Fact Check

Did Truman Say, 'We Took Palestine in Small Doses' To Create Israel?

As the U.S. President, Harry Truman became the first global leader to formally acknowledge Israel as a legitimate Jewish state in May 1948.

Published Dec 31, 2023

 (X user @a8d0d554a87e4f7)
Image Via X user @a8d0d554a87e4f7
Claim:
Harry Truman said of the creation of the state of Israel, "We took Palestine in small doses. You can’t move 5 or 6 million people out of a country and fill it up with 5 or 6 million more and expect both sets of them to be pleased."
Context

More precisely, Truman said: "We had to take it in small doses. You can't move 5 or 6 million people out of a country and fill it up with five or six million more and expect both sets of them to be pleased." He made the remarks in footage recorded for an episode of a film series in which he recounted the process that led to his 1948 presidential decision to officially recognize the newly created state of Israel on territory formerly occupied by the Palestinians.

The protracted, often bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict exploded into a hot war on Oct. 7, 2023, when the militant Palestinian group Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel and Israel retaliated by bombarding the Gaza Strip. More than 20,000 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians, were reportedly killed during the first two months of the war alone. The violence is driven by mutual hostilities and territorial ambitions dating back more than a century. The internet has become an unofficial front in that war and is rife with misinformation, which Snopes is dedicated to countering with facts and context. You can help. Read the latest fact checks. Submit questionable claims. Become a Snopes Member to support our work. We welcome your participation and feedback.

In late December 2023, a black-and-white video clip showing former U.S. President Harry S. Truman was circulated on X (formerly Twitter) and other social media platforms in which he allegedly said, "We took Palestine in small doses. You can't move 5 or 6 million people out of a country and fill it up with 5 or 6 million more and expect both sets of them to be pleased."

Various X and TikTok users shared the video in October and November 2023, with one post reaching over 355,000 views. A few posts suggested the video was captured during Truman's presidency, between 1945-1953. Importantly, Truman, as U.S. president, was the first world leader to officially recognize Israel as a legitimate Jewish state in May 1948. However, as we will demonstrate below, the footage was shot roughly a decade after his presidency.

Snopes examined the video and made a transcript of Truman's remarks. They match the words attributed to him in social media posts fairly closely, though not precisely (emphasis ours):

We had several other people in the country, even among the Jews, Zionists, particularly, who were against anything that has to be done if they couldn't have the whole of Palestine, everything, handed to them on a silver plate, so they wouldn't have to do anything; it couldn't be done. We had to take it in small doses. You can't move 5 or 6 million people out of a country and fill it up with 5 or 6 million more and expect both sets of them to be pleased.

But don't think that decision to recognize Israel was an easy one. I had to make a compromise with the Arabs and divide Palestine. The Jews wanted to chase all the Arabs in the Tigris and Euphrates River, and the Arabs want to chase all the Jews in the Red Sea, and I was trying. What I was trying to do is, to find a homeland for the Jews and still be just for the Arabs.

While multiple comments under the posts containing the video asserted that it was created by artificial-intelligence (AI) software — i.e., that the clip was not genuine footage of Truman — that was not the case. The video authentically showed Truman saying, "We had to take it in small doses," in reference to Palestinian territories, along with other statements that were correctly attributed to him. For those reasons, we have rated this claim "Correct Attribution."

However, the 2023 viral clip was a combination of two different videos that were both outtakes from a film series released between 1964 and 1965, "Decision: The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman." (That meant posts alleging the footage was shot during his presidency, which ended in 1953, were incorrect.) Additionally, the viral video was circulating without a disclaimer to note it was a combination of two separate clips — that is, it gave the false impression that Truman made the in-question remarks in one sitting.

The two separate clips of Truman were outtakes from the film series, which meant they were not released to the public as part of that series. The first clip, which depicted Truman standing in front of a map, is titled "MP2002-477 Former President Truman Discusses the Challenges of Establishing Israel in Palestine," on the YouTube page of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum. (The in-question moment occurs about 25 seconds in.)

The video's description on the YouTube page read:

In this Screen Gems outtake with intermittent sound, former president Harry S. Truman discusses the challenges that came of establishing Israel in territory claimed by Palestinians. He stands before a map of the Middle East and says, in part, "you can't move five or six million people out of a country and fill it up with five or six million more and expect both sets of them to be pleased."

