On the occasion of the Jewish state’s 70th anniversary, the Israeli embassy in Washington, in partnership with the Jewish News Syndicate, celebrates 70 of the greatest American contributors to the U.S.-Israel relationship
Many of the people and organizations chosen for this acknowledgement will be readily recognized by readers of The Jewish Star, others less so, but their powerful stories build a collective history that reflects the broad base of American love and support for the Jewish state.
This week, The Jewish Star publishes the third part of a series that will cover all of the “70 who counted.”
Link here to all 9 installments:
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) 20 of 70
The Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was an American public intellectual and one of the leading thinkers of the 20th century, a rare figure whose writings on religion and foreign policy — such as Moral Man and Immoral Society, and The Irony of American History — are still being read. Amidst his intellectual legacy is an astonishing defense of Jews, Zionism, and the Jewish state, which he saw as stemming from his own worldview and sense of justice.
In the dark days of February 1942, Niebuhr called upon the Allied powers to commit to a “genuine homeland for Jews” as part and parcel of the war effort. Upon liberation, he expounded that a resurrection of the status quo would not be good enough. While Jews had a right to remain wherever they were, they also had a right to a homeland that would become a true spiritual home.
Niebuhr led by deed as well as by word. In addition to his writing, he founded the Christian Council on Palestine, an organization of pro-Zionist Christian clergy. His impassioned advocacy prompted his friend and fellow Zionist, Felix Frankfurter, to reflect that he could not find anyone who “faces the Jewish problem more trenchantly and more candidly” than Niebuhr, the Protestant theologian.
While Niebuhr occasionally quibbled with various policies of the Zionist movement or Israel, he never wavered from his belief in the rightness of the cause and the benefits of the Jewish state to the civilized world. In 1957, as the state approached its tenth birthday, Niebuhr wrote in the New Republic that the “birth and growth of the nation is a glorious spiritual and political achievement.” He asserted that the State of Israel was accomplishing something unique. Not only was it providing a political refuge for Jews, but it was also a spiritual home for the Jewish people to pursue a way of life.
Niebuhr’s work on behalf of Zionism and Israel helped mobilize Americans to the cause of the Jewish state. His spiritual leadership stood as a model for thoughtful engagement and a Jewish-Christian dialogue, and his strong stance on Israel’s spiritual and political importance continues to inspire leaders and engaged citizens to this day.
Adolph William “Al” Schwimmer (1917–2011) 21 of 70
Al Schwimmer was born in New York City in 1917 to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He became an engineer and pilot, gaining considerable experience and connections in the aerospace industry while serving as a flight engineer during World War II.
During Israel’s War of Independence, Schwimmer used his expertise and connections to smuggle war planes to Israel. He later explained that he did so because he believed that if Israel lost the war, there would be a second Holocaust, with 600,000 Jewish lives at risk. Schwimmer also recruited flight crews and pilots, the beginning of what would become the Israeli Air Force.
The smuggling operation was complex, with Schwimmer creating two separate aircraft companies. Each company purchased and refurbished numerous used aircraft, including U.S. military planes from World War II. Schwimmer recruited other Jewish veterans to help modify the planes; they were then flown to Israel via Florida and Czechoslovakia.
Schwimmer’s smuggling operation brought him under the suspicion of the FBI. Narrowly escaping apprehension many times, he fled to Canada and then to Israel, where he continued to contribute to the war effort.
In 1950, he returned to the United States to stand trial for violating the U.S. Neutrality Act. He was convicted in 1950 by a federal court in Los Angeles, fined $10,000, and stripped of his voting rights and veteran benefits. Schwimmer refused to ask for a pardon, believing that smuggling aircraft to help the survival of Israel had been the morally correct course of conduct. To accept a pardon would have implied an acknowledgment of guilt.
