(May 4, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) Robert F. Wagner Sr. was one of the greatest among the Christian Zionists who supported the creation of the State of Israel.
Born in Prussia, he came to the United States with his family around the time of his eighth birthday. Graduating from law school in his hometown of New York, he was elected to the state legislature from the once heavily German-speaking Yorkville section on the Upper East Side. Though hardly monolithically anti-Jewish, this neighborhood would be a home base of German anti-Semitism, and, later, pro-Nazism, in the United States.
To his great credit, Wagner, who became a state senator, lieutenant governor and then U.S. Senator, vehemently opposed it.
Wagner had a nearly unmatched record as a legislator, co-authoring the National Labor Relations Act (called the Wagner Act), helping create Social Security, railroad pensions and many other famous bills. But we should honor as well his determined opposition to Nazism. In 1939, he co-authored the Wagner-Rogers bill to admit German Jewish refugees to the United States. Sadly, while the proposed law called for admitting only an additional 20,000 Jews, it was defeated.
But Wagner was not put off, and in the next year he joined and then became a leader of the organization We Americans of Yorkville, dedicated to opposing and shaming New Yorkers sympathetic to Nazism.
Support for the creation of Israel would become a focus of Wagner’s in the last few years of his life. Consequently, he also co-authored the Taft-Wagner Resolution. Passing both the House and Senate in December 1945, it affirmed U.S. support for a Jewish state and put pressure on U.S. President Harry S. Truman to back that commitment.
Wagner also pressed Truman not to support the Morrison-Grady plan for Palestine. This scheme would have given the Jewish section of Palestine a territory of just 1,500 square miles, limited Jewish emigration to Palestine to 100,000 displaced persons and placed all of Palestine under what would ultimately be British control. Opposition to this plan was vital to the future of Israel.
Sen. Wagner would continue to show his determined support for the newly established State of Israel right up until his death.