Background Report Sanders, President’s New Senior Advisor, is Leader in Politics, Jewish Affairs
Menu JTA Search

Background Report Sanders, President’s New Senior Advisor, is Leader in Politics, Jewish Affairs

Download PDF for this date

One sign of Edward Sanders’ importance to President Carter on Jewish concerns is that he is the only Presidential aide to have three offices–on the prestigious second floor of the White House, adjacent to the Secretary of State’s suite at the State Department, and in the President’s Executive Office Building where a small staff is being assembled for his logistical support.

More importantly, Carter has instructed him that as “a senior advisor” he is to work closely with other senior officials of his Administration in the making of Middle East policy and to meet with the President himself and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. In focusing on Middle East policy, the President informed Sanders he is to meet with members of Congress and those organizations interested in that area, but he is also to advise the President on other matters as well.


Sanders brings to his new job peculiarly fitting experiences that are hard to match. In Democratic Party politics, he has long carried broad responsibility in California and in the nation. Within the Jewish community, he has been a leader in various major organizations.

When he was asked to help Jimmy Carter’s presidential election effort in 1976, he resigned as president of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee to serve as deputy national campaign director in the Carter-Mondale campaign. In December, 1977, after being honorary chairman of Mayor Tom Bradley’s re-election campaign in Los Angeles, Carter appointed him as a consultant with no salary.

Needing him full-time now, in view of the strained relations between the Administration and the Jewish community, the President called him to be a senior advisor. On Aug. 1 Sanders left Los Angeles, where he was in a lucrative law practice as a corporate specialist, and came to Washington at much personal sacrifice–a staggering financial loss and a wrenching of family living patterns. His aged parents and two children live in Los Angeles.

Technically on the State Department’s payroll, his government salary is $50,000 per annum–a fraction of his law practice earnings–well up in six figures–as a top partner in the L.A. law firm of Irell and Mannelli with its stable of 80 lawyers.


“It’s really a challenge to me to make a contribution,” in the Administration’s policy-making process regarding Arab-Israeli problems, Sanders said in his first media interview since becoming a federal employe. “I know I have a major responsibility and I’m going to do my level best to live up to that responsibility.”

As a consultant and a California lawyer at the same time, he explained, his Presidential service was unstructured and unscheduled. “I wasn’t able to be a continuing part of the process,” he said. “It was not possible to be effective an a once-in-a-while basis from 3,000 miles away. Now I’m in the middle of things.” This means he works closely with Harold Saunders, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East; William Quandt, the National Security Council’s Middle East expert; and Hamilton Jordan, the President’s prime advisor on domestic politics with oversight on foreign affairs.

Thus, Sanders is in the State Department mornings “to do a lot of reading” and consulting with its Middle East specialists and in the White House afternoons and evenings for services there. “I work until nine p.m. because of the three hour time difference with the West Coast,” he noted.


Sanders sees his three areas of responsibility as service within the Administration’s policy-making procedure “advocating positions I believe in and before the policies are concluded”; work with the Congress and “listening” to the Jewish community and discussing issues with its leaders. How does it feel to be an ex-president of AIPAC and advisor to the President under strong criticism from many pro-Israeli Americans over his policy that is seen as tilted towards Arab perceptions?

“I start out on the premise and belief that a strong, secure and viable Israel is in the best interests of the United States,” Sanders replied. “Israel is our strongest friend in the Middle East. Israel’s security and strength that help offset Soviet penetration in the Middle East are essential elements in our foreign policy. There is no difference in my basic and constant belief that an unshakeable and enduring friendship between our country and Israel is essential to our country. This has been my viewpoint ever since I have become familiar with the various aspects of our country’s relationship with the Middle East.”

“I respect and admire the President and his deep and abiding commitment to all of the things that are important to me as an American and as a Jew,” he emphasized.


Now 56 years old and a lawyer for 27 years, Sanders attributes his vast personal commitment to Judaism and Jewry to his wife Rose. On the paternal side of his family, his ancestors emigrated to New York in 1832 from Alsace-Lorraine. “I was pretty well assimilated” when he was stationed with the U.S. Army near Tyler, Texas, during World War II.

Then he met Rose Eisen, daughter of a grocer in Tyler who had emigrated with his wife from Lithuania early in this century. At that time some 400 Jews lived within Tyler’s 27,000 population. They had a Reform temple and an Orthodox synagogue. The Eisen family belonged to the latter. They married in 1946 after Sanders returned from the war in Europe where he had risen to the rank of infantry captain.

“Without her, whatever role I’m going to play, I wouldn’t be playing,” Sanders said of his wife. “The Orthodox shul was a very important part of Rose’s life. It was she who introduced me to the riches and fullness of Jewish life. I was not Bar Mitzvah. She is the one who guided me. Together we’ve been married 32 years. It’s been a joint venture in Jewishness.” His communal services include: president, Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles; vice-president, HIAS; chairman, United Jewish Welfare Fund-Israel Emergency Fund campaign 1970-71; vice president, Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds and chairman of its campaign services committee; member, United Jewish Appeal’s executive committee and Joint Distribution Committee’s Executive.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund