The Lobby and the Oval Office
On a Sunday afternoon, just a few days before the 1960 ptesidential election, John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate, patked his car in front of the residence ar 4615 W Street, just off Foxhall Road in a fashionable section of Washington, D.C. He was alone, unencumbered by the Secret Service officers who would soon be a part of his life.
Kennedy wanted to get away from campaign pressures and have a chat wirh Charles Bartlett, a journalist and a close friend of many years. Their friendship had remained firm since they became acquainted in Florida immediately after World War II, and it was Bartlert who introduced Kennedy to his future bride, Jacqueline Bouvier.
The night before, Kennedy had gone to dinner with a small group of wealthy and prominent Jews in New York City. An episode of the evening troubled him deeply. Describing it to Bartlett as an "amazing experience," he said one man at the dinner party—he did not identify him by name— told him that he knew Kennedy's campaign was in financial difficulty and, speaking for the group, offered "to help, and help significantly" if Kennedy as president "would allow them to set the course of Middle East policy over the next four years." It was an astounding proposition.1
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Kennedy told Bartlett that he reacted to the offer less as a presidential candidate than as a citizen. "He said he felt insulted," Bartlett recalls, "that anybody would make that offer, particularly to a man who even had a slim chance to be president. He said if he ever did get to be president, he would push for a law that would subsidize presidential campaigns out of the U.S. Treasury. He added that whatever the cost of this subsidy, it would insulate future presidential candidates from this kind of pressure and save the country a lot of grief in the long run."
Just what Kennedy said at the dinner in response to the proposition, Barlett did not know. "Knowing his style, he probably made a general comment and changed the subject."
After learning of the event from Bartlett, I talked with one of the people attending the dinner.2 Myer Feldman, a Washington attorney, had worked closely in the 1960 Kennedy campaign and would later become assistant to the president, with special responsibilities for liaison with the Jewish community. I hoped he could supply further details about the dinner party conversation. As a freshman congressman in 1961-62, I had had several friendly encounters with Feldman over wheat sales to the Soviet Union.
He recalled the gathering. It was held, he said, at the apartment of Abraham Feinberg, chairman of the American Bank and Trust Company in New York and influential in national Jewish affairs and the Democratic Party. Those attending, Feldman recalled, were "ambiguous about Kennedy." They weren't sure "which way he would go" on Middle East policy and were therefore not sure they would support him. The candidate was "peppered with tough and embarrassing questions." Asked for his opinion about moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Kennedy replied, "Not under present circumstances." Feldman said that Kennedy answered all questions directly and made a good impression on his hosts. Feldman said he was unaware of the proposition that "insulted" the future president.
It was not the first time Middle East politics intruded forcibly into presidential campaigns. Bartlett says that when he related the episode to Roger L. Stevens, founding chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Stevens responded, "That's very interesting, because exactly the same thing happened to Adlai [former UN Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson] in Los Angeles in 1956."
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Stevenson was then the Democratic candidate for president, opposing the re-election of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Ethnic group pressure is an ever-present part of U.S. partisan politics, and because the president of the United States is the executor of all foreign policy, and the formulator of most of it, pressures naturally center on the people who hold or seek the presidency. When the ptessure is from friends of Israel, presidents—and presidential candidates—often yield.
Lobby pressure on the White House is applied at several different levels. The most direct—person-to-person—varies greatly, depending on the inclinations of the person who is president at the time.
Some of those applying pressure are close personal friends whose influence is limited to just one presidency, an example being Harry S Truman's close friendship with Ed Jacobson, his former haberdashery partner and an ardent Zionist. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Krim, Jewish leaders from New York, maintained a close relationship with Lyndon B. Johnson.3 A White House official of the period recalls: "Arthur Krim stayed at the LBJ Ranch during crucial moments before the 1967 war, and his wife, Mathilde, was a guest in the White House during the war." White House logs show that Mrs. Krim talked frequently by telephone with Johnson.
