Book Review: "Master of the Senate," by Rabbi Caro
by Salvador Astucia, April 30, 2002
WASHINGTON, DC—Tonight I attended a speaking event at Politics and Prose, a bookstore in Northwest Washington, DC. The speaker was distinguished biographer Robert A. Caro. He was promoting Volume 3, Master of the Senate, of his series: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. This was a follow-up to his two previous books about the 36th President: The Path to Power and Means of Ascent.
Master of the Senate—which was released about a week ago—is quite disappointing because the public was led to believe that his third book would deal with the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. Instead, Caro gave us 1,049 pages of well-written Johnson trivia that cuts off at 1960. Come on Mr. Caro, he was just a one-term president. How does this guy merit killing so many trees?
But I learned a few things while listening to Mr. Caro speak. First of all, he openly acknowledged that he is Jewish, something I did not know until tonight. In fact, he told a light-hearted Rabbi joke to playfully jest about his heritage. And there was no mistaking his accent: it’s New York Jew all the way. Secondly, Caro becomes severely frightened if anyone tries to discuss LBJ and Israel in his presence. Thirdly, Mr. Caro further admitted that his primary interest was not writing about famous individuals per se, but documenting people who wielded great power. He stated that this was why he wrote The Power Broker, a biography of Robert Moses. Caro’s confessed obsession with power indirectly supports my assertion that LBJ was secretly Jewish. I believe that Johnson and Moses had more in common than merely wielding power. They were both Jewish men who intimidated people with strong-armed tactics. And as a Jew, Caro apparently has an interest in documenting how fellow tribesmen exercise this neurotic attribute. He appears to admire Jewish thugs. I wonder who his next book will be about, Nahum Goldmann? Meyer Lansky?
After a 30-minute lecture about LBJ’s Senatorial career, Caro opened the floor for questions. I made my way to the microphone and managed to ask one. The event was being filmed so I made a point of not being confrontational. Still, his reaction to my seemingly benign question spoke volumes.
I began my question by presenting Mr. Caro with a photocopy of the front page of the New York Times dated February 20, 1957. One of the headline stories was "Johnson Leads Action: Party Chiefs Endorse Letter to Dulles Calling on U.S. to Resist U.N. Move." The story described how Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson had staged a political coup against the Eisenhower Administration which—until LBJ’s intervention—had supported UN efforts to impose sanctions on Israel for refusing to withdraw its military troops from the Gaza Strip and the Gulf of Aqaba in the wake of Israel’s failed attempt to expand its borders by attacking Egypt in what is known by historians as the Suez Crisis. Johnson wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles—which was published in the New York Times on the stated date—urging him not to support sanctions on Israel. The letter was endorsed by the Democratic Policy Committee.
After passing the newspaper copy to Mr. Caro, I put the following question to him (I’m paraphrasing):
"In the wake of the Suez Crisis, David Ben-Gurion had refused to withdraw Israel’s military troops from the Gaza Strip and the Gulf of Aqaba in defiance of the wishes of President Eisenhower and the United Nations. This was not unlike the situation today with Sharon. The United Nations was about to impose sanctions on Israel and this was fully supported by the Eisenhower Administration. But suddenly, Senate Majority Leader Johnson intervened by writing a letter to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and having it published on the front page of the New York Times. Why has this story never been told in history books? I just bought your book yesterday, but I don’t think you covered it either. At least I couldn’t find it. The only place I’ve ever seen it is on an Internet website, jfkmontreal.com. At first I found this information difficult to believe, so I went to the library and found the New York Times article from 1957 to corroborate the incident. Why has this story never been told?"
Caro smiled nervously as I asked the question. Then he responded by changing the subject to civil rights. He never did respond directly to the article or my question as to why historians do not want to discuss the incident. He didn’t even mention Israel or the Middle East. He completely ignored my question and me. I suddenly felt a degree of empathy for the Invisible Man. But I was polite. I let it go without asking a follow-up question. After all, the event was being filmed and at least I got a chance plug my website. I turned and walked away as he babbled nonsense about how compassionate Johnson was regarding civil rights.
One would think that in his 1,049-page manuscript he would have mentioned the 1957 incident. Not only did he not mention it in print, he side-stepped it completely when asked about it in public. From the expression on his face, it was clear that he understood exactly what I was talking about, but he was afraid to discuss it.
What does Mr. Caro have to fear? Could it be that LBJ’s aggressive defense of Israel in 1957 would help build a legal case of conspiracy against Israel and worldwide Jewry for the assassination of President Kennedy? Perhaps that is why Mr. Caro was afraid. But he isn’t the only scholar afraid of that topic, Jewish or otherwise. To my knowledge, no Western historian has ever written about it—at least not since November 22, 1963. But who knows? Perhaps Mr. Caro will have the courage to address this forgotten piece of history in Volume 13 of his LBJ series. We can only hope. Ş
To view images of the New York Times’ 1957 coverage of Johnson’s defense of Israel, click here.
To view email exchanges between Salvador and Caro, click here.
To read more about the Suez Crisis and LBJ’s intervention, click here.