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Rest in Peace: Bill Richardson

Richardson told Mishpacha he believed in the simultaneous use of public pressure, quiet diplomacy, and behind-the-scenes advocacy

Photo: APImages

Politicians and diplomats such as Bill Richardson are few and far between, and the Jewish community will certainly miss Richardson, who passed away over the weekend at age 75.

A former two-term governor, UN ambassador, and congressman, Richardson served as a special envoy on many sensitive international missions, successfully winning the release of US servicemen and prisoners in North Korea, Iraq, Cuba, and Sudan, and was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

We interviewed Richardson some ten years ago, following his efforts to spring several high-profile Jewish prisoners held captive in cases where political motives played a role in their incarceration.

These included Brooklyn businessman Jacob Ostreicher, who was held captive on false charges in Bolivia for 18 months; Jonathan Pollard, imprisoned for 30 years under inhuman conditions for spying for a friendly country; and Allan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba for trying to open the Communist nation to the Internet.

Richardson told Mishpacha that he believed in the simultaneous use of public pressure, quiet diplomacy, and behind-the-scenes advocacy. When asked if bringing pressure to bear publicly can backfire, embarrassing governments into denial and inaction, or hardening their stance so they don’t appear susceptible to coercive pressure, Richardson admitted there is a school of thought that subscribes to that, but he disagreed.

“In general, I’ve found that we must expose the unfairness and absurdities of these detentions,” he says. “It’s true that on occasion, going public on a case can harm the chances for success, such as with the North Koreans, who can go the other way if too much is made of a case publicly. But in general, public attention is very helpful.”

In what was probably his final successful effort in freeing a captive, Richardson went to Moscow to help secure the release of basketball star Brittney Griner last year.

In his memoir, How to Sweet-Talk a Shark, Richardson summed up his hostage-negotiating philosophy: “Respect the other side. Try to connect personally. Use a sense of humor. Let the other side save face.”

Richardson passed away peacefully in his sleep last Friday at his summer home in Chatham, Massachusetts.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 977)

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