Other Jewish leaders maintain a relationship from one administration to another. Abraham Feinberg of New York, who hosted the dinner for Kennedy in October 1960, kept close White House ties over a period of years. He was a frequent visitor at the White House during the Johnson years, and, as late as 1984, during the pre-convention presidential campaigning, brought the leading Democratic contenders, Walter Mon-dale and Gary Hart, together for a private discussion at his New York apartment. Philip Klutznick of Chicago, former president of B'nai B'rith, kept close relations throughout the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter administrations.
Sometimes Istaeli diplomats have a personal relationship that gives them direct access to the president. Ephraim Evron, then deputy chief in the Israeli embassy and a friend of Lyndon B. Johnson's since his Senate days, sometimes talked privately with Johnson in the Oval Office.
The second level of pressure comes through officials close to the president—his adviser on relations with the Jewish community or others among his top aides. President Kennedy told a friend, with a chuckle, that he learned that when he was away from Washington, Myer Feldman,
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his adviser on Jewish matters, would occasionally invite Jewish leaders to the White House for a discussion in the Cabinet Room.
The third level of pressure is within the top tiers of the U.S. departments—the State Department, Defense Department, and National Security Council—where Israeli officials and groups of U.S. citizens who are pro-Israeli activists frequently call to present their agendas to cabinet officers or their chief deputies.
"The Votes Are Against You"
Zionists began pressing their case early in Harry S. Truman's administration and intensified their efforts in 1947, when Truman initially expressed opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.4 Jewish leaders bought newspaper advertising designed to transform public shame and outrage over the Holocaust into popular support for the idea of a Jewish national homeland. Both Houses of Congress passed resolutions urging presidential support.
When Truman continued to resist and publicly urged citizens to avoid inflaming "the passions of the inhabitants of Palestine," a group of New Jersey Jews wired: "Your policy on Palestine . . . has cost you our support in 1948."5 With election day approaching, it was a reminder of the grim political facts of life. Two-thirds of American Jews lived in New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, and these states would cast 110 electoral votes in the presidential voting.6 Considered the underdog in the upcoming election despite his incumbency, Truman knew he must have those votes to win.
With a proclamation announcing the new state of Israel expected soon, Truman assembled his Middle East ambassadors to get their views. Their spokesman, ambassador to Egypt Pinkerton "Pinky" Tuck, advised against the United States' immediate recognition of the state.7 He told Truman that the decision to recognize Israel should be delayed long enough to allow a consultation with Arab states, which Truman's predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had promised the king of Saudi Arabia.
Truman replied, "Mr. Tuck, you may be right, but the votes are against you." In deciding to recognize Israel immediately, Truman rejected not just Tuck's advice but that of all his military and diplomatic advisers. He chose instead the recommendation of his close friend Ed Jacobson. In fact, pro-Israeli partisans today generally view Truman's
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immediate recognition of Israel as a prime example of effective lobbying through a "key contact" rather than via the usual pressure tactics.8 Jacob-son's pro-Zionist view was shared by Truman's political advisers, particularly his legal counsel, Clark Clifford.
Secretary of State George C. Marshall opposed the decision so strongly that he bluntly told Truman soon after his recognition announcement that if the election were held the next day he would not vote for him.9 Sentiments were, of course, much different in Israel. During a 1949 White House visit, the chief rabbi of Israel told the president, "God put you in your mother's womb so you would be the instrument to bring about the rebirth of Israel after 2,000 years."10
In partisan political terms, Truman's decision paid off. On election day he received 75 percent of the nation's Jewish vote, which helped him win a razor-thin upset victory—and a permanent place of honor on the face of Israeli postage stamps, as well as in the hearts of Zionists.
Dismayed by Partisan Cnnsideratinns
Presidential behavior toward the state of Israel took a turn in the opposite direction when Truman's successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, assumed office. He resisted pressures from the Israeli lobby, and on three occasions forced Israel to abandon major policies to which it was publicly and strongly committed.
