Yehuda Avner, the religiously observant acclaimed Israeli diplomat, author and ambassador who served seven Israeli prime ministers and presidents in many roles, and was a conduit to world leaders for decades, passed away March 24 in Jerusalem. He was 86 years old.

Born in Manchester, England, in 1929, Avner emigrated at the age of 18 to then British Mandate Palestine and fought in Israel’s War of Independence.

In 1956, he joined Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and served the top echelon of Israel’s leadership across the political spectrum—as a speech writer for Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Levi Eshkol; as a senior adviser to President Zalman Shazar, and Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres; and as Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom and Australia. He wrote about his years of service to Israel in a best-selling and critically acclaimed memoir, “The Prime Ministers.”

A proud practicing Jew, Avner was a familiar sight at state dinners in Washington, D.C., and other world capitals, eating kosher food and wearing his signature crocheted kipah.

In his memoirs and other writings, Avner eloquently described the encounters of those he served with the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. Avner’s reminiscences of many of those meetings are available in Jewish Educational Media’s “My Encounter with the Rebbe” series.

In a article “To Ignite the Soul,” Avner wrote about visits to the Rebbe by Yitzhak Rabin, then Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and later visits by Israeli President Zalman Shazar and Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Avner recalled Yitzhak Rabin’s first meeting with the Rebbe: “He and the Rebbe spoke mainly of Washington affairs; but when the sage turned to things celestial, like Torah, eternity, and spiritual destiny, the ambassador’s eyes glazed over,” wrote Avner. “Dogmas of this sort were too inscrutable for this Palmach-bred, austere old soldier to whom reality was a physical phenomenon, not a metaphysical marvel.

Yehuda Avner
Yehuda Avner

“Nonetheless, he was impressed,” continued Avner. “Exiting, he confided to me, ‘That man knows more about what’s going on in Israel and the Middle East than most members of the Knesset.’ ”

Avner recounted visits by Shazar, who hailed from a Chabad background. “On his rare visits to New York he would abjure diplomatic protocol, choosing to call on the Rebbe in Brooklyn as a disciple, rather than solicit the Rebbe to call on him at the Waldorf as a head of state,” he wrote. “This aroused the ire of members of the Israeli government and press, prompting an exasperated Shazar to exclaim one Purim eve en route to 770, while lolling in a limousine escorted by siren-shrieking NYPD outriders, ‘What do they want of me back home? I may be the president of Israel, but I’m also a simple [c]hassid going to meet his [R]ebbe. Who can object to that?’ ”

A Personal Encounter

Avner also wrote and spoke about his own encounters with the Rebbe. Before traveling to Washington, D.C., for a crucial meeting with President Jimmy Carter on issues vital to Israel’s security, Prime Minister Menachem Begin met with the Rebbe for hours. Following the meeting, Begin told the Rebbe that Avner would be dispatched to confidentially brief the Rebbe on the results.

Yehuda Avner, right, before Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's meeting with the Rebbe.
Yehuda Avner, right, before Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's meeting with the Rebbe.

“The presentation, interrogation, and clarification had taken close to three hours,” wrote Avner. “It was now after two in the morning, and I was exhausted. The Rebbe, full of vim and vigor, asked me to communicate the following message to Mr. Begin: “By maintaining your firm stand on Eretz Yisroel in the White House, you have given strength to the whole of the Jewish people. You have succeeded in safeguarding the integrity of Eretz Yisroel while avoiding a confrontation with the United States. That is true Jewish statesmanship: forthright, bold, without pretense, or apology. Be strong and of good courage.”

Yehuda Avner is survived by his wife, Mimi; their four children; and grandchildren.