Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd president of the United States. As governor of New York (1928–32), Roosevelt's strong advocacy of old-age pensions endeared him to the Jewish community which shared with him an overriding commitment to the welfare state. His election to the presidency in 1932 was followed by a deluge of liberal New Deal legislation. His overwhelming victory in 1936 included the support of the vast majority of Jews. In the elections of 1940 and 1944, Roosevelt lost much of his earlier support from ethnic groups, but American Jews delivered 90% of their votes to him. Jewish loyalty to the New Deal was reciprocated. Roosevelt maintained close liaison with Rabbi Stephen Wise. An unprecedented number of Jews were appointed to high positions within his administration. The pejorative epithet “Jew Deal” became popular among antisemitic elements.
The verve characteristic of Roosevelt’s early reform program was little in evidence in response to the foreign problems of the 1930s. In October 1937, he attempted to probe isolationist strength by delivering his “quarantine the aggressors” address, but adverse reaction may partly account for his subsequent reluctance to lead public opinion toward a firmer posture against the Axis. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ultimately solved Roosevelt’s dilemma. Roosevelt openly detested Nazism and recalled Ambassador Wilson from Germany in protest at the November 1938 pogroms (Kristallnacht). He felt unable, however, to admit more refugees due to existing law and public opinion. In March 1938, he called a conference on refugees to meet at Evian les Bains to bring order into the chaos caused by Nazi policy and worldwide immigration restrictions, but he accepted British requests not to discuss Palestine as a haven there or later at the Bermuda Conference of 1943. During World War II, Roosevelt, as the ally of Great Britain which administered Palestine, would not act against British policy there, thus possibly also alienating Arab leaders, on whose neutrality the Allies counted. He unsuccessfully attempted to promote some settlement of the Palestine question favorable to Jews and acceptable to Arab leaders, principally King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. Later he assured the Arabs that they would be consulted before any decision on Palestine was reached. The President also issued various pro-Zionist statements to American Jews, particularly before the 1944 elections.
Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust was similarly cautious, and he used the State Department as a foil against agitation directed toward himself on this subject. In January 1944, after Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. presented conclusive evidence that the State Department was sabotaging rescue efforts, he established the War Refugee Board with special powers to quicken rescue work. However, it came on the scene too late to save the major part of European Jewry.
W.E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal 1932–1940 (1963); L. Fuchs, Political Behavior of American
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.