By: Lenny Davis  | 

Comment: Realpolitik (Vol. 37, Issue 9)

Once upon a time, in better days, a group of Jewish leaders was able to walk into the home of the President of the United States, tell him the “pressing issues” bothering them, and then walk away with satisfaction and the President's pledge of action. Today, the rabbis, the Jewish labor leaders, and the Jewish businessmen are still making that walk, but now they usually walk away with only false optimism. That day when the President of the U.S. would grant almost whatever the Jews asked of him is no longer with us (if it really ever was), and that day may be gone forever.

President Nixon owes no obligation to the U.S. Jewish community for his ascendancy to the presidency, and if he is elected next year he will have no obligations then, either Jewish money and votes are for Democrats, plain and simple.

But even if a Democratic candidate is elected, will the Jews have a better chance of getting their wishes fulfilled? It is doubtful, because if a candidate for the presidency is to be a firm and uncompromising friend of the Jewish community he has to have been committed to that position twenty years earlier when he was first running for a House or a Senate seat. Most of the present presidential candidates are from states where the local Jewish communities have neither the power nor the numbers necessary to draw the attention of the local politicians.

Unfortunately, only when a previousiy non-committed candidate: reaches the plateau of a presidential contender do the statements for the Jewish public come forth. These statements may only be the mouthings expected of a candidate and their sincerity and conviction must be questioned and viewed with suspicion.

There are exceptions: For years, Senators Jackson and Humphrey have been pledged — or were forced to pledge themselves — to the wishes of the Jewish community. Via Forest Hills, Mayor Lindsay, from the city with the largest-Jewish community, virtually turned his back on Jews’ wishes — except, of course, for his rich liberal Jewish groupies who don't give a damn for Jewish causes, anyway.

But the majority is there: Frontrunner Muskie from Maine, McGovern from South Dakota, Wallace from Alabama, Hartke from Indiana, McCarthy from Minnesota, and near-candidates Bayh from Indiana, and Hughes from Iowa. Probably none of these candidates during their first campaigns ever had to make the B’nai Brith luncheon speeches and synagogue men’s club appearances. Once their offices were attained, the biannual submission of pro-Israel statements to the Congressional Record — required of officeholders from New York, Illinois, Maryland, Florida, etc. — was not necessary for home state consumption either. In short, they were uncommitted, and they were not forced to make Jewish issues foundations of their’ political platforms.

This situation’ reflects a fact of equal seriousness to the Jewish community: eighty percent of the candidates come from the U.S. Senate, and most U.S. Senators are just as uncommitted.

The Senate’s importance in recent years has grown greatly. It is very often the springboard for presidential candidates, and, of late, it has also been taking a larger part in the country's foreign affairs decisions. Witness the last foreign aid appropriation bill.

The need for forcing politicians to commit themselves and for indoctrinating and inculcating into their positions the positions of the Jewish community is therefore two-fold, These congressmen play a major role in framing American policy, and these same men may be the nation’s future presidents.

The need is not too pressing in states like New York, but it is great in at least forty other states. It should never be forgotten that the Senate representation is the same for Kansas, North Dakota, and Idaho as it is for Massachusetts, New York, and Illinois. (There was no Congressional support for recent Arms for Israel Resolutions from Mississippi or Montana.) 

There must be, therefore, an organized effort by the U.S. Jewish community. in general, and by the local Jewish communities in particular, to make all political candidates firmly commit themselves on Israel and Jewish-related issues.

Students, who have newly discovered the lobbying technique, must place their lobbying sights on the offices of the unpledged congressmen. It is easy and self-satisfying to lobby at the office of a Jewish congressman or a known friend of Israel; but these efforts are totally unnecessary and misdirected. 

An added responsibility falls on students from sparsely Jewish-populated states. A senator from the “sticks” will respond more quickly to a constituent of his own state than to a “city-slicker” from New York.

In the states with miniscule Jewish populations the tasks will be difficult ones, but in many of these states there lies the strength — money — that has ‘been responsible more than anything else for responsive politicians; Jewish money in some of these states is far beyond proportion when compared with population percentages. A gross fact of politics is that money talks. Money, when given with the correct conditions, stipulations, and promises is a powerful spokesman for a cause. And if necessary, Jewish money from states like New York must learn the art of ventriloquism.