237. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretaries of State for European Affairs (Hillenbrand) and for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Sisco) to Secretary of State Rogers 1

Meeting with Jewish Leaders

On May 11, four top American Jewish leaders sent a cable to the White House requesting a meeting with the President to discuss current trials of Soviet Jews (Tab B).2 This request was subsequently publicized in the press, but the White House has not yet replied to it.

We understand that the failure to reply to this request resulted from an administrative oversight by the White House.3 Apparently as a result of a Departmental query to the White House staff about the cable, Leonard Garment on May 26 forwarded it to Joe Sisco, suggesting that perhaps you might respond to the cable and meet with the four-man group (Tab C).4 [Page 698] He is looking to us to take the White House off the hook; I gather from Garment the President prefers not to respond to the cable.5

In the period of tension during the December 1970 trial of Soviet Jews in Leningrad, you and the President met with American Jewish leaders (Tab D).6 A similar gesture now would do a great deal to demonstrate continuing U.S. Government concern about Soviet Jewry and help the moderate American Jewish leadership cope with the rise of anti-Soviet violence on the part of an extremist minority.

In view of the short time remaining before your departure for the NATO ministerial meeting, we believe that it would be appropriate for the Under Secretary to meet with these leaders in your stead. Max Fisher indicated today to Joe Sisco that offering to meet with the group would be a welcome gesture, whether or not they accept the offer.

It would be most helpful if Ambassador Johnson’s approach to Ambassador Dobrynin on Soviet Jewry (which EUR has resubmitted in an action memorandum of May 26)7 were made before the meeting with these Jewish leaders. We would not publicize this approach other than to say that the subject of Ambassador Johnson’s conversation with Dobrynin was Soviet Jewry. However, we could use the approach to excellent advantage privately with the Jewish leaders.

A reply to the leaders for your signature is attached (Tab A).

We would suggest the attached press guidance (Tab E)8 for use after the meeting with the Jewish leaders.

[Page 699]

Recommendation

That you approve a meeting by the Under Secretary with Rabbi Schacter and Miller and Messrs. Fisher and Stein.

Approve __________

Date __________Time __________

Disapprove __________

Other __________

That you authorize sending the attached telegram (Tab A) to the Jewish leaders.9

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 29 USSR. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Mainland. Davies initialed the memorandum for Hillenbrand.
  2. The tabs are attached but not printed. In addition to Fisher and Schacter, the telegram was signed by Rabbi Israel Miller and Jacob Stein, co-chairmen of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
  3. In a May 13 memorandum, David Parker asked Kissinger for his advice on how to respond to the request for a meeting. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Member and Office Files, Leonard Garment, Alpha-Subject Files, Box 117, Jewish Matters 1971 [2 of 3]) Kissinger replied on May 18: “From the strictly foreign policy viewpoint, I believe the proposed meeting would be detrimental to current relations with the USSR. The President made his position known in a public statement from San Clemente last January. However, there may be other considerations bearing on a meeting apart from the negative foreign policy effects I have noted.” (Ibid.) Parker forwarded Kissinger’s memorandum to Garment on May 19 to consider in drafting a reply to Fisher’s telegram. Garment, however, wrote in the margin: “Dave. What reply? To what request?” (Ibid.)
  4. During a telephone conversation with Kissinger at 2:38 p.m., Garment remarked: “We want to keep this cooking along without too many of our Jewish friends picketing the White House.” When Kissinger asked about the subject, Garment replied: “Soviet Jewry.” Kissinger suggested that Garment “[c]ome on over” to discuss the issue. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 10, Chronological File) According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met Garment from 2:44 to 2:55. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) No record of the conversation has been found.
  5. Kissinger mentioned the request for an appointment during a meeting at 10:08 a.m. with the President, who replied: “Never. No.” “We’ve been sitting on it,” Kissinger explained, “but there’s a telegram on the plight of Soviet Jewry.” The two men agreed that the President “shouldn’t see them now.” As Kissinger argued: “it will infuriate the Russians for no good end.” Nixon added: “People would say, ‘What the hell? Are the Americans going to get into a fight with the Soviet about the Jewish persecution?’ They don’t want it. You know what I mean? Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t stand up for them. But the American people, now, at this time, are goddamn sensitive about getting into a fight with anybody, except for themselves.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 505–4)
  6. See Document 82.
  7. Document 236.
  8. Some of the press guidance was subsequently incorporated into the “short statement” Bray read at the daily press conference on May 27. See Document 238.
  9. The Secretary marked neither approval nor disapproval of either recommendation on the memorandum. Rogers, however, approved the message to Fisher, Schacter, Miller, and Stein on May 26. (Telegram 95340 to USUN, May 29; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, SOC 14 USSR)