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Jacob Koppel Javits

JAVITS, JACOB KOPPEL (1904–1986), U.S. lawyer and politician. Javits was born in New York City to poor, immigrant parents. After attending Columbia University and New York University Law School, Javits formed a law partnership with his brother (1927) and for the next several years practiced as a trial lawyer, gaining fame for his work in the 1933 bankruptcy case of Kreuger and Toll. In 1932 he joined the Ivy Republican Club – the beginning of what was to be a long association for him with both politics and the Republican Party. During World War II he served with the U.S. Army in Europe and the Pacific, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Upon his return to civilian life in 1946, Javits ran for a seat in the House of Representatives from the 21st Congressional District in Manhattan and won. He remained in the House, where he became a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, until 1954, when he was elected attorney general of New York State. In 1956 he won election to the U.S. Senate and was reelected in 1962. He was elected to the Senate again in 1968 by a margin of over a million votes. An abortive attempt to gain the 1968 Republican vice presidential nomination, however – the first time a Jew ever openly aspired to such office – never materialized. He served in the Senate until 1980, when he lost his seat and returned to his law practice. At the same time, he also served as an adjunct professor of public affairs at the School of International Affairs at Columbia University.

As a politician, Javits' strength lay in his special appeal for liberal and Jewish voters, whose sympathies in New York were more often with the Democrats, but who regarded his voting record as one of the best in Congress. He consistently supported greater public aid to education, health, urban housing, the arts, and small business, and backed civil rights and fair-labor legislation, foreign aid, tariff liberalization, and curtailment of nuclear testing.

As a senior member of the Senate, Javits served on the powerful Foreign Relations Committee from 1969. A particularly warm friend of Israel, he repeatedly argued on the Senate floor that purely American interests should dictate that the U.S. support Israel as unequivocally as the U.S.S.R. supported the Arab states. He was active in a number of Jewish organizations, including the Zionist Organization of America, B'nai B'rith, the American Jewish Committee, the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, and the America-Israel Cultural Foundation.

He wrote American Policy in the Near East (1953), DiscriminationU.S.A. (1960), Order of Battle: A Republican's Call to Reason (1964), The Defense Sector and the American Economy (with C. Hitch and A. Burns, 1968), Who Makes War: The President vs. Congress (with D. Kellermann, 1973), and Javits: The Autobiography of a Public Man (with R. Steinberg, 1981).

Named in his honor, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is located in Manhattan. Built in the 1980s, it is a large exhibition venue, covering five city blocks, that hosts a variety of major trade shows and conventions.


Viorst, in: Esquire (April 1966); Time (June 24, 1966), 25–29; Weaver, in: New York Times Magazine (April 4, 1965), 35ff.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.