KC Johnson

LBJ and Israel: Clips

This page contains the audio clips associated with my Abraham Center research paper. After the paper was published, four Israel-related calls were released by the LBJ Library. Those calls have been transcribed below, with the accompanying clips.

Track One–Bundy

Track Two–Feinberg

Track Three–Rusk

Track Four–Ribicoff

Track Five–Goldberg

Track Six–Rusk

Track Seven–Rostow

Track Eight–Fulbright

Track 9–DDE

Track 10–DDE

Track 11-Dirksen

Track 12–Fulbright

Track 14–Goldberg

Track 15–Dirksen

Track 16–Goldberg

Track 17–McGee

Track 18–Goldberg

LBJ and Abe Fortas, 21 June 1968, 3.48pm

President Johnson: I’ve got to make a decision on those [Phantoms], and I want to make it as soon as—far enough ahead of time, before I go out [of office], not to be the last thing.

But I want the Russians to turn me down on disarmament. I’ve got a letter in his [Alexsey Kosygin’s] lap now.

And this idiot of a [Stuart] Symington has sent us word that if I don’t give Israel the Phantoms, that he’s going to kill our [foreign military] sale bill, where we can sell planes. If I don’t go ahead and give ‘em to ‘em [the Israelis].

And I can’t do it until Kosygin answers me. He’s not going to pee a drop with me: I know that. But I’ve got to have that behind me so I’ve got that as an excuse. [I can] say, “By God, I’ve tried everything. I tried a conference, I tried a proposal, I tried letters, I tried meetings, I pled with him. And finally he turned it down, and I just—there’s no other alternative. I have no course in the world except this.”

Abe Fortas: Yeah. That’s right.

President Johnson: And that’s what I’m trying to do.

Now, I never have told anybody I’m going to give ‘em to ‘em [the Israelis]. But I made up my mind a long time ago I was going to give ‘em to ‘em. But I’m not going to give ‘em to ‘em unless I can protect myself. I’m not going to be a goddamned arms merchant! I’m going to make them [the Soviets] to be the outlaws if I can.

Fortas: Sure. I think that’s very good.

President Johnson: Now, that’s what I’m trying to do.

And this little Eppie is the only one I think that’s got sense enough in their organization to see it. He sees it all the time. He’s just as bright as that goddamned [unclear] dog of mine. He catches everything that comes along without telling him. So he helps.

But Symington is just the biggest muddlehead I ever saw. I thought you and Clark Clifford could advise somebody. [teasingly] Are all of your clients muddleheads like me and Symington? [Fortas laughs heartily.] I don’t understand it.

Fortas: Well, Stuart is absolutely one. I don’t know—he’s just got . . . Hell, I just don’t understand. Is this [issue] this fellow Solomon now?

President Johnson: No, no! Solomon’s a smart cookie. He’s bound to have plenty of sense.

No, no. I think he [Symington] just wants to be head of the Israel—get credit for ‘em. And they think, you know—the ones that don’t know think you ought to.

I haven’t had one goddamned bit of trouble with a fellow like Eppie or [Abe] Feinberg. They’re smart. [Arthur] Krim.

Fortas: isn’t this fellow Feinberg wonderful?

President Johnson: He is just the finest I ever saw. Except Krim. Krim’s the best man.

Fortas: Oh, yes. Well, he’s just—

President Johnson: Krim’s the smartest. Krim’s the only one that I know of that’s like you. Feinberg is damn near like you, but Feinberg’s got a little eye on business. He goes over there and sells his Coca-cola. [Fortas laughs.] And he looks after his bank a little bit—

Fortas: Yes.

President Johnson: —and I don’t even think . . . This Krim is as pure as any person I ever saw.

Fortas: He really is.

President Johnson: He’s got a soft voice. He has none of the aggressiveness that you would associate with a Wall Street lawyer.

Fortas: He really is a fine man.

President Johnson: [with Fortas concurring] He’s no oversell, no overkill. He sits here . . . I see him damn near every week, and he comes down here—he was here last night (I came down here)—because I just like to listen to him. He’s so soft, and sweet, and kind, and soothing. I let him see every damn document that comes in. He reads anything. I never have heard of one little thing he ever said.

Fortas: Yeah. Well, he’s a saint.

