Max Kampelman, Voice for Soviet Jewry, Evolved But Never Changed

Appreciation

Death of a Diplomat: Max Kampelman played a key diplomatic role in enabling the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Soviet Union.
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Death of a Diplomat: Max Kampelman played a key diplomatic role in enabling the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Soviet Union.

By Allan Gerson

Published February 04, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
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It was a reflection of the bipartisan nature of his advocacy that Carter’s Republican successor, President Ronald Reagan, asked Max to stay on in his position. By 1983, Kampelman succeeded in extracting an agreement from the Soviet Union that was key in advancing the struggle to free Soviet Jewry.

Notwithstanding his stance as a military hawk, Kampelman remained at heart a staunch liberal when it came to domestic issues. He never wavered in his belief in the importance of government in protecting the poor, the elderly and, indeed, the middle class. It was this combination of views that led him to leave the Reagan administration in 1984 to advise Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale in 1984.

Nevertheless, after Reagan defeated Mondale, he invited Kampelman back into his administration, this time to negotiate nuclear arms reduction.

Amid all this, Max was also a mentor to me, and a role model. In actual fact, he changed the course of my professional life. When Jeane Kirkpatrick was looking for a personal counsel to represent her as she took on the arduous task of being the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Reagan, she turned to Max.

He, in turn, suggested that I was the person who could help navigate the shoals of the State Department and help her in her refusal to condemn as aggression Israel’s bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. I accepted the position, and Max was always at my side to provide wise counsel.

Max was a man of conscience who understood that the ideal practice of law deals with the senses and not just the mind. He reacted to injustice not as a philosophical matter but as something that affected his core.

In recognition of his lifetime achievements, he has been awarded the highest civilian accolade that the United States government can provide. But it is his spirit — his ability to pierce the veil of indifference, to help the needy, to be true to his Jewish roots as well as to America’s best ideals — that makes him a man who will be sorely missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him.

Allan Gerson is a Washington based international lawyer who served as counsel to U.N. ambassadors Jeane Kirpatrick and Vernon Walters, and as a deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department


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