Bet the Ranch!

You can bet the ranch that Bernie Sanders will not be elected as the first Jewish president. But he might be the second. Who was the first halachically Jewish president? LBJ — Lyndon Baines Johnson! I thank Rabbi Shmuel Goldin for making me aware of this fascinating story.

Quoting from the article by Morris Smith in the Five Towns Jewish Times, ‘Lyndon Johnson’s maternal ancestors, the Huffmans, apparently migrated to Frederick, Maryland from Germany sometime in the mid-eighteenth century. Later they moved to Bourbon, Kentucky and eventually settled in Texas in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The facts indicate that both of Lyndon Johnson’s great-grandparents, on the maternal side, were Jewish. These were the grandparents of Lyndon’s mother, Rebecca Baines. Their names were John S. Huffman and Mary Elizabeth Perrin. John Huffman’s mother was Suzanne Ament, a common Jewish name. Perrin is also a common Jewish name. Huffman and Perrin had a daughter, Ruth Ament Huffman, who married Joseph Baines and together they had a daughter, Rebekah Baines, Lyndon Johnson’s mother. The line of Jewish mothers can be traced back three generations in Lyndon Johnson’s family tree. There is little doubt that he was Jewish.’

That’s not the whole story. We all know of Johnson as the outstanding president who pushed through the voting rights act, the war on poverty and the Great Society agenda. Many of us are aware of Johnson’s concern and help for Israel during and after the 1967 war but few are aware of his helping Jewish refugees escape from Germany and Poland in the 1930s. The article notes, ‘That same year{1937}, LBJ warned Jewish friend, Jim Novy, that European Jews faced annihilation. “Get as many Jewish people as possible out of Germany and Poland,” were Johnson’s instructions. Somehow, Johnson provided him with a pile of signed immigration papers that were used to get 42 Jews out of Warsaw. But that wasn’t enough. According to historian James M. Smallwood, Congressman Johnson used legal and sometimes illegal methods to smuggle “hundreds of Jews into Texas, using Galveston as the entry port. Enough money could buy false passports and fake visas in Cuba, Mexico and other Latin American countries. Johnson smuggled boatloads and planeloads of Jews into Texas. He hid them in the Texas National Youth Administration. Johnson saved at least four or five hundred Jews, possibly more.”’

The Johnson story reminds us that taking in refugees can be a matter of life and death. That should inform our attitudes toward the US taking in refugees today.

In the Johnson presidential years, Israeli leaders understood the importance of maintaining good relations with the president of the United States. PM Netanyahu ignores this and acts as a Republican shill. He seems to be doubling down and meddling in US politics again after his failure to stop the JCPOA. In the Jerusalem Post of February 17, Gil Hoffman reports, ‘Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must reach an agreement with US President Barack Obama’s administration on a new Memorandum of Understanding governing US military aid to Israel as soon as possible, opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week.

Netanyahu briefed the cabinet last week that the deal may not be concluded during the remaining months of Obama’s term because the issues are complex, detailed and take time. Herzog and Lapid warned that Netanyahu must not let his poor relations with Obama compel him to stall for a better deal with the next American administration. “We need to preserve our qualitative military edge, which requires coming to terms with the administration as fast as possible,” Herzog told the Jewish leaders Tuesday. “It is vital that we keep that edge. ”

Consider the consequences of Bibi holding out for ‘a better deal’ on the military aid package. First of all, it hurts Israel immediately by hindering its efforts to keep a qualitative military edge. It also injects Israel directly into the US presidential campaign. I can already hear the right wingers in our community screaming at us that it is vital that we vote Republican for president to protect Israel. An appropriate response would be, ‘If you really cared about Israel, you would be fighting Netanyahu, not the Democrats.’

Consider the long term repercussions for the American Jewish community. Most American Jews are liberal. How would they react to an Israeli Prime Minister shilling for a Republican presidential candidate who might well be Donald Trump or Ted Cruz? It would be a windfall for BDS advocates and would further weaken American Jewish support for Israel for a generation. Let’s pray that Bibi comes to his senses and quickly moves ahead on the military aid package.

Publicizing the comments of the IDF Chief of Staff, Gabi Eisenkot, as reported in the Times of Israel on February 9, would promote positive attitudes toward Israel by all segments of the American Jewish community. ‘Eisenkot defended the practice of giving work permits to Palestinians as a central tool in combating the economic factors that lead some Arab men and women to terrorism. “One of the main questions is, who isn’t a terrorist?” Eiseknot said. “There has only been one case — not two — in which a terrorist had a work permit in Israel. In the past decade, from the over 120,000 people with work permits, there has only been one terrorist.”’

The article notes, ‘Eisenkot also briefly discussed the controversy surrounding the Breaking the Silence organization, which has been criticized for its whistle-blowing tactics. “Soldiers know what legal and illegal orders are, and what the spirit of the IDF is. They are taught in training that it’s not your right to refuse an illegal order; it is required of you as a soldier to refuse an illegal order,…I heard a number of complaints after Operation Protective Edge and instructed the military advocate general to meet with people from Breaking the Silence and investigate every one of those cases,” he said. “We expect our soldiers to respond to illegal orders in real time, not go to a conference three years later and say, ‘I’m breaking the silence,’”
We have included several articles on the possibility of implementing a two state solution in the full version of this newsletter. In short, there is a general consensus that it is dead for now. Even Thomas Friedman goes so far as to point out Palestinian culpability in the breakdown of the peace process – after first castigating Israel.

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.