American Jewish leaders and organizations on Saturday expressed their condolences at the death of former Israeli prime minister and general Ariel Sharon, 85, lauding him as a champion of Israel regardless of political differences.

The heads of the Jewish Federations of North American issued a joint statement mourning Sharon’s death.

“Ariel Sharon was a highly regarded military leader, but he was also a peacemaker. One of the country’s most daring and celebrated generals, he was also a man who was able to take bold steps in the hopes of achieving peace,” JFNA Board of Trustees Chair Michael Siegal and President Jerry Silverman said. They said Sharon’s death was a loss for Israel and the Jewish people as a whole.

“Arik Sharon was not just the prime minister of the Jewish state, but a determined and inspirational leader of the entire Jewish world. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his sons Omri and Gilad, to the entire Sharon family, and to all the people of Israel.”

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with Jewish federation leaders including Mark Wilf in New York in 2005 (photo credit: Robert A. Cumins)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with Jewish federation leaders including Mark Wilf in New York in 2005 (photo credit: Robert A. Cumins)

The Israel Policy Forum, an advocate of the two-state solution, commended Sharon’s lifetime of service and “many sacrifices he made throughout his life to ensure the survival and success of the State of Israel.”

“Though we often disagreed,” the Israel Policy Forum lauded Sharon’s role in ordering Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, calling the “bold and courageous move” a source of “hope that peace could one day be achieved.”

Robert G. Sugarman, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, issued a statement deeply mourning the passing of Sharon, “with whom the Conference enjoyed a decades-long close relationship.” Sharon “in all of his positions, never missed an opportunity to meet with the Conference and address us, and often took us on tours to understand better the defense and security needs and the strategic issues confronting Israel. There were few in Israel’s history who contributed so much to the State, who demonstrated courage and bravery as well as keen insight and incisive thinking,” they said.

Sharon, they noted, “always went out of his way to discuss and take into consideration the views of the diaspora community and valued his role not only as Prime Minister of Israel but also as a leader of the Jewish people. He served his country and his people and will be remembered forever in the annals of those who helped recreate the Jewish State of Israel. We extend our condolences to his family and to the people of Israel.”

B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said Israel lost a leader who “demonstrated the ability to change his way of thinking and seeking out new paths.”

“He was a brave and fearless soldier, a wise and brilliant leader, who left a lasting impact on Israel,” Jacobs said.

Pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC said the late Israeli statesman was “a legendary statesman and soldier, who embodied the indomitable spirit and passion of the Jewish state.”

“Because he knew the price of war, Prime Minister Sharon was willing to courageously take risks for peace,” AIPAC said in a statement honoring a “heroic warrior and leader whose life was dedicated to the peace and security of America’s democratic ally.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called Sharon “an iconic leader whose love for Israel and the Jewish people infused his entire illustrious career.”

“He was a visionary, larger than life, with the courage to constantly assess his stated positions, always with an eye toward pragmatism and concern for his beloved Israel,” the rabbi said in a statement.

The heads of the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative rabbis said, “There was no single Israeli general who inspired his troops and led them as effectively as he did, and he was a towering figure of Israel’s political scene for many years.”

“The death of such a towering figure naturally causes us to pause and reflect on his deep impact on the development of Israeli history,” Rabbi Julie Schonfeld and Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik said. “On behalf of the 1700 rabbis of the Rabbinical Assembly, we applaud Ariel Sharon’s long career and its many moments of bravery and sacrifice.”

“Our thoughts go out to his family, who have cared for him since his tragic stroke in 2006 and to whom we now extend our deepest condolences.”

American Jewish Committee head David Harris said that with Sharon’s death, “a defining chapter in Israel’s history goes with him.”

“He was a man of towering strength, uncompromising commitment, steely determination, and creative vision,” Harris said.

The Anti-Defamation League’s National Chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher and National Director Abraham H. Foxman said Sharon’s “legacy is a more secure State of Israel, safe on its borders and resolved to put an end to the campaign of Palestinian terrorism once and for all.”

“We are deeply saddened at the loss of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. While he has just passed away, it has truly been eight years since we lost this great statesman and friend,” they said.