181. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations (McCloskey) to Secretary of State Kissinger1
Middle East Reappraisal: The Javits Letter
The surprising 76 vote tally which Javits & Co. managed to collect as co-signers to the letter endorsing Israel’s request for additional military assistance2 has frequently been interpreted as a Congressional endorsement of carte blanche for the Israelis. Our conversations with a wide range of Senators (and their staffs) who signed or opposed the letter belie that interpretation. Almost everyone with whom we spoke agreed that, while the 76 total is a sharp reminder of continuing solid support for Israel in the Senate, it does not negate the fact that a sea change has started in Senate attitudes against providing Israel with a blank check this year. In fact, many of the Senators who signed did so reluctantly, including Senator Bentsen whose mail shows a significant decline in support for aid to Israel. Similarly Stevenson’s mail is running 9–1 criticizing his having signed the letter.
In the face of your meeting with President Sadat and the increasing perception in Congress that the Middle East reappraisal would include a sharp reduction in military assistance to Israel, Javits and a few of his colleagues felt that it was essential to try and tie your hands or at least delimit your maneuverability. The first draft letter, patterned on last year’s (which attracted 71 signatures)3 was prepared by staff aides, but initiated by the Jewish community. It was a tough, uncompromising endorsement of the Israeli request and entirely partisan in tone. It was circulated to the 18 original co-sponsors. Subsequently, it was softened on several points and the partisan nature of the letter was balanced by the insertion of the sentence expressing support for improved relations with all the nations of the Middle East area. Reportedly, Jackson was responsible for the last change. In doing so, he overrode his zealous staff man Perle who had been responsible for most of the tendentious tone of the first draft.[Page 669]
Once the corrected draft had been approved by the original co-sponsors, staffers for Jackson and Javits (Perle and Lakeland) and other staffers fanned out to collect co-sponsors, and the Jewish community was mobilized for a phone campaign to elicit support. A counter-initiative by Senator Percy, who was, as you know, reluctant to engage in an all-out effort because he is already a marked man with the Jewish community, failed to get organized. Its sole result was Percy’s own letter to the President and McGovern’s letter explaining that, although he signed the Javits letter, he still supported a number of anti-Israeli initiatives such as establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Our conversations suggest that, while not all 76 signers would support the full Israeli request of $2.59 billion, there is still widespread reluctance to publicly back down from all-out support for Israel. However, a shift in the Senate attitude toward Israel is underway. It is my judgement that a number of the key members of the 76 would be receptive to negotiating with the Administration on a compromise level which would endorse a reduced amount of assistance for Israel. There is increasing support for an adjustment, but not a radical cutback in our support for Israel.
Sentiment in the House parallels that in the Senate, though no legislative or written initiatives have emerged, as yet. Congressman Murphy of New York is reputed to have tried unsuccessfully to circulate a Javits-type letter.
It is worth noting that an important interest in this process will be Muskie’s new Budget Committee which is likely to cast a cold eye on a high figure.