By: George McGovern  | 

McGovern Clarifies His Position On Israel, Jewish-Related Topics (Vol. 38, Issue 2)

This article is in response to a letter sent by The Commentator to McGovern headquarters. 

The achievement of the Jewish people in America writes a glowing chapter in the story of our nation. And yet, for all its progress, there is a greater malaise in the Jewish community today than at any other time since World War II. Some commentators have explained this as the  natural evolution to a more “conservative” position within a group that has now “made it.” I find this explanation demeaning. Does success for Jews automatically lead to a disregard for the less fortunate? I think not, and the continued Jewish commitment to philanthropic and social causes supports me. Does achievement within the group necessarily mean that it loses its sense of community? I think not, and the continuing strength of the Jewish family and Jewish communal institutions supports me. 

What we are talking about, then, is the effect on the Jewish community of a loss of national leadership. In the ancient Greek polis, the man who engaged in politics was honored as a man of integrity, wisdom, and compassion. Today the term “politician” evokes scorn and derision from the people. Where is integrity when the FBI concludes that the Republican Party has been conducting a massive, systematic program of political espionage  directed against the Democratic Party and its candidates for the presidency? Where is wisdom when the nation spends billions on a tragic, needless and cruel war? Where is compassion when the government scorns the poor, demeans the aged, ignores the sick and casts out the hungry?

I regard politics as a noble profession—not a route to holding office. That is why I am so troubled by the deceptions that have characterized this campaign—including serious misrepresentations of my record on Israel.

Since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948, Americans of all political beliefs have supported the people of Israel in their struggle to build lives of dignity for themselves and their children. Israel has been an issue that united Republicans and Democrats. It was something both major parties could agree on—not an issue on which to appeal for .votes, with one candidate seeking to outbid the other by vaunting his support of Israel.

This year, however, the Republican Party has insisted on  misrepresenting my position on Israel to make it seem that I am no friend of that country. But the record speaks for itself. My commitment to Israel is a moral commitment that began with my entry into public life in 1957. It continues to this day. It is not a function of cold war, balance-of-power politics. It did not begin with the massive Soviet presence in Egypt. It will not end with the Soviet departure from Egypt. 

My position on Jerusalem has also been misrepresented. In March, 1971, in a discussion with a group of Nieman Fellows, I cited the internationalization of Jerusalem. as one of several possibilities that had been raised concerning the Middle East. It was not my position then, nor is it my position now. My opponents know this; yet they continue to attack me for a policy I never advocated. I have publicly stated that “Jerusalem should continue to. be administered by Israel with international guarantees of open access to people of all faiths.” I have called: on the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move our embassy there. That is the platform of the Democratic Party. It was put there by my delegates. I stand by it. My opponents have also chosen to take out of context a statement I made two and one-half years ago suggesting that Israel should not use aircraft sold by the U.S. to extend the area of combat in the Middle East. The Republicans have consistently omitted the key sentence in the same paragraph in which I called on the Arab states to end their formal state of war with Israel—as a condition for Israeli restraint. Since the Arabs have not agreed to end the state of war in the area, I do not expect the Israelis to curtail whatever military activities may be necessary to defend themselves. 

The Republicans have also circulated the rumor that members of my staff hold anti-Israel positions. Gordon Weil, a longtime Senatorial aide, fully supports the strongly pro-Israel position of the Democratic Party and its candidate for the presidency. Richard Stearns also agrees with my position. It is true that Mr. Stearns, as an official of the National Student Association, did allow his name to be signed to two pro-Arab advertisements, five years ago, when he was 22 years. old. Events since 1967 have convinced Stearns that his earlier position was wrong. As he said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “‘I fully sympathize with and support the party’s position on Israel and the Middle East. I fully support Senator McGovern’s position.” The Republicans have also suggested that my plan to cut the waste from our military budget would somehow have a deleterious effect on Israeli security. Yet anyone who reads my proposed military budget will see that I specifically exempt NATO and the Middle East from military reductions. My program calls for maintaining the heart of the ‘Sixth Fleet intact. The additional escort vessels and submarines called for in my proposal will actually increase the defensive capability of the fleet to respond to an emergency in the Middle East. No less an expert than Rear Admiral Gene La Rocque, a former commander of the Sixth Fleet and now director of the Center for Defense Informationin Washington, recently wrote: “The capability to respond effectively may actually be increased under the McGovern plan.”

The real concern of Israel's friends is the Rogers plan—still official U.S. policy in the Middle East—which calls for only “insubstantial alterations” of the pre-Six Day War borders. For three years the Nixon Administration withheld vitally needed Phantom Jets from Israel while it pressured Israel to submit to an imposed settlement that would require withdrawal to the old boundaries, put Jerusalem under joint Jordanian-Israel rule and give Arabs the right of repatriation to Israel. Golda Meir called the Rogers plan “suicide” “for Israel. I have publicly opposed every feature of the Rogers plan.

The ‘Republicans have not been ‘content merely to distort my position with regard to Israel. They have even tried to call into question my belief in basic American principles of equal opportunity, the merit system and freedom from discrimination. 

I reject the quota system as detrimental to American society. As I wrote to the president of the American Jewish Committee: “I believe it is both necessary and possible to open doors that have long been shut to minority group members without violating basic principles of non-discrimination and without abandoning the merit principle.” 

I understand the legitimate and honest fears that grip many American Jews about quotas. These fears are based on recent actions of the Nixon Administration. It was President Nixon’s Department of Health, Education and Welfare that demanded that the City University of New York furnish the race, sex, age and title of every faculty member by name—or risk losing Federal research funds. It was the Nixon Administration that withheld millions of dollars from Columbia and other universities because they were not proceeding rapidly enough under the HEW “affirmative action” program.

In an effort to divert attention from their own efforts to impose quotas on universities, the Republicans have chosen to attack me on the basis of the new rules governing representation at the Democratic Convention. I am sure that the Jewish community will not be deceived by a false comparison between a convention, on the one hand, and employment and education, on the other. The McGovern Commission developed, means through which the Democratic Party would insure the representation of groups that had been excluded in the past—particularly women, racial minorities, and youth. The Commission largely succeeded, for the Democratic Convention of 1972 was the most representative political gathering in the history of our nation.  (I understand there were about 300 Jewish delegates at the Democratic convention, compared with 50 at the Republican convention.)

These are just some of the issues that have been raised in the campaign. There is so much more that needs to be debated. There is the plight of Soviet Jewry, about which my opponent has been conspicuously silent. Indeed, at this time of crisis for Soviet Jewry, Richard Nixon is seeking to grant trade concessions to the USSR. 

My position on these issues represents a commitment to social conscience that is shared by nearly all in the Jewish community. I am saddened that the distortions of my views by my opponents have required an expenditure of time and energy that could be better spent discussing the future of our country. That, after all, is the major issue.

I do not believe that there is such a thing as a monolithic Jewish vote. Yet, traditionally, most Jews have voted for candidates and parties that represented not special privilege but the rights of all people. They have been on the side of those who followed the path of peace, who pursued justice, who chose life.

Let us choose life together, and let us rededicate ourselves to the task of making our nation one again true to the principles of justice and freedom, mercy and brotherhood.