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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Discussion with Israeli President Shazar on Vietnam and Peace

(August 2, 1966)

This memo, reporting on a conversation between President Johnson and the Israeli President about Vietnam, U.S. support for Israel and peace between Israel and her neighbors. The U.S. reported that it did not want to be a major arms dealer and Israel responded that it wanted to live in peace and not have to rely on U.S. arms. Johnson expressed concern over American Jewry's criticism of the war in Vietnam and President Shazar responded that he was President of Israel and not of world Jewry, but would try to minimize Jewish criticism of Vietnam. The Government of Israel also expressed disappointment at UN criticism of Israel and expressed hope that the U.S. would stand by Israel.

Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, August 2, 1966.

Call on President Johnson by President Shazar

President Lyndon B. Johnson
His Excellency Zalman Shazar, President of Israel
His Excellency Avraham Harman, Ambassador of Israel
Mr. Ephraim Evron, Minister, Embassy of Israel
NEA--Assistant Secretary Raymond A. Hare
The Honorable Walworth Barbour, Ambassador to Israel
Mr. Walt W. Rostow, Special Assistant to the President
S/CPR--The Honorable James W. Symington (for portions)
Mr. William Moyers (for portions)
NEA/IAI--Harrison M. Symmes

After a brief private conversation with President Shazar, President Johnson asked the other Israelis and Americans present to join him and President Shazar. President Shazar discussed some of the impressions he had gained in his visits to Uruguay, Brazil and Chile. He mentioned particularly educational problems faced by some of these countries and commented on some of the leaders he had met.

President Shazar recalled he had first met President Johnson at the funeral of President Kennedy. He had been one of the first Chiefs of State received by President Johnson after the funeral. They had had a memorable conversation in which President Johnson assured him there would be no diminution in U.S. support of Israel as a result of President Kennedy's death, but, indeed, U.S. support might be even greater. He had reiterated to President Shazar assurance previously made by President Kennedy. After his return to Israel President Shazar said he had repeated to persons all over Israel what President Johnson had said to him. He continued to tell people about the President's assurances to Israel.

President Shazar thanked President Johnson for the sale of U.S. military equipment to Israel. President Johnson responded that this had been a difficult decision because we do not wish to become an arms merchant anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, we had made the sales because we had been persuaded by Israel that the arms were necessary. President Shazar commented that Israel in turn does not like to have to buy arms. Israel would like nothing better than to live at peace with its neighbors, but Israel has been given no alternative. The Fatah raids on Israel have resulted in the murder of innocent Israelis. Israel has no alternative but to defend itself. To establish its own Fatah is no alternative. It must have military force to deter its enemies.

President Shazar at one point apparently misunderstood President Johnson and thought he was referring to the current U.N. Security Council consideration of Syrian and Israel complaints. It appeared he thought President Johnson had referred to "Israeli aggression." He said that Israel had not always been happy about U.N. consideration of problems involving Israel. U.S. representatives in the U.N. did not always take a clear-cut line with regard to problems involving Israel and the Arabs. Unless the U.S.G. takes a clear-cut line with the Arabs and shows by its votes that it is opposed to aggression the Arabs will not get the message. U.S. action is particularly important in persuading the younger generation in Israel: a "skeptical generation" among a "believing people."

The two Presidents had an extended discussion of the principles involved in the U.S. stand against aggression in Vietnam and its implications for U.S. assurances it will seek to deter and prevent aggression against other small states. President Johnson said that the U.S.G. did not want troops or money from Israel. We were asking for no material support from Israel in Vietnam. What we wanted was sympathetic understanding of the principles involved and what we are trying to do. The United States has commitments to other small states. It was important to ask this question: if, because of critics of our Vietnam policy, we did not fulfill our commitments to the 16 million people in Vietnam, how we could be expected to fulfill our commitments to 2 million Israelis? Yet some friends of Israel in the United States had publicly criticized U.S. policy in Vietnam and had called upon the President to disengage the United States from its commitment.

President Johnson stressed that these critics seemed to believe that one could pick and choose how he would oppose aggression against small states. A principle was involved. Either we opposed aggression against small states and honored our commitments, or we did not. We could not fail to honor our commitments in one place and then try to hold to them in another place. Our failure to carry through in Vietnam would be bound to affect our ability to carry through in our commitment to other small states such as Israel.

President Shazar and the other Israeli officials present indicated that they understood this principle and its implications. President Shazar noted that among the first things he had mentioned on reaching American soil was Israel's appreciation for the policy of the United States toward the security of small states from aggression. This applied to the situation in Vietnam and what the United States was doing there. Other Israeli officials recently had spoken along similar lines. The President interjected that he had received from the Israel Embassy a statement recently made by Foreign Minister Eban along these lines. President Shazar commented that he was happy he could say he had made his statement before the President had raised the matter. This indicated Israel's understanding of the principle.

President Johnson emphasized that he had reiterated to President Shazar our assurances regarding Israel's security. In doing so, he also wanted to make clear how our commitment in Vietnam and public criticism of that commitment was involved. During an extended discussion President Shazar said that he was President only of Israel, not of world Jewry, and that he had no control over what Jews elsewhere in the world might say. He and the other Israeli officials present indicated, however, that they understood President Johnson was referring to the criticism of U.S. Vietnam policy that had been made recently by Jewish groups in the United States, particularly Rabbi Weinstein, and that it would be important for the Government of Israel to make known its views on this matter. President Shazar gave every impression of comprehension of the problem.

President Shazar showed President Johnson the statement he proposed to read to the press upon his departure from the White House (attached)./2/ President Johnson indicated his approval of the statement. He also told Mr. Moyers that in speaking to the press about the call of President Shazar he might comment along the following lines: President Shazar had told the President about his recent visit to Latin America and his impressions of problems and leaders in the countries he visited. The two Presidents had then reviewed world problems and the desire of the United States and Israel to try to promote peace. President Shazar had stressed Israel's desire to live at peace with her neighbors. The two Presidents had discussed the intention of the United States to help small nations to defend themselves against aggression. There had been some mention of the joint U.S.-Israel desalting project and U.S. economic assistance to Israel.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 7 ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Symmes on August 5. According to the President's Daily Dairy, the meeting took place at 12:46 p.m. in the President's office at the White House. (Johnson Library) President Shazar's visit was informal. Briefing material for the visit is ibid., National Security File, Country File, Israel, Shazar Visit Briefing Book.

/2/Not attached.

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.