When Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, stepped to the podium at a Knesset dinner during her visit earlier this month, she made history in more ways than one. Not only was she the first woman Speaker of the House to address Israel’s lawmakers, Pelosi was also addressing the parliament of a country whose creation her own father championed, at the risk of his career – and perhaps her career, as well. Speaker Pelosi’s father, the late US congressman Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., of Maryland, was known as a Roosevelt Democrat. What is not widely known is that D’Alesandro broke ranks with president Franklin D. Roosevelt on the issues of rescuing Jews from Hitler and creating a Jewish State. D’Alesandro was one of the congressional supporters of the Bergson Group, a maverick Jewish political action committee that challenged the Roosevelt administration’s policies on the Jewish refugee issue during the Holocaust, and later lobbied against British control of Palestine. The Bergson activists used unconventional tactics to draw attention to the plight of Europe’s Jews, including staging theatrical pageants, organizing a march by 400 rabbis to the White House, and placing more than 200 full-page advertisements in newspapers around the country. Some of those ads featured lists of celebrities, prominent intellectuals, and members of Congress who supported the group – including D’Alesandro. D’Alesandro’s involvement with the Bergson Group was remarkable because he was a Democrat who was choosing to support a group that was publicly challenging a Democratic president.
I admire people who will break with their party leader, when their party leader is wrong.
AFTER THE war, D’Alesandro continued supporting the Bergson Group as it campaigned for the establishment of a Jewish State in Mandatory Palestine. That sometimes meant clashing with the Truman administration, which wavered back and forth on the issue of Jewish statehood.
D’Alesandro died in 1987, two months after his daughter Nancy was first elected to Congress.
I agree with very little of Pelosi’s policies and political outlook. But it is interesting to know more of their background.