(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Passion is not a trait usually attributed to the British, but Yehuda Avner, the consummate diplomat, orator, speechwriter, essayist and author who died on Tuesday at the age of 86, loved Israel and the Jewish people with a fervor that resonated in his voice whenever he was called upon to speak in public.
Born in Manchester, England, Avner migrated to pre-state Israel after graduating high school in 1947 and was among the founders of Kibbutz Lavi in the Lower Galilee.
He fought in the siege of Jerusalem in 1948 and moved to the capital in 1956. Two years later, he joined the Foreign Ministry, where he became an insider to the process of the development of the state. He was assigned to the Prime Minister’s Office, and over time worked as an adviser to and English speechwriter for prime ministers Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin.
Throughout the years, in his work and travels with these leaders, Avner participated in top secret meetings and took thousands of notes, which after his retirement he used to chronicle the history of the state in numerous newspaper and magazine essays, as well as in book form.
Many of his writings appeared in The Jerusalem Post and inspired enthusiastic letters of appreciation and approval from readers.
His book The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership (2010), in which he not only wrote of politics, military strategies and bilateral relations, but humanized the people at the top of Israel’s political totem pole, became an international best-seller and was the basis for both documentary and feature films.
He had a unique, very personal style of writing, almost as if he was talking to the reader.
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Following his appointment in 1983 as ambassador to the Court of St. James, Avner, an orthodox, kippa-wearing Jew, used to joke that when he presented his credentials to Queen Elizabeth, she had asked, “Why is this knight different from any other knight?” Of course it wasn’t true, but it was a good story in Jewish circles.
His second ambassadorial posting in 1992 was to Australia where he made many friends and maintained several of those friendships following his return to Israel.
A remarkable orator who kept audiences in Israel and the English-speaking world on the edge of their seats and who frequently earned a standing ovation at the conclusion of his remarks, Avner, though a kind and gentle soul, was fire and brimstone behind a microphone, a proud defender of Jewish values and the Jewish people.
Although he had been ill for some time before he died, he saw it as a duty to keep working and to travel abroad on lecture tours to tell Israel’s story and counter anti-Israel propaganda.
Avner’s son-in-law David Sable issued a statement on behalf of the family, calling Avner “[Menachem] Begin’s Shakespeare” and “the consummate ambassador” – “an articulate champion of the Jewish people and the state who took his last breaths at home in his beloved Jerusalem.
“He was a true servant of the Jewish people,” Sable said. “In his role as adviser to the generation of legendary leaders of Israel he was never political, never took personal gain, never shied from conflict. With his bag always packed, he went, listened, advised and wrote, giving voice to the prime ministers he served and voice to our cause and our people.
“The consummate ambassador, he represented Israel during tumultuous times and was respected by friend and foe alike as he brought his skills to the corridors of power and the backrooms of deals.”
Avner is survived by his wife, Mimi, their four children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Thousands attended his funeral at Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuhot cemetery Tuesday afternoon.
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