JBC reviewer Jeff Bogursky talks with the former Ambassador to the EU about Israel, Jewish continuity, and the role being Jewish has played in his career as a public servant.
Jeff Bogursky: I noticed the names of your seven grandchildren in the book. Five of them have Hebrew names, and two of them have American names. Is this due to the location that your two sons have chosen to live, or the lifestyle they’ve chosen?
Stuart Eizenstat: Well, the five who have Hebrew names, Menachem, Bracha, Eliezer, Michal, and Yitzchak are from our oldest son, who is a baal teshuva and orthodox, and the other two are from our son in New York who is Conservative. One thing that has given me a powerful sense of identification is that both my grandfather, who made Aliya at the age of eighty-something from Atlanta after having arrived there from Russia in 1904, and my great grandfather, are buried to the public cemetery in Petach Tikva, only one row apart. We have many other relatives and friends in Israel, but to have your grandfather and great grandfather buried there creates a very powerful bond.
JHB: You were the chief domestic advisor to President Carter in 1976. You are a lawyer, but you have done so many things over many years of public service. Talking to young people, how does one start a career such as yours?
SE: I started in 1963, when I was selected as a Congressional intern while attending the University of North Carolina. I got the bug from there, came back in 1964 to work on the Johnson presidential campaign. I went to Harvard Law School. Right after that I went to work in the Johnson White House for a year, serving as his Research Director. When he decided not to run, I went back to Atlanta and clerked with a Federal judge, then became a Policy Director for Jimmy Carter’s gubernatorial campaign, and then four years later for his presidential campaign.
JHB: When you think of yourself, do you see yourself in any way playing the role of the Shtadtlan, or Court Jew?
SE: No, I strongly reject that designation. If that’s what I was, or that’s how I was perceived, I could never have had the influence that I did. Everyone knew I was Jewish, knew I had Jewish values and Jewish concerns, but I was not the Jewish advisor to Carter, I was the domestic policy advisor. I was not the Jewish Ambassador to the European Union, I was the Ambassador to the European Union who was Jewish. I was not Under Secretary of Commerce, or Under Secretary of State, or Deputy Treasury Secretary as the Jew; I was there because of my ability and competence. Now, I brought Jewish values and that’s what led me to push the Holocaust Restitution to the forefront during the Clinton administration, and to recommend that President Carter create the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and to create a special visa category to save Christians, Bahai’s, and Jews from the Iranian Revolution. In other words, I brought with me Jewish perspectives and insights, but I was always perceived, because I was, essentially an American, who was a policy expert with political skills. Everyone knew I had a perspective that was sustained by Judaism, but I was absolutely not the Court Jew or I would have been just a figurehead.