In September 1953, Eisenhower ordered a cancellation of all aid— amounting to $26 million—until Israel stopped work on a diversion canal being constructed on the Jordan River, a violation of the 1949 ceasefire agreements." The diversion canal would help Israel assume control of water resources that were important to all nations in the region. It was the first time a president actually cut off all aid to Israel. Eisenhower also instructed the Treasury Department to draft an order removing the tax-deductible status of contributions made to the United Jewish Appeal and other organizations that raised funds for Israel in the United States.
Predictably, Eisenhower's decision kicked up a major storm.12 Dr. Israel Goldstein told an audience of 20,000 celebrating Jerusalem's 3,000th birthday at New York's Madison Square Garden: "Peace will not be helped by withholding aid as an instrument of unwarranted duress."13 New York members of Congress joined the bandwagon. Senator Robert Wagner called the decision "cruel and intemperate," and
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Congressman Emanuel Celler denounced it as a "snap judgment." All major Jewish organizations condemned the action.
Eisenhower stood firm in withholding aid, and less than two months later Israel announced it was ceasing work on the river diversion project. The president had won a first round, the confrontation was postponed, aid to Israel was resumed, and the order ending the privileged tax status enjoyed by Zionist groups was not issued.
Eisenhower faced the lobby again in October 1956, just days before his re-election as president.14 Israel had negotiated a secret deal with Britain and France under which the three nations would coordinate a military attack on the Nasser regime in Egypt, which had just taken over the Suez Canal. Israel would strike across the Sinai Desert and move against the canal, while British and French forces would deploy an air bombardment and then invade from the north.
The allied governments assumed that the United States would not interfere; France and Britain believed that Eisenhower would avoid a public showdown with his wartime allies. With the U.S. presidential election just days away, Israel counted on partisan pressures from its American lobby to keep candidate Eisenhower on the sidelines. They all miscalculated.
Israels invasion of Egypt began on October 29. Eisenhower immediately canceled all aid to Israel. He permitted only the delivery of food already in transit, stopping all other forms of assistance, both economic and military. These measures created such pressure that Israel halted its attack. The British and French, also under heavy U.S. pressure, abandoned their invasion from the north. Despite partisan assaults on his Middle East policy, the president was easily reelected.15 In fact, more U.S. Jews (40 percent) voted for Eisenhower in 1956 than in 1952 (36 percent).
But Eisenhower s problems with Israel were far from over. Even after the invasion was halted, Israel decided to keep occupying forces in the Egyptian-administered Gaza Strip, as well as the strategic village of Sharm el-Sheik at the access to the Gulf of Aqaba. Despite protests by the United States and six resolutions by the United Nations, Israel refused to withdraw.16 As weeks passed, lobby pressure against Eisenhowers position received support from Eleanor Roosevelt, former President Truman, and the leaders of both parties in the Senate, Democrat Lyndon Johnson of Texas, and Republican William Knowland of California.
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Informed that the United States might support UN sanctions against Israel, Knowland threatened to resign as a member of the UN delegation and warned Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, "This will mean a parting of the ways."17 Dulles was firm: "I think you should study this. We cannot have all our policies made in Jerusalem." Dulles told Henry Luce, owner of Time, Inc. and a supporter of Israels position, "I am aware how almost impossible it is in this country to carry out a foreign policy not approved by the Jews. [But] I am going to try to have one. This does not mean I am anti-Jewish, but I believe in what George Washington said in his farewell address, that an emotional attachment to another country should not interfere."
Eisenhower considered the issue vital. He summoned the bipartisan leadership of Congress to the White House to request their support. Unwilling to tangle with pro-Israeli activists, the group refused. That night the president wrote in his diary: "As I reflected on the pettiness of the discussion of the morning, I found it somewhat dismaying that partisan considerations should enter so much into life-or-death, peace-or-war decisions."18
A determined president took his case to the American people in a televised address in the spring of 1957:
Should a nation which attacks and occupies foreign territory in the face of the United Nations' disapproval be allowed to impose conditions on its own withdrawal? If we agreed that armed attack can properly achieve the purposes of the assailant, then I fear we will have turned back the clock of international order.19
Letters and telegrams poured into the White House. Almost all of the communications came from Jews, 90 percent of which supported Israels position. Dulles complained, "It is impossible to hold the line, because we get no support from the Protestant elements in the country.20 All we get is a battering from the Jews."
