THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
hirty years ago, the
late FSO Samuel
W. Lewis ended an
the United States
Israel. Besides being
U.S. diplomatic representative to Israel, he
was almost certainly the most popular.
Prior to his appointment, Lewis, a career Foreign Service
officer since 1954, had served in Italy, Brazil and Washington,
D.C. Only his 1975-1977 assignment as head of the Bureau of
International Organization Affairs had given him any firsthand
experience with the Arab-Israeli dispute.
Lewis recalled many years later that he had been offered the
choice of an ambassadorship to India, South Africa or Israel.
Because it offered “a unique and extraordinary kind of chal-
lenge,” as Lewis recounted in his 1998 oral history for the Asso-
ciation for Diplomatic Studies and Training, he chose Israel. That
decision proved momentous.
From the time he arrived in Tel Aviv on May 18, 1977, Ambas-
sador Lewis was an active participant in the Israeli-Egyptian
diplomatic breakthrough. Though he modestly described himself
Samuel Lewis in Israel,
Samuel Lewis’ ambassadorship in Israel demonstrates how a professional diplomat
can have an important influence on the shaping of foreign policy.
BY YOAV J . TENEMBAUM
Yoav J. Tenembaum lectures in the graduate diplomacy
studies programat Tel Aviv University. He has published
numerous articles on diplomatic, political, historical and
philosophical topics in foreign and Americanmagazines
and newspapers, including
The Foreign Service Journal(“The Role of the Diplomat in the Modern Era,” January 2010)
as a mere “postman” relaying messages from
the Israeli government to Egyptian President
Anwar Sadat prior to Sadat’s historic visit to
Israel on Nov. 19, 1977, Lewis was intimately
involved in the negotiations between the two
President Jimmy Carter (quoted by G.R.
Diplomacy: Theory and Prac-
) said that he always looked forward to
reading Lewis’ analyses on Israel, which he
found both enlightening and helpful. Few
are the American diplomats whose cables reach the desk of the
U.S. president. Fewer still are those whose cables he reads with
Carter summoned Lewis to participate in the Camp David
Summit, which he convened in September 1978. Those talks
would lead to the signing of the Framework Agreements for
Peace between Israel and Egypt on Sept. 17, 1978. Lewis had
been involved in the secret diplomatic discussions aimed at
preparing the U.S. delegation for the crucial conference.
A Good Beginning
Following the Likud Party’s electoral victory on May 17, 1977,
Amb. Lewis urged the Carter administration to treat the new
prime minister, Menachem Begin—widely regarded as obdu-
rate and extremist—gently. Honey was preferable to vinegar, he
As Begin prepared to make his first official visit to Washing-
ton as prime minister, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzez-
inski urged the president to tell Begin in no uncertain terms
that his positions on the future of the West Bank and Gaza were
totally unacceptable. Lewis reiterated that adopting a harsh line
U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis
(left) greets Israel's Foreign
Minister Moshe Dayan in Tel Aviv
in September 1977.