Kissinger complained of ‘Jewish lobby’ but yielded to Israeli ambassador’s threat of ‘mutiny’ by American Jews and press during ’73 war

Israel/Palestine
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President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger worried about the Israel lobby more than they did about strategic interests during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, though both men complained about the “Jewish lobby,” which Kissinger once described as the “Jewish league.”

And five days into the war, Israeli ambassador to the US Simcha Dinitz met with Kissinger at midnight and threatened a “mutiny” of American Jews and the press and the labor movement unless the U.S. did more to support Israel. Kissinger then chewed out Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger over the telephone as Dinitz stood at his side. 

These are some of the findings in a great new piece of scholarship by Eric Grynaviski posted at Duck of Minerva. Grynaviski, an assistant professor of political science at George Washington University, says he was highly skeptical of the Israel lobby theory of American foreign policy in the Middle East till in preparing a book on detente, he read recently-released official documents: Foreign Relations of the United States volume on the 1973 war.

“[T]hese archival documents pretty clearly provide direct evidence that Nixon and Kissinger were influenced by at least their perception of the Lobby’s influence. And, at least for Nixon and Kissinger, I am unaware (after reading quite a bit about the administration) of another lobby exercising the same inordinate influence,” Grynaviski writes.

“[T]hey emphasize Nixon and Kissinger’s concerns about the Lobby over strategic considerations,” he adds.

I have long said that journalists have failed to look into the Israel lobby and left the hard work to scholars, notably Walt and Mearsheimer. Well this story is another demonstration of that dereliction. Long before the lobby was twisting the president’s arm on Israel’s colonization of the West Bank, it was jumping in on war policy. 

Grynaviski focuses on four incidents. Here’s the first, and most enlightening:

Early in the war, Nixon had authorized an airlift to resupply Israeli forces, but there was a delay in getting the flights organized because charters were difficult to find.  On October 12-13, around midnight, Dinitz comes to Kissinger to tell him that Israel cannot conduct an offensive because of a lack of weapons: he needs to start the airlift. Kissinger picks up the phone while Dinitz contines:

“So help me, there will be a mutiny here if there are no planes. The Jewish community, and many friends, and the labor movement and the press. I’ve been making no comment. I can’t do it. I have no right, not historical right; we are dealing with the destiny of the people. (461)”

Kissinger waves Dinitz silent because he is talking to Schlesinger, the Secretary of Defense and he wants to keep Dinitz presence secret from Schlesinger. After chewing out Schlesinger, even claiming at one point he was intentionally slowing the resupply operation, Kissinger hangs up the phone telling Dinitz:

Kissinger: [hangs up, turns to Dinitz]: “They’ll give you ten C–130’s immediately, and will load them with ammunition. And probably fly them with American pilots.”

I am not aware, at least in the context of the Nixon administration, of another case where an ambassador listens as one cabinet member chews out another in the presence of a foreign ambassador, especially after a direct political threat.

The next day Kissinger complains to Schlesinger that the Israelis have “screwed up every offensive they’ve conducted. And they are not about to take responsibility themselves.” And so they are going to blame the U.S. for “their own failures.”

In a second document, Kissinger is about to push a plan to offer the Soviet Union favorable trade terms, but because the Soviets opposed Israel during the 1973 war, he says to Dinitz: “I hope to God this is not a week when the Jewish League will start attacking me on this position.”

Dinitz replied by asserting some degree of control over Jewish pressure on the Nixon administration:

“To a degree I can speak in the name, that I don’t think it will happen this week in any way. (371)

Then there’s this incident. Kissinger sought to get the lobby’s support for his Vietnam War policy by linking aid to Cambodia to aid for Israel during the 1973 war.

Kissinger explains this policy on October 15:

[Deputy Defense Secretary William] Clements: We will need a supplemental.

K: Let’s get the Jewish lobby to get us the money. And let’s wrap some other things in it too. Go see [Connecticut Senator Abraham] Ribicoff. …. Yes and don’t be modest. They have been screaming for it—let [Washington Senator Henry] Jackson put it through. And get Cambodia taken care of in the package. It’s an absurdity that we have to lose our war. If we had put one F-4 into Cambodia they would have screamed bloody murder. (534)

The next day, Kissinger, suggests 3 billion for Israel and 500 million for Cambodia. On the linkage between funding for both, K remarks:

“I’d like to see some of these great patriots [Senators] put to the test. …. I’ll tell (Israeli Ambassador) Dinitz to turn loose his Senators. I’ll tell him it’s a package deal. If we can’t get something for others, we will drag our feet on Israel. (555)”

So the Israeli ambassador was able to mobilize U.S. Senators, the press, the labor movement, and the American Jewish community to his side during a crisis for Israel. Or he was perceived by Henry Kissinger, a student of power politics, to be able to do so.

Grynaviski begins his account by saying that 1973 is a “hard case” for the lobby theory, because it’s before the lobby really took off. Yes, and what pressure did it apply on Truman 25 years before? Or on Johnson when Israel got nukes and the USS Liberty was destroyed?  Notice that Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, beloved of the neoconservatives, and harboring ambitions to be president one day, is a patsy for the lobby.

Oh and one other thing: Our press won’t touch this. The Times won’t, Chris Matthews won’t, David Remnick won’t. They’ll read about it, but they won’t touch it.

Finally, note that Kissinger and Nixon use the words “Jewish lobby.” Chuck Hagel was rotisserie’d on Capitol Hill for using that term to describe the pro-Israel lobby. As if it was Christian Zionists that Kissinger was fearful of…

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