In 1951, David Ben-Gurion invited Schwimmer to immigrate to Israel. He accepted, and shortly after settling in, founded Israel Aircraft Industries. Later renamed Israel Aerospace Industries, the company now employs 16,000 workers and boasts yearly revenues of more than $3 billion.
Although Schwimmer never did ask for a pardon, U.S. President Bill Clinton pardoned him in 2001.
Schwimmer’s life exemplifies the devotion of the many American Jews who selflessly supported Israel’s struggle to survive.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994) 22 of 70
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was without question one of the greatest Jewish leaders of the 20th century.
A talented and charismatic scholar, he was known across the world as simply “The Rebbe.” As the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect, he exponentially increased the movement’s influence and size. In an unprecedented flurry of Jewish outreach, he sent emissaries around the world, establishing thousands of Chabad centers in cities, remote locales and on college campuses that continue to serve the spiritual and physical needs of Jews of all backgrounds.
In an era before the Internet, the Rebbe had global reach, with followers all over the world. In addition to guiding his own flock, he expressed great concerns for the status of global Jewry. As such, he took a special interest in the welfare of the State of Israel. Given his myriad lectures and writings about Israel, many are surprised to discover that the Rebbe never personally visited the country. Nevertheless, Israeli leaders of all stripes sought his advice and blessing.
Many of these moments were captured on camera and can be viewed online. In one recording from 1988, Benjamin Netanyahu approaches the Rebbe for a blessing, and the Rebbe offers a fascinating combination of religious guidance and practical insight. Similarly, when Ariel Sharon was considering retiring from the military, he consulted with the Rebbe, who convinced him to remain.
Rabbi Schneerson often faced disdain and derision from “mainstream” haredi Judaism for stubbornly continuing to praise Israel and its military and pray for its continued success. Many major rabbinic figures of the haredi establishment tended to negatively view any aspect of Israel connected to its mostly secular government (more so in the early years than today). In response, the Rebbe occasionally suggested that G-d acts through the courageous soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, as in the case of the 1967 Six-Day War and “Operation Entebbe” in July 1976.
Through his steadfast leadership, the Rebbe steered the Chabad movement into embracing a pro-Israel attitude, writing to David Ben-Gurion “that Eretz Israel in all aspects, both present and future, should constitute a factor uniting Jews everywhere, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox of all trends.”
Not surprisingly, many of his emissaries are among the most fervent supporters of Israel in their communities. The Rebbe continues to serve as a light of inspiration for Jews around the world, with his heartfelt dedication to Israel remembered and cherished by all who encounter his teachings.
Martin Peretz 23 of 70
For roughly three decades, the New Republic was America’s most influential magazine, owing much of its success to the talents of its editor and publisher, Martin Peretz. A gifted writer himself, Peretz demonstrated a special ability to find and develop other brilliant minds.
Among the many celebrated and influential authors to emerge at the magazine were Charles Krauthammer, Mickey Kaus, Hendrik Hertzberg, Fred Barnes, Michael Kelly, Michael Kinsley, Andrew Sullivan and Michael Walzer. These writers are notable for their intellect, fine journalism and lack of ideological conformity.
Another consistent pattern in Peretz’s life has been his strong support for Israel. As early as 1967, he was appearing in Ramparts magazine, defending Israel from accusations of colonialism.
After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science at age 15, Peretz attended Brandeis University and then Harvard, where he became a faculty member in its new social studies program. There, he met his former wife, Anne Farnsworth Labouisse, and with her support he gained a controlling stake in The New Republic in March 1974, becoming its guiding figure for most of the next 40 years.
Cover to cover, readers could find cultivated arts criticism, wide-range reporting, and staunch defenses of Israel when other intellectuals were silent. Peretz offered an informed critique of the part of the intelligentsia that was naive, willfully ignorant or simply infatuated with the violent undercurrents in Palestinian nationalism and radical Islam. Under Peretz’s leadership, supporters of Israel on the democratic or liberal side of the electoral spectrum could find friendly support and an intellectual home within its pages.
