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When the crisis began, Jewish leaders knew that their ongoing argument with Johnson over Vietnam left them open to the following: The foreseeable has now eventuated. Jewish organizations -- The American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee are importuning our President to insure Israel's security in the face of poised Arab aggressor allies of the North Vietnamese and Vietcong.
The American Jewish Committee, of which I am a member, comes into `court' with half clean-hands -- The American Jewish Congress -- with unparalleled `Chutzpa' with all-dirty hands. The former at least took no public position on the Vietnam crisis -- The American Jewish Congress this week -- features a fervid opponent of our policy -- part of a long public campaign against Pres. Johnson's policy in S.E. Asia.
Worried about quips on `Hoves and Dawks,' anti-war leaders maintained a low profile and shied away from public appeals for a strong pro-Israeli stance. Thus, the steering committee of the Presidents' Conference criticized as too provocative AIPAC statements which blamed the crisis on the Soviets and appealed for an American ship to break the blockade. But these apprehensions gave way to the fear that Washington's reluctance to stand by Israel was "attributable to the ugly resentments expressed by some administration spokesmen and Congressmen" against Jewish critics of the Vietnam War. Indeed, Walt Rostow called Johnson's taunting of Jewish leaders with State's version of the May 23 Middle Eastern address "a little therapy."
The President told Eban that "a bunch of rabbis" told him "to put the whole American fleet into the Gulf of Aqaba" but objected to his sending "a --- screwdriver to Vietnam." Of course, those rabbis would have loved to remind him that he sent half a million men to Vietnam, and not one ship to Aqaba, and "what the so-called hawks asked for, in the first place, was an American position in the Middle East which might... have entirely avoided the outbreak of hostilities." Also, since US preoccupation with Vietnam caused Nasser and the Soviets to labor under the "misconception" that Vietnam "drained" American "strength" and "limited" its "freedom of action in the Near East," it was only fair, as Javits pointed out after a meeting with McNamara, that the US help Israel deal with the unintended consequences of that "misconception."
In any case, rabbis had little access to the President.
When Prinz asked for an audience with Johnson, Walt Rostow advised the president to turn the request down. Since the administration did not know "where it was going," Johnson might say too much or too little and pay a diplomatic or political price for it.
Rostow told Prinz that Johnson felt "it inadvisable to receive at the White House any group of U.S. citizens concerned with the Near East crisis." Later Prinz asked about an "off the record" meeting in New York, but was again turned down.
The ball was thus in the court of Johnson's personal friends and advisers who supported and even helped formulate his Vietnam policy. Senator Javits and Congressman Celler represented Jewish Congressional concerns to the White House. Abe Feinberg, Arthur and Mathilde Krim, Abe Fortas and David Ginzberg were the conduits to the leadership, and Eppy Evron represented Israel. Together they emphasized their own loyalty, trust and understanding of Johnson's predicament, made clear that it was "not realistic" to expect them to "moderate public opinion," and warned him of the negative political consequences which would ensue from his failure to help Israel. Prior to the closure of the Straits, they worked to convince Johnson to rejuvenate the deterrent force of the American commitment to Israel.
Mathilde Krim, a former Israeli and a close friend of the President, decided to provide herself and Johnson with an alternative analysis of the situation. She turned to Sam Mark of the "dovish-leftist" Institute of Mediterranean Affairs. Mark recommended that Johnson issue a statement which would set forth not only the American commitment to Israeli security but also include a serious initiative for a negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute "on the basis of dignity and respect for the United Nations Resolutions." He also warned:
A "laissez faire" policy in the Middle East far from vindicating the American stance in Vietnam would, in the eyes of many, rather completely invalidate it and would arouse great suspicion as to the sincerity and purity of America's motives, both in the Far East as well as in the Middle East. Many would suspect that freedom and national independence are not the real issues at stake -- but that American foreign policy is dictated at best by strictly (and perhaps erroneous) strategic considerations or at worse, by some sinister motivations both in the Far East and in the Middle East.
One of the main arguments advanced by Johnson's Jewish friends was that American inaction in the Middle East would erode support for the Vietnam War. White House mail proved their point: A Democratic precinct captain wrote that the value of the American presence in Vietnam would be "deprecated" if it precluded "assisting proven friends and allies like Israel" since it would imply that Washington's commitment in Vietnam was "to be to the exclusion of all else."
A group of Pennsylvania citizens asserted that it made "no sense to fight for democracy in the Far East" while letting it be "destroyed in the Near East." Then there was this telegram: "We gave a boy for freedom in Vietnam. Act Now. Support Israel's Right to Freedom."
When Nasser closed the Straits, the insiders knew they had lost the first round. They shifted their attention to the wording of the Presidential statement setting forth the American response to closure. In this instance, they succeeded in convincing Johnson to amend State's draft in a way which emphasized the international character of the Straits.
Afterwards, they were generous with their praise. Feinberg called to relate his and Goldberg's approval of the statement. Evron conveyed his understanding of Johnson's "terrible dilemma." along with "his deep personal gratitude" for the "wonderful" final product. He also reported that the embassy "was flooded with telephone calls from people we both would respect, who were deeply gratified by your statement."
