Blinken’s Eizenstat Lecture Comes at Crucial Time
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Blinken’s Eizenstat Lecture Comes at Crucial Time

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will give the annual Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture at AA Synagogue virtually this year.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was chosen to speak at the annual Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture at AA Synagogue.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was chosen to speak at the annual Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture at AA Synagogue.

When former ambassador Stuart Eizenstat first asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to join him at this year’s Annual Fran Eizenstat and Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture Series at AA Synagogue, he had no idea that it would come at such a critical moment in recent history.

Blinken, who has just completed his first year in the Biden Administration has already had to manage the diplomatic fallout of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan last June, the resumption of ballistic missile tests by North Korea and recent “aggressive actions” by Beijing in the South China Sea. In recent weeks, he has also been at the center of two developing diplomatic situations with Russia and Iran.

In a recent conversation with the Atlanta Jewish Times, however, Eizenstat was optimistic about the chances that an agreement would be reached with Iran regarding its development of nuclear weapons, but he was less sure about the outcome of negotiations with Russia over its ambitions in Ukraine.

Eizenstat advises Secretary of State Blinken on issues related to the Holocaust.

“I think that there is going to be an agreement with Iran. The key issue remains how to phase out the sanctions as part of the agreement. How do you reach compliance with the agreement and so forth? But clearly, they’re inching toward an agreement. And I knew when I asked Tony, which was months and months and months ago, that this was going to be an issue. What I didn’t know was that … it was going to be such a remarkably topical issue, because I think we’ll know by then if we’re going to have an agreement or not and what its dimensions will be. And I think [we] may know where we are on Ukraine. So, this couldn’t come at a more interesting and opportune time.”

Blinken’s appearance was to have been in-person, like almost all the Eizenstat lectures over the past 33 years. He was scheduled to visit the CDC to discuss the present international implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and to make an afternoon appearance at Emory University prior to the nighttime lecture, but that event was canceled due to the ongoing threat of the Omicron variant.

Still, Eizenstat sees the lecture as a way to discuss the issues raised by the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol building and the ongoing political ramifications.

“Among the important questions to consider is whether or not the recent polarization of American politics that we’ve seen over the last five, six, seven years is an impediment to the conduct of foreign policy,” he said. “How has the challenge of democratic norms in the United States been an impediment when you are promoting democracy in the world? People say, ‘Well, wait a minute, you’ve got your own challenges, your voter restriction policies, your challenge of the President’s own election and the Jan. 6 riot in the Capitol. Are these just domestic issues or do they have an effect on your conduct of foreign policy?’”

The lecture series, which has grown into one of the most prestigious public events offered by an American synagogue, has thus far hosted two U.S. presidents, two vice-presidents, two Supreme Court justices, two Israeli prime ministers, and two Pulitzer Prize-winners, as well as numerous prominent politicians, diplomats and journalists. Blinken, who is Jewish, is the third Jewish Secretary of State who has been invited to appear, joining Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright at the AA forum.

Former ambassador Stuart Eizenstat has served in five presidential administrations, including Jimmy Carter’s.

Eizenstat has been a Washington insider since the 1970s, when he was President Carter’s Chief Domestic Advisor. His study of President Carter’s administration, published in 2018, is considered a major historical work. In just the last month, Blinken has appointed him a special advisor on issues related to the Holocaust.

“One of the crucial things we just got, a breakthrough in our negotiations over the last year or two with Germany, is remarkable,” Eizenstat said. “They’ve agreed to provide $25 million in 2023 for worldwide Holocaust education through the Jewish Material Claims Conference Against Germany. Worldwide, not just in Germany. I am inspired by the fact that I am negotiating with people who weren’t born during the war. And yet they still feel a moral and ethical obligation.”

In reference to Blinken’s conversations with European leaders, he said that the Holocaust and sensitivity to historical issues have been something the Secretary of State has made a part of his diplomacy.

“We’ve targeted five or six countries, four for financial restitution for Holocaust survivors,” Eizenstat points out. “Those are Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Hungary. Some of those, like Poland, for example, is a key NATO ally. One of the key countries we are dealing with, as we speak, is Ukraine. So it’s a very delicate balance, and I realize that. Tony Blinken has made [the Holocaust] one of his talking points at every major meeting he has had with the president and prime minister of Poland and Hungary. That’s new. That hasn’t been done before, and it’s because of his own background as the stepson of a Holocaust survivor. So he’s pushing on an open door.”

The Jan. 24 program is virtual, free and open to the public. Register at www.aasynagogue.org.

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