She was an ardent defender of the State of Israel in one of the world’s least hospitable environments. But those who knew her say Jeane Kirkpatrick, who died Friday at age 80, was comfortable swimming against the current. She was “very forceful, very strong, a daughter of Oklahoma, great sense of humor,” said Bill Bennett, a former U.S. secretary of education. “She held her own.”
Although she was a longtime Democrat, Kirkpatrick was appointed by President Reagan to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a post she assumed in 1981 and held for four years.
Kirkpatrick’s passing elicited a torrent of praise from the Jewish community. Major Jewish organizations issued statements mourning Kirkpatrick and remembering her as a vocal supporter of Israel, both at the United Nations —- where she was America’s first female envoy — and in other forums.
“She was a great friend of Israel, of the Jewish people,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Hoenlein noted that Kirkpatrick never ran for public office and her positions emerged not from calculations of political expediency, but “purely out of her deep conviction and belief.”
She distinguished herself as a vocal critic of communist regimes, arguing for direct U.S. support to anti-Communist governments, even authoritarian ones, a policy that fell into disfavor after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After the attacks, she joined with Bennett and former U.S. Sen. Jack Kemp in calling on Congress to declare war against “the entire fundamentalist Islamic terrorist network.”
Kirkpatrick’s reputation received a significant boost after publication of an influential essay, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” which appeared in the November 1979 issue of Commentary Magazine, a publication started by the American Jewish Committee.
Her tenure at the United Nations coincided with Israel’s war in Lebanon in 1982, a period when the Jewish state was particularly isolated in the international community.
Aaron Jacob, associate director of international affairs for the AJCommittee and at the time a junior diplomat at Israel’s U.N. mission, recalled Kirkpatrick as a “staunch supporter” of Israel. Jacob said the American mission under her leadership was “very friendly.”
Her passing elicited praise from both sides of the political aisle, with dignitaries saluting her clear moral vision and her staunch advocacy of American values.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) called Kirkpatrick a “clarion voice for freedom” who lived “a life of a tribune of democracy.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said Kirkpatrick “stood up for the interests of America while at the United Nations, lent a powerful moral voice to the Reagan foreign policy and has been a source of wise counsel to our nation since leaving the government two decades ago.”
Kirkpatrick was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, in May 1985, and twice received the Department of Defense’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Public Service Medal. In 1998 she received the 50th Anniversary Friend of Zion Award from the Israeli prime minister.
After her government service, Kirkpatrick returned to previous positions as a professor of government at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
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.