Yehuda Avner, Ambassador and Advisor, Dies at 86

Yehuda Avner, an advisor and speechwriter to 5 Israeli prime ministers whose landmark memoir chronicled the rich early history of Israel, has died.
March 24, 2015

Yehuda Avner, a senior advisor and speechwriter to five Israeli prime ministers and an articulate chronicler of the Jewish state’s history, died March 24, 2015 in Jerusalem.

Avner served as advisor to Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, as speechwriter to Israeli Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Levi Eshkol, and as Israeli Ambassador to Australia and the United Kingdom. Born in Manchester, England, he settled in Jerusalem in 1956 and joined the Israeli Foreign Service in 1958.

Born in Manchester, England, he settled in Jerusalem in 1956 and joined the Israeli Foreign Service in 1958. For 25 years, Avner, a Modern Orthodox Jew, was posted to the Prime Minister's office and worked for five Israeli prime ministers in the tumultuous early days of statehood. Avner was standing by as Israel’s leaders took momentous decisions related to military operations and diplomatic negotiations, including Operation Entebbe, Operation Opera and the signing of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.

As a diplomat, Avner served in diplomatic positions at the Israeli Consulate in New York City, and the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. In 1983, he was appointed Ambassador to Britain and Non-resident Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland. He returned to Israel in 1988, before serving as Ambassador to Australia between 1992 and 1995.

In 2010, Avner assembled his notes, correspondence and other materials and used it as the basis of his landmark 702-page memoir, “>Jewish Journal in a 2013 interview. Another hero of Avner’s was Menachem Begin. Often caricatured in the West as an irredentist right-winger, the Begin that emerges in Avner’s anecdotes is a man of supreme erudition and deep concern for all Jews, with a willingness to join forces with his ideological opponents for the good of the country. As for Yitzhak Rabin, Avner recounts several conversations that show what a concentrated and analytic intellect the general brought to bear on existential issues.

When asked how today’s leaders compared to these originals, Avner spoke with blunt insightfulness. “They were made of much flintier rock,” he said. “The circumstances forged them in that furnace of Eastern Europe, with its constant state of social and political turbulence. Also, all of them were literate Jews. They took it for granted they would breed a generation of literate Jews. It didn’t work out that way.”

In The Prime Ministers Avner also reveals a long history of ups and downs in the American-Israel relationship that numerous reviewers couldn't help but notice provided a much-needed sense of perspective in light of current events.  In one notable passage, Avner recalls Rabin's real politik advice to Menachem Begin when handling American politics:

“It is not enough for an Israeli ambassador here to simply say 'I’m pursuing my country’s best interests according to the book,'” Avner recounts Rabin telling an astonished Begin. “'To promote our interests an Israeli ambassador has to take advantage of the rivalries between the Democrats and Republicans. An Israeli ambassador who is either unwilling or unable to maneuver his way through the complex American political landscape to promote Israel’s strategic interests would do well to pack his bags and go home.'”

In 2013 and 2014, Moriah Films, the film division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, produced The Prime Ministers, a two-part documentary based on Avner's book. It is narrated by Avner in his brisk and engaging English accent, with stars Christoph Waltz, Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, and Leonard Nimoy as the voices of Israel's Prime Ministers.

In a lecture sponsored by