhower always considered the equitable use of water resources to be an essential of peace. In 1956 he sent the late Eric Johnston to the region as his personal representative to settle a controversy between Israel, Jordan and Syria over the division of irrigation waters in the Jordan Valley. The Johnston plan was accepted by engineers and technical advisers of both sides but was squelched by Arab political leaders. In 1967, Gen. Eisenhower and former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Admiral Lewis L. Strauss expressed support publicly for an atomic power plant in Israel to desalinate sea water for irrigation purposes. The plan drafted by Admiral Strauss, stemmed from President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace proposal before the UN in December, 1953.

President Eisenhower was the recipient of many awards from Jewish organizations. These included a 100-year-old Torah scroll presented to him in 1960 by Chancellor Louis Finkelstein of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America; the “Judaism and Peace” award of the Synagogue Council of America the same year, and the B’nai B’rith President’s Medal in 1959. In March, 1960. Mr. Eisenhower was host to Mr. Ben Gurion in a two-hour talk in the White House.

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