Yasir Arafat’s buddy Jimmy Carter was at it again in Geneva two weeks ago. Carter, never one to miss an opportunity to offer his usual menu of anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian selections, rushed to the Geneva Accord ceremonies where he spoke of the Palestinian ‘right of return’ and called on Israel for suicidal concessions. The biased tone of his speech rivaled that of his recent New York Times op-ed piece in which he suggested that the U.S. threaten to withhold aid from Israel.

Fortunately, Carter’s political career ended in January 1981.

Back in the spring of 1980, Israel activists had no doubt that the presidential election later that year would be a critical one. Carter had hit the campaign trail declaring his support for Israel. But his actions of the previous four years had illuminated the fact that Carter was hardly a  friend of the Jewish state.

While the Jewish vote had been instrumental in Carter’s 1976 victory over Gerald Ford, it was now abundantly clear that Carter’s pledges of support for Israel and his prior condemnations of Ford’s Middle East policy were merely for political consumption. The prospect of a second Carter term was frightening: unrestrained by future political considerations, Carter would be free to allow his antipathy toward Israel to run unchecked.

Some Jewish activists were not prepared to watch the election in silence. Although in numbers a relatively small group, they spoke out against the Carter campaign and their voices resonated. 

The biggest punch in the anti-Carter effort was delivered even before the presidential campaign got into full swing. Following the Carter administration’s participation in a UN condemnation of Israel, two influential Jews with ties to Jimmy Carter, Sol Linowitz and Robert Strauss, were sent to the prestigious Manhattan Harmony Club to meet with Jewish representatives to try to explain the president’s actions.

Several dozen students from Yeshiva University, along with some students from other local colleges, stood outside in protest. Soon, Rabbi Meir Kahane, who had urged students to attend the rally, arrived. Kahane condemned the meeting as an attempt by the Carter administration to conceal its anti-Israel policies. Linowitz and Strauss were derided as lackeys of the president. 

The cry of  “No more Judenrat” was soon heard from the Jewish Defense League protesters present. Kahane attempted to enter the building and was prevented by police. A melee followed, and the media descended on the scene as arrests were being made. Roughed up by police, protestors were hauled away as they bellowed out the slogan ‘Dump Carter Now!’

The following day the front pages of the Daily News and the New York Post ran the story along with photos. The willingness of young Jews to absorb a beating from police and go to jail in protest against Carter was visible for all to see. Many in the Jewish community were perplexed, but explanations soon followed as full-page ads appeared in Jewish newspapers detailing Carter’s anti-Israel policies and pro-Palestinian sympathies.

Throughout that 1980 presidential campaign, wherever Carter appeared, vocal Jewish protesters were likely to be waiting – and with the protesters came the media. When the president went to the Waldorf or the Sheraton to address supporters, the protesters were there. When they got too close, the police were there to push them away, which only added to the enormous publicity they’d already received. When the president traveled down Park Avenue, the protesters greeted him, placards in hand. When Carter’s campaign headquarters opened in Manhattan, protestors were on hand for the festivities, chanting “Dump Carter Now” and “ABC – Anyone But Carter.”

On October 11, Carter visited the Forest Hills Jewish Center. Jewish protestors were there, both outside and inside the premises. When he spoke of his support for Israel and vowed that “this president will stand by Israel,” words of objection were heard from the audience. Some turned their backs while others shouted back, “Jerusalem is Jewish.” Again, the president was not allowed to get away with his attempted deception.

Did the protests impact the election? Not really. Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory over Carter that November was the result of the country’s intense dissatisfaction with Carter’s overall performance. But the protests did produce results. American Jews, usually the staunchest of Democrats, gave Carter just 45 percent of their vote. Sixteen percent voted for the independent John Anderson and 39 percent cast their lot with Reagan.

Perhaps there was something that awakened some longtime Jewish Democrats. Perhaps the protesters prompted many in the Jewish community to think twice about automatically pulling the lever for a Democrat. One thing was clear: More Jews were now willing to cross party lines and choose a candidate based on his policies and views rather than his party affiliation.

The years have passed and Jimmy Carter continues to express his hostility to Israel. I think back to those days when a few young people with a lot of audacity spoke out. Today, the implications for Israel had Carter been triumphant are all too apparent – as is the lesson of what outspoken Jews can accomplish.

Israel currently faces massive international pressure to make perilous concessions. If a few activists could be heard in 1980, how much more so the entire Jewish people today – if they speak out as one on behalf of their homeland. 

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