The history books have told us of John F. Kennedy’s epic struggles with Fidel Castro and the Soviets in the Bay of Pigs debacle and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Yet, only in recent years have we begun to learn of Kennedy’s secret war with Israel. Much of the conflict stemmed from Israel’s determination to build a nuclear bomb.
This is a hidden history that helps explain in part the dynamic forces at work resulting in Kennedy’s assassination.
By mid-1963 Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion hated Kennedy with a passion. In fact, he considered JFK a threat to the very survival of the Jewish State.
One of John F. Kennedy’s first presidential appointments was naming his former campaign aide Myer (Mike) Feldman as his point man for Jewish and Israeli affairs—an important post, especially considering JFK’s tenuous relationship with Israel and its American lobby.
According to author Seymour Hersh, “The President viewed Feldman, whose strong support for Israel was widely known, as a necessary evil whose highly visible White House position was a political debt that had to be paid.”79
However, the administration was determined to make certain, according to Hersh, that nobody—Feldman in particular—would be able to circumvent any administration policy insofar as the Middle East was concerned.
“The President’s most senior advisors, most acutely McGeorge Bundy, the national security advisor, desperately sought to cut Feldman out of the flow of Middle East paperwork.”80
Hersh quotes another presidential aide as having said, “It was hard to tell the difference between what Feldman said and what the Israeli ambassador said.”81
‘ZIONISTS IN THE CABINET ROOM’
President Kennedy himself had his own suspicions about Feldman, according to the president’s close friend, Charles Bartlett (to whom Kennedy in 1960 had previously voiced concerns about Israeli influence as noted in Chapter 4).
Bartlett recalls a visit with the new President at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts one Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath). Talk turned to Feldman’s role in the White House bureaucracy. “I imagine Mike’s having a meeting of the Zionists in the cabinet room,” the president said, according to Bartlett. 82
The President’s brother, Robert Kennedy, himself said that his brother admired Feldman’s work, but added, “His major interest was Israel rather than the United States.”83
However, while Myer Feldman was busy promoting Israel’s interests at the White House, the president was sending out a message to the rest of the foreign policy-making establishment in Washington.
Kennedy was making it clear that he was very much interested in finding a path to peace in the Middle East and was, in particular, looking for ways to solve the problem of finding a home for the Palestinian refugees who had been displaced by Israel in 1948.
KENNEDY’S GOOD INTENTIONS
According to Hersh, “State Department Arabists were pleasantly surprised early in 1961 to get word from the White House, according to [one source], that ‘just because 90 percent of the Jewish vote had gone for Kennedy, it didn’t mean he was in their pocket.'”84
Former high-ranking U.S. diplomat Richard H. Curtiss, writing in A Changing Image: American Perceptions of the Arab-Israeli Dispute, elaborated on Kennedy’s attitude toward the Middle East controversy. In a chapter appropriately titled: “President Kennedy and Good Intentions Deferred Too Long,” Curtiss comments:
“It is surprising to realize, with the benefit of hindsight, that from the time Kennedy entered office as the narrowly-elected candidate of a party heavily dependent upon Jewish support, he was planning to take a whole new look at U.S. Mideast policy.
“He obviously could not turn the clock back and undo the work of President Truman, his Democratic predecessor, in making the establishment of Israel possible. Nor, perhaps, would he have wanted to. “Kennedy was determined, however, to develop good new personal relationships with individual Arab leaders, including those with whom the previous administration’s relations had deteriorated.
“As a result, various leaders of newly independent countries were surprised to find their pro forma messages of congratulations upon Kennedy’s assumption of office answered with personalized letters from the young American President.” 85
OLIVE BRANCH TO NASSER
The key Arab leader at the time was Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, the voice of Pan-Arabism. Kennedy was especially intrigued with the possibility of opening up relations with Nasser.
