February 11, 1999
His ‘Friend Was Peace’
King Hussein took on an importance to American Jews that went well beyond the details of his 1994 treaty with Israel
It was my privilege to know His Majesty King Hussein in connection with our work, but more so, to know him personally as a human being. Undeniably, he was a king, and most certainly entitled to wear his crown, but, instead, he preferred to act "kingly" and walk humbly.
The most telling thing about King Hussein was his willingness to cut through the bureaucratic entanglement to achieve his objectives. I know because I personally experienced it.
One day, I was in my car on the way for an annual checkup when my cellular phone rang. It was Gen. Shukri, King Hussein's chief of staff, who said, "Rabbi, His Majesty would like to have a word with you." When I heard the king's voice, I almost lost control of my car. The king said: "Rabbi, I'm in Washington, D.C., about to leave for London to attend Queen Elizabeth's 50th wedding anniversary. Otherwise, I would have come to Los Angeles myself. I am sending Gen. Shukri in my place. Please regard his message as coming directly from me."
The next day, at 8 a.m., the general arrived at the museum. He told me that the personal dialogue between the king and Prime Minister Netanyahu had broken down and that it was essential to re-establish this dialogue, to finish the key items that only they could resolve together. He invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with him secretly at his residence in London to iron these issues out, and he asked for my help in arranging it.
I was obviously very surprised, but promised to do what I could. I contacted the Israeli consul general, Yoram Ben Ze'ev, who immediately established contact directly with the prime minister. By that time, Prime Minister Netanyahu was leaving London for the United States, where he would visit Indianapolis and then Los Angeles -- where a visit to our museum was included.
Arrangements were then worked out for the king to call my office during the prime minister's visit. And so, when the king returned from Buckingham Palace at 2 a.m., he phoned me at the museum, where Prime Minister Netanyahu had been alerted and was waiting for his call. I said to the king, "Your Majesty, the prime minister is here and anxious to speak with you."
As a result of their conversation, the prime minister accepted the king's invitation and arranged to cut short his visit in Los Angeles and fly directly to London, where he and the king met for more than six hours.
By that time, I am sure, King Hussein, who knew of his illness, regarded each passing moment as too precious to waste. Subconsciously, he wanted to quicken the pace of his illusive dream -- that one day all the countries of the Middle East would live together in peace and prosperity.
Today, it is fashionable to speak about Middle East peace. But when King Hussein met secretly with Israeli leaders in the 1960s and 1970s, it was an unusual act of courage because, by doing so, he was risking his life.
Yet that was the measure of the leader he was. He was a man whose teacher was truth, whose foe was hatred, whose friend was peace and whose inspiration was faith.
May he rest in peace.
Rabbi Marvin Hier is founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. These remarks are excerpted from a eulogy he delivered at a public memorial service on Mon., Feb. 8
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