The “Israel Lobby” and the Nixon Administration

by on 2013-07-08 in Duck- 28 Comments

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Eric Grynaviski, who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University.

When Mearsheimer and Walt wrote the Israel Lobby, I was skeptical. I bought the argument that supporters of Israel influenced US policy, but because I am not a realist, I did not buy the argument that this necessarily deflected the US from pursuing specific policies during the cold war or afterwards. The primary reason for my skepticism was the evidence: because of how recent US support for Israel is, there are few archival documents that have been opened that show the extent of the ‘Israel Lobby’s’’ influence. This is compounded by the book’s focus on recent episodes, like Iraq, where there are few available documents. And, as many have argued, it’s unclear whether Israel exerts more influence than other lobbies in the United States.

While doing research for a book that is will come out with Cornell next year about the US-Soviet détente, I read the recently released Foreign Relations of the United States volume on the 1973 war. This is a very important case for the Israel Lobby argument because there was a lot of political organizing around Jewish-related issues, especially Soviet restrictions on Jewish emigration, featuring one early episode for organized lobbies in the United States pressing an administration over Israeli security issues. In the language of case selection, it is a ‘hard’ case for the Israeli lobby argument because the ‘lobby’ was only beginning to become an organized political force in Washington.

This volume is enormously interesting for the Israel lobby argument, in part, because it showcases Nixon and Kissinger’s fears of the lobby. I’ve read a lot of cooky Nixon and Kissinger shenanigans over the years, but these do stand out, in part because they emphasize Nixon and Kissinger’s concerns about the Lobby over strategic considerations.

My reading of the volume is that it provides some direct evidence of the influence of pressure from the Israel lobby on US policy, bearing out not only the Israel Lobby argument but more generally the importance of domestic politics to Nixon’s foreign policy.

Below are excerpts from four documents released as part of FRUS, recounting different statements made by Nixon and Kissinger about political pressure brought to bear and how they saw it organized.
US Israel Airlift

The Airlift:

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 Schlesiner, 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.

Interestingly, Kissinger did not believe the resupply was important. Talking to Schlesinger the next day, Kissinger says:

JS: Okay,. Well they simply cannot be that short of ammo, Henry. It is impossible that they didn’t know what their supply was—and suddenly they’ve run out of it.

K: Look, they have obviously screwed up every offensive they’ve conducted. And they are not about to take responsibility themselves. I have no doubt whatever that they are blaming us for their own failures.

JS: Right. (468)

Pressure concerning trade:

A few days earlier, Kissinger was meeting with Dinitz and said he was going to mention trade with the Soviets in a speech. The issue was that there was extensive lobbying to tie trade with the Soviets to issues concerning Jewish emigration. Kissinger is arguing in this snippet that the US wanted to ensure Soviet compliance with the US position on the war, and wanted to use trade as a sweetener, but he worried that the “Jewish League” would attack him.

At any rate we are warning them [the Soviets] against any action and I am giving a speech tonight in the Pacem in Terris conference and I am making two pointed references that détente cannot survive irresponsible actions. In one context I mention specifically the Middle East. I am going also in this speech to mention our MFN position and 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)


Here, Kissinger at least is afraid of the “Jewish Lobby” undermining support for his carrot and stick strategy that was part of détente, where he intended to use trade incentives to cajole the Soviets into supporting US positions. (See Garthoff’s Détente and Confrontation for this strategy). This fear was not unrealistic: conservative pressure led to restrictions on MFN that led the Soviets to back out of the negotiations.

Statements about the Jewish Lobby:

Nixon and Kissinger also frequently cite the “Jewish Lobby” as undermining support for their foreign policy priorities. In one provocative conversation between Nixon and Kissinger on October 11 (sounding like quintessential dramatic Tricky Dick):

N: The thing I wanted to say was this. In following this strategy I want you to lean very hard on the Israeli Ambassador that I am very distressed about these stories and I have information—I am talking to the press people—it is not coming from him but from lower level people who are putting out the line that we are not supporting Israeli. I will not tolerate this and if I hear any more of this I will hold him responsible. Will you tell him?

K: Yes.

N: You and I know that Israeli is not losing this war but we cannot fight both sides. If we hear any more stuff like this I will have no choice domestically except to turn on them. I can get the names of these people (437-8).

Using the Jewish Lobby:

In contrast to the claims of Mearsheimer and Walt, though, there is some evidence that Nixon and Kissinger thought they might be able to manipulate the Lobby to the benefit of US security policy. During this period, Nixon sought money for operations in Cambodia that were opposed in the Senate. By linking aid to Cambodia to aid for Israel during the war, Kissinger hoped to enlist the lobby to support his Vietnam policy.

Kissinger explains this policy on October 15:

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 (Senator) Ribicoff. ….

K:Yes and don’t be modest. They have been screaming for it—let (Senator) 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 feel on Israel. (555)

Now, Nixon and Kissinger were crazy, and often overestimated the political forces set against them, in particular because of Nixon’s anti-Semitism. Although in this case they may have been right to be concerned about pro-Israeli sentiment, and Nixon’s ‘personal’ relationship with Israel was always more complicated than simple accusations of anti-Semitism really allow. But, I think these 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.

That being said, I do not have a ‘strategic’ dog in the fight. Unlike Mearsheimer and Walt, I am not sure that US aid to Israel in 1973 significantly undermined US security in a way that could have been predicted from the White House that October. And, at least on one plausible definition of the national interest, Americans affective identification with Israel might be said to have constructed a US national interest in Israel, broadly defined.

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  • Dave4321

    You are sickening. A few out of context quotes is evidence of an all powerful lobby. You think Jewish groups trying to make sure Israel was not destroyed in the Yom Kipur war indicates some kind of conspiracy? It would have been a travesty if they hadn’t. Your own quote also indicates it was also supported by labor unions and the press.

    Here the veil drops and we no longer have the “Israel Lobby,” but those nefarious Jews taking over the US government with their lobby. You consider the lobbying of the US government to free Soviet Jews from persecution to be a bad thing? Do you know how Jews were treated in the Soviet Union. Do you know who Natan Sharansky is? All of this was bad because it might effect trade negotiations?

    Not to mention your high school level analysis “This fear was not unrealistic: conservative pressure led to restrictions on MFN that led the Soviets to back out of the negotiations.” So Jews controlled all “conservatives” in the 70’s when they voted overwhelmingly for liberals? And Jews made “conservatives” back out of the MFN? Could there have been any other cause for this or was it just the Jews?

    GW should be ashamed to have you as part of it’s staff. Not only for your Jew baiting, but your unfathomable reductionist logic.

  • Ronanfitz

    Jesus Dave, quite the overreaction!

  • Anon

    Dave is the reason lots of smart people don’t blog.

  • Hard Little Machine

    We also control the weather, the crops, all banks and media and the internet. To say nothing of implanted brain control ships which are coordinated by our orbital nuclear battle station.

  • Joe1234

    Oh there’s no lobby at all, why else has Israel been trying to get Jonathan Pollard released from prison; or more importantly, ensuring the general public does not find out the level of damage done to US National Security when Israel took all the information stolen from the US and traded it to the USSR for allowing emigration to Israel from the Soviet Union.

    Let’s not forget the nuclear weapons, either:

    “How Israel Received Weapons-Grade Nuclear Material from a US Company by Michael Kelley

    Denial, still not a river in Egypt.

  • Isa10Ten

    It is a lie that Israel took all Pollard’s information and traded it to USSR. USA and Israel had a security agreement to share intelligence information and US violated it. Weinberg (then sec of defence) denied Israel access to some intelligence claiming that US did not have it. Pollard gave this information to Israel exposing Weinberg’s lie. That’s why he is still in prison. American intelligence establishment cannot forgive Pollard that he exposed their duplicity even if the actual people are not there anymore. What information Pollard gave to Israel, Israel was entitled to get from official American sources due to the existing agreements.
    Now you know what real damage – exposing some high-level American duplicity – Pollard did to the US National Security.

  • Sigh

    None of this is really germane to the evidence that Nixon and Kissinger were, rationally or not, worried about pro-Israel actors in the US.

  • Sigh

    How is this at all relevant to the evidence presented here that Nixon and Kissinger thought, rightly or wrongly, that pro-Israel actors were politically consequential in the US?

  • Hard Little Machine

    I wasn’t kidding. In fact we’re sending black helicopters to your house today. You will be reprogrammed at our secret moonbase where we are holding JFK, Elvis and Tupac.