According to Kennedy associate, Theodore Sorensen, “Nasser liked Kennedy’s Ambassador, John Badeau, and he liked Kennedy’s practice of personal correspondence. Kennedy put off, however, an invitation for a Nasser visit until improved relations could enable him to answer the political attacks such a visit would bring from voters more sympathetic to Israel.”86
(Unfortunately, however, as noted by Richard Curtiss, “As with most good intentions deferred, the invitation to Nasser for a personal meeting with Kennedy was never issued.”87)
Thus, it was that upon assuming office, Kennedy made positive attempts to contact Arab heads of state asking how the U.S. could help each country in its individual disputes with Israel.
STANDING BY TRADITION
However, Kennedy wanted one thing in particular understood by all sides in the conflict: the new U.S. president wanted “to make it crystal clear that the U.S. meant what it said in the Tripartite Declaration of 1950—that we will act promptly and decisively against any nation in the Middle East which attacks its neighbor.”88
This policy was directed not only to the Arabs, but Israel as well. Kennedy did indeed mean business.
ISRAEL’S LOBBY REACTS
Soon after Kennedy assumed office, Israel and its American lobby began to understand the import of Kennedy’s positioning in regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel was not happy—to say the very least—and began putting heat on the White House through the egis of its supporters in Congress, many of whom relied upon support from the Israeli lobby for campaign contributions and political leverage.
According to America’s most noted longtime Jewish critic of Israel, Dr. Alfred Lilienthal:
“While the President, more often through Vice President Lyndon Johnson, gave much lip service to Israelist aspirations, his administration continued to resist pressures, including a round-robin petition signed by 226 Congressmen of both parties (aided by a large New York Times advertisement on May 28, 1962) to initiate direct Arab-Israeli negotiations. Kennedy had decided to shelve his pledge in the Democratic platform to bring Israeli and Arab leaders together around a peace table in order to settle the Palestine question.”89
It was mid-way into Kennedy’s presidency that he had the satisfaction of seeing French President Charles DeGaulle grant independence to Algeria— something, of course, as we saw in Chapter 4 that was not looked favorably upon by Israel and its American lobby.
Five years and one day after Kennedy’s Senate speech calling for Algerian independence, Algeria became a sovereign state on July 3, 1962. According to former diplomat Richard Curtiss, “Algeria’s [revolutionary] leaders had not forgotten the American senator who had championed their cause and they publicly hailed his election.”90
“Kennedy in turn sent William Porter, the U.S. Foreign Service officer who had explained to him the Algerian cause, as the first U.S. Ambassador to Algeria. [Algerian leader] Ahmad Ben Bella visited Washington the same year. Afterward, in the words of Ambassador Porter, Ben Bella ‘ascribed to Kennedy everything he thought good in the United States.'”91
Although pro-Israel propagandists and some American conservatives with close ties to the Israeli lobby said that an independent Algeria would be a “communist” outpost in the Middle East, Algerian Premier Ahmed Ben Bella banned the Communist Party of Algeria on November 29, 1962. 92
In fact, Algeria was very much an Islamic state and it was precisely this which created so much concern for Israel.
DeGAULLE’S MIDDLE EAST TURN-ABOUT
However, the debate over Algerian independence had sparked a major crisis within France and the French Secret Army Organization (OAS), which fought Algerian freedom, considered John F. Kennedy an enemy only second to Charles DeGaulle.
(In subsequent chapters, in greater detail, we shall see further how JFK’s CIA enemies were, in fact, collaborating with DeGaulle’s enemies in the OAS, and traitors within his regime—along with the Israeli Mossad.)
Twenty years after Algerian independence, the Washington Post commented on the effect that Algerian freedom had upon DeGaulle’s Middle East policy and, in turn, upon Israel:
“Diplomatically, France shorn of Algeria, returned under president Charles DeGaulle to its traditional policy of friendship with the Arabs— much to the chagrin of Israel and the 200,000 Algerian Jews who had lived peacefully alongside their Arab neighbors until emigrating to France.”93
Israeli historian Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi notes that “when Algeria, finally independent, joined the United Nations, only Israel voted against its admission.”94
In fact, as we shall see, the Algerian question would ultimately play a part in the events that led to JFK’s assassination.
