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Obituary Wayne Owens, Congressman and Mideast Peace Player, Dies at 65

December 20, 2002
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Advocates of Middle East peace are remembering Wayne Owens as a tireless worker who sought to bride the gaps between countries in the Middle East.

Owens, a former Democratic congressman who went on to head a Middle East think tank, died Wednesday on the beach in Tel Aviv. He was 65.

Owens represented Utah in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1975, and again from 1987 to 1993.

He then served as president of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, an organization he founded in 1989 with S. Daniel Abraham, chairman of Slim-Fast Foods.

Friends and colleagues described Owens as a pivotal behind-the-scenes player in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“I think what Wayne brought was an expertise that came from having spent a significant part of his career in public service,” said Debra DeLee, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now. “He brought both the public side as well as an incredible ability to connect with stakeholders.”

Howard Kohr, executive director of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, said, “Owens demonstrated through action his dedication and love for the Jewish state. He strove to advance the cause of peace between Israel and her neighbors.

“He will be deeply missed,” Kohr said.

Owens was born on May 2, 1937 in Panguitch, Utah.

In Congress, Owens served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and focused on the Middle East, traveling to the region nearly every three months.

Stephen Silberfarb, who served as Owens’ legislative director from 1990 to 1992, said his interest in the Middle East stemmed from his Mormon background and a natural curiosity about international conflicts.

“He had a sense of passion and commitment and a true belief that Arabs and Israelis can live together in peace,” said Silberfarb, now the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Owens was one of the first American leaders to meet with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat — and was an advocate of U.S. loan guarantees that Israel could use to bring Soviet Jews to Israel and for military aid to Middle Eastern countries, Silberfarb said.

“He didn’t believe you could pressure Israel or the Palestinians,” Silberfarb said. “He was one for dialogue and education.”

Owens also served on the House Judiciary Committee that impeached President Nixon. He ran twice for the U.S. Senate and once for governor, but lost each time.

Owens is survived by his wife, the former Marlene Wessel, five children and 14 grandchildren.

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