In all the plaudits rolling in for Richard Holbrooke, the outstanding and seemingly universally-respected US diplomat who died aged 69 two days ago, none have mentioned Holbrooke's association with Jewish refugees from Arab Countries. Richard Holbrooke was a US Honorary Chair of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, a New York-based group set up in 2003. The other Chairs were Shlomo Hillel (Israel) Lord Weidenfeld (UK), James Tisch, the late Leon Levy and Mortimer Zuckerman (US).
One doesn't have to probe far into Richard Holbrooke's background to explain his affinity for refugees.
As Abigail Pogrebin, who interviewed Holbrooke for her book Stars of David, writes in The Tablet:
"Although his parents did not identify as Jews, Holbrooke says their experience as refugees—his mother’s escape from Nazi Germany, his father’s from Stalinist Russia—informed his professional focus. “There’s absolutely no question in my own mind that my involvement with refugees, starting in 1978, is related to the fact that my parents were refugees. Although my mother refuses to agree that she was a refugee; she was ‘an immigrant.’ ” He smiles.
“There isn’t any question that people like Mort Abramowitz, who was ambassador to Thailand in the seventies, and myself, were driven in part by the fact that the U.S. had failed in its responsibilities vis-à-vis refugees in the thirties and could have saved an enormous amount of people if the State Department itself had not been as bad a bureaucracy as imaginable in dragging its feet on permitting entry into the U.S. for refugees. The then-assistant secretary of state was a virulently anti-Semitic man named Breckenridge Long. He was a terrible man. I ended up in his job, so my photograph’s on the corridor along with this dreadful Breckenridge Long. So for all of us, refugees were key.”