But the statement was part of a package deal which delayed Israeli action. Eugene Rostow, who blamed "the realities created by the Vietnam War" for the American timidity, argued that Washington bore "an enormous responsibility" for the consequences of preventing Israeli preemption and worked hard to advance the prospects of the "Red Sea Regatta."
The forthright Goldberg found himself torn between concern for Israel and his duties as an American diplomat. He told Harman that "the Vietnamese situation forces him to tell Johnson to go to the UN before taking military action."
By the third week of the crisis, cognizant of the deteriorating Middle East situation and the unlikelihood of American action, Johnson's Jewish advisers began to press Israel to go and Johnson to let it go. Goldberg led the pack. He repeatedly emphasized to Israeli officials the limits of Johnson's commitments. When Johnson seemed ready to agree, Goldberg assured him that Jews would not blame him for reneging on his past commitments.
Two memos sent to the president on May 31, the day it became clear that "Israel stood alone," suggest that at this late stage even the self-described "socialist, non-Zionist" Walt Rostow joined the Jewish effort to impress upon Johnson his vulnerability on the issue of "credibility." The first was from Ben Wattenberg:
I thought you would like to see a copy of what you said extemporaneously in Ellenville, New York, last August ... I don't believe anyone remembered it -- Roche says it was not in the State Department file, Hal Saunders had not seen it and says it is the only public occasion where you have equated Israel and South Viet Nam.
Walt and I agree that we wish we could write speeches as well as you talk them. When the time is ripe, this statement ought to be conveniently "remembered" by the press, Jewish leaders, etc. (--unless it surfaces by itself prior to that -- it is on the record.)
In fact, a week earlier, a New York Congressman had already recalled the Presidential pledge in Ellenville. But the reference was not picked up by the press. Of course, Wattenberg and Rostow could have made sure that it would have been.
Later that day, Rostow's memo outlining his conversation with Evron let Johnson know he was disappointing his trusting friend. Evron said that his cabinet had delayed action on the basis of Evron's personal assurances that Johnson would come through. Evron then asked:
"Am I wrong in assessing the President's personal determination as I did?" I said that, as a government servant, it would be wrong for me to communicate that kind of judgement. I said, "You have known President Johnson for a long time and have the right to make your own assessment."
With tears in his eyes, he said: "So much hinges on that man."
Everything possible was done to pacify that man. Krim and Feinberg organized a series of fund raising events for the June 3 weekend in New York. The dinner honoring the president was attended by 1650 Democrats, "many of them members of the city's large and influential Jewish community," who applauded loudly when Johnson said: "I know that you share my deep concern tonight about the situation in the Middle East. We are working day and night on this problem."
An impressed Robert Kennedy gave Johnson "the warmest endorsement the Senator ever offered." It was while Johnson was sitting between Mary Lasker and Mathilde Krim, enjoying a glittering dinner dance, that Feinberg bent over and told him that the war would start within twenty-four hours.
Jewish organizations also made sure that there were no major anti-war demonstration that weekend.
A non-sectarian peace organizer noted that, under normal circumstances, 5000 protesters would have been expected to greet Johnson; he would be lucky if 2000 showed up. So, peace groups had no choice but to put off demonstrations and lobbying efforts planned for the second weekend of June until the Middle East situation got clarified.
Of course, there was a limit to the best laid plans. There were two pictures on the front page of the NYT: one was of Kennedy and Johnson entitled "Fellow Democrats;" the other of a handcuffed Captain Howard Levy sentenced to three years of hard labor for refusing to train Vietnam bound Green Beret fighting medics.
In any case, at the noon hour of June 5, when Robert McClosky defined American Middle Eastern policy as "neutral," all their efforts seemed in vain. To disillusioned Jews, his words reflected willingness "to purchase world peace ... at the expense of Israel's liberty" and "see Jewish blood flow into the Mediterranean to insure the continued flow of oil." Hans Morgenthau remarked, had Israel succumbed, "the President of the United States would have invited leading rabbis to the White House to recite memorial prayers."
Moreover, American neutrality, as astute reporters immediately understood and as David Ginzberg and Abe Fortas warned, would have prevented Israel from raising money in the US and would have entailed imposing on Israel the very economic sanctions Johnson helped block in 1956.
Shifting neutrality to non-belligerence solved the Emergency Fund's problem but Rusk's emphasis on American support for "the territorial integrity" raised fears that, once again, Israeli blood would be shed in vain because once again the US would insist on Israeli withdrawal without Arab recognition of her legitimacy. on June 6, the US changed its mind, but hardly as the result of the Jewish efforts in or out of the administration. The experience transformed American Jewry.
"As the Arabs began to close in on Israel in the second half of May, American Jews, so frequently accused of indifference and passivity, turned into a passionate, turbulent, clamorous multitude, affirming in unprecedented fashion that they were part of the Jewish people and that Israel's survival was their survival," wrote historian Lucy Dawidowicz.
