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May 29, 1981 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1981-05-29

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2 Friday, May 29, 1981


Purely Commentary

Mollifying Those in Power:
Is This Weakness Repetitive?

Jewish leadership should be credited with having been
firm in pressing for justice, in refuting the prejudicial.
In the main it must be emphasized that they have not
yielded to unnecessary pressures.
Often, however, out of a desire "to be nice," to gain
favor with the powerful, concessions are made unnecessar-
An interesting example was recorded in an important
book which evaluated the "Yahudim," the assimilating
German Jews when they were contrasted with the East
Europeans, in "Poor Cousins" (Coward, McCann, Geoghe-
gan, 1972) by Ande Manners. The author of "Poor Cousins"
was relating the demand made upon President William
Taft in 1910 that the treaty with Czarist Russia be abro-
gated because naturalized American Jews returning to
Russia were denied their rights as American citizens. Louis
Marshall led the battle, delivering a powerful address de-
manding action by the U.S. government. But an eminent
Jewish spokesman, Simon Wolf, sought to appease the
White House. Here is the tale, related in "Poor Cousins":
A month after Marshall's speech the President
invited the leaders of AJC and several other
organizations to the White House for lunch. In-
cluded among those invited were Louis Marshall,
Jacob Schiff, Judge Mayer Sulzberger, and
Simon Wolf, a tireless communal leader, a former
president of the Bnai Brith and a former consul
general in Egypt, who had, during his residence
there, formed a Bnai Brith chapter in Cairo. An
estimable gentleman in many ways, Mr. Wolf had
a weakness for trying to please those in power;
consequently, he was not Marshall and Schiff's
kind of shtadlan. And so several days before the
White House lunch, Marshall wrote Schiff:
"... The great danger will be that some of these
gentlemen will feel so flattered by the invitation
that they will readily concede that everything has
been done that can be done . . . it would be just
exactly in line with Mr. Wolf's ordinary policy to
say 'Amen' to anything that the government
authorities may suggest . . . The time is past
when sweet words will butter our parsnips . . ."
At the meeting President Taft gave his guests no
opportunity to present their views; instead, he
revealed his conclusions, which were dishearten-
ing. Although the treaty ran counter to "our con-
stitutional principle of equality for every one . . .
and no distinction as to religion," the treaty was
an old one, and the United States had permitted
the offensive provisions to continue for many
years. It would be awkward suddenly to abrogate
the treaty. Moreover, American commercial
interests — International Harvester, Singer Sew-
ing Machine, and Westinghouse — had invest-
ments in Russia, amounting to $60,000,000, that
would be endangered by abrogation. Even if
those investments were to he_sacrificed, Taft was
convinced it would be an unwise gesture, for Rus-
sian Jews would be made to suffer renewed pog-
Jacob Schiff exploded. ("When Mr. Schiff grew
indignant," a friend commented, "he had a way of
expressing himself clearly and forcefully.") After
stating categorically, "Mr. President, you have
failed us, and there is nothing left to us now, but to
put our case before the American people directly
. . ." he stamped out. (Simon Wolf reported seeing
the President the next day, and, in the most good
humored way," Mr. Taft said, "Wasn't Mr. Schiff
angry yesterday?")
Throughout 1911 public opinion was mobilized
— or perhaps "marshalled" might be a more apt
word. Thirty-two thousand copies of Marshall's
speech, "Russia and the American Passport,"
went to opinion-makers in Congress, newspapers
and magazines, and clergymen and judges. The
issue was debated on the forum and in print.
Though Marshall never made his appeals for
abrogation on a partisan basis ("Taft is a very
obstinate man and will be more apt to become
actively hostile, if he feels we are attacking him
. . ."), Congressional Democrats seized on the
issue — autocratic Russia's insult to American
citizens — to use it against the Administration.
Jewish and non-Jewish Americans flooded mem-
bers of Congress with petitions for abrogation. In
one day, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge received 70
from Massachusetts groups.
Finally, on Dec. 17, 1911, two days short of a
year after Marshall's opening blast for abroga-
tion, President Taft announced the abrogation of
the Treaty of 1832.
The successful abrogation battle was a superb
object lesson in Americanization for Russian
Jews — displaying the means open to individuals

