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hirty years ago, the

late FSO Samuel

W. Lewis ended an

eight-year tenure

(1977-1985) as

the United States

ambassador to

Israel. Besides being

the longest-serving

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.


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.

Berridge in

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.