Throughout his career, Former Vice President of the United States Walter Mondale was known for his good humor, his integrity and his political convictions.
Former Vice President of the United States Walter Mondale passed away on April 19, 2021, at the age of 93. Most of the obituaries for Mondale applauded him as a staunch friend of Israel. As the JTA’s Ron Kampeas stated, “Mondale was from an era when being pro-Israel and progressive were often synonymous.”
There are 245 pages in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History with content about Mondale. The vast majority are from the 1970s and 1980s when Mondale, son of a Methodist minister, was U.S. senator from Minnesota (1964-1976), vice president of the United States (1977-1981) and candidate for president in 1984. He also served as ambassador to Japan (1993-1996).
As an American politician, Mondale did set some modern political precedents. Unlike most of his predecessors, he was an active vice president, a role that successors such as Al Gore, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney and Mike Pence continued to follow. Mondale made a pathbreaking decision when he named a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, as his vice presidential running mate in 1984. She was the first and only woman on a presidential ticket until Hillary Clinton’s run for president in 2008.
Unfortunately, for Mondale, he was also known for his landslide loss to Ronald Reagan, one of the worst presidential election defeats in history.
Throughout his career, Mondale was known for his good humor, his integrity and his political convictions. He was a class act. Moreover, as the stories and reports in the JN bear out, Mondale was a steadfast friend to American Jews and to the State of Israel.
Mondale is first mentioned in the Sept. 3, 1965, issue of the JN. There is a small report about his introduction of Vice President Hubert Humphrey at a Histadrut dinner in Minnesota.
Mondale also traveled to Israel. A report in the Aug. 26, 1966, JN cited Sen. Mondale as one of three American representatives to attend the dedication of Israel’s new Knesset building. He also led a delegation, one that included Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, to Israel in 1978 to celebrate the nation’s 30th anniversary.
Mondale’s experiences led him to become a steadfast supporter of Israel. For example, he defended America’s annual aid to Israel. In his 1984 presidential campaign, Mondale made freeing Soviet Jews a campaign issue. He did not tolerate antisemitism and, during this campaign, blasted his rival Jesse Jackson for dealing with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.
Perhaps Mondale’s best work involved the peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt in 1978. An active participant as VP, he served as a buffer between Israel’s Prime Minster Menachem Begin and President Jimmy Carter. The two men were wary of each other, and Mondale played a critical role as a trustworthy go-between for each of them.
Did Jews like everything Mondale said or did? Not always, but overall, he was a very good friend to Israel and to American Jews. The many stories in the JN are a testimony to this fact.
I’ll leave you with a piece of Mondale’s congratulatory message to Reagan after his election loss: “We rejoice in our freedom … in our democracy.” Now, isn’t that a fine way to recognize the spirit of America?
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.