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John Fitzgerald Kennedy

(1917 – 1963)

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States.  

Kennedy was born outside Boston in Brookline, Massachusettson May 29, 1917. His grandfathers were both sons of Irish immigrants who rose to success in Boston Democratic politics. His father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, was a multimillionaire businessman and an early supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1937 appointed him ambassador to England. Joseph Kennedy was rumored to have expressed antisemitic views, but this was untrue. In any case, his son repudiated all such opinions.

After outstanding service in the Navy during World War II, he served the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat for the 11th Congressional District in Massachusetts (1946–52). In 1952, Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts and was reelected in 1958. In 1957, Kennedy proposed two bills affecting Jewish immigration, one that included the admission of Middle Eastern Jews to the United States and the other with a clause insuring nonquota status to about 10,000 Jewish refugees from the United Arab Republic. In the pamphlet A Nation of Immigrants (1959) he reviews the role of immigration in U.S. history.

In 1960, when he was elected president, Kennedy had the support of an estimated 82% of Jewish voters. As president he demonstrated friendship for Israel by tripling the amount of American financial assistance to Israel and by selling the country ground-to-air Hawk missiles in 1962 for protection against air attack. He alerted the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean when subversion in Jordan by the United Arab Republic threatened to undermine the stability of the entire area. He increased the shipments of military supplies when Soviet weapons sent to the Arab states appeared to be giving them arms superiority. He promised United States assistance in the development of a desalination plant to expand Israel’s water and power resources.

President Kennedy launched two unsuccessful initiatives aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East. First, he sent personal letters to the heads of all the Arab governments offering the services of the United States government as an “honest broker” in bringing them together with Israel “to find an honorable and humanitarian solution to the disputes, which waste precious energies in the Middle East countries and defer the economic progress which all free peoples truly want to enjoy.” He also sent emissaries to seek a solution to one of the key obstacles to peace, the refugee problem.


A.M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days (1965); T.C. Sorensen, Kennedy (1965); J.M. Burns, John Kennedy: A Political Profile (1960); Allan Nevins (ed.), Strategy of Peace (1960); J.W. Gardner (ed.) To Turn the Tide (1962); and E.E. Barbarash (compiler), John F. Kennedy on Israel, Zionism, and Jewish Issues (1965).

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

Photo: Cecil Stoughton, White House, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.