Eisenhower persisted, declaring that the United States would support a UN resolution imposing sanctions if Israel did not withdraw from all of the Sinai peninsula and from Gaza and threatening to take away the tax privilege enjoyed by donors to Israeli causes.21 Faced with that prospect, Israel finally capitulated and withdrew from the occupied territory.
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"Armed Shipments Are... Ready to Go"
Israel fared better at the hands of the next occupants of the White House. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson began to help Israel in its military activities.
Although there is no evidence to suggest that Kennedy accepted the dinner party proposition—to exchange control of Middle East policy for campaign contributions—he fared well on election day in 1960, receiving 82 percent of the Jewish vote, topping even Harry Truman's 75 percent, and, as president, he made a decision that was vital to Israel's military plans.22 He approved, for the first time in history, the U.S. sale of weapons to Israel.23
But Israel's military fortunes received a still greater boost with the arrival in the Oval Office of President Lyndon B. Johnson, whose sympathy for the underdog—in his view, Israel—made him responsive to the demands of Israel and its lobby in the United States.24 Friends of Israel with special influence included Arthur Goldberg, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Philip Klutznick of Chicago; and three New Yorkers, Abraham Feinberg and Arthur and Mathilde Krim.25 The Krims often worked through the Rostow brothers, Walt Rostow, Johnson's national security adviser, and Eugene Rostow, assistant secretary of state for political affairs.26
In a September 1966 letter to Feinberg, Klutznick called for an improved relationship between Johnson and the U.S. Jewish community.27 He did not want Jewish differences with Johnson over the Vietnam War or aid to private schools, for example, to complicate American support for Israel. He called on Feinberg to help establish a "sense of participation." The elements of a deal were present. At the time, Johnson desperately wanted public support for the war in Southeast Asia, and the Jewish leaders wanted assurance that the United States would stand by Israel in a crisis. Aid levels were increased, clearances for almost any military item were issued, and extensive credit was extended.
Lobby pressure may not have been needed to persuade Johnson to support Israel, but the pressure came nevertheless. Harold Saunders, a member of the National Security Council staff who would later become Carter's assistant secrerary of state for the Near East and South Asia, recalls the avalanche of telegrams and letters that urged President Johnson to stand behind Israel when Egypt's Presidenr Nasser closed the Strait
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of Tiran in May 1967: "I had 150,000 telegrams and letters from the Jewish community in boxes in my office. I do not exaggerate. There were 150,000 pieces of paper sitting there. They all said the same thing. And Johnson decreed that every one of them should be answered."
In early June, on the day that Israel attacked Egypt, the president received this urgent message from Walter Rostow: "Arthur Krim reports that many armed shipments are packed and ready to go to Israel, but are being held up. He thinks it would be most helpful if these could be released."28
Israel was at war, and this time the president of the United States would cause no problems. Aid would go forward without interruption, and calls for sanctions against Israel in the United Nations would face adamant U.S. opposition. The United States would actively support Israel's military endeavors. Powerful new ties with Israel would lead the president of the United States to cover up the facts concerning one of the most astonishing disasters in the history of the United States Navy, the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.
Saunders recalls that after the Arab-Israeli war, pro-Israeli interests blanketed the White House with the basic demand that Israel not be forced to withdraw from territory it occupied until the Arab states agreed to a "just and lasting peace" with Israel. Under this demand, Israel could use occupied Arab territory as a bargaining chip in seeking Arab recognition, an option that President Eisenhower refused after the Suez crisis in 1957.
