President Carter's dilemma in limiting damage of the Andrew Young affair was revealed when he rejected advice from Jewish leaders to depict Young's departure from the U.N. as "an act of his own volition," not the result of Israeli or Jewish pressures.
The advice came from several sources, including a confidential memo to Carter from Stuart Eizenstat, the president's chief domestic aide. It was rejected by the president essentially because he cannot staunch the loss of Jewish support resulting from his bold Mideast policies without losing black support. Having been led to expect their advice would be followed, the Jewish leaders were aghast when the language was omitted from Carter's Aug. 30 speech in Atlanta.
At stake is whether the Andrew Young affair, both his firing and events leading up to it, will cost Carter unacceptable losses of Jewish or black votes in 1980. In 1976, if the strongly pro-Carter Jewish vote had split evenly in five key states, Gerald Ford would have had an electoral college landslide. Without his 95 percent of the black vote, Carter would have lost the South -- and the election.
Eizenstat's memo went to the president two days before his Aug. 30 speech at Emory Univeristy in Young's hometown of Atlanta. Eizenstat was backed by Edward Sanders, chief adviser on Jewish affairs inside the Carter administration.
His memo was based on pleas that had been feeding into the White House from top Jewish leaders across the country ever since Young's ouster. They warned that black fury over Young's ouster was exploding in a way that threatened a dangerous outbreak of anti-Semitism. The Jewish community felt it was being made the scapegoat of the Young affair, with the Carter administration in complicity. So, Jewish leaders wanted the president to make clear that Young was the victim of his own conduct.
Carter was advised to tell his Emory University audience that neither Israel nor American Jews caused Young's "resignation"; that Young had wanted more freedom to speak out on his own without official restraints (a bit hard to swallow considering Young's unlicensed verbosity); that he left the U.N., as one presidential aide put it, "as an act of his own volition" (also less than credible, since Secretary of State Cyrus Vance demanded Young's head).
Even if what Carter was urged to say at Emory was not exactly accurate, liberties with the truth are unavoidable in any damage-limiting operation. Besides, the reason for young's departure really was Vance's refusal to retain an official who had not told him the whole truth about his meeting with the Palestine Liberation Organization delegate.
Consequently, Carter's rejection of the advice of two inside advisers (including the highly regarded Eizenstat) and outside Jewish leaders resulted probably less from regard for the truth than from his concern over further alienation of the black vote. "My feeling was very strong that anything the president said, no matter how carefully he said it, would risk worsening the situation, not helping it," confided one White House aide who disagreed with Eizenstat.
For one thing, putting the blame wholly on Young would not please black political leaders. For another, they would not believe it. They had read both headlines and fine print of Jewish demands for Young's ouster. The whole first page of the Aug. 16 issue of the authoritative Jewish Telegraphic Agency's daily news bulletin was devoted to such demands.
"Only the dismissal of Ambassador Young can restore confidence in your administration," Rabbi Joseph Sternstein, president of the American Zionist Federation, wired Carter. Bertram Gold, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, issued a statement that if Young "indeed did talk with the PLO on his own, he should be fired."
Such heat-of-the-moment demands played no part in Vance's refusal to keep Young at the U.N. But for the president to exonerate both Israel and anti-Young Jewish leaders would risk a new political storm against him by the blacks. Unfortunately for Carter, however, word had leaked to Jewish leaders that at Emory University he would do just that.
His speech was eloquent, warning that "different political views . . . must not become the occasion for deep and damaging divisions between groups of citizens in our society." But it contained no word to calm black suspicions. "I was sure the president would get the blame off our backs," a foremost Jewish leader told us. "But he must have decided he could not risk the political backlash of the blacks."
In truth, there is no easy way for the president to reconcile Jewish and black interests in the emotionalized issue of Palestinians v. Israel. He is trapped in political currents beyond his control that threaten Mideast policy, his own reelection and national civility.