I.L. (Si) Kenen, the founder and former longtime executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), died of a heart attack Wednesday at his home here. Funeral services and burial will be in Washington on Friday.
Kenen, who was 83, began his long career of lobbying in support of a Jewish state in 1943, when he was director of the American Emergency Committee on Zionist Affairs in New York. He was the Jewish Agency’s information director at the United Nations in 1947 and 1948, and then in 1949, was a member of the first Israeli delegation to the United Nations.
Kenen moved to Washington in 1951 and established the American Zionist Committee to lobby Congress in support of Israel. Three years later the committee became AIPAC, the only official lobby for Israel in the United States.
Kenen had a wide range of friends in both parties in Congress and always tried to keep Israel out of partisan politics.
In 1951, the immediate goal of the lobbying effort was to seek $150 million in assistance for Israel. Despite State Department opposition to any aid to Israel for fear of alienating the Arab countries, Kenen was able to win approval for $65 million.
When Kenen retired in 1974, U.S. aid to Israel totaled more than a $1 billion.
In 1957, Kenen used a $700 speaking honorarium to create the Near East Report, and was its longtime editor. He was editor emeritus of the weekly pro-Israel newsletter at the time of his death.
“Si Kenen was one of those Jewish leaders who dedicated his lifetime to the Jewish people,” Thomas Dine, AIPAC’s current executive director, said Thursday.
“He taught us that lobbying is an American responsibility and when done correctly, is respected by all. Si’s vision led him from picking up the pieces of European Jewry to cementing the friendship between the United States and Israel.”
Kenen was born in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, on March 7, 1905, to an Orthodox Jewish family. His father was an active Zionist who knew Theodor Herzl and other early Zionist leaders.
As a young man, Kenen was an actor in Toronto and then a newspaperman in Cleveland, where he became a founder of Local No.1 of the American Newspaper Guild in 1933.
In 1985, AIPAC marked Kenen’s 80th birthday with the establishment of the Jewish National Fund’s I.L. Kenen Forest in Israel.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.