At the same time, JFK was shaping a Middle East policy that put him at loggerheads with Israel. Yet, cognizant of Israel’s political influence in the United States, JFK made overtures to Israel and arranged to meet in Palm Beach, in December of 1962, with Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir.
‘A TWO-WAY STREET’
It was during that meeting that Kennedy actually went so far as to emphasize American support for Israel, probably the farthest that any American president had gone since Israel was first established.
However, the president tempered that pledge with a hope that Israel recognized that America also had interests in the Middle East. According to President Kennedy, referring to U.S.-Israeli relations, “Our relationship is a two-way street.”95
NO ‘EXCLUSIVE FRIENDS’
Phillips Talbot, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, who was present at the Kennedy-Meir conference prepared a memorandum for the State Department summarizing that meeting. According to the memorandum, summarized by Stephen Green in his monumental study, Taking Sides: America’s Secret Relations With a Militant Israel:
“The United States, the President said, has a special relationship with Israel in the Middle East really comparable only to that which it has with Britain over a wide range of world affairs. But for us to play properly the role we are called upon to play, we cannot afford the luxury of identifying Israel, or Pakistan, or certain other countries, as our exclusive friends.”96
According to Green, the thrust of Kennedy’s message to Israel was this: “The best way for the United States to effectively serve Israel’s national security interests, Kennedy said, was to maintain and develop America’s associations with the other nations of the region. [America’s] influence could then be brought to bear as needed in particular disputes to ensure that Israel’s essential interests were not compromised.”97
“‘If we pulled out of the Arab Middle East and maintained our ties only with Israel this would not be in Israel’s interest,’ Kennedy said.” 98
AMERICA’S NEEDS IMPORTANT
“Our security problems are, therefore, just as great as Israel’s. We have to concern ourself with the whole Middle East. We would like Israeli recognition that this partnership which we have with it produces strains for the United States in the Middle East . . . when Israel takes such action as it did last spring [when Israel launched a raid into Syria, resulting in a condemnation by the UN Security Council]. Whether right or wrong, those actions involve not just Israel but also the United States.”100
Stephen Green believes that Kennedy’s position vis-à-vis Israel was an important stand: “It was a remarkable exchange, and the last time for many, many years in which an American president precisely distinguished for the government of Israel the differences between U.S. and Israeli national security interests.”101
Thus it was that John F. Kennedy informed Israel, in no uncertain terms, that he intended—first and foremost—to place America’s interests—not Israel’s interests—at the center of U.S. Middle East policy.
This set the groundwork for further tension between the U.S. and Israel over an even more explosive issue: Israel’s determination to build a nuclear bomb. Israel had been engaged in nuclear development during the past decade but continued to insist that its nuclear programs were strictly peaceful in nature. However, the facts prove otherwise.
In order to thoroughly examine Kennedy’s conflict with Israel over the Zionist State’s nuclear intentions, we once again refer to Stephen Green’s aforementioned work, Taking Sides: America’s Secret Relations With a Militant Israel, a treasure trove of little known information relating to U.S.-Israeli relations from the period of 1948 through 1967. Green writes of JFK’s discovery that Israel was engaged in nuclear arms development.
When Kennedy was coming into office in the transition period in December 1960 the Eisenhower administration informed Kennedy of Israel’s secret nuclear weapons development at a site in the desert known as Dimona. Israel had advanced several cover stories to explain its activities at Dimona.
A ‘HIGHLY DISTRESSING’ SITUATION
Israel had kept the nuclear weapons program as secret as possible, but US intelligence had discovered the project. Kennedy termed the situation “highly distressing.”102
Kennedy, upon taking office, determined that he would make efforts to derail Israel’s nuclear weapons development. Nuclear proliferation was to be one of Kennedy’s primary concerns.
Israel’s intended entry into the nuclear arena was, as a consequence, a frightening prospect in JFK’s mind, particularly in light of ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
From the very beginning of his presidency, John F. Kennedy found himself at severe odds with the government of Israel. It was a conflict that would never really be resolved until the day JFK died in Dallas. It was not an auspicious start for the New Frontier.