Samuel Lewis, Camp David Diplomat, Dies at 83

Ambassador to Israel Helped Seal Historic Peace Deal

By JTA

Published March 12, 2014.

Samuel Lewis, an influential U.S. ambassador to Israel who helped broker the Camp David peace agreement, has died.

Samuel Lewis
Samuel Lewis

Lewis, a career diplomat, died Monday at the age of 83.

He was ambassador to Israel from 1977-1985, a period during which Israel and Egypt achieved a peace agreement brokered by President Carter.

Lewis, who was not Jewish, was so deeply involved in the day-to-day back and forth between Israel and the United States and was so curious about Israeli and Jewish culture that Ezer Weizman, who was then Israel’s defense minister and a lead negotiator, nicknamed him Shmuel Levi.

Lewis played a key role in calming recurring tensions between President Reagan and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, first in 1981 when Israeli planes destroyed a nuclear reactor in Iraq, and in 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon.

Some Israeli right-wingers who resented the influence he wielded as U.S. ambassador dubbed him the “high commissioner,” a derisive reference to the pre-independence British rulers of Mandate Palestine.

The Israeli political establishment, however, appreciated his avuncular style, his civility and his interest in the country; when he retired in 1985, the government dedicated a forest in his name.

‘He performed miracles in terms of interpreting America to Israel and Israel to America, often absorbing the brunt of criticism for his efforts,” said a statement from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank he advised since its founding in the late 1980s.

His involvement in the peace process led to a long retirement career studying and analyzing peace issues, first by leading the congressionally mandated U.S. Institute for Peace from 1987-1992 and then as a founding member of the Israel Policy Forum, a group set up in the early 1990s to back Clinton-era peace efforts.

“Due to the power of his intellect, his charm and his gravitas, Sam was a pro-peace powerhouse in Washington, influencing policy-makers and policy-shapers to never give up on peace for Israel and her neighbors,” Debra DeLee, Americans for Peace Now’s president, said in a statement.



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