Pascrell calls for name change

Congressman doesn’t want State Department room dedicated to early Israel opponent

Representative Bill Pascrell

It’s not as if it’s the most pressing issue there is, particularly in this time of heavily pressing issues. Bill Pascrell knows that.

But Congressman William Pascrell, the Democrat who represents New Jersey’s 9th District, and who has represented some configuration of that district, centering around his native Paterson, since 1997 — and he held government positions for years before that — is a former history teacher, and a big fan of President Harry S Truman.

So when Mr. Pascrell noticed that a room at the State Department is named for Loy Henderson, it bothered him. He recognized that name.

Mr. Henderson, a high-level American diplomat who died at 93 in 1986, had a career that took him around the world, taking part in resolving (or perhaps not resolving) many dangerous conflicts. (He was the U.S. ambassador to Iran when the United States helped overthrow Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeh, who was democratically elected, and who was followed by the Shah and then the ayatollah-led regime that still holds power today.)

But Mr. Pascrell remembered Mr. Henderson most from his role as an ardent — or as Mr. Pascrell puts it, a bellicose — opponent of the state of Israel, and who urged Mr. Truman to withhold U.S. approval of the state’s creation.

Mr. Pascrell “has been interested in Truman since my high school days,” he said. “I always felt that he was an underrated president. I always thought that he really cared about people rather than buildings and institutions, and his foreign policy very much reflected that.

“I know what happened in May of 1948, and there were some names that very much stuck in my mind.”

What happened is that the United Nations declared Israel to be a state, and the United States, under Truman, became the first nation to recognize it. Historians believe that Truman’s decision, against the advice of many of the State Department officials who were infected with the anti-Semitism endemic at the time, after discussions with his friend Eddie Jacobson, and then the reasoned arguments and a personal appeal from Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president.

“So when I was invited to the State Department, that name, Loy Henderson, stuck out,” Pascrell said.

“So I went back and researched, and I saw that I had remembered correctly. He was a prominent opponent of the state of Israel. So I said what the heck? Why name a room after him? Israel is our ally. Israel is our friend. And here is a guy — the head of the Near Eastern Affairs bureau — who called Israel’s founding a tragic mistake, only 11 or 12 minutes after the nation was declared.

“He fought against the creation of Israel tooth and nail. If his views had carried the day, imagine what Israel would have faced.”

Mr. Pascrell has written a letter to the Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, asking him to “register my dismay” that a room at the department carries Mr. Henderson’s name. The letter is dated August 15; so far, it has drawn no response.

In his letter, Mr. Pascrell quotes the diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who wrote, “Beneath the surface lay unspoken but real anti-Semitism on the part of some (but not all) policymakers” at the State Department. He also quotes Mr. Truman, who wrote in his memoirs that he believed that anti-Semitism was behind at least some of the opposition to Israel at its creation.

So why name a room after Loy Henderson? “It’s not an easy thing to find out when and why a room was named,” Mr. Pascrell said.

He knows that this is not a major issue, but it is symbolic, and symbolism matters.

“We need to separate the wheat from the chaff,” Mr. Pascrell said. “We depend on facts. We look objectively at our allies, and the role they play in securing peace in the Middle East. We look at the relationship between us. It doesn’t have to be a relationship of condescension, but of support. We have to make clear who are ally is. We won’t agree on everything. But one thing is clear.

“We have a strong ally in Israel, and I will do everything in my power to reaffirm that bond, which is critical to our foreign policy.

“There may be more important things than who a room is named after, but it is peculiar to have it named after someone who was resolutely against the founding of Israel in 1948. The road to peace in the Middle East runs through Israel.”

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