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Benjamin Rosenthal Dead at 59

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Rep. Benjamin Rosenthal (D. N.Y.), the senior Jewish member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a staunch supporter of Israel in Congress, an opponent of the Vietnam war and a leading consumer advocate, died yesterday at the age of 59 in Georgetown University Hospital after a long battle with cancer. His death reduced to 37 the number of Jewish legislators in the House.

Rosenthal, of Queens, who was elected last November to his 11th term in the House in a newly-drawn Seventh District in Queens, had been in the forefront of Congressional battles for continued support to Israel, such as increases in United States financial and military aid to Israel, and in seeking to prevent Administration actions he considered harmful to Israel.

Among these, he took part in the unsuccessful battle to prevent the Reagan Administration from selling AWACS reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia in 1981 and had joined in warnings to the Reagan Administration over reports of planned sales of weapons to Jordan. Many non-Jewish Congressmen looked to him for guidance on issues concerning Israel.

Rosenthal was operated on for cancer of the colon in January, 1981, and received 10 months of chemotherapy which left him gaunt and weak. He managed to resume his duties in the House, but his condition became worse last month and he was forced to take the oath of office for the 98th Congress Monday in his hospital room.

ELECTED BY HUGE MAJORITIES

Rosenthal had been elected by huge majorities from the Eighth Congressional district since he was first elected in 1962. At one point, in 1969, he held the House in session all night to show his support for demonstrators who had come to Washington in opposition to the Vietnam war. At that time, he said “One Congressman with a fair amount of chutzpah can awaken the public conscience.”

Born in The Bronx in 1923, he attended City College of New York. In 1949, after wartime service in Iceland, he returned to study at Brooklyn Law School, where he earned his law degree.

Patrick Mulhearn, counsel to New York City Mayor Edward Koch, said yesterday an interim successor would be chosen by the Queens County Democratic Committee. Under New York State election law, Mulhearn added, Governor Mario Cuomo will call a special election which must be held no sooner than 30 days and no more than 40 days after the date the Governor signs the proclamation for the special election. The law does not specify when the Governor must take that action.

A general election for the vacated Seventh District seat will be held on election day in November. A spokesman for the family said funeral arrangements had not been completed.

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