Saunders adds, "This Israeli demand was accepted by President Johnson without discussion in the National Security Council or other policy institutions. It has had a profound impact on the course of events in the Middle East since that time." According to another high official of that period, the policy was adopted because the lobby succeeded in "pervading the very atmosphere of the White House."
Nixon's Order Ignored
Although Johnson's successor, Richard M. Nixon, came to office with little Jewish help, he supported Israel so heavily in his first term as president that in the 1972 re-election campaign Israel's ambassador to Washington, Yitzhak Rabin, openly campaigned for him. Nixon won 35 percent of the Jewish vote in 1972, up twenty points from four years before.29
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In 1973 Nixon came powerfully to Israel's defense when Arab states tried to recover territory seized in 1967 by the Israelis. During the conflict, the weapons and supplies that Nixon ordered airlifted to Israel proved to be Israel's lifeline. His decision to order forces on a high state of alert worldwide may have kept the Soviet Union from undertaking a larger role in the conflict.
Privately, Nixon criticized Israel for failing to cooperate in a comprehensive settlement of issues with its Arab neighbors.30 On several occasions, he ordered Henry Kissinger, national security adviser (and later, secretary of state), to suspend aid to Israel until it became more cooperative. Three days before he resigned the presidency, Nixon instructed Kissinger to disapprove an Israeli request for "long-term military assistance." Kissinger writes in his memoirs: "He would cut off all military deliveries to Israel until it agreed to a comprehensive peace. He regretted not having done so earlier. He would make up for it now. His successor would thank him for it. I should prepare the necessary papers." Kissinger adds that Nixon did not return to the subject. Although "the relevant papers were prepared," according to Kissinger, they were "never signed." Nor did Kissinger see fit to carry out the orders. (In July 1984, Nixon verified the Kissinger account, saying it was accurate and adding that he "still believes that aid to Israel should be tied to cooperation in a comprehensive settlement."31)
Assuming the presidency in 1975, Gerald R. Ford took no action on the cutoff papers prepared for Nixon. (In 1983, while taking part in a conference sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, I asked Ford's former chief of staff, Richard Cheney, who had been my colleague in the House of Representatives, if he knew what happened to the papers Kissinger had drafted. He said he was totally unaware of the papers. They seemed to have disappeared without a trace.) Nevertheless, Ford confronted Rabin, who by then had become the Israeli prime minister, over the same comprehensive peace issue. In an effort to elicit greater Israeli cooperation, Ford announced in 1975 that he would "reassess" U.S. policy in the Middle East. Under lobby-organized pressure from the Senate, Ford dropped the reassessment, but this retreat did not win him votes when he sought a full rerm as president the next year. In 1976, 68 percent of the Jewish vote went to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
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Uncritical Support Is No Favor to Israel
During the period between Carter s election in 1976 and his inauguration in January 1977, the Israeli lobby played a role in his decision on who would manage foreign policy. Carter decided to nominate as Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, a man of decency and fairness who possessed the right impulses regarding Middle East policy. In doing so, however, he passed over George W. Ball, a man who had all these same important qualities but who also possessed the experience, personal force, and worldwide prestige Carter would need in upcoming crises in the Middle East and elsewhere.
When I visited Ball at his Princeton, New Jersey, residence during the summer of 1983, he was well into writing his fourth major book. I found him in a room at the end of a narrow corridor that was lined with cartoons and photographs of the political past. The large high-ceilinged room bustled with the activity of a city newsroom just before press time.
At the center of it all, pecking away at a word processor keyboard and surrounded by papers stacked high on a U-shaped table, sat the man who had been deputy secretary of state under two presidents, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and an executive with one of Manhattan's largest investment banking firms. At 73, he was still busy trying to bring order to a world in disarray. The Manchester Guardian characterized him as "an idealist facing chaos with dignity."32
I was armed with questions. What price had Ball paid for speaking out on Middle East issues? Had it hurt his law practice, or spoiled his chances to serve in higher office? Ball took time to talk, but he was busy. He had just addressed the cadets at West Point and was midway through preparing an editorial piece for the Washington Post in which he would warn the Reagan administration of immense pitfalls ahead in its Lebanese policy. Ball was one of my heroes, especially for his courage on Vietnam policy, and I admired his brilliance as a writer. Eloquent and witty, he reminded me of his colleague in the Johnson administration, former Secretary of State Dean Rusk, although their views on Vietnam wete sharply at odds.
