Tuesday, October 22, 2019

James McDonald with David Ben Gurion. (Credit: www.avoiceamongthesilent.com)

James McDonald with FDR. (Credit: www.avoiceamongthesilent.com)

Many streets across Israel are named in memory of righteous gentiles who were sympathetic to the plight of Jews and stood up to anti-Semitism or supported the establishment of the state of Israel.

Some streets are named for world leaders who supported the creation of a Jewish homeland, such as Czechoslovakian president Tomas Masaryk, South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

Other streets are named for individuals from the private sector, most notably Oskar Schindler, who saved 1,200 Jews from the Nazis by employing them in his factories. His activities were chronicled in the novel “Schindler’s Ark” and the subsequent film adaptation, “Schindler’s List.”

Several streets are named for government employees and diplomats who risked their jobs and their families’ lives during World War II to help Jews escape the Nazis. Such people include Japanese diplomat Chiune Sempo Sugihara, who was based in Kovno, Lithuania, and helped approximately 6,000 Jews flee Europe by issuing transit visas; Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat based in Budapest, Hungary, who is credited with saving over 60,000 Jews, the largest rescue operation of World War II; and Raoul Wallenberg, Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest, Hungary, during the later stages of World War II, who similarly saved tens of thousands of Jews.

I recently attended the screening of a fascinating documentary called “A Voice Among the Silent: The Legacy of James G. McDonald.” Let’s focus on this hero who was honored by the city of Netanya with a street named after him in recognition of his lifelong advocacy of the Jews.

In 1933, McDonald was appointed the League of Nations’ high commissioner for refugees from Germany. McDonald quickly became aware of the German Jews’ plight and informed President Roosevelt of Hitler’s open threats to destroy the Jews. Unfortunately, his clarion call failed to sway Roosevelt and his policies toward Germany. Roosevelt was not alone in ignoring McDonald’s protestations, as many world leaders turned a blind eye to his alarming predictions regarding the impending demise of Germany’s Jews. McDonald dejectedly resigned from his post in 1935 to protest the international community’s indifference to the plight of German Jewry.

In 1938, McDonald was appointed chairman of a new commission called the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees. Again, Roosevelt paid him lip service but did not heed his advice. Despite FDR’s strict immigration policy, McDonald was able to bring 2,000 Jewish refugees into the United States on the eve of the Holocaust.

After the war, McDonald served on the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine and, in that role, he pressured the British to open then-Palestine to Holocaust survivors.

Upon the establishment of the state of Israel, President Truman picked McDonald to serve as the United States’ first ambassador to the nascent state, where he continued advocating for the Jewish people. One little known but major example: McDonald played an important role in helping Israel retain possession of the Negev when the British, trying to protect its interests in the Suez Canal, attempted to wrestle control of the large southern region from Israel to Trans-Jordan.

The street in Netanya named after this modern-day hero houses a synagogue that the community has amusingly renamed “McDonald’s.” Notwithstanding the gentle humor, it is fitting that a house of prayer bears his name, as McDonald was a brave voice of moral clarity and ethical principles during history’s darkest hour.

By Gedaliah Borvick

 

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