Former Justice Goldberg, Dead at 81, Had Profound Impact on Jewish Life
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Former Justice Goldberg, Dead at 81, Had Profound Impact on Jewish Life

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Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, who died of cardiac arrest early Friday at his residence in Washington, was active in numerous issues of importance to the Jewish people and Israel.

Goldberg, who was 81, also served as secretary of labor in the Kennedy administration, after years of influential work as a labor lawyer.

His most controversial career move came in 1965, when he left his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, after only three years, to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, at the behest of President Lyndon Johnson.

Although many, including Goldberg himself, said the decision had probably not been a wise one, his time at the U.N. overlapped the momentous period that surrounded the Six-Day War. Goldberg was instrumental in drafting the text of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, which remains the cornerstone of Middle East peace negotiations to this day.

Goldberg later chaired the U.S. delegation to international talks in Belgrade, aimed at monitoring a 35-nation human rights accord concluded in Helsinki in 1975. At the time, he strongly criticized Soviet bloc nations for their human rights violations.

His law clerk while on the bench, Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, said Goldberg had proposed just days before his death a monitoring committee of international human rights experts to assure that the current tide of change in Eastern Europe did not allow extremist forms of nationalism and anti-Semitism to flourish.


Dershowitz also reported that Goldberg said shortly before his death that he would seek a meeting with Attorney General Dick Thornburgh to discuss “the earliest possible parole” for Jonathan Pollard, whose life sentence for spying for Israel Goldberg considered excessive.

The son of poor Russian Jewish immigrants, Goldberg was born in Chicago and devoted his life to the cause of workers’ rights and human rights all over the world. He was an ongoing, active member of synagogues and Jewish organizations.

Following his U.N. assignment, Goldberg was president of the American Jewish Committee from 1968 to 1969. In 1983, he served as chairman of a commission to study what the organized American Jewish community did or failed to do to save European Jewry during the Holocaust.

Goldberg established precedent when he urged President Kennedy to discuss the issue of Soviet Jewry with Soviet leaders.

He was a key speaker at the meeting that organized the National Conference on Soviet Jewry in April 1964.

Goldberg told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last year that Kennedy had asked him to intervene personally with Pope Paul VI to strengthen the 1965 Vatican declaration on Jews and Judaism, Nostra Aetate.

“Goldberg was always willing to be helpful in anything in the world dealing with Judaism,” said Gunther Lawrence, spokesman for the Synagogue Council of America.

Goldberg’s friend of 45 years, Hyman Bookbinder, former Washington representative to the AJCommittee, recalled him lovingly Sunday.

He said that “apart from the Jewish community itself, there has been no steadier, firmer supporter of Israel than the American labor movement, and Arthur deserves a great deal of credit toward that.”

He called Goldberg “the pre-eminent Jewish American of the 20th century, in terms of his influence both on American life and Jewish life.”

“I think few Americans know how significant he was in his behind-the-scenes actions on behalf of Israel and world Jewry,” Dershowitz said.

Dershowitz said former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir told him that “during the 1967 war, he prevented the U.S. from putting undue pressure on Israel.” During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, “he was constantly insisting that the U.S. make extraordinary efforts to circumvent European countries’ unwillingness to ship arms to Israel.”

“Golda Meir said, ‘God intended for Arthur Goldberg to be an American rather than an Israeli, because he did more to save Israel than virtually any other living figure,’ ” Dershowitz recounted.

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