(JTA) — George McGovern, a former U.S. senator and presidential candidate who said the U.S. government sometimes "bowed to pressure" from a powerful Israel lobby, has died.
McGovern died Sunday in hospice care in Sioux Falls, S.D. He was 90.
A three-term U.S. senator from South Dakota, McGovern won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, and campaigned relentlessly on a platform of American withdrawal from Vietnam. In losing to incumbent Republican Richard Nixon, he suffered one of the greatest defeats in a presidential race in U.S. history.
In an address to the annual conference of the Middle East Institute in Washington in 1991, McGovern discussed his support of Israel.
"For the 22 years that I served in Congress, like most of my colleagues, I supported Israel, out of a combination of conviction and self interest," he said. "We were constantly aware of the power of the lobby for that country. Sometimes, against our best instincts, we bowed to pressure.
"It is bad enough for the Israeli people to be led by their own ideologically motivated right wing. But for the American government to take instructions from that faction is insupportable."
McGovern flew a B-24 "Liberator" bomber in World War II. Among his targets were German synthetic oil factories in occupied Poland — some of them less than five miles from the Auschwitz gas chambers.
In 2004, McGovern spoke on camera for the first time about his WWII experiences in a meeting organized by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies with Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Sigmund Rolat and filmmakers Stuart Erdheim and Chaim Hecht.
McGovern dismissed the Roosevelt administration’s claims that bombing Auschwitz and the railroad lines leading to it would be a dangerous diversion of planes that were needed elsewhere. The argument was “a rationalization,” he said, noting that no diversions would have been needed when he and other U.S pilots already were flying over that area.
“There is no question we should have attempted … to go after Auschwitz,” McGovern said in the interview. “There was a pretty good chance we could have blasted those rail lines off the face of the earth, which would have interrupted the flow of people to those death chambers, and we had a pretty good chance of knocking out those gas ovens.”
In his address accepting the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Fla., in July 1972, McGovern said that "in an age of nuclear power and hostile forces" it was important for the United States to be militarily strong.
"We will do that not only for ourselves, but for those who deserve and need the shield of our strength — our old allies in Europe and elsewhere, including the people of Israel, who will always have our help to hold their Promised Land," he said.
The 1972 Democratic Party platform was the first of any party’s to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and call to move the U.S. Embassy there.
During the Kennedy administration, McGovern started and ran the Food for Peace program, and kept it operating in at least a dozen countries. McGovern also published a dozen books.