The Arab threats to annihilate Israel, and the international reluctance to protect her, filled Jews with dread. Heschel wrote: "The darkness of Auschwitz is still upon us, its memory is a torment forever. In the midst of that darkness there is one gleam of light: the return of our people to Zion. Will He permit this gleam to be smothered?"
If so, could Judaism survive? Some Jews believed it could not. A congregant asked Rabbi Irving Greenberg: "What shall we do if Israel fights and we lose?" The rabbi answered: "You will find a sign outside our synagogue that we are closed." In short, American Jews who blamed themselves for not doing enough to prevent the first Holocaust were not only determined to prevent a second one but believed that their own survival as Jews was at stake.
Seemingly overnight, the rules of the game had changed. Students and academicians suddenly realized the meaning of their ethnic and religious heritage. Civil rights and peace activist Alan Dershowitz recalls:
I doubt that I would have become involved in Jewish issues as intensively as I did. But I felt my second-class citizenship as a Jew quite palpably ... If my support for Israel were perceived as too strong, too emotional, I would be seen as the kind of person who placed his parochial Jewishness before his other, more universal values. In the days just before the Six-Day War, My Jewishness was my most important value... And I decided not to hide my feelings.
Dershowitz's experience was typical. Polls showed that 99% of the American Jews supported Israel before, during, and after the war. Their commitment to Israel went far beyond unprecedented financial donations. Tens of thousands donated their blood or volunteered to go to Israel. At Case Western Reserve University, the 200 available applications were gone within fifteen minutes. Some wished to fight, other to fill the civilian jobs vacated by Israelis. Thousands of others engaged in local organizational activities. I. E. Kenen of AIPAC recalls:
Washington Jews wanted a major demonstration and, in preparation, the Jewish Community Council invited 200 leaders to a planning session ... 800 jammed the hall... I mentioned our need for volunteers, which brought but one question: "What's your address?"
When I arrived at the Colorado Building a short time later, the lobby and the elevators were jammed, and for days we had many bright Washingtonians in our office, clipping scrapbooks, folding letters, stuffing envelopes, and abstracting speeches.
Afterwards, sociologist Marshall Sklare tried to assess the impact of the crisis on the Jewish community. He chose a location where his earlier study indicated the response would be minimal. He found that "feelings of Jewish identity -- albeit on the unconscious level" -- were more abiding than he had "any reason to suspect previously." When asked whether she had family in Israel, a woman answered "two and a half million."
This mood was reflected in the behavior of academic Jewry. A group at Cornell University named themselves the Ad Hoc Committee of American Professors and began to solicit signatures for an advertisement calling upon the American government to "safeguard the integrity of the state of Israel."
Within three days 3742 academicians, including three Nobel laureates, from 128 universities signed the document; 1500 additional signatures came in after the ad went to press. This response prompted them to create The American Professors for Peace in the Middle East; 8000 professors from 170 universities joined within a month.
In a letter to the editor of the Village Voice, Nancy Weber described her generation's epiphany:
Us. Two weeks ago, Israel was they; now Israel is we. I will not intellectualize it... I will never again be able to talk about how Judaism is only a religion, and isn't it too bad that there has to be such a thing as a Jewish state... I will never again kid myself that we are only the things we choose to be. Roots count.
I was walking along the street listening to a transistor radio when I first heard that the Israelis, the Jews, had reached the Wailing Wall and with guns slung over their shoulders were praying there. No one was watching me, but I wept anyway. Sometimes even the tear-glands know more than the mind.
Nor would Jews permit their commitment to Israel to be compromised by any embarrassment over their opposition to the war in Vietnam.
They urged the American government to take strong action to keep the peace in the Middle East, which at first meant strong verbal support for Israel and, later, US unilateral or multilateral action to keep the Straits open. Historian Barbara Tuchman implored Johnson to act with "the nerve and firmness of intent" and in that way "restore the prestige" the country lost in Vietnam.
If the US failed to support "its stated position" on the Straits because of the war in Vietnam, she warned, its "uneasy rationale -- called 'resistance to aggression'" -- would collapse "hollowly and publicly" regardless of efforts to convince the public that "carnage" in Vietnam meant "freedom," and "scuttle" in the Middle East meant "peace."
In the end, for Tuchman, as for Jean Daniel of the leftist Le Nouvelle Observateur, the only relevant questions were: "Is Israel threatened with death? Yes, undoubtedly. Can we accept this? No, at no price."
On the haunted European continent, where the impact of the Holocaust was most direct, silence was not an option as non-Jews Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir readily admitted. It was also not an option for those who, like the famous couple, spent time in the area studying the situation first hand.
They were quick to sign a statement declaring that it was "impossible to understand, regardless of whatever game the Great Powers follow" how a part of public opinion could accept "as self evident the identification of Israel with the aggressive and imperialist camp," and how people could forget that Israel was the only country whose very existence was in jeopardy.
Hundreds of continental intellectuals from the right to the left appealed for international action on behalf of Israel. They included Pablo Picasso, Raymond Aron, Francois Mauriac, Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber, Gunter Grass, Federico Fellini and Vittorio de Sica. In France, only half of the volunteers for Israel were Jewish; many were Catholic priests.
