“As goes America, so goes Israel. [Israel] is our sister democracy in a sea of totalitarianism. It is surrounded by people who want to throw them off the face of the earth.” – Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff
It should not surprise regular readers of this blog that the popular Attorney General of Utah – currently serving an unprecedented third term – is also a prominent supporter of Jews and Israel. In fact, the Hon. Mark Shurtleff has stated that Israel is the only country besides the United States where he feels at home (a sentiment shared by many Mormons I know). Few politicians at the state level are as actively involved in promoting U.S. ties to Israel, and Mr. Shurtleff’s efforts have the added bonus of cementing Mormon-Jewish ties.
According to his press office, the attorney general developed an interest in the Middle East while studying political science and international relations at the BYU Jerusalem Center. He also played in the “West Bank Palestinian National Basketball League” and met his future wife at the center. He wrote his senior thesis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Once in office, Shurtleff began reaching out to Israel in a big way. In 2003 he organized a mission to Israel with four other state attorneys general. In 2005, he returned to Israel to seek support for the creation of American chapters of the 40-year-old America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL), on whose Board of Directors he proudly serves. The following year the attorney general set up an AIFL chapter in Salt Lake City and spent time in Israel to compare notes with his Israeli counterparts on the war against terror.
At a recent meeting of the pro-Jewish LDS group B’nai Shalom, Shurtleff referred to Ariel Sharon as a personal hero and a warrior. He said that he once asked Sharon if he could share with him why a Mormon boy from Utah loved Israel so much, then recited from memory the moving poem “Never Shall I Forget” by Elie Wiesel. The Holocaust-themed poem had touched Shurtleff deeply during his visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
The attorney general’s dedication to Israel’s cause can best be summed up by former Utah Jewish Federation official Arthur Warsoff: “In an effort to be informed, many of us diligently read newspapers and listen to the news. However, in the case of Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, that was not enough. We are very fortunate to have such a strong supporter of Israel in our community.” Needless to say, we are also very fortunate to have him in the Mormon community.
I will be speaking to Mormons and Jews at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City on January 12. I will also be making a joint presentation with Rabbi Alan Cohen in Kansas City on January 16.