Yehuda Avner, who served by the side of five Israeli prime ministers and as ambassador to three countries, died on Tuesday at the age of 86.
Avner, born in Manchester, England, in 1928, immigrated to pre-state Israel in 1947 and fought in Israel’s War of Independence. He was also a founding member of Kibbutz Lavi in the Galilee.
In 1958, Avner began his career in the foreign service and politics, and would work as an advisor and English speechwriter to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Golda Meir, Levi Eshkol and Shimon Peres and hold ambassadorships in Ireland, Australia and his native Britain. Avner also served in various diplomatic capacities at the Israeli Consulate in New York and the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC.
Calling him “the consummate ambassador,” Avner’s son-in-law David Sable noted that as “a true servant of the Jewish people…in his role as advisor to the generation of legendary leaders of Israel he was never political, never took personal gain, never shied from conflict.”
Instead, he “listened, advised and wrote giving voice to the prime ministers he served and voice to our cause and our people.”
Later in life, Avner was a popular and sought-after speaker and authored two books: “The Young Inheritors: A Portrait of Israel’s Children” and “The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership.”
In an extensive 2010 interview with the Jerusalem Post when his book - which was later made into a documentary - was first published, he talked about various key moments and dilemmas he faced in his career.
In the interview, Avner recalled the difficulty of being a Shabbat-observant Jew in a high-powered and high-stakes environment that had little time for a day of rest.
“Sometimes a prime minister would ask me to do something, and Shabbat was 10 minutes away and I would say, ‘Sorry, I can’t do it.’ That didn’t help me a great deal.
“There was one occasion during the Kissinger shuttle of 1975 – the negotiations on the interim agreement for Sinai: Israel-Egypt, Rabin-Sadat. In March, the negotiations broke down and Kissinger blamed Israel. Rabin asked me to immediately prepare our case. There was this group known as the “Kissinger 14” – the 14 correspondents who covered the State Department and who sat in the last 14 seats of Kissinger’s plane, and [Rabin knew] he would give his version to those 14 as to why Israel was responsible for the breakdown of the negotiations. I use trite language when I say “the breakdown of negotiations”; this was a momentous crisis with the United States.
“It was 10 minutes before Shabbat and Rabin asked me to get out our version of why those negotiations broke down. I said, “Yitzhak, I’m sorry. It’s hasbara (– propaganda/information); it’s not diplomacy [and therefore I can’t break Shabbat to do it].
“He gave me a Rabin glare. He said, ‘I’ll never forget this.’”
Avner was laid to rest on Tuesday at Jerusalem’s Har HaMenuchot cemetery. He leaves behind his wife, Mimi, their children and grandchildren.
By Allison Kaplan Sommer, Haaretz.com