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Brog noted that on his visits to the Jewish state, Specter would make a point of visiting the grave of his father, who came to the United States from what is now Ukraine, and who wished to be buried in Israel.
Specter was a congressional leader in advancing the cause of Soviet Jews, recalled Mark Levin, who directs NCSJ, the former National Council on Soviet Jewry.
“He had a particular interest in addressing these issues through legal means,” Levin said, particularly by leveraging international human rights laws. Specter would grill his interlocutors from the Soviet Jewry activist movement, asking them to come up with new avenues to leverage the Soviet Union and other European states.
“He wanted to know what more could be done, at the most difficult time when so few people were getting out,” Levin said. “What more could we do, whom do we need to speak to, what do we need to focus on? He was tough but fair.”
Specter also helped preserve the Lautenberg Amendment, named for Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), which eased immigration for refugees from persecution. Designed as a way to advance the exodus of Soviet Jews, Specter extended the amendment to minorities from other nations, including Iran.
“A prescient leader, he understood early on that religious minorities within Iran needed special protection,” said a statement from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. “The senator never forgot his Jewish roots, and his legacy within the Jewish community is great.”
Specter throughout his career was a pro-Israel leader, in recent years leading efforts to condition aid to the Palestinian Authority on its peace process performance. He also aimed to protect Jewish students on campuses from anti-Israel harassment.
An array of Jewish and pro-Israel groups mourned his passing.
“Time and time again, Sen. Specter worked to ensure that America’s ally had the resources necessary to defend herself and protect U.S. interests in the Middle East,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement. “He was a good friend of our organization and a leading architect of the congressional bond between our country and Israel.”
The Israeli Embassy in Washington called Specter “ an unswerving defender of the Jewish State and a stalwart advocate of peace.”
Yet Specter also courted the region’s tyrants, including Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and the Assads in Syria. He longed for a role brokering peace between Israel and Syria, even after his departure from the Senate.