In the clip, Truman explained the context of the establishment of the state of Israel after the end of the British colonial mandate for Palestine in 1948. Here's a full transcription of what Truman said (emphasis ours):

...Roy Anderson was one of them. We had several other people in the country, even among the Jews, the Zionists particularly, who were against anything that was to be done if they couldn't have the whole of Palestine and everything handed to them on a silver plate so they wouldn't have to do anything. It couldn't be done. We had to take it in small doses. You can't move 5 or 6 million people out of a country and fill it up with 5 or 6 million more and expect both sets of them to be pleased. We had all sorts of objections to everything that was done. Something had to be done. We went ahead and done it and had it done, and now it's working out. Eventually I think we'll have them all satisfied but it's going to take a great deal of time yet to get the job done.

[off camera]: Could you tell us that they were worried about the war with the Arabs?

In the viral video, after Truman says, "You can't move 5 or 6 million people out of a country and fill it up with 5 or 6 million more and expect both sets of them to be pleased," the clip smoothly transitions to the second piece of footage showing Truman.

That second clip was also cut from a video shared on the presidential library's YouTube channel, with the description, "Former President Harry S. Truman discusses the negotiations he undertook to establish and recognize the Jewish state of Israel in Palestine while still being just to the Arabs."

We transcribed the in-question moment from the video (emphasis ours):

But don't think that decision to recognize Israel was an easy one. I had to make a compromise with the Arabs and divide Palestine. The Jews wanted to chase all the Arabs into the Tigris and Euphrates River and the Arabs wanted to chase all the Jews into the Red Sea. What I was trying to do is to find a homeland for the Jews and still be just with the Arabs. But when you go into a thing of that kind, the people you helped most are the ones that get most angry with you. Both of them were against me on the situation but as president of the United States I paid no attention to them, carried out what I thought was right, and I had the support of the Congress and I could do it, which is unusual in these days.

[Offscreen] Will you tell us specifically that a lot of Jewish people were against you, too.

Oh, well there were a lot of Jewish people against me because they want the whole of Palestine. As I said, they want to drive all Arabs into Tigris and Euphrates rivers. (Cut.)

Both videos' descriptions on YouTube stated the clips were part of the Screen Gems Collection, which consisted of outtakes created during the production of the film series, "Decision: The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman," and that they were public domain. "At War With the Experts, Episode No. 6" of the series focused on the founding of the state of Israel. However, as the presidential library's website informed, "the Decision series is copyright Sony Pictures Entertainment, and the Truman Library may not reproduce any episodes without their consent." However, as of this writing, the full episode was available on the C-SPAN website, with a description reading:

“At War with the Experts” was Episode 6 of a television documentary series, Decision: The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman. The Screen Gems, Inc., production crew began work at the Truman Library in May 1963. The 26 episodes were broadcast beginning in November 1964.

According to a website for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum, this was Truman's role in the recognition of the state of Israel in 1948:

U.S. President Harry Truman was the first world leader to officially recognize Israel as a legitimate Jewish state on May 14, 1948, only eleven minutes after its creation. His decision came after much discussion and advice from the White House staff who had differing viewpoints. Some advisors felt that creating a Jewish state was the only proper response to the holocaust and would benefit American interests. Others took the opposite view, concerned about that the creation of a Jewish state would create more conflict in an already tumultuous region.

Sources

Decision: The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman - At War With the Experts, Episode No. 6 | Harry S. Truman. https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/movingimage-records/mp80-5. Accessed 7 Nov. 2023.

Milestones: 1945–1952 - Office of the Historian. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/creation-israel. Accessed 7 Nov. 2023.

MP2002-344 Former President Truman Discusses the Establishment of Israel. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnkOi7q4uI0. Accessed 7 Nov. 2023.

MP2002-477 Former President Truman Discusses the Challenges of Establishing Israel in Palestine. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0DvO72fuG4. Accessed 7 Nov. 2023.

Recognition of Israel | Harry S. Truman. https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/education/presidential-inquiries/recognition-israel. Accessed 7 Nov. 2023.

Aleksandra Wrona is a reporting fellow for Snopes, based in the Warsaw area.