Ted Kennedy, Israel and the Jews

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) died Tuesday, Aug. 25, at the age of 77.

His death, as the saying goes, shall, or at least should, be mourned in Zion.

But the Jewish community knew three Ted Kennedys, and not all will be mourned equally. There was Ted the Brother, Ted the Scoundrel, Ted the Israel-Lover.

For American Jews who vote Democrat, he was The Brother, a politician whose votes reflected their belief that a government is better and a nation stronger when it makes civil rights, education and healthcare available to all its citizens.

Many American Jews heard in him the echo of their political idols, the late President John F. Kenndy and Sen. Bobby Kennedy, the younger Kennedy’s brothers cut down by assassins.  His words of eulogy for his brother Bobby resonate with Biblical prophecy:  “As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:

‘Some men see things as they are and say why. 
I dream things that never were and say why not.’”

Of course, that was one Ted Kennedy—there were two others.

Along with the Brother Ted, there was the Scoundrel Ted, the one who deeply disappointed, even disgusted, loyal Kennedy supporters in the afermath of the Chappaquiddick bridge tragedy.  The hard-partying Kennedy, he of the literally fatal flaws, proved untenable to Jewish voters in the 1980 Presidential election, when a majority of New York Jews polled said they preferred Jimmy Carter to Kennedy.

But, then, there was the Israel-Lover Kennedy.

From his first year in the Senate, 1962, until his last votes, Kennedy was a stalwart Israel supporter.  It is likely in this, too, he was living the values of his older brother.

“Israel will endure and flourish,” John F. Kennedy once said. “It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.”

According to one tally, Ted Kennedy voted 100 percent in concert with positions taken by Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.  Tom Dine, who served as Aipac’s executive director from 1980-93, was a defense and foreign policy advisor to Kennedy.

In the run-up to his tough 1994 Senate campaign against Mitt Romney, Kennedy accumulated some $45,000 from pro-Israel political action committees over the years, according to former Aipac legislative director Doug Bloomfield, “and presumably a lot more from individual pro-Israel donors, considering his long record of support for U.S. taxpayer aid for Israel.”

The relationship was mutually beneficial—either a testament to Kennedy’s bedrock values or his astute political instincts.  Take the Carter race.

In the 1980 presidential race,  writes Jeffrey S. Helmreich, “polls indicated that Carter would beat Kennedy in the New York Democratic primary by a margin of 54 to 28 percent. But on March 1, Carter’s UN Ambassador, Donald F. McHenry, voted for a viciously anti-Israel resolution in the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlement activity in Jerusalem. Three weeks later, Kennedy beat Carter in New York by 59 percent to 41 percent.”

In a statement following Kennedy’s death, Israeli Prime Miniiter Benjamin Netanyahu said,  “(Senator) Kennedy has been a friend for 30 years, a great American patriot, a great champion of a better world, a great friend of Israel. He will be sorely missed.”

It is also worth noting that in a major policy address on the eve of the second Iraq War, Kennedy challenged the wisdom of attacking Iraq when Iran’s nuclear weapons program posed a greater risk to the world and to Israel.

“Iran has had closer ties to terrorism than Iraq,” he said on Sept, 26, 2002. “Iran has a nuclear weapons development program, and it already has a missile that can reach Israel.”

But such support alone was not enough to win the hearts of Jews who opposed Kennedy’s stalwart liberal positions, or those who remained suspicious his character. 

“Rarely in America has a more unworthy person been accorded such deep respect as is regularly heaped upon Kennedy,” wrote Dr. Mendy Granchow, past president of the Orthodox Union, yesterday.

Still, last month, the Orthodox Union blogged a message to its members to say prayers of healing for the ailing senator, fighting his final battle against brain cancer.  In 2000, Kennedy joined with Republican senators to win unanimous passage of the OU-supported Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Ted Kennedy never won the near ecstatic affection of the Jewish community that his brothers John and Bobby enjoyed. His life was too checkered, and perhaps too long, for that.