"I'll be with you in a minute," Ball said, glancing up from the keyboard. He gave the computer keys a few more whacks, stood up, whipped out a diskette and told his assistant, Lee Hurford, "Print it all."
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His six-foot two-inch frame exuded confidence and power. Making his way through the array of books and papers, he explained, "I'm addicted to this machine. I would never go back to a typewriter. I quit commuting to Manhattan," he added, gesturing down the corridor, "because I can slip down here evenings if I have some ideas to put down."
Put them down he has. Over the years many diplomats have firmly criticized Israeli policies, but most have confined their advice to private circles. Those who have spoken out publicly usually have done so in muted tones. Close friends doubt that Ball has any muted tones. He has never pulled any punches. But while on government assignments Ball dutifully kept his advice private.
Ball has paid a price for such candor on Israeli policy. He was one of only three people considered for appointment as secretary of state under President Carter. Had it not been for his outspoken views on Middle East affairs, his nomination would have seemed inevitable.
His political and professional credentials were immaculate. A lifelong Democrat, he twice campaigned vigorously for Adlai E. Stevenson for president. In 1959 he became a supporter of John E Kennedys presidential ambitions. His diplomatic experience and prestige were diverse and unmatched. He had served as number two man in the State Department under Presidents John E Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. In those assignments he dealt intimately with the Cuban missile crisis and most other major issues in foreign policy for six years. He took the job as ambassador to the UN, a job he did not want, because, in his words, "LBJ had surrounded me."33
Ball challenged military policies forcefully within administration circles. Deliberating a proposed policy, Johnson would frequently go around the cabinet room for advice, then say, "Now let s hear what Ball has to say against it." Ball consistently argued against the buildup in Vietnam. The Washington Post described him as "the consistent dove in a hawkish administration." Journalist Walter Lippman, a close friend, urged him to resign in protest: "Feeling as you do, you should resign and make your opposition public." Ball declined, believing it important that criticism of the war be heard directly from within the administration, although Johnson usually rejected his advice.34
Ball was one of Americas best-known and most admired diplomats, but he probably spiked his prospects of becoming Carter s secretary of
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state when he wrote an article entitled "The Coming Crisis in Israeli-American Relations" for the Winter 1975-76 issue of Foreign Affairs.35 It provoked a storm of protest from the Jewish community.
In the article, Ball cited President Eisenhower's demand that Israel withdraw from the Sinai as "the last time the United States ever took, and persisted in, forceful action against the strong wishes of an Israeli government." He saw the event as a watershed. "American Jewish leaders thereafter set out to build one of Washington's most effective lobbies, which now works in close cooperation with the Israeli embassy."
He lamented the routine leakage of classified information:
Not only do Israels American supporters have powerful influence with many members of the Congress, but practically no actions touching Israel's interests can be taken, or even discussed, within the executive branch without it being quickly known to the Israeli government.
He bemoaned Israel's rejection of U.S. advice at a time when Israels dependence on U.S. aid had "reached the point of totality." Yet he was not surprised that Israel pursued an independent course:
Israelis have been so long conditioned to expect that Americans will support their country, no matter how often it disregards American advice and protests and Americas own interests.
