There’s Good News Tonight.” That was the lead each evening on Gabriel Heatter’s national news broadcast during World War II. Known for exuding a “dignified optimism,” Heatter brought to the air human interest narratives that became, as some said, “a bright light in a dark time for America.”
More than six decades later, we often find it difficult to locate any good news. But something good almost slipped by most of us during the previous years.
On July 9, 2011, a new nation was born: the Republic of South Sudan, a region comprised mostly of Nuba Christians who had suffered systematic, genocidal persecution at the hands of Islamist Arabs who killed almost 2 million Nubas.
Now the remnants of this beleaguered but tenacious people have walked into what Mr. Heatter might have called the bright light of a better world. Among the first to recognize the fledgling state was Israel. In return, South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit chose Israel for one of his initial presidential visits in a trip described as “low-key” and “under-the-radar.”
South Sudan not only has recognized the Jewish state’s legitimacy but reportedly plans to become the world’s only nation to do the right thing and place its embassy in Jerusalem. The gesture demonstrates there are still rare instances of national integrity, when leaders know how to say thank you to allies who have stood with them in their struggle for survival and independence.
With only hours in the land, President Kiir scheduled time to tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. All Western leaders should be required to do the same. Kiir is not tainted by revisionist teaching; he understands Yad Vashem because he has walked in the blood of his own fallen people.
But why low-key and under-the-radar? Whom do we fear? The radical thugs in Khartoum? The Arabs? Or perhaps the Islamist invaders of the West whose fearmongering intimidates politicians, journalists, law enforcement agencies, and ordinary citizens?
The principle issues recall the 1940s when Israel’s rebirth was prominent on the world stage. U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s character, political decisiveness, and strength of leadership were severely tested. In November 1947, the UN partitioned what was left of British Mandate Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. The Jewish people accepted the plan and announced they would declare their independence; the Arabs rejected the plan.
Arabists in the U.S. State Department, as well as other presidential advisors, demanded Truman not recognize the Jewish state, viewing such a move as catastrophic. Nonetheless, on May 14, 1948, Jewish statesman David Ben-Gurion stood in what is now the Israel Museum in Tel Aviv and read Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Defying his advisors, President Truman conveyed America’s official recognition of the State of Israel 11 minutes later.
America’s president had taken the long view. The United States became the first government to recognize Israel. Had Truman not been a man who knew how to honor a commitment, the Middle East would be a very different place today.
Why did he do it? First, he had made a promise to Chaim Weizmann, a brilliant Jewish scientist who would become Israel’s first president. Weizmann visited Truman at the White House in March 1948 in a meeting arranged by Eddie Jacobson, Truman’s former business partner in Kansas City, Missouri. Truman called Weizmann “one of the wisest men I’ve ever met” and gave him his word that, if a Jewish state was declared, he would recognize it.
The second reason was noted by Clark Clifford, special counsel to Harry Truman from 1946 to 1950, in his memoirs Counsel to the President,published in 1991. Truman, he wrote, “was a student and believer in the Bible since his youth. From his reading of the Old Testament he felt the Jews derived a legitimate historical right to Palestine, and he sometimes cited such biblical lines as Deuteronomy 1:8: ‘Behold, I have given up the land before you; go in and take possession of the land which the Lord hath sworn unto your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’”
Despite the new winds of hardline secularism blowing through the halls of statehouses and the steeples of mainline churches these days, most Americans still agree with Truman. Thus the birth of a pro-Israel, pro-Semitic, pro-Christian nation in Sub-Saharan Africa should give us all a reason to feel good. Yes, we can say loudly, without apology or under-the-radar trepidation, a burgeoning South Sudan “is good news tonight.” I think Gabriel Heatter would be glad to hear it.