LOS ANGELES, March 13 (JTA) – The Associated Press carried a story this week that Michael Elkins had died in Jerusalem at the age of 84.
The story reported that at the beginning of the 1967 Six-Day War, Elkins, then working for CBS and BBC, scooped the world by announcing on the war’s first day – right after the initial, devastating Israeli airstrikes – that Israel already had clinched a victory.
At the same time, Radio Cairo was announcing that Egyptian bombers were leveling Tel Aviv, so CBS thought Elkins was wrong and spiked his report.
BBC took a chance and broadcast Elkins’ story – after warning him that if the story was wrong he’d be out of a job.
I met Elkins two decades earlier, under somewhat bizarre circumstances.
It was the late spring of 1948, when I was a student at the University of California at Berkeley, and had decided to put my World War II infantry experience to some use by joining the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish fighting force.
I had no idea how to get to the nascent Jewish state, however, until someone advised me to contact Elkins and gave me an address.
I took the train to San Francisco and went to the address, which turned out to be the office of the local Butchers Union.
I learned later that Elkins had been an anti-fascist Hollywood screenwriter and union organizer, and had been dropped behind enemy lines by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during World War II – but he was now, somehow, the business agent for the butchers.
I walked into his office and he asked me what I wanted.
“To go over and join the Haganah,” I said.
Elkins blanched – though he was not the blanching type – and quickly shut the door.
“My God,” he said, “how did you ever find me?”
I told him that I had been given his address.
“Oh, no,” he said, and explained that he had arranged an elaborate system worthy of a spy novel, in which I was supposed to meet contact X, who would direct me to contact Y, who would pass me to contact Z, and only then was I to be put in touch with Elkins.
As it turned out, I reached Israel by a different route, but I met Elkins again in Jerusalem in the early 1960s.
We exchanged notes and agreed that U.S. authorities generally had winked at the violation of laws by American citizens who went to Israel to fight.
But the FBI pursued those who smuggled arms or funneled volunteer soldiers to Israel.
Elkins had left San Francisco rather precipitously after being tipped off that U.S. agents were on the way.
As a result, instead of brooding about butchers’ wages and health benefits, Elkins eventually got a world scoop, part of his decades of work as a respected journalist and author.