Academic journal article Shofar

Senator Jacob K. Javits and Soviet Jewish Emigration

Academic journal article Shofar

Senator Jacob K. Javits and Soviet Jewish Emigration

Article excerpt

Senator Jacob K. Javits (R-New York), whose interest in and sympathy for matters affecting Jews was well-known, rendered a critical service in the writing of and negotiations over the Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1974, which brought together elements of the Cold War, the Nixon Administration's efforts for detente with the Soviet Union and a decrease in Soviet backing for North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and the plight of Soviet Jews who wished to emigrate. The amendment linked most-favored-nation trade status and subsidized low-interest government credits between the United States and the Soviet Union's non-market economy with a higher and more sustained level of Soviet Jewish emigration. No mention was made of Jews, but the implication from public debates and diplomatic discussions was obvious.

As an influential, knowledgeable, and articulate member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Javits lobbied aggressively on behalf of the oppressed Jewish community in the Soviet Union. The persecution and repression of Soviet Jews would become an overriding consideration for Javits, who was, at the same time, an avid defender of detente and pragmatic mediation to normalize American-Soviet relations. At all stages during the drafting and passage of the amendment, Javits and his staff worked with Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (D-Washington) to moderate and make more flexible the amendment language. In a series of meetings, Javits, who was known for his ability to balance competing interests, wrote the compromise wording that was acceptable to Jackson as well as to the Nixon and later Ford administrations. On matters affecting Jews, Javits was consistently in line with the American Jewish leadership. In this case, however, Jewish leaders initially could not choose between the Nixon administration approach, which opposed the amendment as interfering with its strategy to ease tensions with the Soviet Union, and the Jackson amendment. Javits could not look to them to guidance. A liberal Republican, Javits had to reconcile his relationship with the Nixon and Ford administrations, which regarded the linkage of trade agreements with human rights abuses as destructive of any future agreements with the Soviet Union, with his support for Soviet Jews. Annoyed by Javits' support for a favorite Jewish cause over party loyalty, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger later described Javits as

highly intelligent, articulate, and knowledgeable, [and] supportive so long as he could avoid arousing the wrath of the New York Times, which meant that his endorsement usually stopped well short of administration policy. He navigated the passage between his liberal constituency and the administration with particular skill when the television lights were on.(2)

Javits had a long congressional career as an effective, hard-working, and widely respected legislator. A loner, Javits was essentially an outsider among Republican Senators, often due to his liberal stands, but also because he could be abrasive and brusque. Generally ebullient, now and then he could be unyielding and haughty. Elected to the House on the Republican ticket in liberal, Democratic New York City in 1946, he served four terms until he was elected to the Senate, where he remained until 1980, when, at age 76, noticeably suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative neuron disease, he lost the Republican primary to Alfonse D'Amato. Instead of conceding defeat, he ran on the Liberal Party ticket, split the liberal vote, and was defeated by a wide margin by the conservative Republican candidate. Some blamed him for costing the Democratic nominee, Representative Elizabeth Holtzman, the victory.

Viewing himself as a political descendent of Republican Theodore Roosevelt, Javits was an outspoken liberal on social reform issues, especially on civil rights, where he was in the forefront in Congress in the campaign against segregation, as well as in anti-poverty, urban renewal, and community redevelopment programs. …

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