LBJ and Dean Rusk, 17 Oct. 1968, 4.47pm

President Johnson: I have a proposal that all the Jews in the country are raising hell about. They want to take some of this money that they owe us on CCC stuff, and put it in the Weizmann Institute, and let ‘em go and recruit people from all over the world to come to school there, kind of like what we’ve got in [the American University in] Beirut and other places.

Dean Rusk: Right.

President Johnson: And instead of paying it back in the Treasury, they want us to forgive it. It runs a couple of million [dollars] a year, [for] 15 or 20 years.

I want to look into that, and I want to get the pros, and be able to do it, if I can; and the cons. Do you have any idea how [Arknasas senator J. William] Fulbright would normally feel about that? He’s not too strong for Israel, but I guess he’s pretty strong for universities of that type.

Rusk: I think probably he could be sold, if he gets re-elected, and is—

President Johnson: No, no! I need it now, because I’ve got to give the Congress 60 days’ notice.

Rusk: Oh. Oh.

President Johnson: To get it into effect before Nixon [takes office].

Rusk: Oh, I see.

President Johnson: But I’d think that he would go for it—maybe educational, and just out of these funds that, [PL] 480 funds.

Rusk: Mm-hmm.


Rusk: Mr. President?

President Johnson: Yes?

Rusk: On the Israeli thing, [Abba] Eban’s coming down, and he had hoped to be able to see you—

President Johnson: Yes, yes.

Rusk: Monday or Tuesday. The thing that we’ve really got to—

President Johnson: What are you putting off on the Phantoms for, that you haven’t got time to deal with it? That’s a hell of a publicity. I try to make some points, get brownie points, and then I read you’ve got an interview that you haven’t got time to mess—

Rusk: We’ve been trying to get Eban down here to talk about ‘em.

President Johnson: Well, I know it, but that’s not the way it’s said. Just say Eban’s too busy to come; don’t say Rusk’s too busy to do anything about it.

Rusk: Oh—

President Johnson: Every Jew in this country reads this statement, and I’ve got them revved up and in high gear; the next day, it says Rusk says, “Well, I’ve had so many foreign ministers I can’t mess with this trivia.”

Rusk: I didn’t say that. Somebody else must have. [The President chuckles.] Say, but on that—

President Johnson: I’ll see Eban anytime you want me to see him. I—

[Six seconds excised for national security purposes.]

President Johnson: I don’t want to make any conditions, because I’ve been gone on the Phantoms, but I’m willing to help you put whatever pressure you can.

But I made the decision on the Phantoms, Dean, last January, when I called Bob McNamara in here and told him to be ready to deliver ‘em this January.

Rusk: Yeah.

President Johnson: I just didn’t want to face up to it all during that period, as you well know.

Rusk: Well, I think Israel—

President Johnson: I wouldn’t say—now, I’m willing to threaten, and do everything I can, just as long as you know, I come clean with you: the Phantoms—they’re already shipped.

Rusk: Mm-hmm.

President Johnson: Now, you can tell ‘em that we’ve got to have this, and we’ve got to have that. And I’ll tell them the same thing, and shove, and fight. They can’t use ‘em nuclear, and they can’t do this, and they’ve got to sign a non-proliferation treaty: I don’t care what all we say.

Rusk: Right.

President Johnson: I’m not going to tell them. But that decision’s already wrapped up.

Rusk: Well, they’ve already got out of there what they want, short of the delivery of the planes themselves.

President Johnson: Yes. Yes, that’s right.

Well, I think they would like to have the thing signed, and have the purchase order written, because they’ve had that with France, you know, and it’s been kicked out. And I want to be damn sure that I do it, and that I don’t wait till after the election, and Nixon and Humphrey do it.

LBJ and Clark Clifford, 23 Nov. 1968, 11.45am

President Johnson: What’s happened to our Israel agreement?

Clark Clifford: Well, they’re the damndest people you ever saw. We’ve been working all this time on a memorandum of agreement, working on word after word after word. They finally informed us yesterday, very suddenly: they decided not to proceed on a memorandum-of-agreement basis, but they want to do it by exchange of letters.

So they have submitted a letter to us, and I’ve spent some time this morning going over it. And I think it’s really quite satisfactory. There’s just one minor little place in it that I think we can handle with a letter in reply.

