The Associated Press published a few details today about LBJ’s “personal and often emotional connection to Israel.” Based on newly released tapes of the president’s conversations, the news agency pointed out that during the Johnson presidency (1963-1969) “the United States became Israel's chief diplomatic ally and primary arms supplier.” LBJ is quoted in one conversation, “"I sure as hell want to be careful and not run out on little Israel."
The news report does little to reveal the full extent of Johnson’s actions on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Indeed, the title of “Righteous Gentile” is certainly appropriate in the case of the Texan. Most students of the Arab-Israeli conflict can identify Johnson as the president during the 1967 war. But few know about LBJ’s actions to rescue hundreds of endangered Jews 30 years earlier, actions that could have thrown him out of Congress and into jail.
The Texas congressman’s district had only 400 Jews, but clearly the Johnson family’s Christian teachings had given him a strong affinity for Jews and their return to the Holy Land.
Five days after taking office in 1937, LBJ broke with the “Dixiecrats” and supported an immigration bill that would naturalize illegal aliens, mostly Jews from Lithuania and Poland. In 1938, Johnson was told of a young Austrian Jewish musician who was about to be deported from the United States. With an element of subterfuge, LBJ sent him to the U.S. Consulate in Havana to obtain a residency permit. Erich Leinsdorf, the world famous musician and conductor, credited LBJ for saving his live.
Johnson Saved Hundreds of Jews
That same year, LBJ warned a Jewish friend that European Jews faced annihilation. Somehow, Johnson provided him with a pile of signed immigration papers that were used to get 42 Jews out of Warsaw. But that wasn’t enough. According to historian, James M. Smallwood, Congressman Johnson used legal and sometimes illegal methods to smuggle “hundreds of Jews into Texas, using Galveston as the entry port. Enough money could buy false passports and fake visas in Cuba, Mexico, and other Latin American countries. … Johnson smuggled boatloads and planeloads of Jews into Texas. He hid them in the Texas National Youth Administration…. Johnson saved at least four or five hundred Jews, possibly more..”
On June 4, 1945, Johnson visited the Dachau concentration camp. According to historian Smallwood, Lady Bird later recalled that “when her husband returned home, he was still shaken, stunned, terrorized, and ‘bursting with an overpowering revulsion and incredulous horror at what he had seen.’”
As President, Johnson met with Israel’s Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and undertook to replace the recalcitrant France as Israel’s principal arms supplier, providing Patton tanks and Skyhawk jets and Phantom jets. (Pictured: Johnson greets Yitzhak Rabin in the Oval office.)
Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin once asked Johnson why the United States supported Israel when there are 80 million Arabs and only three million Israelis. “Because it is right,” responded the straight-shooting Texan.
Another event took place on Johnson’s watch
In 1965, some 100 kilo of highly enriched uranium went missing from the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation, or NUMEC, in Apollo, Pennsylvania, a small fuel rod fabrication plant. Although investigated by the Atomic Energy Commission, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other government agencies and inquiring reporters, no trace of the uranium was found. Some investigators suggested that Israel received the enriched uranium. According to a U.S. Air Force report, “In the 1990s when the NUMEC plant was disassembled, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found over 100 kilograms of plutonium in the structural components of the contaminated plant,” casting doubt on the Israel conspiracy theory.
Carter's Big Mouth
P.S. In a recently de-classified memo to President Richard Nixon in 1969, National Security Henry Kissinger discussed the possibility of Israel having nuclear weapons. “There is circumstantial evidence,” Kissinger wrote, “that some fissionable material available for Israel's weapons development was illegally obtained from the United States about 1965," Kissinger wrote. When Jimmy Carter announced this week that Israel had 150 nuclear weapons, he was clearly violating American security policy. Back in 1969, Kissinger expressed the need to keep Israel nuclear issues secret, “While we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession, what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact.”