Despite such sharp criticism, for a time candidate Carter considered Ball his principal foreign policy adviser, and selected him as one of three finalists for secretary of state. The other two finalists were Paul Warnke, former assistant secretary of defense, and, of course, Cyrus Vance. Zbig-niew Brzezinski, Carter's national security adviser, wrote in his book Power and Principle that Ball was his preference for secretary of state during the period preceding election day (he later shifted his preference to Vance). Asked for his views during the post-election process at Plains, Georgia, Brzezinski told Carter that Ball would be "a strong conceptu-alizer but probably a poor organizer, an assertive individual but probably somewhat handicapped by his controversial position on the Middle East." He said Ball's appointment as secretary of state would be received "extremely well in Western Europe and Japan, probably somewhat less so in the developing countries, and negatively in Israel." A number of
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Jewish leaders urged Carter not to name Ball to any significant role in his administration. The characteristic that made Ball unacceptable to the Israeli lobby was his candor; he wasn't afraid to speak up and criticize Israeli policy. Carter dropped Ball from consideration.
With Carter's cabinet selection process completed, Ball continued to speak out. Early in 1977 he wrote another article for Foreign Affairs, titled "How to Save Israel in Spite of Herself," in which he urged the new administration to take the lead in formulating a comprehensive settlement that would be fair to the Palestinians as well as Israel. For a time Carter moved in this direction, even trying to communicate with the Palestine Liberation Organization through Saudi Arabia. When this approach floundered, Carter shifted his focus to attempting to reach a settlement between Egypt and Israel at Camp David, where Ball believes Carter was double-crossed by Begin. "I talked with Carter just before Camp David," said Ball. "We had a long dinner together. He told me he was going to try to get a full settlement on Middle East issues, and he seemed to understand the significance of the Palestinian issue. On this I have no doubt, and I think he desperately wanted to settle it." After the Camp David meeting, Israel frustrated Carter's goals, continuing to build settlements in occupied territory and blocking progress toward autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank.
Although not a part of the Carter administration, Ball continued to be an all-time favorite on television interview shows. One of these appearances led to a public exchange with a Jewish leader. On a panel interview in late 1977, Ball said he felt the Jewish community in the United States had put U.S. interests "rather secondary in many cases." To Morris B. Abram, Manhattan lawyer and former president of the American Jewish Committee, these were fighting words. Enlisted the year before in support of the effort to make Ball the secretary of state, Abram wrote him a public letter, published in the Washington Post, charging that these comments established Ball "as one who is willing to accept and spread age-old calumnies about Jews."36
Responding in the Washington Post, Ball denied that he was suggesting that "even the most ardent Zionist consciously choose Israel over America." He explained, "I suggest rather that the effect of their uncritical encouragement of Israels most excessive actions is not wholly consistent with the United States' interests." His correspondence with Abram was published in the Washington Post. Ball concluded:
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When leading members of the American Jewish community give [Israel s] government uncritical and unqualified approbation and encouragement for whatever it chooses to do, while striving so far as possible to overwhelm any criticism of its actions in Congress and in the public media, they are, in my view, doing neither themselves nor the United States a favor.
During the Reagan administration, Ball became one of the few Democrats who attempted to take his party back to the Middle East morality of Eisenhower. Of Reagan, he said:
He did not demand, as he should have done under the law, that we would exact the penalties provided unless the Israelis stopped murdering civilians with the weapons we had provided them solely for self-defense. Instead he bought them off by committing our own marines to maintain order while we persuaded the PLO leaders to leave rather than face martyrdom.
Ball did not let his business career, any more than his public career, soften his public expressions. He admitted that his plain talk about the Middle East "certainly hasn't helped" him as a businessman:
I'm sure that my partners at Lehman Brothers had to absorb a certain amount of punishment. But they were tolerant and understanding people. I never felt I lost anything very much by speaking out. I'm politically untouchable, but I am sure certain groups would rather shoot me than deal with me.37
While he was never shot for his views, Ball's encounters with the Israeli lobby were numerous, and they began early in his career. He recalls the day, during the 1952 presidential race, when a pro-Israel emissary visited Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaign headquarters in Springfield, Illinois. The emissary told Ball that his friends had gathered a "lot of money" but wanted to "discuss the Israeli question" before turning it over. Ball says Stevenson met with the group—"he met with any group"—but he "never made any of the promises expected."