Continuity of Tensions, Mounting Threats to Israel
That Keep Calling for Vigilance With the Emerging Irrita-
tions . . . Novick's Commendable Zionist Services

in a democracy in achieving desired ends. But
Russian Jews, so quick to resent authority, so
sensitive to any suggestion of condescension,
found it impossible to be a passive, admiring
audience. Forthright and fearless, Louis Marshall
appeared to believe that only leaders should have
these qualities; the immigrants were to be quiet,
well-behaved, and content to be led by the shtad-
lanim, who would handle everything. Although
realistic, Marshall never failed to be shocked and
astonished when they responded differently.
An attitude relating to Wolf's was recently sen-
sationalized in American and Israeli newspapers.
Is it possible that representatives of Jewish com-
munities, in their roles as shtadlanim or elected -spokesmen
for Jewry, will appease, seek favors, bend to the will of
authorities, as was charged against so prominent a leader
as Simon Wolf? This is not always conceivable, although it
is possible in exceptional cases.

When a President Is Irritated
by Jews in Vigilant Mood

Historians, philosophers, sociologists and news
analysts will, if they have not already, watch a President's
facial expressions to judge his reactions to demands by his
constituents on all imaginable subjects. He will not always
be smiling or receptive. He may even show anger.
This may especially be relevant to a President's reac-
tions in matters involving human rights, anti-Semitism
and the Israeli problems. The latter could cause aggrava-
tion, as did, in years past, the problem of immigration
which was a source of much concern in Jewish ranks.
President Harry Truman may have been typicol in
such matters. When this reporter led a delegation of Jewish
newsmen to him in 1949, he commented: "Jews think I have
not acted in a friendly spirit. I did. Look at the map . . He
took us to the large globe in the Oval Office and turned it to
the, Middle East to indicate how firm he was in demands
two years earlier that Great Britain open the doors of
Palestine to 100,000 more Jewish settlers before the estab-
lishment of the state of Israel.
President Truman did, however, state in his memoirs
that he was annoyed by Jewish pressures.
Wasn't that the case with President William Howard
Taft prior to his having finally yielded to the demands of
Louis Marshall and Jacob Schiff, in their demands on be-
half of the American Jewish Committee that the commer-
cial treaty with Russia should be abrogated in protest
against anti-Jewish discriminations involving American
Jews? •
President Ronald Reagan now confronts Jewish repre-
sentatives in their presentations in behalf of Israel. The
arms-for-Saudi Arabia issue predominates. Is the
President irritated? The following excerpt from the essay,
"Signals of Softness," by William Satire in the New York
Times May 13, has some relevance:
WASHINGTON — The Syrian missile crisis is
the first Soviet test of the Reagan Administra-
tion's will. The Reagan response to the Kremlin's
probe has been dangerously soft.
The first sign of softness came when Secretary
of State Haig prevented the Israelis from nipping
the crisis in the bud by taking out the first mis-
siles. As a result of the U.S. intercession, the bat-
teries have been "thickened," promising heavier
casualties to their removers.
The second signal of softness was the Haig invi-
tation to the Soviets to re-enter Middle East diplo-
macy, from which they had been effectively bar-
red since Mr. Sadat's historic eviction notice. De-
spite evidence that Soviet technicians have been
calibrating the radar for the Soviet-built surface-
to-air missiles placed in Lebanon, Mr. Haig
naively went to the fox to ask for help in the
As might have been expected, the Soviets
promptly took our chief diplomat into camp: After
a week of reports that the Soviets might be helpful
in restraining their client state, it became obvious
that the Soviet mission to Damascus only stif-
fened Syria in its desire to end its Arab isolation.
The Syrians became determined to show the Arab
world that Israel could not count on American
backing — or to become a victim of a losing war
against Israel, and thereby to end its pariah
Not until late last week did it dawn on the Secre-
tary of State that he had been had by the Rus-
sians. At that time, The Great Backgrounder of
Foggy Bottom told a select group of reporters that
the Soviet role in the peace negotiations had been
"actively destructive." He seemed surprised.
A third sign of softness came with the applica-
tion of an old Carter Administration maneuver:
from the ambush of background, get angry with
our ally for being at the place where the Kremlin
tests American will.

