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President Lyndon B. Johnson: Israel and American Jewry

Lyndon Baines Johnson, America’s 36th President who died yesterday at his ranch in Jonnson City. Texas, at the age of 64, is remembered here for blocking threatened Soviet military intervention against Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967 and preserving Israel’s rights to safe borders in the debate that followed in the United Nations.

During his Presidency from Nov. 22, 1963, after President Kennedy’s assassination, to Inauguration Day in 1969, no doubt existed in the Jewish community of his support for Israel’s survival and of scrupulous fairness to American Jews in his programming of progress in social legislation for the United States.

“He was a man who neither knew nor felt any distinction of race, religion or color,” former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “He was a man who valued people as individuals, valued them for their quality of heart and mind. He liked and trusted Jewish people because he found in those people the same concern for human value that he himself cherished.”

David Ginsburg, the Washington lawyer whose counseling brought him perhaps closer to President Johnson on Jewish matters than anyone, appraised him to JTA in this way: “The American people have lost a friend who contributed more than any other President in American history to furtherance of domestic peace and prosperity. Israel has lost a friend who was unique in the history of that young State.”

President Johnson manifested support for Israel in numerous ways. He encouraged Congress to vote substantial financial assistance to Israel. He demonstrated adroitness and courage in blocking the threat to Israel on June 10, 1967 when Soviet Premier Aleksei N. Kosygin was on the hot line from the Kremlin to the White House with threats of the use of Soviet force against Israel.

PREPARED TO RESIST SOVIET INTRUSION

In his memoirs published in 1971–“The Vantage Point, Perspectives of the Presidency 1963-1969″–President Johnson recalled that on that June morning in the Six-Day War, “new word” came from Moscow that threw a “chill” into the White House. Mr. Kosygin was on the hot line with a “grave communication” in which the Soviet leader accused Israel of ignoring the UN resolutions, spoke of “independent decisions,” foresaw “grave catastrophe” if Israel did not cease military action, and threatened that Russia would take military action.

President Johnson asked Robert S. McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, for the precise location of the Sixth Fleet. When Secretary McNamara replied it was about 300 miles west of Syria and 10-12 hours sailing time from that coast, President Johnson ordered the American warships to move immediately to within 50 miles of the Syrian coast, breaking previous Navy orders to the fleet to stay 100 miles away “The Soviets had made a decision. I had to respond,” President Johnson wrote. “The United States was prepared to resist Soviet intrusion in the Middle East.”

President Johnson’s decision that morning insured that the Soviet Union and the United States would both stay out of the conflict with their own forces. It was also a clear signal to Moscow that this was an assurance for Israel that no power would intervene. When the Six-Day War began the State Department issued a statement the U.S. would remain “neutral in word, thought and deed.” But President Johnson’s views laid to rest any hint that he would allow Israel to founder.

In the United Nations debate, U.S. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, acting for the U.S. under President Johnson’s instructions, played a significant role in shaping the United Nations Resolution 242 that was finally adopted on Nov. 22. 1967 and continues as the basis for American policies on the Middle East.

On June 20,1967, during an emergency General Assembly debate initiated by the Soviet Union over Israel’s conquest of Arab territory. Goldberg referred to the five principles for peace in the Middle East enunciated the day before by President Johnson in his address to the National. Foreign Policy Conference for Educators. Johnson said these principles were: “…recognized right of national life; justice for the refugees; innocent maritime passage; limits of the wasteful and destructive arms race” and “political and territorial integrity for all.”

While the Assembly was in session. President Johnson and Kosygin met in Glassboro. N.J. to discuss a number of issues including the Middle East crisis. Johnson suggested to Kosygin that the U.S. and USSR inform each other of any plans for arms shipments into the area. Nothing came of the suggestion, however, as the Russians poured arms into Egypt to replace its Six-Day War losses and the U.S. resumed arms shipments to Israel.

JEWISH SUPPORT PHENOMENAL IN 1964 ELECTION

It was at President Johnson’s meeting with the late Premier Levi Eshkol of Israel at his Texas ranch Jan. 7-8, 1968, during Mr. Eshkol’s official visit to this country that agreement on the U.S. shipment of Phantom Jets to Israel was reached. President Johnson’s initial commitment was for two dozen of the supersonic aircraft and more were programmed for long-term delivery which is still being carried out. President Johnson also invited President Zalman Shazar of Israel to the LBJ ranch in 1966 when Shazar was visiting South America.

Although Johnson never visited Israel, he kept himself well informed on the Jewish State and its needs. One of his most dramatic utterances before a Jewish audience was made on Feb. 6. 1964, when, addressing the annual dinner of the Weizmann Scientific Institute in New York, he urged the use of nuclear power for water development in the Middle East.

An associate of President Johnson recalled to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency a remark by the President after the 1967 Middle East crisis had abated. “I want to see that little country out there flying its blue and white flag high.” Johnson was quoted as saying.

Jewish political support for Mr. Johnson was phenomenal. In the 1964 elections he is believed to have received 90 percent of the Jewish vote considered the highest percentage of any Presidential candidate in history. Mr. Johnson stood out for his liberalism while his opponent. Sen. Barry Gold-water, was regarded as a hawk on the Vietnam war and a reactionary in social affairs, both of which were repellent to the vast majority of Jewish voters. It was a tragic paradox of history, however, that Johnson, the architect of the Great Society at home, was also the architect of America’s massive involvement in the Vietnam war.

JEWS WERE CLOSE CONFIDANTS

Throughout his political career which covered the range from Congressman to Senator to Vice-President and President, Mr. Johnson had Jews among his closest confidants. This was especially evident during his Presidency. Besides appointing Fortas to the Supreme Court and nominating him to be Chief Justice, and his selection of Arthur Goldberg to be his Ambassador at the UN at an especially difficult time in that area, President Johnson named Wilbur Cohen as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Sheldon Z. Kaplan as Commissioner of Internal Revenue and Emanuel Cohen as Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Eugene Rostow was his Undersecretary for Economic Affairs in the State Department and his brother, Prof. Walt W. Rostow was his National Security Advisor at the end of his Presidency. Lee C. White, who was on his White House staff, became Chairman of the Federal Power Commission. Leonard Mark, who was the lawyer for the Johnson family’s television interests, became director of the U.S. Information Agency, Ginsburg, his intimate personal advisor and counsel or, was named Executive Director of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, familiarly known as the Kerner Commission.

Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, then a professor of government at Harvard, entered the international scene as President Johnson’s emissary to Paris in 1968 when negotiations were underway with the North Vietnamese to end the American bombing of North Vietnam. In Congressional affairs, two of Johnson’s closest associates were Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D. Conn.) and Rep. Emanuel Celler, the Democrat from Brooklyn who retired from the Congress less than a month ago after serving in it for nearly 50 years.

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