The New Republic boldly reported the truth about Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War, helped expose the connection between renewed anti-Semitism in Europe and anti-Israel bias, led the campaign against the Goldstone report and repeatedly pointed out the dangers of a nuclear Iran. This is just a small part of an extraordinary legacy of an extraordinarily gifted writer and editor who was a great champion of Israel when and where it was needed most.
Max Fisher (1908–2005) 24 of 70
Max M. Fisher, born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in 1908 and raised in Salem, Ohio, credited President Dwight D. Eisenhower for leading him to merge his passions for politics and philanthropy.
In 1965, Fisher visited Eisenhower, who raised the issue of the 1956 Suez crisis and said that he regretted pressuring Israel to evacuate the Sinai. Fisher’s biographer Peter Golden notes that Eisenhower added, “If I’d had a Jewish advisor working for me, I doubt I would have handled the situation the same way. I would not have forced the Israelis back.”
Fisher, who had already earned his fortune in the oil business, decided to become that adviser. He became a force in the Republican Party in his home state of Michigan, and eventually advised every GOP president from Richard M. Nixon to George W. Bush. He refused offers of official posts, preferring to work behind the scenes.
According to his family, Fisher’s greatest strength was bringing organizations and philanthropists together for a cause — a talent he put to good use as head of the United Jewish Appeal, Council of Jewish Federations, United Israel Appeal and as founding chairman of the Board of Governors of the reconstituted Jewish Agency.
What differentiated Fisher from lone Jewish advisers of the past was that he brought organized American Jewry with him.
In 1970, when two Soviet Jews who had applied for visas to Israel were sentenced to death, Fisher asked Secretary of State William Rogers and President Nixon to intercede, bringing along the chairmen of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, when Fisher entered the Oval Office and asked Nixon to resupply Israel, he was speaking on behalf of the entire Presidents Conference.
Two years later, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger asked Fisher to help smooth tensions between the administration and Israel over diplomatic ties with Egypt. Fisher was able to fulfill this request — no individual was more trusted by Israeli leaders and the American Jewish community.
In 2005, when Fisher passed away at the age of 96, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his cabinet: “To a large degree, it is due to Max Fisher’s activism that approximately 1 million new immigrants came to Israel from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.”
It was President Shimon Peres who best summed up the impact of Fisher’s work: “He held the most important strategic asset: the relationship between the United States of America and Israel. He made Israel great in the eyes of American leaders.”
Leon Uris (1924–2003) 25 of 70
An American author of historical fiction, Leon Uris was known for his commitment to historical accuracy and extensive research. The people of Israel can be especially grateful that this literary giant brought the early history of Israel to the attention of millions of people throughout the Western world, making them sympathetic to the newly established Jewish state.
He achieved this through his epic 1958 novel Exodus, which later became a film directed by Otto Preminger and starring Paul Newman. It was said to have been the best-selling novel in the United States since Gone with the Wind in 1936. By the mid-1960s, sales exceeded 5 million copies.
Uris’s complex plot focused upon the 1947 efforts to bring the SS Exodus into harbor in Palestine with its 4,500 refugees on board. Through the travails and romances of his characters, millions learned about the obstacles faced by the Jewish Agency in the 1940s, the oppression of British mandatory rule and the hatred of the Arabs who followed the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Most of all, millions learned about the majestic achievement of Israel’s creation.
Uris’s novel reflected his astonishing research and his determination to get the details right. He reportedly conducted more than 2,000 interviews in writing the book, and many characters are based on real people. While this was his method for all his novels, Uris’s connection with Israel was especially intense, reflecting his family’s history. His father had fled tsarist Russia for Palestine, and though he eventually emigrated to the United States, he changed the family name from Blumberg to Uris, a variant of Yerushalemi, in honor of the capital.
Uris wrote other novels that told important Jewish stories, including QB VII about the Holocaust and Mila 18, a depiction of the Warsaw-ghetto uprising.
