Kurtzer, Daniel Charles

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KURTZER, DANIEL CHARLES (1949– ), U.S. diplomat. Kurtzer was born in 1949 and raised as an Orthodox Jew in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He received his B.A. from Yeshiva University and two M.A.s and his Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University. He has remained an Orthodox Jew, embodying the twin values of Torah U-Mada that characterized his alma mater during his generation.

Kurtzer began his career in the Foreign Service in 1976, within the Bureau of International Organizational Affairs where he worked on un political, economic, humanitarian, and developmental issues. Later, he left the State Department and became the youngest dean of Yeshiva College in New York. In 1979 Kurtzer was re-appointed to the Foreign Service and assigned as second secretary for political affairs at the American Embassy in Cairo. Then in 1982 he was appointed first secretary for political affairs at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. He returned to Washington in 1986 and served as deputy director of Egyptian affairs and later as a speechwriter and a member of the secretary's policy planning staff. While in Tel Aviv, he won the Director General of the Foreign Service Award for reporting. In 1989 Kurtzer was appointed as deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs. After this, he served as principal deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and research, and then became acting assistant secretary in May 1997. President Bill Clinton named him U.S. ambassador to Egypt, the first Jew assigned as an American ambassador to an Arab country.

His appointment to Cairo raised considerable discomfort in the Egyptian capital, but over time Kurtzer impressed his Egyptian counterparts with the depth of his knowledge and his sheer professionalism. His appointment as U.S. ambassador to Israel by President George W. Bush was no less controversial. The Zionist Organization attacked his appointment, fearing that Kurtzer would be unduly harsh on the Israelis and unduly partisan toward the Arabs.

An anomaly as an Orthodox Jew working for the American government who negotiated with both Arabs and Israelis, Kurtzer was one of several Jews in the Clinton and the George W. Bush administrations responsible for Middle Eastern policy, along with Dennis *Ross, Martin *Indyk, and Eliot *Abrams. Each had a deep Jewish identity; Ross, Indyk, and Kurtzer were strong supporters of the Israeli peace process, and therefore doubly suspect by the right wing in Israel and the United States.

Kurtzer also faced antisemitism in Israel when Knesset member Zvi Hendel of the right-wing National Union Party attacked Kurtzer, calling him a "yehudon" ("little Jew") on the floor of the Knesset and charging Kurtzer with "interfering in [Israel's] internal affairs."

In Israel as well, Kurtzer conducted himself with professionalism and credibility. He was passed over for the presidency of Yeshiva University, where he had served as a dean, because he was too dovish for contemporary Orthodox life, but upon retiring from the Foreign Service in 2005 he returned to academia.

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]