Vice Premier Shimon Peres will represent Israel at the funeral of US president Gerald Ford on Tuesday, a marked upgrade from 2004, when then-prime minister Ariel Sharon did not send a government minister to represent Israel at the funeral of Ronald Reagan.
Then-minister Natan Sharansky attended the Reagan funeral in a private capacity, but not as Israel's representative. Israel's envoy to Washington at the time, Danny Ayalon, was Israel's official representative at the funeral. Sharon and Reagan had a very strained relationship as a result of the 1982 Lebanon War.
By contrast, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said the decision to send Peres was intended to stress the special friendship between Israel and the US. The officials pointed out that Peres was Israel's defense minister when Ford was president, and that Ford assisted in rebuilding the IDF and refilling its storehouses following the Yom Kippur War.
Ford had also distinguished himself as a vocal supporter of Soviet Jews. In January 1975 he signed into law the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which denied most-favored nation trading status to countries with restrictive emigration policies - an attempt to pressure the Kremlin into approving more exit visas for Soviet Jews.
"His brief presidency was very significant for the movement," said Mark Levin, executive director of the NCSJ (National Conference on Soviet Jewry), which advocates for Jews across the former Soviet Union. "By signing into law the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which was one of the pillars of the Soviet Jewry movement, as well as being president when the Helsinki Accords were implemented, which provided the international community a tool to confront the Soviets directly on their human rights abuses, particularly as they impacted the Soviet Jewish population - for that his administration will be remembered within the American Jewish community."
JTA contributed to this report.