LBJ's Secret Israel Tapes

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[Mr. Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College, is the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Humanities for the 2007-2008 academic year.]

On March 24, 1968, President Johnson telephoned his ambassador to the United Nations, Arthur Goldberg. The previous few weeks had been among the most difficult of Johnson's presidency. In late January, the Tet offensive undermined public support for the Vietnam War. In early March, Johnson barely edged longshot Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary. Four days later, the senator of New York, Robert Kennedy, announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination.

Johnson told Goldberg that he had grown more sympathetic to Israel's plight as his own political fortunes had declined. "They haven't got many friends in the world," the president said, and "they're in about the same shape I am. And the closer I got — I face adversity, the closer I get to them ... Because I got a bunch of Arabs after me — about a hundred million of 'em, and there's just two million of us. So I can understand them a little bit."

The exchange with Goldberg is included in around 13 hours of recorded conversations from January through April 1968, which the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library released publicly on May 1. In the call, Johnson expressed his understanding of Israel's plight in unusually stark terms, but his remarks typified the support for Israel that characterized his presidency.

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