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Samuel Lewis, Camp David-era U.S. ambassador, dies

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

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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