You might not recognize the name Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro, but old Baltimore boys like me know that family name well. And you, dear reader, know her by her present name, Nancy Pelosi.
The reason “D’Alesandro” resonates with some of us “Bawlemorians,” and with students of mid-20th century history, is that the House Speaker’s father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was a Maryland congressman and later served as Baltimore’s mayor.
And because he was a stalwart supporter of Jews and Israel. In fact, although he was a “Roosevelt Democrat,” he broke ranks with President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the issue of rescuing Jews during the Holocaust and on the creation of a haven for them in their ancestral land.
As a congressman, D’Alesandro heartily endorsed the “Bergson Group,” the Irgun activists who, led by “Peter Bergson” (real name: Hillel Kook; he was a nephew of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook), engaged in a many-faceted effort to raise awareness of the plight of Jews in Europe, and to rescue as many as could be saved and bring them to the US and Eretz Yisrael.
Among the group’s tactics were placing hundreds of full-page ads in American newspapers (one bore the boldface headline: “For Sale to Humanity 70,000 Jews, Guaranteed Human Beings at $50 a Piece”).
Kook also engineered the famous “Rabbis’ March” on the White House in 1943, in which Rav Eliezer Silver, Rav Avraham Kalmanowitz and Rav Moshe Feinstein, zecher tzaddikim livrachah, participated.
Pressure from D’Alesandro and other members of Congress, moreover, influenced Roosevelt, in 1944, to establish the War Refugee Board.
And after the war, although it entailed political risks, D’Alesandro was a staunch proponent of the creation of a State of Israel.
The above short history of Italian Catholic Baltimore Mayor D’Alesandro is offered as a prelude to my musing on the visit by his daughter, Speaker Pelosi, during her recent trip to East Asia, to Taiwan.
The Communist Chinese have claimed possession of the economically thriving democratic outpost island, a mere 100 miles from the Chinese mainland, ever since they chased their nationalist foes onto Taiwan during the 1949 Chinese civil war.
The US, though, supports maintaining Taiwan’s unresolved status quo and considers it an independent actor, an ally and a crucial economic partner. In May, asked whether the US would defend Taiwan militarily, President Biden replied: “Yes.”
Of late, China has ratcheted up its claim to Taiwan, tightening a red noose around the Taiwanese’s collective head. China’s strongman Xi Jinping has promised his citizenry that he will achieve what he calls the “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation, i.e., the de facto absorption of Taiwan.
There are, thus, fears in some circles that the Communist regime, wary of Taiwan’s close relationship with the US, is planning a military invasion of the island, to cement its claim to Taiwan.
Which is why, when it became public that Ms. Pelosi was considering a stopover in Taiwan, China unleashed a torrent of dire warnings. Even a visit from an octogenarian American politician, the Communist leadership felt, might lead Taiwan to declare formal independence— an unthinkable development.
And, in the aftermath of the Speaker’s visit, the People’s Republic’s temper tantrum continued. Chinese warplanes streaked across Taiwan, and China sent naval military vessels around the island. And, inadvertently hitting its own citizens where their stomachs are, China banned more than 2,000 Taiwanese food imports into the mainland.
Tellingly, players like Iran and Syria applauded the communist regime’s stance.
Here at home, Ms. Pelosi’s choice to visit Taiwan was applauded by many, including a number of her political adversaries, such as more than 20 GOP senators, Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz among them.
Other observers, though, fret that, even in the service of signaling China to lay off any invasion plans, Ms. Pelosi’s intensification of US-China tensions was unwise—her stopover, an unnecessary and dangerous provocation.
But, whichever judgment history will make, it’s intriguing to consider whether the example of the speaker’s father many decades ago in standing up for a threatened people may have played a role in Ms. Pelosi’s determination to offer support and succor to the Taiwanese.