JERUSALEM (Jun. 18)
Max Fisher of Detroit, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, chose his words carefully and deliberately as he gave the Jewish Telegraphic Agency his assessment of Premier Yitzhak Rabin’s talks in Washington last week with President Ford and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, “Rabin did a most excellent job in Washington. I think he handled himself very well indeed. The tension in relations has considerably abated. But we still have the basic stalemate over the interim negotiations….An agreement would be very very helpful–for all the parties involved. I hope it can be achieved,” Fisher said.
As he spoke in his Jerusalem hotel suite yesterday with JTA’s executive vice-president Jack Siegel and Jerusalem bureau chief David Landau, Premier Rabin himself was briefing his Cabinet on the Washington talks. Fisher had met with President Ford after the Rabin-Ford talks, he revealed. Now he was in Jerusalem to attend the Jewish Agency Assembly. He would be meeting with Rabin during the week to review with him the talks in Washington and the subsequent, ongoing diplomatic contacts.
He was acutely aware of the Ford Administration’s intense desire to secure an Israel-Egypt interim agreement and would share his concern with Rabin and other ministers. “I’m just an itinerant diplomat,” Fisher says quietly. in fact, though, Max Fisher, Detroit industrialist and a pillar of the Republican Party, has been for more than six years Jewry’s advocate at the White House, adviser and confidant of two presidents. His knowledge of the long and intricate–and as yet still unconcluded–interim negotiations between Israel and Egypt is intimate. After the Kissinger “shuttle” collapsed in March, Fisher met with President Ford, and then travelled to Israel, where he saw Rabin and other leaders. Back in Washington he met again with Ford and Kissinger. The press dubbed him the go-between, the man both sides were counting on to help smooth their ruffled relations after the shuttle failure.
SPEAKS ‘FATHERLY’ OF FORD
Fisher spurns headlines and publicity, preferring to do his delicate task away from the spotlights and tape-recorders. He scarcely hides his concerned criticism of some Jewish leaders who, no sooner have they met with officials in the White House or the State Department, report in detail on their conversations to the media. This undermines their credibility and ultimately their effectiveness, Fisher says with a sigh.
Fisher speaks of President Ford in almost a fatherly tone but with admiration and deference. He has known him for over 20 years, since the days when “Gerry” was a young Congressman from his own state of Michigan. Now, however, he finds himself addressing him as “Mr. President.” Partly, it is the effect of the Oval Office and the trappings of the Presidency, but also, he says, the effect of Ford’s perceptible and impressive growth in stature as he “takes hold” of the Presidency. Ford has in effect announced his candidacy for 1976 and Fisher asserts that he (Fisher) will be “very involved” in the campaign.
“I’ve watched him gain assurance as President. Now he is much more familiar with the issues…spends a great deal of time on foreign policy. Particularly since Vladivostok he has emerged as his own policy maker. This is not to say that Kissinger’s importance has waned. He is still a strong Secretary playing a vital role. But Ford is very definitely making his own policy, at home and abroad–and indeed it will be on this policy that the electorate will judge him next year.”
RELIGION INFLUENCES FORD
Ford has always “had a strong feeling for the accomplishments of the Jewish people.” Fisher says. “He admires people who do things for themselves.” The fact that the President is a religious man has also influenced him towards a consistent sympathy with the Zionist cause which, Fisher asserts with confidence, has not changed since he assumed office.
Ford certainly perceives Israel as “the bastion of democracy” in the Mideast and believes in the fundamental dovetailing of American and Israeli interests in the deterrent of Soviet expansionism, Fisher says. At the same time though, he points out, the President is constantly conscious of the broader American interests in the region, especially in preventing an infiltration of Soviet power into the oil-producing areas. This concern may become less pressing in five to eight years time says Fisher, who has served both Nixon and Ford as an adviser on energy. By then Ford’s alternative energy sources program will have borne its fruits. But at present, with the threat of even sharper recession still hanging over the American economy, the President is naturally apprehensive of the specter of another oil embargo, according to Fisher. As a straight-talking man, Ford has on occasion articulated this concern, he said.
Fisher’s frequent meetings with the President are public knowledge since in the Ford White House the secrecy of the Nixon years has dissipated and the appointments appear on the daily calendar. Asked about the rumors current in some American-Jewish quarters that a new combination comprising Rumsfeld, Percy and Goldwin is moving into a predominant role in Jewish and Israel oriented policy making, Fisher dismisses the notion with a wave of the hand “No such animal,” he says of the purported backroom trio, While Donald Rumsfeld, President Ford’s White House Chief of Staff, is certainly a rising star in the Administration and a most able man (Fisher has known him for many years), there is no truth in the rumor that he, together with Illinois Republican Sen. Charles Percy and White House aide Bob Goldwin are seeking to elbow Kissinger off center-stage on