Claude Lanzmann cried: "I will yell 'Long Live Johnson," if he will be the only one who would save Israel." At a joint Gaullist-Communist rally in France, Communists carried placards declaring that between the party line and Israel, they chose Israel. They were invaluable as legitimizers of an anti-Vietnam, but pro-Israel, position.
In Britain, where the experience of the genocidal past was less direct, there was greater adherence of non-Jewish intellectuals to ideological lines. Still, enough Vietnam doves turned into Middle East hawks for historian Robert Conquest to note that the crisis had "shaken up the thoughtless orthodoxies previously prevailing" and forced some intellectuals to start "to think -- and to resent their earlier bondage."
Summarizing a major Anglo-American symposium on the subject, Encounter remarked that intellectuals came to realize that speaking "truth to power" required some knowledge of what that truth was, "not only in the sense of a consciousness of eternal values but also in that of a more pied-a-terre familiarity with the facts of a political problem which determined the application to it of higher principles."
In the US, the reluctance of many peace movement leaders to engage in such an exploration drove a wedge between them and their Jewish allies. "I think it is inconsistent to favor unilateral intervention in one part of the world when I'm already opposed to unilateral intervention in another part of the world," was the reason Arthur Schlesinger Jr. gave for refusing to sign an appeal to Johnson to maintain free passage in the Straits and "not let Israel perish."
John Kenneth Galbraith declined first on the ground of inconsistency, and then because the wording was "too strong." Robert Lowell said he opposed all wars. Interestingly, when a labor leader characterized the position of Democrats who conditioned their support for political candidates on an anti-war stance, as "monomania," Schlesinger retorted that the term should be applied
to those who would have us so deeply involved in a land war on the mainland of Asia that we lose our capacity to deal with challenges in other, and more important, parts of the world -- a situation dramatized vividly for us ... by the crisis in the Middle East.
Apparently, Schlesinger was amongst those cowered by the administration effort "to convert its critics, or at least soften their opposition by exploiting their seeming ambivalence in opposing Vietnam intervention and, at the same time, favoring support of Israel."
Only fifty-four intellectuals of all faiths signed the appeal. They included Michael Harrington, Daniel P. Moynihan, Ralph Ellison, Willie Morris, Dwight McDonald Whitney Young and Elia Kazan.
This meager number not only disappointed Jewish liberals, but also left them open to charges that they were partially responsible for that meagerness. For, as John Kissin of Harvard pointed out, many of their past arguments were applicable to both conflicts: 1. US military intervention required UN sanction. 2. American commitments had to be ratified by the Senate. 3. US should not get involved in an Asian land war. 4. Foreign adventures led to the neglect of domestic problems. 5. War devastates the country US tries to help. 6. Foreign intervention harms US image, especially against "colored" Third World countries.
But, answered the "doves," Israel was a democracy which had never requested or wanted American troops; had the US stood firm, war would have been averted.
Still, retorted Kissin, your arguments had encouraged the growth of latent American isolationism and "this new isolationism was at least one of the factors which led the administration to temporize about the Gulf of Aqaba." He then asked: "Suppose that the Israeli army overthrew Prime Minister Eshkol, and installed General Dayan in his place, would it, above all, affect Israel's right to exist?" If not, why should it affect South Vietnam's right to exist?
An irate Theodore Draper conceded that a coup "would certainly not have affected Israel's right to exist," but added that the existence of South Vietnam, unlike the existence of Israel, "was supposed to be temporary." Also, had the Arab armies reached Tel Aviv, the existence of the Israeli people, as much as the existence of the state, would have been at stake.
The same was not true in Vietnam. Still, "Vietnam doves" would have to learn to live with what he called "a new scarecrow," the accusation that they fostered "new isolationism." To counter that accusation, he denied that intellectuals impacted public opinion: "If our Vietnam policy were more successful, its critics would be derided or ignored." It was "over indulgence of power in Vietnam" that had made it "in short supply for use elsewhere." In any case, those who called on the President "to act with courage and conviction" on behalf of Israel, "said nothing about unilateral United States intervention." Did Draper mean that it would have been improper for Vietnam doves to urge Johnson to save the Israeli people unilaterally?
The Mideast crisis also raised fundamental questions concerning anti-anti-communism which underlay much of the liberal opposition to intervention in Vietnam. It was based on the "hope" that it was possible to escape "the Communist/anti-Communist syndrome" by focusing on "the decentralization and dissidence of the Soviet world, in the nationalist and socialist movements in Asia and Africa and in the growth of dissent" in the US. However, remarked Partisan Review editor William Phillips:
The naked power moves of the Soviet bloc in the Near East, together with stale ideology, succeeded in bringing back the old confrontations. so, too, the almost automatic ganging-up on Israel of the Asian and African countries, rationalized by a hodge-podge of racial, national and anti-colonial propaganda, buried another hope-and with it the myth that being dark-skinned and poor and underdeveloped made a nation virtuous and progressive.
