53. Memorandum for the President’s File by the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1


  • President’s Meeting with Jewish Leaders


  • The President
  • Major General Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
  • Leonard Garment
  • (See attached list for Jewish Leaders)2

[Omitted here is discussion of U.S. policy toward Israel.]

—As for the problem of Soviet Jews and the emigration tax, the problem has always been what is actually the best way to help the Russian Jews. It is clear that if we make this an issue of prestige or a test of manhood between ourselves and the Soviets, the Soviets will only dig in their heels and the situation will become worse. The Soviets are well aware of our views on this issue, from the Presidential level on down. It is, however, impossible to make public all the facets of this complex and troublesome problem. In this instance, there had to be a degree of trust in America’s leadership. Above all, the issue does not lend itself to politicization in the domestic environment. Certainly, the objective observer must understand that the emigration of Soviet Jews thus far has been no accident. In the long run, the improvement of relations between the Soviet Union cannot but have an ameliorating effect on the welfare of the Soviet Jews themselves, whereas an abrupt test of the So[Page 185]viet leadership which constitutes a challenge to a principle which they, themselves, consider to be an internal matter can only complicate the situation.

At this point, the group asked several questions. Rabbi Klapperman went into a lengthy exposition of the importance of taking positive action to improve the plight of Soviet Jews who in the face of the Soviet head tax could spend a lifetime accumulating funds before they could hope to emigrate. The President reiterated the need for trust, and emphasized his compassionate feelings for this humanitarian dilemma. He also noted his strong opposition to the so-called quota system which, if applied here in the United States, would give him no more than a quarter of a Kissinger in a key advisory role!

At the conclusion of the meeting, the President invited the participants to bring their problems at any time to General Haig or Dr. Kissinger. The meeting adjourned.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 720, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Vol. XXV, September 1972 [1 of 3]. Secret. The meeting took place in the Carpenter’s Suite at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The original is incorrectly dated September 27. On September 25, Kissinger forwarded a set of talking points to Nixon for the meeting. In a covering memorandum, Kissinger wrote: “Given the natural tendency of any group such as this with a strong special interest to over-interpret what they hear, it seems to me important to stay fairly close to the suggested talking points.” (Ibid.) Kissinger also spoke with Rabin, September 25, telling him: “One other thing as long as I have you on the phone, the President is very nervous about this meeting with the Jewish leaders tomorrow. I don’t know whether you have any influence on them to keep them from harassing him too much.” Rabin replied: “I don’t believe there will be any harassment there. They’ll ask questions. I think what they’ll try—two of them talked to me and they would like practically to get the . . . If he could start with a few words rather than to let them set a tone, if I may advise.” Kissinger replied: “Right.” (Transcript of telephone conversation, September 25; ibid., Kissinger Telephone Conversations (Telcons), Box 15, Chronological File)
  2. Attached but not printed. The list is also in the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  3. According to a synopsis of the meeting prepared by Lawrence Y. Goldberg, Nixon concluded the meeting by saying: “I very much appreciate your concern. I am aware of the facts that you have mentioned. We are in the closest touch with the situation. The Prime Minister says—we will trust you, but we will watch you, too. Today, a little girl handed me a note at the Statue of Liberty. It asked that I do something to get her uncle out of the U.S.S.R. I am thinking about that little girl. Trust me and my motives. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, President’s Office Files, Box 90, Memoranda for the President, Beginning September 24, 1972)