Reagan’s Secretary of State Reminds Us of Israel’s Greatness

George Shultz, who will go down in history as one of America’s great secretaries of state, spoke in Jerusalem last and served to instill pride in our great country.

By Moshe Arens

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150I wish all of Israel could have heard George Shultz speak in Jerusalem last week at a dinner given in his honor by the Israel Democracy Institute. It was a pleasant respite from the unending self-flagellation to which we are subjected day by day. In a few sentences he managed to capture an image of Israel as seen from afar, which many of us miss, being so close to everyday events. His words served to instill pride in our great country and its people.

In his speech he recalled the first contact he had had with Israel – his Israeli graduate student in Economics at the University of Chicago, Yossi Levy. Levy, a brilliant student, surprised him when on the eve of the Six-Day War informed him that he would have to interrupt his studies and return to Israel to join his army unit. A week later he learned that Levy had fallen in battle.

“I asked myself,” Shultz said, “what kind of a country is this that commands such loyalty from such talented people, and what kind of a region is this that has conflicts that take the lives of such talented people”. Levy’s wife, son and the son’s wife were in the audience.

I was ambassador in Washington during the time that Shultz served as United States secretary of state. I got to know him and O’Bie, his wife at the time. They symbolized to me the best of America – principles, integrity, courage. No wonder he was and continues to be a great friend of Israel, seeing in Israel these very qualities.

During his many years as U.S. secretary of state he came to know Israel and the conflicts dominating the region. A number of times he tried his hand at resolving some of these conflicts, only to learn how intractable they were. It did not temper his admiration for Israel. On returning to Jerusalem after one of his missions to Middle Eastern capitals, he confided to me, “It feels like coming home.”

Shultz as secretary of state took up the cause of Soviet Jewry. He knew the names of the refuseniks denied the right to go to Israel, many of them languishing in Soviet prisons. In his negotiations with Soviet leaders attempting to wind down the Cold War, he would always bring up their names pleading for their release. Avital Sharansky had gone around the world demanding that her husband, Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, be released from jail and allowed to go to Israel. She had been to see Shultz, and he tried to arrange for Sharansky’s release. He put together a deal with the Soviets for Sharansky to be released in exchange for a Soviet spy held by the Americans.

When Sharansky was informed that he would be released in such a U.S.-Soviet arrangement, he refused to be part of it. “I am not a spy,” he insisted. Shultz related that the pleas for him to accept his release under these terms were of no avail.
“The integrity of the man is just stunning,” Shultz said in his speech at the dinner. Turning to Sharansky, who was in the audience, he said “Thank you Natan for your integrity.”

Shultz will go down in history as one of America’s great secretaries of state. During the over six years that he was secretary of state, he had many achievements to his credit. He was part of President Ronald Reagan’s diplomatic offensive that led to the crumbling of the Soviet Union. But the fight for Soviet Jewry was always on his mind.

He recalled that one day he received a telephone call in the State Department. “When I picked up the phone, there was a little voice on the other end. ‘This is Ida Nudel, I am in Jerusalem, I’m home.’” It was one of the high points of his career, he told the dinner audience.

One wonders why does it take a visitor from San Francisco to arouse us from interminable debates and mutual recriminations, to make us realize what we really are. A nation, surrounded by enemies, overcoming great odds, fighting back aggression and waves of terror, establishing itself in its ancient homeland.

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