But Exodus remains his greatest work. A fictional portrait based upon true events, David Ben-Gurion asserted that “it’s the greatest thing ever written about Israel.”
John Stanley Grauel (1917–1986) 26 of 70
John Stanley Grauel was credited by Golda Meir with playing a pivotal role in persuading the United Nations to end the British Mandate. As Grauel was a Christian minister, his role in the creation of the Jewish state is remarkable. Equally notable are the Israel Defense Forces’ markers on his Jerusalem gravestone, signifying his role in the Haganah.
Grauel was born into a liberal New England clan. He decided at the age of 23 to study at a Methodist seminary. During his years at the seminary, his wife and son died in childbirth, and he never remarried. The great commitments of his life thereafter were to his religion and to Zionism.
During the early 1940s, Grauel followed events in Nazi Europe with keen awareness. A Jewish friend, a local judge in Massachusetts, put Grauel in touch with the American-Christian Palestine Committee, an ad hoc group set up by Zionists. His enthusiasm prompted the committee to name Grauel their Philadelphia director. As a result, Grauel was introduced to Stephen Wise, and in 1944, Wise informed him of the genocide taking place in Europe. Grauel later met David Ben-Gurion and quickly grew eager to act.
Working alongside Haganah leaders, Grauel became aware of some of their activities and asked to join them. Soon, he was participating in meetings alongside Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Teddy Kollek and other Jewish leaders in clandestine stateside operations, raising “funds to buy guns, bullets and ships needed for the creation of a new state.”
After learning about plans for the ship that would become the Exodus, Grauel joined the effort, heading to Europe to direct the secret gathering of its 4,500 passengers. When the British fired on the Exodus in international waters, he fled to shore and informed reporters from around the world about the attack, speaking with the authority of a Christian minister.
After escaping arrest, Grauel went to the United Nations to report on British misdeeds and the risks that lack of partition presented to the Jews. By all accounts, his testimony was likely the most persuasive.
Over the next two decades, Grauel worked to expose the mistreatment and oppression of Jews in Algeria and Morocco. That they had a place of refuge to which they could flee is a credit to his efforts.
John Hagee, Christians United for Israel 27 of 70
John Hagee is an evangelical pastor based in San Antonio, Texas. Having served in the ministry for more than five decades, Hagee leads a church with over 20,000 active members. He believes that the Bible commands all faithful Christians to support the State of Israel and the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland.
As such, Hagee has had a long and generous relationship with the Jewish state. He has visited Israel numerous times and has met with every Israeli prime minister since Menachem Begin. John Hagee Ministries, has donated tens of millions of dollars to humanitarian causes in Israel, including millions earmarked for enabling Jews from the former Soviet Union to immigrate to Israel.
Hagee’s spirited advocacy has been a constant throughout his career. In 1981, his church hosted its inaugural “Night to Honor Israel,” held in San Antonio every year since, to celebrate the Jewish state and stress the importance of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. The 2017 dinner raised more than $2 million for Israeli and Zionist charities and organizations. Since its inception, the “Night to Honor Israel” has raised over $100 million for Jewish charities and the Jewish state.
In 2006, Hagee founded Christians United for Israel (CUFI) to give political expression to the millions of devout Christians across America who support Israel. A testament to Hagee’s commitment and vision, this grassroots organization has rapidly grown and now boasts some 4 million members. CUFI has become the largest pro-Israel Christian group in the United States and one of Israel’s most significant sources of support in America. In addition to helping fund initiatives geared towards supporting Israel, this group also has dedicated significant resources to combat anti-Semitism around the world. Hagee has addressed members of Congress, exhorting them to support Israel in any way they can.
John Hagee has been a true and devoted friend of Israel. His public and vocal support has been no small factor in solidifying the strong relationship between American evangelical Christians and Israel. In turn, this special relationship has been an important and lasting element in Israel’s connection with America, its most crucial ally and friend.