Remembering David Horowitz (34): Takeover in Tehran

Spring was in the air when United Israel World Union held its 35th Annual Meeting at The Brotherhood Synagogue, Gramercy Park South in Manhattan, on March 8, 1979.

Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz, former president of the New York Board of Rabbis opened with these remarks: “We gather here in celebration of the 35th anniversary of United Israel World Union which has, throughout the years, been a beacon of light to our people and to the world, a mighty champion of the State of Israel and a disseminator of the spiritual and moral light of Torah to all men.”

Speakers at the historic meeting included President David Horowitz, the honoree Harry Leventhal, Bernard G. Sharrow, and Irving J. Block, spiritual leader of The Brotherhood Synagogue. A long time friend of United Israel, Rabbi Block paid high tribute to the noble work of the movement and to its president and officers.

Following the historic Camp David Accords in September 1978, the months dragged on with additional shuttle diplomacy and grudging compromises between Egypt and Israel.
Finally after six months the deal was completed.

On March 26, 1979, in a ceremony hosted by U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country.

The Arab world reacted angrily to the peace treaty, as it had to the Camp David Accords, which it saw as a “betrayal of the Arab cause.” As a result, the Arab League suspended Egypt.

David Horowitz published the last of a three-part series titled: “The Jews are Not Alone” in the spring edition of the United Israel Bulletin. The riveting series on the existence and identity of the Ten Lost Tribes was one of his most popular compositions and would inspire widespread interest and response.

Iran was in a state of revolution beginning with a wave of anti-government demonstrations in the summer of 1978. In January 1979, the shah of Iran fled the country, ultimately ending up in Mexico. The Iranian army quickly collapsed, clearing a path for the revolutionaries to seize state power.

In February 1979, the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, whose fundamentalist supporters gained dominant positions in the revolution, triumphantly returned to Iran. It set the stage for a later crisis involving the United States.

In the month commemorating the Balfour Declaration, the UN Partition Vote, and Anwar Sadat’s world-shaking visit to Jerusalem, an unusual biographical work titled: “Counsel for the Defense” (Simon and Schuster, New York) was published.

Significant, first of all because the author was the staunch friend of Israel, attorney Paul O’Dwyer, former president of the City Council of New York. Additionally, because this was the same Paul O’Dwyer, who had taken on the defense of David Horowitz in a libel suit, filed against him by the former Hungarian Nazi war criminal Ferenc Koreh.

And just who was this fellow O’Dwyer, the spirited liberal voice in New York politics and the friend of UN correspondent David Horowitz? O’Dwyer’s amazing story is one which deserves a brief review.

The eleventh child of rural schoolteachers, Paul O’Dwyer was born in County Mayo, Ireland. He immigrated to New York at the age of 18. He attended Fordham University and St. John’s Law School at night while working as a packer, elevator operator, and cargo checker on the Brooklyn waterfront.

O’Dwyer, a lifelong fighter on behalf of human rights in all spheres of life, had known David Horowitz since the days of the Jewish Underground when Prime Minister Menachem Begin headed the Irgun. Both Paul and his brother William O’Dwyer, a former mayor of the City of New York, were active on the American scene in dedicated support of the Jewish struggle for independence.

In a little known fact, it was during William O’Dwyer’s incumbency as Mayor of New York that the United Nations decided to set up its headquarters at its present site selected from several under consideration. Thanks to Mayor O’Dwyer’s considerable skill in negotiating the grant by the Rockefellers, this former slum and slaughterhouse region fronting the East River became the permanent home of the United Nations.

David Horowitz attended the UN groundbreaking ceremony and later “watched the UN compound go up brick by brick.”

During the critical years of 1946 and 1947 when leaders of Jewry were struggling for recognition of Jewish statehood, Paul O’Dwyer took on the chairmanship of the Lawyers’ Committee for Justice in Palestine. He also served as the director of the American League for a free Palestine, in which capacity he came before the United Nations and pleaded for the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state in Israel.