  • ThorsteinVeblen2012

    What was unique about Jews suffering in the Soviet Union? Was their suffering dramatically worse than the general population?

    It seems many of the dissident Jews who came out of the Soviet Union were afforded very good educations paid for by the Soviet government. Where was this discrimination manifest?

    Who were the people who benefitted at the expense of Soviet Jewry?

    Was there discrimination any worse than what Natan Sharansky subjects the Palestinians?

  • Easy River

    We know that GoI trains Internet trolls to go after blog posts that might be construed as anti-Israel. Who knows where Dave comes from?

  • hollywoodjeff

    The traitors are quick to way in when they see their game exposed. Israel was entitled to nothing. Pollard was a traitor and if you read “Every Spy a Prince” by Raviv and Melman, you will see the extent of his treachery.

  • hollywoodjeff

    It was not that the Soviets would not allow the Jews to emigrate but that the people of the USSR had paid for every shekel of their education and the government wanted some reimbursement, particularly when they would be losing some of their brightest people to a state aligned with their Cold War enemy.

  • hollywoodjeff

    Curious, not one single intelligent response from the Israel-Firsters, but that is to be expected. There isn’t one. Meanwhile, Foxman, Dershowitz, Klein, Pipes, Kristol, Abrams, Tobin and the old PNAC crowd must be plotzing, oops, plotting, how to divert attention from these revelations. But they need not worry. These files have been declassified for several years and the mainstream press and Chomsky whose arguments they contradict have ignored them and that is not likely to change.

  • Simon

    Meshuganas like these is why I stopped getting involved in Jewish community things on campus.

    Thank you, Eric, for a very interesting post.

  • rmill2k

    This is ridiculous. Nixon made Israel a US ally for the same reason he made Iran an ally…to protect US interests in sensitive corners of the world. And it has worked out extraordinarily well in the case of Israel and would have worked out quite well in the case of Iran if the Shah had been a stronger personality and the execrable Jimmy Carter hadn’t cut him off at the knees and forced hom to bring Khomeini back to Iran.

    BTW, it was Nixon who PERSONALLY chewed out the JCS and told them to ‘send the Jews everything..everything that can fly and I want the stuff in the air within 36 hours’. This was after out European ‘allies’ refused to allow our planes to use their facilities to resupply Israel, a policy I’m sure you would have high fived.

    Instead, the JCS came up with a miracle in mid air refueling called Operation Nicklegrass, the ‘Jews did indeed get the stuff’ and that was that.

    People with your viewpoint have absolutely no clue how valuable to America our alliance with Israel is.

  • rmill2k

    The dual loyalty slur has been a round a long time. And the ‘Israel -firsters ‘ is a dead giveaway, as is taking Noam Chomsky as anything but a tenured Left wing nut job.

    The reason you’re perhaps dissatisfied with the responses you’re getting is that people like me understand there’s no reasoning with your particular brand of psychosis.

    Why bother?

  • rmill2k

    Why would they think that when Jews overwhelmingly voted Democrat?

  • hollywoodjeff

    Yeah, the 34 sailors who the Israeli Wehrmacht murdered and the 171 who were wounded when Israel attacked the USS Liberty in 1967, learned first hand how valuable Israel was to the US. They were told to shut up or be court-martialed. There is a segment of the Jewish community, fortunately not the majority, who put Israel’s interests above those of their fellow Americans and who constitute a veritable 5th column. If the majority don’t deal with the traitors in their midst, there is likely to be held to pay one of these days when we are long gone.

  • hollywoodjeff

    Yeah, it’s not “dual loyalty” that’s the problem. It’s single loyalty to Israel. When we see young Jews choosing to serve in the IDF, they should lose their US citizenship as should every American who decides to become an Israeli citizen. They should have a choice to make, not have the best, or so they think, of both worlds.

  • hollywoodjeff

    It isn’t relevant and wasn’t intended to me. Their rule is that when confronted with facts such as Grynaviski presents in this article, smear those presenting the facts with allegations or implications of aunty semitism. One thing I can’t figure out. Is that charge the first or last refuge of scoundrels?

  • rmill2k

    *Chuckle* “If the majority don’t deal with the traitors in their midst, there is likely to be held to pay one of these days when we are long gone.”

    Yeah Jeff…how ’bout we set up some camps for all those troublesome Jooos, and anyone else who gets out of line?

