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August 30, 2018 9:15 am

In Memory of John McCain’s Service to America, Israel, and the Jewish People

avatar by Farley Weiss / JNS.org

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The late US Senator John McCain. Photo: Reuters / Carlos Barria / File.

JNS.orgSenator John McCain of Arizona, who died on August 25 at age 81, was an extraordinary friend of the Jewish people. He was an outspoken defender of Israel and a close friend of former Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Many of the articles written about McCain and Israel have not included some of the most amazing acts of friendship and love that he had for Israel and the Jewish people. Being a member of the local Phoenix Jewish community for 39 years allowed me to meet the senator on a number of occasions, and I was privy to some wonderful actions and comments by the senator that have not been widely reported.

In September 1991, President George H.W. Bush made the infamous comment of being “one lonely guy” going up against “a thousand lobbyists” in his opposition to lobbying efforts for Israel to obtain US loan guarantees to help it borrow money to absorb one million Soviet Jews. Shortly afterwards, Bush visited Arizona and McCain privately lambasted the president for these remarks.

McCain had previously made his voice heard when Secretary of State James A. Baker publicly stated in June 1990 regarding Israel: “When you are serious about peace, call us.” The senator blasted Baker for these remarks in front of his colleagues in a meeting with Republican senators, and then directly to Baker himself shortly thereafter. McCain not only disagreed with the comments, but understood that they hurt the Republican Party among Jewish voters, as Bush went from receiving 35% of the Jewish vote in the 1988 US presidential election to only 12% of the Jewish vote in the 1992 election.

The Republican Party has never reached 35% of the Jewish vote since then. McCain himself received less than 25% of the Jewish vote when he ran for president, despite his tremendous friendship with Israel.

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At our Young Israel of Phoenix dinner in the summer of 2010, McCain strongly defended Israel’s handling of the Gaza flotilla incident. And he made strong efforts to help Israel obtain the return of Israeli MIAs, including Israeli-American Zachary Baumel, who was taken as a prisoner of war back in 1982.

McCain also exhibited an amazing ability to be open-minded on issues. Rare among politicians, he was not afraid to change his opinion and publicly say so. McCain had initially opposed the release of convicted US spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard. However, after speaking to former US secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, and hearing from his constituents (including me), McCain changed his view and told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that he supported Pollard’s release from prison. There is no question that McCain’s support helped the bipartisan efforts for Pollard’s release.

On a personal level, the senator was a very considerate person. We were once told that he could not attend our Young Israel of Phoenix synagogue dinner because his daughter was graduating that night. We asked if he could start the dinner early so that he could speak at the beginning and then make it to the graduation on time; he graciously agreed to do so. I proudly display on my wall a picture taken immediately after McCain spoke at that dinner, which includes my mother, Judge Irene Weiss, of blessed memory. My dear mother passed away just a few days before McCain did, and I was sitting shiva for her when I heard of the senator’s passing. It was a tremendous honor in my life that I was able to introduce him at that dinner and to be able to publicly thank him for being such a great friend to Israel and the Jewish people.

McCain was a man who became one of the greatest friends that Israel ever had in the Senate. He was also a person who had a great affinity for the Jewish people. We were fortunate to have him in the US Congress for more than 30 years, and we are grateful for his friendship and leadership. His actions were a tremendous blessing. Our hearts go out to the McCain family, and we wish to offer not only our condolences, but our deep gratitude for all that he did for America, Israel, and the Jewish people.

Farley Weiss is the president of the National Council of Young Israel.

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