From his humble beginning, O’Dwyer labored to become one of New York’s leading defenders of the underclass, fighting for the labor movement and embattled immigrants in the 1940’s, against McCarthyism and racial segregation in the 1950’s, and against the Vietnam War in the 1960’s.

“Counsel for the Defense” is a terrific book, one resembling a Horatio Alger story with an idealistic theme. An immigrant succeeded in the new country and fought uncompromisingly against human rights abuses, and became an advocate for those less fortunate.

Paul O’Dwyer, the Irish-born defender of justice who once stated: “The one issue is fair play over the period of a lifetime,” closed his classic autobiography by recounting the case whereby he successfully defended friend and UN Correspondent David Horowitz against the libel suit brought against him by former Nazi war criminal Ferenc Koreh. The compelling story of this case appeared in a previous episode, titled appropriately: “Counsel for the Defense.”

An article titled “From Rome to Jerusalem,” written by Alexander Schindler, appeared in the winter 1979 edition of the United Israel Bulletin. The article was a biographical sketch of Aime Palliere (1875-1949), the former French Jesuit whose spiritual odyssey led him to accept a form of universal Torah faith.

Although he never made a full conversion to Judaism, Palliere lived the life of an ardent and ascetic Jew. He became a spiritual guide to the Paris Liberal (Reform) Synagogue and the French Reform movement. He was much sought after as a lecturer and became president of the World Union of Jewish Youth.

Aime Palliere’s autobiography: “The Unknown Sanctuary: A Pilgrimage from Rome to Israel” was first published in 1930 by Bloch Publishing Company, New York.

David Horowitz and Palliere once corresponded. The original copy of Aime Palliere’s historic 1947 letter to David Horowitz remains a part of the United Israel archives.

Trouble was brewing quickly with Iran.

In the fall of 1979, President Carter allowed the Shah of Iran to enter the United States to receive advanced medical treatment for cancer. Khomeini’s student supporters suspected that the reports of the Shah’s illness were a cover story, concocted to get the Shah into the U.S. where he could meet with U.S. intelligence officials and plot his return to Iran.

Convinced that the CIA was using the U.S. Embassy as a headquarters for plotting the Shah’s return, on November 4, 1979, Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and took more than sixty American diplomats and citizens hostage.

Iranian students storm U.S.Embassy in Tehran.

Khomeini, sensing opportunity to consolidate his power in Iran, publicly endorsed the seizure of the embassy, ensuring a protracted captivity for the American hostages.

David Horowitz was pleasantly surprised when he received another letter from Aaron Ahomtre-Toakyirifah, spiritual leader of the House of Israel in Ghana, who reported on recent activities and a renewed effort to trace their past. United Israel had assisted the community group by sending educational and study materials, including prayer books, they so badly needed.
In his letter to Horowitz, Ahomtre-Toakyirifah revealed that most of the Jews in the north were taken as slaves and brought to Ghana, the Gold Coast at the time, and to other parts of West Africa. The Arabs conquered those that remained north of the Ivory Coast. A few lucky ones managed to escape and establish settlements in the eastern part of the state. He included a photograph of his grandmother who was 99 years of age and whose mother was taken to Ghana as a slave. He stated, “I have taken upon myself the task
of tracing the early settlements of the House of Israel in the Ivory Coast.”

As the decade of the seventies drew to a close, the diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States would only intensify. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious fundamentalist regime had seized power in Iran.

There was little informed understanding in the United States government about the political implications of this fundamentalist regime. Gary Sick, who was on the National Security staff, recalled a meeting in which Vice President Walter Mondale asked the Central Intelligence Agency director Stansfield Turner, “What the hell is an Ayatollah anyway?” Turner said he wasn’t sure he knew.

On that reassuring note, we boldly entered a new decade.

Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.

This post is the thirty fourth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.

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