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Rosenthal, Benjamin Stanley


ROSENTHAL, BENJAMIN STANLEY (1923–1983), U.S. politician. Born and raised in New York City, Rosenthal graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1940, and later from Long Island University and City College. Following service in the U.S. Army during World War ii, he attended Brooklyn Law School (LL.B., 1949) and New York University (LL. M., 1952). He was admitted to the New York bar in 1949 and the Supreme Court bar in 1954. On February 20, 1962, he won a special congressional election to succeed U.S. Rep. Lester Holtzman, who resigned. Rosenthal was subsequently elected to 11 succeeding congresses to represent Queens, and died of cancer in Washington, d.c., shortly after being sworn in for his 12th term.

As the senior Jewish member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, he was the person most of his colleagues turned to for leadership on issues involving Israel. He was the first in the House to challenge the sale of sophisticated weapons to Israel's Arab enemies. He was responsible for drafting and shepherding through the House generous aid programs for Israel. As chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, he held the first congressional hearings on the plight of Soviet Jewry.

His outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam was unpopular among constituents for many years as well as the leadership of his own party, but he did not waver. He incurred the wrath of President Lyndon B. Johnson in a 1969 House speech accusing the United States of being "virtually a puppet" of the Saigon government. But he stood firm on his principles, winning the respect – and votes – of those who disagreed with him.

Rosenthal was well known for his facile mind, quick wit, and devastating style of questioning – some critics called him abrasive – particularly when it came to deflating the stuffed shirts who appeared before his committees. He was compassionate and had a strong sense of justice but little tolerance for those he considered to be acting against the public interest. The Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library at City University of New York's Queens College was named in his memory as was a street in Queens and a senior center in Flushing.

[Douglas M. Bloomfield (2nd ed.)]

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