Mathilde Krim (1926-2018): Ardent Zionist Who Influenced LBJ During Six-Day War


Dr. Mathilde Krim and Harvey Weinstein arrive for an AmfAR Charity Event at the Le Moulin de Mougins during the 56th International Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2003 in Cannes, France. More than a decade later, it was revealed that Weinstein had hired former Mossad agents to pressure women he allegedly harassed and assaulted from going public with their accusations against him. (STEVE FINN/GETTY IMAGES)

THE VAST MAJORITY of mainstream obituaries for Mathilde Krim, a founding chairman of The Foundation for AIDS Research, or amfAR, who died Jan. 15 at her home on Long Island, New York at the age of 91, identified her as an AIDS activist: The New York Times, for example, described her as a “Mobilizing Force in an AIDS Crusade,” while The Washington Post deemed her a “Scientist Turned Activist Who Helped Strip AIDS of Its Stigma.”

As longtime Washington Report readers are aware, however,  before Krim was an activist for AIDS patients, she was an “activist”—and a very influential one—for Israel.

According to The New York Times, Krim “was born Mathilde Galland in Como, Italy, on July 9, 1926, to Eugene Galland, a Swiss-Italian, and the former Elizabeth Krause, an Austrian. Her father was an agronomist. The family moved to Geneva when Mathilde was 6.

“At the University of Geneva, Mathilde was a brilliant student of biology and genetics. Appalled by newsreels of Nazi concentration camps in 1945, she sought out Jewish activists, joined the Zionist underground Irgun and spent a summer smuggling guns over the French border for resistance [sic] fighters against British rule in Palestine.”

In an article in the June 1993 Washington Report, however, author Grace Halsell described Krim’s adventures differently:

“While a student in Geneva, she fell in love with a young Bulgarian Jew, David Danon, who had been brought up in Palestine and exiled by the British for his association with the Irgun Zvai Leumi, a Jewish terrorist group led by Menachem Begin. Danon was studying to become a medical doctor, but spent most of his time recruiting and carrying out secret Irgun operations throughout Western Europe.…

“Mathilde became so enamored of the Jewish struggle and of Danon’s daring undercover operations in Europe that she converted to Judaism and married Danon. Then she, too, became an Irgun agent.”

As Donald Neff reported in his article “Hamas: A Pale Image of the Jewish Irgun and Lehi Gangs” (see May/June 2006  Washington Report, p. 14): “The Irgun was led by Menachem Begin, the future Israeli prime minister…[It] was the dominant Jewish terrorist organization, both in size and the number and frequency of its attacks. Its most spectacular feat up to this time had been the July 22, 1946 blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, with the killing of 91 people—41 Arabs, 28 British and 17 Jews.”

In 1953, after Krim received her doctorate, the couple emigrated to Israel. In 1954 Krim joined a research team at the Weizmann Institute of Science. After the birth of their daughter, however, the marriage ended in divorce. In 1958 Krim married entertainment lawyer Arthur B. Krim, a Weizmann trustee whom Neff described as president of United Artists Corporation of Hollywood, a New York attorney and another major Democratic fund-raiser. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Party Finance Committee and chairman of the President’s Club of New York, the most potent source of [President Lyndon B.] Johnson’s campaign funds.” (See Nov./Dec. 1996 Washington Report, p. 96.)

The Krims moved from Israel to New York the following year.

Fast forward to 1967. According to Neff—who interviewed Krim for his book Warriors for Jerusalem: The Six Days That Changed the Middle East (available from AET’s Middle East Books and More)—“Mathilde Krim stayed at the White House during much of the 1967 war and was a regular caller at the Israeli Embassy, passing reports and gossip back and forth. The Krims, like other Johnson friends, did not hesitate to advise the president on Middle East policy.”

In her June 1993 article, Halsell recalled that, as a staff writer at the Johnson White House, “On occasion I saw a strikingly attractive blonde woman who, I learned, was an ardent supporter of Israel and a woman of whom the president was fond.”

That woman was Mathilde Krim.

“LBJ often invited the Krims to his Texas ranch,” Halsell wrote. “There also were many instances in which Arthur and Mathilde were guests at the White House, and other times when, for many days running, Mathilde—without her husband—was a guest there. The Krims built a house near the LBJ ranch known as Mathilde’s house, and Johnson often traveled there by helicopter.”

Having spent the 1967 Memorial Day weekend with the Krims at his ranch, Halsell continued:

“On June 3, Johnson traveled to New York to deliver a speech at a Democratic Party fund-raising dinner. He moved on to a $1,000-a-plate dinner dance, sponsored by the President’s Club of New York, whose chairman was Arthur Krim. While at the table, fund-raiser Abe Feinberg leaned over the shoulder of Mathilde Krim, seated next to Johnson, and whispered: ‘Mr. President, it [Israel’s attack] can’t be held any longer. It’s going to be within the next 24 hours.’

“On June 4, Johnson went to the home of his close adviser and friend, Justice Abe Fortas. The following day, June 5, [Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Walt] Rostow woke Johnson with a phone call at 4:30 a.m. ‘War has broken out,’ Rostow said. The Israelis had attacked Egypt and Syria.

“Mathilde Krim was a guest at the White House and, before going to the Oval Office, and apparently before waking Lady Bird or notifying anyone else, Johnson dropped by the bedroom where Mathilde was sleeping and gave her the news: ‘The war has started.’…

“[O]n June 5, Arthur Krim wrote a memo to the president saying: ‘Many arms shipments are packed and ready to go to Israel, but are being held up. It would be helpful if these could be released.’ Johnson got the shipments on their way.…

“Mathilde Krim, still a guest in the White House, left for meetings in New York. Before departing, however, she wrote out a statement supportive of Israel which she asked the president to deliver ‘verbatim to the American people.’ Johnson was sufficiently impressed with her comments to, later in the day, read some of them to Secretary of State Dean Rusk. But the president did not, as she had asked, read them to the American people.…

“Meanwhile, on the night of June 7, the USS Liberty, a Navy ‘ferret’ ship equipped to monitor electronic communications, had approached within sight of the Gaza Strip so the National Security Agency personnel aboard could intercept the military communications jamming the airwaves. The president retired at 11:30 p.m., but White House logs reported that at one minute to midnight he got a call from Mathilde Krim, still in New York.”

The next day Israel attacked the USS Liberty, killing 34 Americans and wounding 171.

According to Neff’s 1996 account: “How influential the Krims were in forming Johnson’s Middle East policy was hinted at by notes in the president’s daily diary for June 17, 1967. The notes reported that at a dinner with the Krims and others at Camp David, Johnson openly discussed a speech he was working on that was to establish the nation’s Middle East policy for the years ahead.

“According to the notes, Johnson read from various drafts of the speech around the dinner table, ‘inserting additions and making changes, also accepting comments and suggestions from all at the table.’ Thus two passionate partisans of Israel, the Krims, helped Johnson refine what was later called the “five great principles of peace,” the pillars of U.S. policy in the Middle East for the next two decades.”

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