Others noted that "If ever there was an expression of Communist solidarity, a unification of forces, a reaffirmation of the Warsaw Pact, it occurred in reaction to Israel's victory. Even Yugoslavia -- that prime example of Communist breakaway -- returned to the fold, happily and voluntarily." They asked with trepidation: "Or should we consider the Communist International as having transformed itself into an anti-Semitic International now that Eastern Europe, India, the Middle East, and Northern Africa have all joined hands on this issue and are finding new allies-even in the United States?" To continue to adhere to their pre-crisis tenets, concluded some, Jews would have to sacrifice their own people to what others said was best for mankind.
Radicals were just as befuddled. On May 28 Marxist Rabbi Abraham Feinberg started his dinner address with a confession:
First, I must divulge what has been a very serious conflict during the last few days, namely, the question, how can we continue to criticize the policy of the United States in Vietnam, demanding an end to our intervention in that country, and at the same time hope that the great powers. particularly the United States, will safeguard the beleaguered and desperately imperilled State of Israel?
I have answered that question for myself. I shall continue without compromise to protest against ... the continued military activities of our government in Vietnam; at the same time that I shall hope and pray, along with millions of others, that some measure of firmness and understanding and sense of obligation will be mustered for the protection of Israel.
Morning Freiheit asserted that "Israel must not become a Second Vietnam," and three different "progressive" groups appealed to both American and Soviet UN representatives to do what was "necessary to prevent the illegal closing of the Gulf of Aqaba to Israel, to halt the threats of the destruction of Israel by Arab leaders, as well as threats of reprisal by Israeli leaders."
Soon, "progressive" Jews listening to both American and Soviet UN representatives began to doubt the efficacy of such dual appeals. Still, the radical Jewish Currents urged its readers to forgo an "appeal to Johnson for unilateral action" because the destructive presence of the US in Vietnam made anyone associated with her suspect in the Second and Third worlds.
The fact that Israel won alone enabled Western "progressive Jewish movements" to declare the Six Day War a "just war," "rejoice" that the planned aggression against her "was smashed," and characterize the Soviet position as "incomprehensible, unjust and disturbing." The Arab "obsession" with the destruction of Israel, they asserted, was not an expression of "anti-imperialism" but of a Pan-Arab nationalism which mandated an accommodation with feudal kings.
However, given the Soviet influence in the region, peace could be had only through superpower cooperation which depended on American concessions in Vietnam. Therefore, active opposition to the American presence in Vietnam was needed both to end an unjust war and to help Israel "win a just peace."
Since non-Jewish communist outlets followed the official Soviet pro-Arab line, many communists in the US and elsewhere quit the party.
Fidel Castro noted that "true revolutionaries never threaten a whole country with extermination." The fact that the Arabs did, and the Soviet bloc refused to denounce their so doing, undermined their credibility among Western radicals.
Listening to live broadcasts of UN debates, Martin Peretz wrote, "a certain naivete about the purity and virtue of the revolutionary world" which had "characterized much Left and anti-war sentiment in America," vanished. It could not survive the "fraternal greetings from Ho Chi Minh to Nasser" or the ganging up of countries considered "victims of American imperialism" on a "little country, and a progressive one at that, threatened to its very foundations." "The willingness to sacrifice small countries for large stakes was supposed to be a Washington specialty," he noted.
"Slowly it began to dawn on some elements of the Left that cynicism was amply distributed around the globe, and around the political spectrum." Consequently, reported Milton Himmelfarb, internationalism and "the old idea" that all "our" enemies were "on the Right" became passé.
The term "our" is not accidental. Israel's enemies mistreated their Jewish citizens. Jews in Arab countries were subjected to mob violence and official persecution. Following a series of deadly pogroms, pro-Western Libyan Jews were permitted to emigrate with their personal luggage and $60.
In Egypt, police rounded up Jewish males; those of foreign nationality were expelled. Others were first imprisoned, then expelled. A rabbi's plea that "we are Egyptians the same as anyone else," fell on deaf ears. Mahmoud Riad recalls a New York experience:
Once, as I was returning to my hotel, a young man stepped forward and shook my hand. He spoke Arabic with an Egyptian accent and ... I discovered he was an Egyptian Jew who had been expelled by the security department. He wished to return to Egypt because he was Egyptian and Gamal Abdel Nasser was his president... not Levi Eshkol! ... I could only tell him that he was one of the many victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In the USSR, the Jewish-Israeli identification was more subtle, but there too "the mobilization of `Brezhnev's fist' in the direction of the Middle East" meant that three and a half million Soviet Jews began to be regarded by the government, and gradually even by the "broad masses," as "the `fifth column' of international imperialism." In Poland, Jews were evicted from the Communist Party apparatus; disagreement with Czechoslovak Mideast policy was later a feature of the Prague spring.
In the US, it was black militants who pushed radical Jews into Israeli arms.
