Jack Kemp, who died on Saturday at the age of 73, was, in the words of longtime public official Alan Steinberg, “not only a friend to the Jewish community – he was a true brother to us.”
In a tribute on the Politicker NJ blog, Steinberg remembered listening to Kemp speak at the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry. “No other member of the House of Representatives more effectively and ardently championed the cause of Soviet Jewry,” Steinberg wrote. “In fact, the issue of Soviet Jewry was a cause not only of Jack Kemp but of his family as well – his wife, Joanne, for years served as co-chair of Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry.”
In an interview with the Monitor’s alter ego back in 1996, Kemp explained his enthusiastic support for Israel:
“Just look at the Middle East – there isn’t any other country there that has been as strong and loyal a friend to the United States as has Israel. There isn’t any other country in the Middle East noted for democracy and human rights. Where else in the Middle East, besides Israel, are there free and open elections? Peace – real peace – will come only from Israel’s remaining strong.”
More recently, on the occasion of Israel’s 60th birthday, Kemp wrote:
To be historically accurate, instead of celebrating 60 years, we should be calling this the “3,000 plus 60” celebration, as the Jews were the original inhabitants of that ancient land and displaced by the Romans who were among the first colonial powers in decimating the Jewish population, thus leading to the Jewish Diaspora of these 3,000 years plus.Having been to Israel often since my first trip in 1972 as a rookie member of Congress, I’m always amazed at the incredible progress, juxtaposed against the virulence of its enemies, many of whom would annihilate not only the state of Israel but Jews writ large.
It’s equally hard to believe how much opposition there was 60 years ago this month to a Jewish homeland as the remnant of European Jewry, 6 million of whom were burned and gassed by the Nazis and incarcerated by the brutal despot Joseph Stalin.
One of my foreign policy heroes, Gen. George Marshall, tried to dissuade President Truman from recognizing the new state of Israel in 1948. He and his Arabist allies in the State Department thought it would erode our credibility throughout the whole world. On the contrary, Truman’s support gave moral standing to our nation in keeping with our founding democratic ideals and shared values. Today, Israel is unambiguously our most loyal and steadfast strategic ally in that part of the world, notwithstanding our increasing trade, diplomatic, and strategic friends and allies in the Arabian Gulf.
I appreciate the perspective of former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Zalman Shoval, who recently wrote, “Israel’s triumph should not be seen primarily in terms of victories over its enemies. Instead, it should be considered in light of its achievements. Without natural resources, without any substantial foreign aid during the first 20 years of its existence and in spite of its ongoing security concerns it has created a thriving economy. Israel is a leader in high technology, medicine and related fields, and is a major cultural center.
No appreciation of Jack Kemp would be complete without noting that it was thanks to him that the Jewish community knew what it was up against with former secretary of state James Baker.
In March 1992, former New York mayor Ed Koch revealed in his New York Post column that during a recent White House meeting Baker had said of Jews: “[Expletive] ‘em. They didn’t vote for us.”
Koch, of course, could not reveal the identity of his source. But he finally broke his silence last year and disclosed that it was Kemp, who in his capacity as secretary of housing and urban development was at the meeting.
Kemp, wrote Alan Steinberg, “was one of those rare individuals of both goodness and greatness.”
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org