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Former US diplomat and presidential adviser Richard Schifter dead at 97

Hailed as a defender of Israel, the Austrian-born adviser to three American presidents was the only member of his family to escape the Holocaust

US President Ronald Reagan meets with Richard Schifter, US representative to the UN Human Rights Committee, in the Oval Office of the White House, February 2, 1984, in Washington. (AP Photo/White House Photo/Mary Anne Fackelman)
US President Ronald Reagan meets with Richard Schifter, US representative to the UN Human Rights Committee, in the Oval Office of the White House, February 2, 1984, in Washington. (AP Photo/White House Photo/Mary Anne Fackelman)

Former top US diplomat Richard Schifter has died aged 97, according to American Jewish organizations and Israel’s Foreign Ministry director general.

Schifter fled his native Austria to the US at the age of 15 just after the Nazi takeover of the country. The rest of his family could not obtain visas and were killed by the Nazis.

He served in WWII as an American intelligence officer, part of the US military’s German-speaking “Ritchie Boys” unit.

After his discharge in 1948, he went to Yale Law School, became an attorney, and would go on to represent Native American tribes in disputes with the US government.

US Ambassador Richard Schifter (left), special assistant to US President Bill Clinton at the time, left, with former Austrian chancellor Erhard Busek in Bucharest, November 16, 1999. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

He got his first diplomatic posting in 1981 and would spend more than 20 years in the American diplomatic service as, variously, assistant secretary of state for humanitarian affairs in the Reagan and Bush administrations, US envoy to the UN’s Commission on Human Rights and UNESCO Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, and deputy US representative to the UN Security Council.

In 1993, former US president Bill Clinton made him a special adviser to the president and the National Security Council. Since leaving that post in 2001, Schifter headed the American Jewish International Relations Institute, for which he often spoke publicly about the UN and Israel.

He was remembered Sunday as an advocate for Israel.

“Ambassador Richard Schifter was a symbol of perseverance and strength who achieved much in his lifetime and worked endlessly on improving Israel’s position in the UN,” Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz tweeted on Sunday. “My condolences to his family and friends. May his memory be a blessing.”

B’nai B’rith mourned him as “an inspirational leader, accomplished diplomat, public servant, staunch advocate for human rights, a resolute defender of Israel, a strong proponent of trans-Atlantic relations and of America’s place in the world.

“Notwithstanding his immense achievements, Ambassador Schifter’s persona was one of humility and civility,” the organization said.

The American Jewish Committee hailed his “amazing life.”

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