The June/July 1967 SNCC Newsletter horrified the organization's Jewish members, not only by basing its analysis of Arab-Israeli relations on an almost verbatim repetition of a 1966 PLO propaganda booklet, but by accompanying it with anti-Semitic cartoons. One of them showed a hand, marked with a Star of David and a dollar sign, tightening a rope around the necks of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Mohammed Ali. Theodore Bikel and Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld resigned from SNCC.
The ideological-racial line drawn at the 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana took hold. Jewish radicals pointed out that no Arab country had experienced, or was committed to, the kind of social transformation which took place in China or Cuba and that, given communist animosity, Israel had no choice but to take the Western side. They were nevertheless exhorted to sacrifice Israel for the sake of the revolution:
As the prophetic words were so well expounded by Che Guevara, that we need many Vietnams, the scene of the crisis fluctuates from Southeast Asia to the Middle East. One of the ironies of the situation that has upset the equilibrium of unity in the antiwar forces is the position of support for Israel many members have taken.
Socialist Paul Feldman fretted that disillusioned young Jews would "turn apathetic and conservative." The National Guardian worried that a leftist split would damage the peace movement. It would be tragic, wrote New America if a desire to gain US support for Israel were to lead to an acceptance of American Vietnam policy.
But Peretz explained that "Israel's friends" were not prepared to "agree as to the relative insignificance of a matter that stirred their minds and hearts no less surely and genuinely than the agony of Vietnam." In fact, Peretz added, the time had come for "some vigorous rethinking of attitudes." Leftist blanket opposition to unilateral American intervention had been based "on the confident surety that any decisive response by Washington to a political crisis was likely to be at the service of some landlord class or army junta."
But intervention on behalf of an Israeli social democracy would have been as desirable as intervention on behalf of Republican Spain. Indeed, the Munich analogy misapplied to Vietnam applied to Israel except that "this time the Czechs fought back and won, saving the great powers from embarrassment and guilt."
The left, Peretz continued, also needed to retain its willingness to "swallow an ill-digested, even thoughtless, pacifism" which had started as "reasonable nuclear pacifism" and turned into "a pacifism pure and simple, which still allowed for the violence of revolutionaries."
The horrors of Vietnam had made all war seem unjustifiable; "only something like the experience of Israel could have made respectable again in certain circles the notion that some countries fight some wars for good and sufficient reasons." Liberal rabbis found themselves in a similar painful reassessment of their past positions and alliances.
Heschel traveled to Philadelphia to enlist his friends from Clergy and Laymen for the Israeli cause. He was rebuffed.
A dozen church leaders, including Reinhold Niebuhr, Thurston N. Davis, James O'Gara and John B. Sheerin, did call on "men of conscience" not to remain silent, urged Washington "to honor its commitment to the freedom of international waterways" and asked "Americans of all persuasions" to support Israel's "right to live."
But only three of the signatories, John C. Bennett, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert McAfee Brown were Clergy and Laymen activists. The absence of men like Richard Neuhaus, William Sloane Coffin, and Daniel Berrigan was hard to miss.
Again there was a marked difference between the widespread support given Israel by European Christian clergy and the lack of such support by American clergy. Many clergymen and theologians who were "begged" to issue statements refused and, "in almost every instance," those who did had to be persuaded that it "was a situation in which the strength of interreligious relations was being seriously tested." The following story was typical:
I held my second meeting ... with Dr. Carol Shuster, President of the Southern California Council of Churches and Secretary of the Presbyterian Synod of Churches in Southern California. Dr. Shuster had been scheduled to speak this past Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl rally for Israel and at the last minute withdrew ... There was an enormous reaction from the Rabbinate and others in the Jewish community and I apprised Dr. Shuster of this fact... He withdrew because of substantial pressure which, I understand unofficially, included the National Presbyter. He said that his heart was with the people of Israel but that he was in a terrible position and had to withdraw. Governor Reagan, Senator Murphy, Mayor Yorty and a host of Hollywood stars were present. The absence of our Christian friends was conspicuous. In any event, Dr. Shuster ... was extremely anxious to have our goodwill and he apologized again and again.
Rabbis found protestations that "Israeli-Arab relationship constitute a political issue," and were therefore outside the clergy's domain, particularly goading as they were made by the very same individuals who had solicited Jewish support on no less political or debatable issues as civil rights and Vietnam.
Religiously based political activism was the basis of the close ties between liberal churches and reformist Jews and, in any case, as Rabbi Brickner tersely noted, "the survival of the Jewish people is not a political issue."
After the war, many Christian leaders claimed that they had remained silent because they "took Arab threats as propaganda whereas the Jews took these threats seriously." But, during the crisis, the Christian Century had warned that it was imperative not to assume that Nasser was "bluffing" and that Israel would surely "not make so naive an assumption" but would resort to arms if not afforded international relief. Yet, it urged the administration to view the conflict in the "larger context," keep in mind US interests in the Arab countries, and consider the possibility that World War III could start in the Middle East just as easily as it could in Vietnam.
