Richard Schifter, diplomat and adviser to presidents, dead at 97

A Holocaust refugee who fought for the US Army in WWII, Schifter became a prominent defender of Israel and adviser to 3 US presidents.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

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Richard Schifter, an attorney and former US diplomat who advised three American presidents, passed away Sunday. He was 97.

Schifter was born to a Jewish family in Vienna in 1923, and fled to the United States in 1938 after the Anschluss brought Austria into Nazi Germany. He was the sole member of his family given a visa. After the war, Schifter found that his entire family perished in the Holocaust.

He joined the US Army in 1943 and worked in the ‘Ritchie Boys’ psychological warfare unit.

Schifter later earned a law degree at Yale, and in 1953 became one of the main attorneys for the Oglala Sioux Tribe, assisting in the tribe’s legal disputes with the federal government, eventually becoming a member on the President’s Task Force on American Indians.

Under President Reagan, Schifter was tapped for a number of diplomatic positions, beginning in 1981 when he served as the US representative to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Committee on Conventions and Recommendations. He later served as representative at the UN Commission on Human Rights and deputy representative at the UN Security Council, becoming an Ambassador in 1984.

From 1985 to 1992 he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, in the cabinets of presidents Reagan and Bush.

President Clinton appointed Schifter special assistant to the National Security Council, where he served until 2001.

After his retirement from government in 2001, Schifter led the American Jewish International Relations Institute and the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe.

“Dick Schifter dedicated his life to helping others. Having lost his parents and much of his family in the Holocaust, he gave of himself, professionally and personally to advance human rights and protect the dignity of people around the world,” said Ambassador Alfred Moses, Chair of the organization 'UN Watch'.

“For more than 70 years this was his calling. The world is a better place today because of what Dick did and what he stood tall to promote up to his dying day at age 97,” said Moses.

“With the passing of Dick, we have lost a human rights champion and fighter for the betterment of humanity.”

The Israeli organization Mattot Arim eulogized Schifter Monday morning.

“The Israeli peace-for-peace NGO Mattot Arim expresses its deep condolences on the passing of Ambassador Richard Schifter, age 97, who was one of the State Department's top human rights officials, represented the U.S. at key United Nations bodies, and courageously and cleverly fought institutional anti-Israeli bigotry at the UN. Schifter was a Holocaust era survivor, a graduate of Yale Law School and of the US military, who represented the U.S. at the UN Commission on Human Rights, served as the US Deputy Representative to the Security Council and as U.S. Assistant Secretary for Human Rights from 1985 to 1992, who spoke truth to power, on behalf of the Jewish people as well as for political prisoners in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, and in China. His career spanned 70 years and he chaired the American Jewish International Relations Institute.”