By Philip

Despite Israel's acquiescence to an American
request for time to negotiate with the Soviet
client, and despite a surprisingly pliant attitude
toward the American compromise which was
later rejected by the Syrians, some American
policymaker felt it necessary to vent his spleen at
our ally:
"There is reason for saying," wrote James Re-
ston of the New York Times last week, "that
President Reagan is not amused by Mr. Begin's
first reaction to the new Washington Administra-
tion's policies in the Middle East. He is irritated by
the mounting Israeli campaign against his deci-
sion to sell the AWACS aircraft to Saudi Ar bia s ,
and appalled by Mr. Begin's personal atta
Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germa
My colleague is too experienced and trustwor-
thy a reporter to assess the President's innermost
thoughts without a well-placed source. His "rea-
son for saying," I presume, can only be that such a
reading of the President's mind was given him on
deep background by a high official.
"Sounds like the old vicar," I was told on shal-
lower background by a different high source, who
may be in a better position to understand Mr.
Reagan's thinking. My insider leads me to believe
that the cold Victorian fury of "we are not
amused">is far from Reagan's style; that the
President is not "irritated" by Israel's predictable
concern about arms sales to the Saudis; and that
"appalled" is hardly the Reagan reaction to the
Begin comment about Chancellor Schmidt's
cozying-up to the PLO. The source seeking to
project an ominous Presidential impatience with
Israel may not have been the Secretary of State,
but that knock-your-ally line is indicative of the
kind of wishy-washiness now emanating from the
State Department.
In a human fashion, every person in public life has
occasion to be irritated. This may be even more applicable
to the communications media, on a par with politicians who
deal with foreign affairs. For the lay person who knows
history and the democratic way of treating it, one must
never retreat from advocating and adhering to basic prin-
ciples — even when addressing the President of the United
States. Else the very root of freedom of expression would be
There is only one way of preserving the American way
of life and that is not to sacrifice the right to assert oneself
and to speak firmly in defense of the basic rights of people
wherver they may be. Presidents usually respond with
respect to those who have self-respect and act respectfully.
That is how American democracy is protected.
As matters have gone so far, President Reagan and his
associates have much to their credit in their treatment of
the Middle East issue. The Israel-Syria dispute proves it.
Philip Habib serves this nation and its involvement in the
_ Middle East with courage. The applause these efforts earns
is a political realism.

Ivan Novick, a Native American
Who Lends Dignity to Leadership

Guest speakers come to this community in hordes dur-
ing the year. They are the acclaimed by cultural commit-
tees of synagogues and other groups, propagators of impor-
tant causes, many who offer assistance in fund raising and
the sale of Israel Bonds.
There is much to be said and is yet to be said about the
selection of speakers. Many of them who do not show suffi-
cient respect for their audiences bring messages that
are mere rehashing of news everybody already knows.
There needs to be a demand that speakers should do
their homework. They should understand that bringing
messages to the audience involves responsibility in doing
research on the subject to be covered.
That is why this particular recommendation fo - tan
who has risen to national leadership and who w e a
guest here this evening. Ivan Novick rose to the presidency
of the Zionist Organization of America from the ranks.
Serving in that capacity in an era of great stress, he has
always displayed tact when meeting with important gov-
ernment officials, and his skill is in his consistent leaning
on facts and preparation which place him in high ranks
among spokesmen for Jewry.
It should be said to his credit that he knows his place in
a position that was held by Justice Louis D. Brandeis,
Judge Julian Mack, eminent scholars, top-ranking rabbis,
all fully aware of their responsibilities to the great and
historic Zionist movement.
Novick not only occupies his position of leadership
with dignity: he does not speak out of turn, and his letters
published in important newspapers and magazines, as well
as his speeches, are based on facts. At the same time, he is a
realist in his approaches.
He has earned great respect for his leadership and this
community has reason to appreciate the opportunity to
welcome him here.

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