Such assertions led Rabbi Brickner of Clergy and Laymen to charge that, by contributing to the world's abandonment of Israel, Christian silence held a measure of responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities which might have led to World War III. Clearly stung, Christian Century struck back both at Jewish and Christian "Dawks:"
We did not ... urge the United States to intervene unilaterally and militarily on the side of Israel... We could not permit our awareness of the perilous state of world peace to be blotted out by strong sympathy for Israel in the present crisis. Nor can we understand those Christian spokesmen who have permitted this to happen... With what amazing speed and dexterity, what involuted rationalizations, these sometime doves flew into a telephone booth and emerged as hawks... They stood aghast -- as they should have -- before the possibility that the Vietnam war would plunge the whole world into nuclear disaster, but called for military action by the U.S. in an area where the conflicting interests of the great powers can catapult the world into nuclear and global war quicker that it can happen in Southeast Asia ... War is the enemy ... Whether this was true in the past or not is irrelevant.
Emmanuel Gitlin of Drake University protested that it was not accurate to claim "the whole anti-Vietnam war movement for the pacifist camp" and, therefore, it was not "at all accurate to say, "with what amazing speed and dexterity ... these sometime doves ... emerged as hawks!" Bennett agreed that, unlike South Vietnam, "Israel was threatened with extermination" but he rationalized Christian silence by noting that support for Israel might have endangered Christians in Arab lands. Jews remembered that such broad concerns were used to vindicate the Church's silence during the Holocaust.
This time Jews had a trump card, liberal Christian fear of renting the peace movement. It led editors of liberal Christian magazines not only to print rabbis' strongly worded indictments of Christian silence, but to urge their readers not to be offended by these indictments because they originated in justifiable Jewish fear that they were "once more threatened by genocide." On the other hand, they asked Jews to remember that "the enthusiasm, affection and admiration of a predominantly Christian nation" were "exceptionally pro-Israel" and constituted a "capital that should be invested, not squandered."
Of course, that capital did not have to be invested with allies that failed. After all, the right had discovered Israel. The John Birch Society contributed $300,000 to the United Jewish Appeal. The Hearst publications were just one of the conservative outlets which celebrated the Israeli victory, and Christian fundamentalists delighted in the Jewish return to the Old City of Jerusalem.
The realization that "Israel had promises and friends, but even if it hadn't wanted to fight on its own, it would have had to," wrote historian Arthur Hertzberg united a "somewhat lonelier and even angrier" Jewry. However, Jews also realized that this time they did not fail each other, nor did history and God fail them.
In fact, the spring 1967 emotional roller coaster renewed the
belief "that the history of the Jews points to some kind of
providential order" in which they have a "special place." So, wrote
Milton Himmelfarb, in the manner of old Jewish tradition in which "I"
signifies "singular and plural, individual and collective, personal
and referring to the Children of Israel." American Jews joined their
brethren the world over in reciting the old verse: "I thank Thee, for
Thou hast answered me, and art my salvation." Hence, Jews became more
Jewish, more religious and, much more dedicated to Israel.
We are a people, one people. Fathered today in the capital of this nation in which we rejoice as free and equal citizens, we proclaim our oneness with our brethren in Israel... With them we vow that the victories won on the battle field shall not be lost at the table of diplomacy.
On June 8, this was part of the commitment made by all 27 national Jewish organizations. Their ultimate goal was to secure American support for "direct peace negotiations" as a condition for Israeli withdrawal. It was a position behind which "doves and non-doves" could unite. Kenen, with his energized AIPAC, organized this newly committed Jewish leadership into a disciplined lobbying army in possession of clear strategic objectives and tactical means of achieving them. Congress, the media and the public would be an easy sale. The administration was a tougher nut to crack. John Roche wrote Johnson:
Listening to McCloskey yesterday, and reading the State Department's Staff Summary today, I was appalled to realize that there is real underground sentiment for kissing some Arab backsides. This is, in my judgment, worse than unprincipled -- it is stupid... The net consequence of trying to "sweet -talk" the Arabs is that they have contempt for us -- and we alienate Jewish support in the United States... Which brings us back to the question once (perhaps erroneously) attributed to you: "Whose State Department is it?"
Roche argued that State Department handling of Middle Eastern policy was unprincipled, incompetent and damaging politically.
Preparing for the June 8 rally, Jewish leaders took a more subtle tack. A Presidential message stressing peace, and avoiding the term "territorial integrity," they argued would "dramatize" Johnson "depth of feeling for the humanity involved" and his "desire to see a lasting and permanent peace in the Middle East." Barry Levinson and Ben Wattenberg even added that, "the Mid-East crisis can turn around a lot of anti-Vietnam anti-Johnson feeling, particularly if you use it as an opportunity to your advantage." Failure to act could have the opposite consequence. Charles Silberman wrote:
Since I can not believe that my government will willingly disregard its sacred commitments, I can only assume that the critics of our Vietnam policy are right after all: that our effort there is so eroding our resources and, more important, our energies and will, that we are now unable to respond to aggression in other areas, even those where more vital American interests are at stake.
