Richard Holbrooke – a champion of US-Israel relations

I was honored to call him a friend. During the course of many years, I felt privileged to spend many evenings with him, both professional and personal.

December 14, 2010 23:54
3 minute read.
Richard Holbrooke, US envoy to Afghanistan

Holbrooke 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

On Monday, the United States lost one of its most brilliant individuals. It is almost impossible to provide one title for Richard Holbrooke as that would be a disservice to all the other tasks and offices that he held. To me, Richard was a passionate American patriot and one of the strongest champions of a robust and unbreakable US-Israel relationship.

Above all I was honored to call him a friend. During the course of many years, I felt privileged to spend many evenings with him, both in professional and personal capacities.

Richard was a public servant, who was at the same time a fierce defender of American interests and a determined seeker of peace and reconciliation.

While some hostile detractors incredibly see that as an oxymoron, few embodied the greatness of US values and ethos more than Richard Holbrooke.

HE WAS most notable globally for his leading role in shaping the Dayton Accords, which ended the bloodshed in Bosnia; ironically signed on the 14th of December, 15 years ago. In Bosnia, as in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, Richard’s energy and creativity to push forward historic reconciliation saved countless lives.

His role in bringing the fight against AIDS to the highest international attention should not be overlooked.

Even in his private life, Richard became a champion of the battle against one of the great scourges of our time and turned a little- known organization dealing with HIV and other deadly diseases into an internationally renowned NGO, the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Richard combined humanitarianism and good sound business knowledge for the good of humanity. As in all of his roles, Richard seamlessly synthesized differing areas of expertise for a common goal.

For us in Israel, Richard well understood our nation’s aspirations and fought passionately for them when he felt we were unfairly treated.

Along with former president Bill Clinton, secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Richard helped secure membership for Israel in the United Nation’s Western European and Others regional group, ending Israel’s historic exclusion from regional group deliberations at the UN.

But it was Richard’s research and position on the “epic struggle in Washington” over how to respond to Israel’s Declaration of Independence that resonates most with me. In my office sits a copy of President Harry Truman’s recognition of the minutesold State of Israel.

While many take the Israel-US relationship as a given and acknowledge that American presidents from both the Democratic and Republican parties have supported or enhanced our strategic partnership, it has not all been smooth sailing. In fact, the first American act towards the Jewish state was fraught with power struggles at the highest levels.

Until Richard helped discover the spectacular events surrounding Truman’s recognition, with the president’s former aide, Clark Clifford, little was known of the formidable resistance in the American administration regarding recognition of Israel.

Truman had to disregard the advice and threats from his trusted secretary of state and war hero, George C. Marshall, to recognize Israel. Marshall not only threatened to quit but also to vote against the president in upcoming elections. Furthermore, Marshall’s position was supported by the foreign policy establishment and many in the cabinet.

Richard saw in Truman’s recognition a righteous stand and stated in a Washington Post column that “despite complicated consequences that continue to this day, it is a decision all Americans should recognize and admire.”

In Truman’s decision, Richard hoped to emulate firm support for Israel, not because of domestic politics or strategic advantages, but because of a moral conviction. This is Richard’s enduring lesson for us all.

It remains my strong belief that while political realism and foreign interests dictate the positions of some, unless a strong basis of moral conviction guides our decisions, we will not leave the world a better place than when we entered it.

There are many around the world, in Israel and the US, who are that much better off because of Richard Holbrooke.

The writer is deputy minister of foreign affairs.

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