Some of us are old enough to remember Richard Yaffe. He was a journalistic fixture from the 1930s through the 1950s. As a teenager, I first heard of him when he was a special correspondent for CBS in Eastern Europe. Those were the days of legendary journalists and media personalities such as Lowell Thomas, Walter Winchell, and Walter Cronkite.
In the 1940s, Jaffe was foreign editor of the New York Daily PM, heading its staff covering World War II, and later served as a war correspondent in southern Italy and France. He also covered the civil war in Greece and the airlift of Jews from Yemen to Israel. After the PM folded in 1948, he covered the Soviet bloc for CBS. Educated at both Boston University and Harvard University, he worked for the Boston Globe and the former New York Journal American before joining PM.
As a foreign journalist he was a long-time member of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), the place where he met fellow UN journalist David Horowitz. They were the same age, born only two months apart in 1903. I recently discovered one of his articles from 1981, written long after his distinguished career as a highly visible foreign correspondent had ended. His article revealed an historic development in UN Press affairs.
In early 1981 David Horowitz was elected president of the United Nations Correspondents Association, the first time in UN history a correspondent representing Jewish media had achieved such a post. Following a three-day election campaign, Horowitz, editor of the World Union Press and the United Israel Bulletin and who also wrote for the Jewish Press, won the election over two formidable opponents.
When Yaffe received the news, he responded with a remarkable article titled: “UN Correspondents differ from their assigned body: elect Jew over Arab rival.” He then revealed little known details behind the historic election.
Horowitz was opposed for the presidency by an Arab woman, Raghida Bergham of the Lebanese newspaper Al Nahar, and Eugene Forson of the Ghana News Agency. He received 57 votes, Bergham 37 and Forson 35. The election was noteworthy not just because a correspondent representing Jewish media and avowedly a strong partisan of Israel won, the first to do so, but that he defeated an Arab and a Third World candidate.
Yaffe then cryptically commented that “it was the first time that the Arab-Third World-Soviet bloc cartel which operates not only on the diplomatic level but also on that of the Fourth Estate at the United Nations, has not prevailed. It may be a good sign, but I wouldn’t count on it. I don’t know the political forces that were at work when the newsmen on the third floor of the UN Secretariat Building cast their ballots. It’s possible that the anti-Israel bloc found itself in a dilemma; whether to vote for an Arab or to vote for a Third World Black. The results show that their votes were about even, but I would sure like to know who voted for whom. But that’s one area at least, that the UN has remained democratic-the UNCA ballot box.”
Summing up, Yaffe wrote “David deserved the honor and will be a good president for UNCA and he will remain a proud Jew and Israel patriot, regardless against whom he will have to stand in his new post.”
Upon assuming his new role, Horowitz stated, “It is not so much a victory for me but for all Jews around the globe, that in this house of contention, even Arabs and members of the Third World voted in favor of a Jew.”
Richard Yaffe, the renowned journalist and CBS correspondent, died six years later at the age of 83. At the time of his death, he was associate editor of the newspaper Jewish Week and founding editor-in-chief of Israel Horizons, a monthly magazine of Americans for Progressive Israel. An author, he also left behind several books, including Yugoslavia’s Ways, A Short History of American Jews and Nathan Rappaport, Sculpture and Monuments.
Also left behind was an incredible tribute to a fellow journalist in trade, one who defied the odds to become the first Jewish journalist ever elected to lead the organization representing the United Nations Press Corps.