For three days insiders told Johnson that "many people, including Mr. Krim" tried "to reach representatives of the Jewish community ... but it seemed to have little effect" because "the man in the street" resented Johnson's policy and, unless the President did something, there was "great danger that the Jewish rally" would turn into "an anti-Johnson, rather than a pro Israel, demonstration." That something, insisted Fortas, was permitting "the Israelis and the Arabs to negotiate this out."
Immediate victory was not to be had. Johnson used the Levinson-Wittenberg memo to express his righteous indignation. Spotting Barry Levinson, "Johnson jutted out his right fist and yelled down the hall, 'You Zionist dupe! You and Wattenberg are Zionist dupes in the White House! Why can't you see I'm doing all I can for Israel.
That's what you should be telling people when they ask for a message from the President for their rally.'" The message was received and transmitted. It was time to back off. David Ginzberg called Califano to assure him that everything was under control. The main speaker would be Morris Abram, and the theme of the rally would be solidarity with Israel and statements that Johnson was "doing a magnificent job in the Israel crisis." There would be no Presidential statement or appointment, but a Presidents' Conference would have a chance to meet with McGeorge Bundy and Hubert Humphrey.
On the evening of June 7, over 2000 Jewish leaders from 39 states attended a leadership briefing session, followed by state and regional caucuses. Marvin Bernstein of Princeton told the delegates that, in their meetings with Congressmen and officials, they should advocate "a substantial shift in American policy." Past "prudent ambivalence" should give way to commitment to freedom of Israeli navigation in Aqaba and Suez; bi-lateral peace treaties between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and "readjustment of boundaries to meet Israel's urgent security needs." Such a policy shift was in America's interest, the delegates should explain, because the crisis revealed "illusionary character of Arab unity and the political unreliability of the Arab leadership."
The unification of Jerusalem and the announcement of a ceasefire, turned the rally into a large victory celebration.
A student climbed the statue of Lafayette, first to place an Israeli flag on its top and then to set up an American flag. His lobbying elders were thrilled to discover that the victory turned evasive Congressmen into staunch Israeli supporters.
Humphrey ignored his promise to Johnson to merely "sit and listen" and engaged in some fence-mending of his own. On May 30, Humphrey had shocked a Shoreham Hotel gathering by offering to send food packages to Israel instead of promising to keep the Straits open. On June 8, he became the first official to express support for a formal Middle Eastern peace settlement.
But Jewish anti-war activism still proved troublesome. To the standard questions of "Why should we send American boys to fight Israel's war? After all we fought 'their war' in Germany, why should we do it again?" people added "They won't fight in Vietnam why should we fight in Israel?" A NYT editorial questioned "whether opponents of the war in Vietnam would advocate refusal to cooperate if United States forces were dispatched to the defense of Israel instead of South Vietnam."
In St. Louis, a student volunteer for Israel confirmed that he would go to Israel, but not to Vietnam, because he had "a deep affinity for the Jewish people."
Such comments led St. Louis members of the AJC to urge the national office to mount a campaign clarifying the issue for persons to whom the distinction between the two wars was less clear than to the Jewish community. "To guard against the ugly implications of this situation for American Jews," wrote John Slawson, was "not to deny the needs of Israel but rather to meet those needs" because "as in all military situations there is a war front and a home front.
They are interdependent and the weakness of one caused the debilitation of the other." Only by maintaining "their position in American life" could American Jews fulfill their role as a home front and effectively seek American "support of Israel and the backing of world opinion."
The time had come to repair Johnson's relations with the Jewish leadership.
On June 8, Charles Jordan of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee convinced Morris Abram that it was "imperative" to establish "a Jewish presence" in South Vietnam. Providing assistance to refugees in the manner already done by the Quakers would appease the President without alienating opponents of the War.
The two asked a select group of leaders to attend a June 13 organizational meeting. Invitee William Haber of the University of Michigan questioned the timing of the initiative because "even a quiet involvement in South Viet Nam might be interpreted by many as a diversion from the major concern of the community at this particular time." But, "It may perhaps be that ... such an involvement of a Jewish group in South Vietnam would be of aid, particularly with the national administration in regard to Mid-East affairs." Since the second possibility was the operative one, plans were made on June 13 for a Jewish Service Committee for Civilian Relief in Vietnam chaired by Morris Abram and funded in the main by AID. Jordan's mysterious death delayed the announcement of the project until January 1968.
Afterwards, the AJC was able to inform a political scientist who inquired about its position on Vietnam that while it had no official position, its President chaired the Jewish Service Committee. None of this meant that Jews stopped opposing the War. It did mean, that the Jewish leadership had other priorities.
This article appeared June 4, 2007 on History News Network (HNN)
Thanks are due Gabrielle Goldwater for bringing this article to our
Dr. Judith Apter Klinghoffer is an affiliate professor at Haifa University, Member of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom of Bar-Ilan University and was the 1996 Fulbright professor at Aarhus, Denmark. She is the co-author of International Citizens' Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights and the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences.
This article appeared June 4, 2007 on History News Network (HNN) -- http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/39645.html
Thanks are due Gabrielle Goldwater for bringing this article to our attention.
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