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CONTROVERSIAL MCGOVERN CAMPAIGN AIDE EXPLAINS POSITION ON MIDDLE EAST

Richard G. Stearns, 27-year-old political campaign strategist for Sen. George McGovern (S.D.), the Democratic Presidential nominee, does not regret having sided five and seven years ago with attitudes construed as pro-Arab, but says time and events have changed his views. He is now completely in accord, he says, with the party’s and McGovern’s strongly pro-Israel positions.

In an exclusive interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Stearns reiterated a statement, in a letter he wrote one week ago on his Middle East views, that he has “defended Sen. McGovern’s position on the Middle East and Israel publicly on a number of occasions during the course of the campaign.”

What I thought and did (years ago) has no bearing on my views at present,” he told the JTA. “The (Democratic) platform expresses fully my views on Israel and the Middle East….I fully sympathize with and support the party’s position on Israel and the Middle East. I fully support Sen. McGovern’s position. With the proviso,” he said at another point, “that I am not an expert on the Middle East.”

SOVIET INTERVENTION CHANGED VIEWS

The “Soviet intervention” on behalf of the Arab States, the Rhodes scholar indicated, was a factor in his change of thought. In this connection, he remarked on the uncertainty in the region resulting from the sudden reduction taking place in the Soviet military presence in Egypt.

Stearns’ statements, oral and written, stemmed from criticism of him at a “seminar” of Jewish delegates to the Democratic national convention in Miami Beach. Harriet Davis, a Bronx delegate, said that materials he had signed would be sent to every American Jew, and called for his dismissal from McGovern’s staff. Stearns, who organized highly successful drives for McGovern delegates in non primary States, is considered one of the nominee’s four or five top campaign managers. He is not Jewish, nor were his parents or grandparents, he told the JTA.

The half-hour interview took place without prior arrangement in Stearns’ office on the fourth floor of the Democratic national headquarters building here. He was questioned on three specific items with which he has been identified in print. They concerned advertisements in the Washington Post of June 23,1967, by the “Ad Hoc Committee on the Middle East” and in the New York Times of Nov. 22,1967, by the “Cambridge Committee Calling for Respect and Humanity” and a letter he wrote in 1965 to Rabbi Elmer Berger, a protagonist for the Arab point of view. This letter was noted in a circular distributed at the convention, Stearns observed.

The Post advertisement took the form of an open letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson from “Middle East specialists,” including the anti-Zionist Rabbi Berger. They said the United States government should not tolerate “territorial aggrandizement” or occupation “by force of arms.” and warned that there was a “real and present danger of America’s losing the Arab world by default.” The statement also declared that “Arab provocation cannot be condoned.”

Regarding this advertisement, Stearns reiterated the words in his letter to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee: “Although I did not agree with the circular in all respects at the time, and agree with leas of it today. its general thrust reflected my views of the circumstances surrounding the June, 1967, war. It restated, as I recall, although in harsher terms, the position taken then by the United Nations Security Council and the US government.” Stearns’ meaning here was unclear, as the only post-war Security Council action to that point was a brief cease-fire resolution.

Stearns’ letter to AIPAC continued: “My name was solicited by the Committee which sponsored the ad, as the views it expressed were substantially those of the US National Student Association, of which I was (international affairs) vice president. Thus my name was meant to convey more an organizational endorsement than a personal one.”

Stearns told the JTA that “I have no regret in signing” the statement in that advertisement “except that it is embarrassing the Senator (McGovern).” He added: “The situation now and the circumstances have changed. What was an Arab-Israeli dispute has become a Soviet intervention.”

His linkage to the advertisement in the Times puzzled him, Stearns said. He said in his AIPAC letter and to the JTA that “I am not now nor have I ever been a member” of the Cambridge Committee, and that until it was brought to his attention recently had not been “aware of its existence.”

The Times advertisement called for “compassion” for Arab refugees and Israeli “respect” for Islamic mosques in administered territory; backed continued UN peace efforts, and sought contributions to the United American Arab Appeal, American Middle East Rehabilitation, and the Paris based French Committee to Aid the Arab Victims of the Middle East. The co-signers included Noam Chomsky, the educator; Arnold Toynbee, the historian, and Dr. M.T. Mehdi, an Arab propagandist now living in New York. The signers also included, in addition to NSA vice president Richard Stearns, a professor at Simmons College, Boston, named Richard Sterne.

McGovern’s aide suggested to the JTA that his name had been lifted from the advertisement in the Post for use in the one in the Times–although, he said, by Nov., 1967, when the Times advertisement appeared, he had severed his ties with the NSA.

EXPLAINS ASSOCIATION WITH BERGER

With regard to his letter to Rabbi Berger, which was not mentioned in his communication to AIPAC, Stearns said that in 1965, when he was assistant project director of the NSA, he was selected to escort a dozen Arab student leaders on a visit to Rabbi Berger and his family in New York. Stearns, then a Junior at Stanford University, said his job with the Arabs was on the basis of a contract NSA had with the State Department.

“One job was to write thank-you letters, and I wrote Rabbi Berger,” Stearns recalled to the JTA. “That was the first and only time I had met him. I was the escort for the group and we had tea with him. I don’t know him. I have had no other association except escorting the group to his home and writing a thank-you letter to him for being a gracious host. I wrote Rabbi Berger that the Arab students were 100 percent in agreement with what he had to say, which was the truth.” Stearns mused about why a letter from him seven years ago should have been kept so long. The Stearns affair was put directly to McGovern by the JTA at a news conference July 20 in the Senate caucus room. McGovern said Stearns shared his views on Israel.

With regard to his letter to Rabbi Berger, which was not mentioned In his communication to AIPAC, Stearns said that In 1965, when he was assistant project director of the NSA, he was selected to escort a dozen Arab student leaders on a visit to Rabbi Berger and his family In New York. Stearns, then a Junior at Stanford University, said his Job with the Arabs was on the basis of a contract NSA had with the State Department.

One Job was to write thank-you letters, and I wrote Rabbi Berger, Stearns recalled to the JTA. “That was the first and only time I had met him. I was the escort for the group and we had tea with him. I don’t know him. I have had no other association except escorting the group to his home and writing a thank-you letter to him for being a gracious host. I wrote Rabbi Berger that the Arab students were 100 percent In agreement with what he had to say, which was the truth.” Stearns mused about why a letter from him seven years ago should have been kept so long. The Stearns affair was put directly to McGovern by the JTA at a news conference July 20 In the Senate caucus room. McGovern said Stearns shared his views on Israel.

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