LBJ tapes show a strong connection to Israel
JERUSALEM - Tapes of Lyndon Johnson's Oval Office conversations, released to the public for the first time on Wednesday, reveal that the American president had a personal and often emotional connection to Israel, a scholar said. In the first public presentation of the tapes Wednesday at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Professor Robert Johnson said this connection influenced his policy decisions and helped lay the foundation for the special relationship between the two nations.
"I sure as hell want to be careful and not run out on little Israel," Johnson said in a March 1968 conversation with his ambassador to the United Nations, Arthur Goldberg.
He was also the first U.S. president to invite an Israeli premier on a state visit when he brought Prime Minster Levi Eshkol to Washington, D.C. in 1964.
"This is really the foundation of what we think of as U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership," said Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College in New York and this year's Fulbright chair in the humanities at Tel Aviv University. He is not related to Lyndon Johnson.
The tapes document LBJ's growing belief in the importance of Israel throughout his administration.
Relations solidified when the United States offered to support Israel against its Arab neighbors in the 1967 Mideast war, as long as the Jewish state did not act as an aggressor.
In a taped conversation from June 25, 1967, about three weeks after Israel defeated three Arab armies, LBJ relates a conversation with Soviet Premier Alexey Kosygin.
"He couldn't understand why we'd want to support the Jews — 3 million people — when there are 100 million Arabs," the president said. "I told him that numbers do not determine what was right. We tried to do what was right regardless of the numbers."
Professor Johnson said, "It's one of the starkest expressions of a moral obligation to Israel that came from an American President."
Since LBJ, there have been ups and downs, but in general, U.S.-Israel ties have been strong."If you think of the U.S.-Israeli relationship now it's certainly more complex," said Johnson. "But the basic strategic partnership is the same as under (President) Johnson."
Johnson was one of six presidents to tape his Oval Office conversations with a specially installed recording system. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Eisenhower taped some of their meetings. Kennedy, Johnson and, famously, Richard Nixon taped nearly all their conversations.