    Not that you’d care, but the IDF and the US military did no less than 3 separate investigations of the incident you mention and all of them concluded it was a regrettable accident. Not only did Israel pay substantial compensation to the families of the sailors involved but they paid millions to repair the damage to the ship.

    Of course, some might say that the American lives Israel saved by taking out Saddam’s nuclear reactor a decade before the First Gulf War,training US troops how to fight in Arab cities an handle improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car
    bombs, and suicide bombers in Iraq,
    Afghanistan, and Yemen.and or by delivering one of those Mig 21Fs intact to the US that had been shooting our pilots down in Vietnam so we could suss out its weaknesses might have more than paid that debt off, with interest.

    But of course, to a sterling patriot like you, hundreds or maybe thousands of American lives mean little next to settling with those disloyal, sneaky Jews…

  • ThorsteinVeblen2012

    So once you begin questioning the ethics of Zionism have you crossed the Rubicon?

    If you concede the notion that the Palestinians have rights as human beings no different than Jews or Blacks have you become infected with the disease of anti-Semitism for which there is no cure?

    If you question the degree of influence of the often referred to Jewish or Israel lobby have you’ve strayed from the reservation and are now a outlaw?

    If you keep an open mind to the possibility that there are other narratives to history and read Chomsky, Zinn or Shahak have you committed thought crime?

    What are the parameters of acceptable inquiry? Should we follow our own reason or let Abe Foxman guide us?

  • shablon

    Isn’t Noam Chomski a JEW, like yourself? Looks like you filth do not respect even your own. No wonder Zionism is a simple profit making cult.

  • janbn

    The survivors of the scurious attack on the Liberty know that the attack was deliberate. They know that the American flag was flying. They know that shortly before the attack Israeli planes flew low over the ship, so low that the servicemen could see the pilots and they waved to them. They know that a few hours later unmarked planes, along with submarines came to attack them with missiles and napalm leaving 34 dead and many more wounded. The survivors also know that they were told not to tell anyone what happened. LBJ and the US naval authorities, who obviously put Israel ahead of American lives, told the survivors that there would be severe penalties if they talked. The men were given medals but for the first time the medals were given in secrecy.

    I suggest that you read Assault on the Liberty to hear what happened and not take the word of Israel.

    BTW the Israelis said that the pilots mistakenly thought that the Liberty was an Egyptian ship. Now Israeli pilots aren’t stupid and there is no way that the Liberty could have mistaken the Liberty for the clunky Egyptian ship. Israel lied. The US lied to protect Israel. The US put Israel above the lives of American servicemen. This is treason.

  • rmill2k

    I don’t much like commies, or Left wing conspiracy theorists, thanks, although I’ve read enough of their tripe to get the gist. Nor do I care for Jew haters, even Jewish ones. Or Abe Foxman either, for that matter, who runs the equivalent of a Jewish NAACP. I actually told him that to his face.

    Given the facts, I don’t feel an honest, unbiased person with a knowledge of history and ethics would come to any different conclusion.

    And yes, I do think that people who seek to deny Jews the right of self determination with special rules that apply to no other country are racists and anti-semites…especially in view of the history.

    As for Human rights and the Arabs whom identify themselves as Palestinians, the ones who live in Israel have full protection of law and more rights than Arabs in the surrounding countries. OTOH, Jews have been ethnically cleansed from almost the entire Arab world, some the non-Israeli Arabs avidly participated in, Even the Palestinians are quite honest about their attempt to create a Jew-free apartheid reichlet ( Abbas has said so openly) and Hamas is openly genocidal.Read the Martyr’s Oath sometime.

    In view of that, I find your faux concern about human rights to be credulous at best.

  • hollywoodjeff

    The IDF did an inquiry? That’s like having allowed the SS to run the Nuremburg trials. I have read all the available information there is about the US “investigations” in which none of the Israeli killers were allowed to be interviewed. They were all cover-ups because as that traitor in the White House, LBJ, told Adm. Geis of the 6th Fleet who couldn’t believe that Washington had called back the fighter jets he had sent to defend the Liberty, “I don’t want to embarrass an ally.”

  • Dan Nexon

    I’m closing this comment thread. I don’t like censoring posts and I don’t have time to police it anyway. I’ve already axed some stuff that, in my view, crosses the line (one from each “side,” if you must know).