A Hanukkah of Broken Promises

by Rafael Medoff 

The name Yehoshua Adari is not widely remembered in Israel today. But during the British Mandate years, Adari was one the country’s most popular political cartoonists, daily skewering petty local politicians and hypocritical international leaders alike in the newspaper HaBoker.

Adari, who emigrated from Poland to Eretz Yisrael in 1932, pulled no punches when it came to the Allies’ positions on Zionism and the Jewish refugee crisis. On the eve of Hanukkah in 1944, he drew a striking cartoon that invoked the themes and language of the holiday to highlight the world’s broken promises to the Jewish people.

Adari drew an elderly Jew reciting the words that are said immediately after the blessing over the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah: “These candles are holy and we are not permitted to make any use of them other than to gaze upon them…”

But in Adari’s cartoon, each of the candles was replaced by a scroll representing an unfulfilled promise or proposal made by a foreign government, from the 1917 Balfour Declaration to the 1930s “Dominion Plan,” a proposal which would have established an autonomous Jewish national home within the British Empire, similar to Canada or Australia.

Three of the broken promises were very recent–and may have inspired the cartoon.

One of the candles was named “Labor Party Platform.” Earlier that year, the British Labor Party, then in opposition, adopted a platform plank calling for a Jewish state in Palestine. (It also recommended giving Palestinian Arabs financial assistance “to move out as the Jews move in.”) But soon after Labor won the July 1944 elections, the new prime minister, Clement Attlee, and his foreign minister, Ernest Bevin, made it clear they would take no action to implement their party’s pledge on Palestine. The White Paper, prohibiting all but a trickle of Jewish immigration to the Holy Land, remained in force–even after the sinking of the refugee ship Mefkura, in August, which resulted in the drowning of more than 300 passengers.

Another of the candles in Adari’s menorah was labeled “Roosevelt’s Promise.” In June 1944, the Republican Party added a plank to its presidential platform supporting Jewish statehood. The following month, the Democrats’ national convention adopted a similar pro-Zionist plank. In October, three weeks before the election, President Franklin Roosevelt issued a statement supporting his party’s position. But in the months following his re-election, FDR took no steps to fulfill that promise.

A third candle in the cartoon menorah bore the words “Senate Committee’s Decision.” This referred to a bipartisan congressional resolution endorsing “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The resolution was adopted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in November 1944, but ran into trouble in the Senate. As a result of behind-the-scenes opposition by President Roosevelt, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to indefinitely postpone consideration of the resolution. That vote took place on December 11–four days before Adari’s cartoon.

For Yehoshua Adari, and for many Jews around the world, it was a Hanukkah of broken promises. At the darkest moment in Jewish history, as millions of European Jews lay dead and the Holocaust raged on, the Allies had made promises to the Jews–but, as in Adari’s poignant cartoon, nobody would “make any use” of the various plans; all the Jews could do was “gaze upon them.”

December 2013