February 7, 2021 — New York
American Jewish Committee (AJC) mourns the passing of George P. Shultz, who served as Secretary of State,1982-1989, under President Reagan. He was 100 years old.
Shultz, the longest-serving secretary of state since World War II, was instrumental in improving relations with the Soviet Union near the end of the Cold War, deepening transatlantic ties, strengthening U.S.-Israel bilateral links, and trying to advance Arab-Israeli peace.
At an historic 2009 program reuniting Shultz and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, which was aired on national television, AJC CEO David Harris was invited to set the stage for their discussion and recalled Shultz’s pivotal role on behalf of beleaguered Soviet Jews.
“The knowledge that the United States stood with them in their struggle was extraordinarily powerful. And there are few American officials who embody that support more than George Shultz. No words are sufficient to describe the central role he played, or the message he sent, when, as secretary of state, he hosted a Passover Seder for Soviet Jewish activists at the American Embassy in Moscow in 1987,” said Harris.
A few months later, the Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jews rally in Washington, on December 6, 1987, on the eve of Gorbachev’s meeting with President Reagan at the White House, was held. It was the largest gathering ever of American Jews. Harris, who was the chief organizer of the rally of 250,000 Jews and other supporters on the National Mall, said the large demonstration was discussed at the meetings between Gorbachev and Reagan, which included Shultz, and led to the mass emigration of Soviet Jews beginning in 1989.
In September 2018, Shultz joined with notable U.S., European and Canadian political and diplomatic leaders in signing an AJC statement of support for the Transatlantic Partnership and the core values that bind North America and Europe together. The full statement, “Reaffirming the Transatlantic Partnership – A Pledge of Unity and Resolve,” with the initial 31 signatories, was published in The New York Times.
Just a few months ago, Shultz participated in a program organized by the AJC Bay Area office, in honor of its 75th anniversary and coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Shultz lit a candle.
During his tenure, Shultz spent considerable time visiting the Middle East to advance peace among Israel and Jordan, Syria and the Palestinians. While none of his efforts yielded any breakthroughs, they contributed to process that led to the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.
In 1986, AJC presented its highest award, the American Liberties Medallion, to Shultz for "exceptional service in the cause of human liberty."
“When I think of the consummate American statesman,” said Harris, “I think of George Shultz. I had the honor of meeting him several times. Always gracious. Always understated. Always brilliant. And always curious and open-minded. He was a diplomatic giant and, I would add, a hero of the Jewish people. America has lost one of our greatest — World War II veteran, scholar, public servant, and author of history.”