"The George Washington Legion"
by Gad Nahshon
Did you know that the Bergson Group launched a volunteer Hebrew movement in the U.S.A. in order to help Israel in its Independence War? The name of this military movement was: The George Washington Legion? The founding father, in May 1948, was the British Major Samuel Weiser, who tried to establish a legion in Britain and Barney Ross, a world champion in lightweight, a fighter (Marine) in Guadalcanal, a military hero and a star in a film.
They opened an office on W. 45th Street. The sponsor of this legion of volunteers was The American League for Free Palestine (ALEF), which was established by the Bergson Group on June 6, 1944. It was a branch of the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation which was established on May 18, 1944. The leaders Hillel Kook, Peter Bergson, Shmuel Merlin, Arie Ben-Eliazar, Itshaq Ben-Ami, Eri Jabotinsky, Alex Rafaeli, called for a new Hebrew revival and for a temporary government of Israel before May 14, 1948.
The legion follows the Irgun's fight in Palestine, a fight for the Hebrew Freedom Movement. On March 30, 1948, around 5,000 volunteers signed for participating in the war in Palestine. The war started on November 30, 1947, an Arab-Muslim reaction to the U.N.'s partition plan.
On April 8, 1948, Barney Ross and 500 volunteers, according to historian Isaac Zaar, marched on Congress and the White House. America objected to this act of American involvement in the Middle East. President Truman declared an embargo on weapons and soldiers and the U.N. also supported this embargo. Ross felt that America objected to his legion. The volunteers, at least 2,000, could not leave the country! Who wanted to help the Irgun or the Bergson Group.
Ross demonstrated with his 500 soldiers/volunteers on May 12, 1948. They made history and put a wreath on the Washington Monument. They met David Niles, an aid to President Truman. In the Congress, they enjoyed the support of many such as Senator Dennis Chavez (New Mexico) and Wayne B. Morse. They fought for a free Jewish State and against the embargo. The Hebrew Movement influenced the attitude of America towards Israel. Many Congressmen asked Truman to recognize Israel.
On May 13, 1948, the Bergson Group organized a great rally in Madison Square Garden (the Garden Meeting). Many famous politicians came such as Chavez Harry Schimmer (Truman's friend) and Adam C. Powell, who called on Jews to donate to the Bergson Group. The event was a popular American call to Truman to support the rise of a Hebrew State. U.S.A. must recognize Israel which was declared a free country on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv.
The Bergson Group's story is not a part of the official Israeli historiography since its leaders' modest activities were just disciples of Zeev Jabotinsky. But they did contribute to the revival of a pro-Israeli American movement of supporters.
But the success of this movement had to do with the American activists such as Ben Hecht. On May The Bergson Group's story is not a part of the official Israeli historiograph10, 1948, in the New York Times, one can see an ad: "Hebrew Armies are on the march to victory!" It was a call to come on May 12, 1948 to the rally to "Hear the fighting voice of the Irgun, Zvai Leumi." The ad called for the establishment of a Hebrew State: "A D-Day."
It was an event also of the George Washington Legion with famous speakers, with the Ben Hecht show The End of Silence, with Senator Chavez, Ross and Adam C. Powell. It was also an event of many famous entertainers. "The Brave Will Fight" this May 13, 1948's spectacle was organized and written by Ben Hecht, then a media "star" in America (Hollywood and Broadway).
This May 13th event was in collaboration of Norman Katkov and Mary Harrington sponsored by the American League of Free Palestine. Among the stars were Mario Bernini, Sid Caesar, Hazel Scott, and, for example, two young start from the Copacabana, Dean Martin and... Jerry Lewis! This event was the battle cry of the fighters for Hebrew freedom. We should not ignore justice to history, the role of the Bergson Group of people like Ben Hecht in revival of American support in the establishment of Israel and Truman's recognition of this miracle!
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