President Johnson: What’d they do about your Clause Three?

Clifford: The Clause Three they go along to the point of saying that we can cancel the contract if there’s a violation of any clause, and refuse to ship the remaining planes. The part they are objecting to is that after planes are delivered, that if there’s any violation, that we have the right to repossess those planes.

President Johnson: We couldn’t get ‘em back anyway.

Clifford: I know that, and the only reason we had it in there was because, for the public relations value.

President Johnson: Yeah.

Clifford: And they say no, that they think that that affects their sovereignty.

President Johnson: Yeah, I do, too.

Clifford: And it’s possible it might.

President Johnson: I didn’t see how you ever got that Clause Three in there the other day. It looked to me like you were putting a special emphasis on it, but . . .

Clifford: Well—

President Johnson: I figured you put it in there to give it away, and—

Clifford: We put it in there to give part of it away—

President Johnson: Yeah.

Clifford: And we’re giving only part of it away, but now, we have the right to cancel any remaining planes if they become a nuclear power.

President Johnson: Well, go on and do it, if you don’t want me to announce it without anything over here. [Both chuckle.] Because I’m getting a lot of heat. And wrap it up—

Clifford: Yeah.

President Johnson: –so we can . . . I don’t want Nixon coming in here.

Clifford: We’ll move on it right away.

President Johnson: See you at 1:00.

Clifford: OK.

LBJ and Mike Mansfield, 25 Nov. 1968, 8.55pm

Mike Mansfield: Now, if that happens to be George Aiken, shall I suggest a special session to him?

President Johnson: I sure would. I would just—I would tell him that I am fearful—

[An interruption in the recording occurs.]

President Johnson: –ask that it be put off on account of Czechoslovakia, and they’ve got everything out of Czechoslovakia now but three divisions.

And I’m afraid, I’m fearful, that the [West] Germans and the Israelis are going to use this as an excuse, saying we have not ratified, so they can excuse not ratifying themselves.

The Soviets are scared to death—and, to be perfectly frank, our people are, too, even including [Walt] Rostow: that we will have worked all these years to get a treaty and then wind up not getting it. Or if we do get it and we ratify it, it will be of no effect, because of the Germans and the Israelis.

And we know—we know, emphasize “know”—that the Israelis are right inside of the promised land.

Mansfield: Uh-huh.

President Johnson: And it’s just too dangerous.

And we know that if they have this [nuclear bomb], that the Soviets have no alternative except perhaps letting the Arabs have it, and God knows what happens.

So we just think we’re on dynamite.

And if I could turn it over to Nixon tomorrow, I would. I’d like to get out tomorrow. But for him [Aiken] to just say hold it up on account of Czechoslovakia—then I went to him, and said, “What about it?” And he said, “Well, I don’t know, and I’m for it, and I’ll work to ratify it.” And Dirksen says he’s for it. But neither one of ‘em will say they’ll support the [special] session. And neither one of ‘em will say that they’ll stand up to [Texas senator John] Tower, and to the folks of that type.

Now, if I wait, it’ll be y’all’s problem, but you will have [Barry] Goldwater and these other eight or ten people [newly elected to the Senate in 1968], and I know it’ll be worse.

And then what’s more, I will make the Phantom decision before Christmas.

Mansfield: Yeah.

President Johnson: They will have the planes, so we’ll lose some incentive there. In addition to that, the Germans—[Clark] Clifford and them think that the further along we go, the further they get away from it, because they say, “Well, Uncle Sam himself is doubtful. Hell, he’s waited six months.”

Mansfield: Well, now, I thought you instructed me not to mention that to Dirksen. You’ll have to do that tomorrow.

President Johnson: I will.

Mansfield: And shall I mention that to George Aiken?

President Johnson: Yes! I would. I would tell Aiken that we’re worried about these four countries: [West] Germany, Israel, Japan, and India. And we have indications that they’re just getting hard, and using us as an excuse.

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. KC Johnson said, on January 8, 2009 at 6.09am

    […] During the 2007-8 academic year, I was Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Humanities at Tel Aviv University. My research project for the year, Lyndon Johnson and Israel: The Secret Presidential Recordings, can be downloaded here; the audio clips can be listened to here. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: