Dan Kurtzer, back in the country after serving the last four years as U.S. ambassador to Israel — and the previous three and a half years as ambassador to Egypt — will soon be named to an academic position “related to the Mideast” at an Ivy League university.The formal announcement is due in several weeks, Kurtzer told The Jewish Week.
Having spent most of his 28 years in foreign service trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, he says he is “very optimistic” about Israel’s position at the moment, since the country has emerged from the intifada with a remarkable resiliency. “Israelis proved to be a people who would not be defeated and davka, they would show up at cafes the day after a suicide bombing,” he said, using the Hebrew term for “specifically.”
He believes the disengagement from Gaza was the high point of his tenure and that Israel is stronger strategically because of the pullout and the presence of the security barrier that “makes it harder for terrorists to get into Israel.” He is more concerned about Palestinian society, he said, because while Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is “personally committed not to use terror as a tool,” that does not apply to others around him.Before leaving the diplomatic arena, the soft-spoken man who scored high points with Israeli officials and media for his low-key professionalism and deep knowledge of the region, had a parting shot for some American Jews who felt that as a Zionist and observant Jew he should have championed Israel’s cause more aggressively.
“I think it’s unfair and counterproductive for the community” to react that way, he said, his voice rising slightly. “Part of the beauty of American Jewish life is that we are part of the mainstream, that a kid can grow up to be anything. To judge a member of the community by other standards is a wrong calculation.”He said the argument he made when he came to Egypt was to judge him by what he did, not who he was. There, too, after some initial accusations by some in the press that he was a Zionist spy, Kurtzer was highly respected.In Israel, Kurtzer and his wife, Sheila, came to be accepted by a society that knew they were committed Jews. Visitors at the ambassador’s home in Herzliya Ptuach who came for Shabbat meals would sometimes remark that they had not heard kiddush recited in a long time, but “they tended to get into it and like it,” Kurtzer recalled. “Over time they found me to be more of a curiosity,” he said.