In more recent presidential campaigns, Ball experienced lobby pressure of a different kind. In early 1979, impressed with the early pronouncements of Republican John B. Anderson, Ball announced that he planned to vote for the maverick, who was running for president as an independent. Upon hearing the news, an elated Anderson called Ball and promised to visit him at Princeton "soon." Anderson soon changed his mind. He never came. Convinced by his campaign staff that he had
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to cultivate the pro-Israeli community if he hoped to make progress as a candidate, Anderson made a ritual visit to Israel. He issued statements fully supporting Israel. He shunned Ball.
Being shunned was not a new experience for the elder statesman. In 1983, after testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee one morning, Ball was approached by Senator John Glenn, who was already testing the presidential waters. Glenn invited Ball to call because he wanted his advice on foreign policy issues. After trying unsuccessfully to get calls through, Ball wrote to him. He stated his willingness to help Glenn set up a panel of scholars and former diplomats who could help the candidate with ideas, statements, and speeches during the hectic days of campaigning. Ball had done the same thing for Adlai Stevenson in 1956. Several weeks later, a letter arrived from Glenn stating that he would take up the suggestions with his campaign staff. That was the end of Ball s relationship with Glenn.
Despite the intimidating factors that led candidates Carter, Anderson, and Glenn to avoid linkage with the former ambassador, Ball feels the lobby is overrated in the power it can deliver. While it controls many votes in strategically important states and provides generous financial support to candidates, he contends that these are not the principal factors of its influence. Ball believes the lobby's instrument of greatest power is its willingness to make broad use of the charge of anti-Semitism: "They've got one great thing going for them. Most people are terribly concerned not to be accused of being anti-Semitic, and the lobby so often equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. They keep pounding away at that theme, and people are deterred from speaking out." In Ball's view, many Americans feel a "sense of guilt" over the extermination of Jews by Nazi Germany. The result of this guilt is that the fear of being called anti-Semitic is "much more effective in silencing candidates and public officials than threats about campaign money or votes."
He Was Not Consistent
Jimmy Carter, for a fleeting moment, gave every indication of being a president who would stand up to Israel and pursue policies based on U.S. interests in the Middle East. He came to the presidency determined to be fair to Arab interests as well as to those of Israel, and once in office even advocated a homeland with secure borders for the Palestinians.
The Lobby and the Oval Office 5
While this endeavor soon faded, Carter made great strides in foreign policy elsewhere. In addition to organizing the Camp David Accords, his administration marked the consummation of the treaty with Panama, normalization of diplomatic relations with China, a major reform in international trade policy, and the initial agreement with the Soviet Union on strategic arms limitation. In overall Middle East policy, however, he lacked consistent purpose and commitment.
Carter was dismayed when Jews in the United States remained disgruntled with his administration despite his major role in achieving a long-sought Israeli goal, the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. A senior diplomat, whose career stretches over thirty years, remembered the pressures Jewish groups brought to bear following the joint U.S.-Soviet communique of October 1977.38 Carter was trying to revive the Geneva conference on the Middle East in order to get a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute. The American Jewish community strongly objected. The diplomat recalled, "I remember I really had my hands full meeting with protesting Jewish groups. I figured up one day, totaling just the people the groups said they represented, that I must have met with representatives of half the entire U.S. Jewish community."
The groups came well briefed. All, he says, used the same theme:
What a terrible unpatriotic act it was to invite the Russians back into the Middle East; it was anti-Israel, almost anti-Semitic. I would spend part of my time meeting Jewish groups on Capitol Hill in the offices of Senators and Congressmen. Other times I would meet with groups of twenty to forty in my conference room at the State Department. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Vance would be meeting with other groups, and the President with still others.
The pressure was too much. Carter yielded to the lobbies and quickly dropped the proposal. But he learned, like Ford had before him, that yielding to the lobby on relations with Israel did not pay dividends on election day. Many Jews deserted him when he sought re-election in 1980.
"They Wouldn't Give Him a Dime"