(March 18, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) It is a mark of Scoop Jackson’s brilliant career that his very name still connotes a political orientation. If one identifies as a “Scoop Jackson” Democrat or Republican, one is in favor of a robust America that defends its ideas and interests in the world—principally, and above all, the cause of political liberty. As Scoop Jackson saw it, the defense of Israel was part and parcel of the defense of liberty and of America.
The last of five children born into a Norwegian immigrant family, Jackson was elected to the House of Representatives in 1940 and the Senate in 1952. His record in the Senate was monumental, as was the respect he commanded from peers on both sides of the aisle. Jackson, who accompanied American troops at the liberation of Buchenwald, was an ardent Zionist, advocating the creation of a Jewish homeland, then tirelessly defending it. He wrote the 1974 amendment named after him: Jackson-Vanik, which blocked trade benefits to countries that denied their people the right to emigrate. The amendment was intended to pressure the Soviet Union to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel. As Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wrote, “this could not have been possible but for your personal leadership.”
Less well-known was another Jackson amendment in 1970, authorizing President Nixon to sell Israel F-4 Phantom II fighter jets on terms that amounted to a grant. These aircraft were essential to Israel throughout the 1970s, when the Soviet Union was supplying advanced aircraft and missiles to Israel’s enemies.
When Arab armies attacked Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Jackson mobilized fellow Congressional leaders to demand the urgent resupply of weapons to Israel. From the Arab invasion to Israel’s victory, Jackson worked around the clock to ensure that Israeli forces would have the material, diplomatic and political support necessary for victory. When the Nixon administration balked at direct and visible material support, Jackson worked with Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, Director of the State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs Seymour Weiss, and senior American military commanders, especially Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt, to secure the decision to airlift vital weapons and ammunition to a gravely imperiled IDF. Without Jackson’s intervention, the weapons, which enabled Israel to turn the tide, might well have arrived too late.
In 1976, a New York magazine article referred to the Presbyterian Senator as the “Jewish candidate” for President. The article quoted the Saudi ambassador in Washington: “who is this Henry Jackson—from 6,000 miles away from Israel, more Jewish than the Jews, more Zionist than the Zionists?” For 30 years, Israel was blessed to have had this giant in the Senate so firmly on its side.