Philip M. Klutznick

WJC Past President

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Philip Morris Klutznick was born on July 9, 1907, in Kansas City, Missouri. His parents, Morris and Minnie, had emigrated from Poland two years earlier.

In 1924, Klutznick participated in the formation of the second chapter of the Jewish fraternal youth organization Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA). He became Grand Aleph Godol (President) of the expanding organization, now sponsored by local lodges of B'nai B'rith, in 1925.

Klutznick's career in public service advanced along with his success in business. In 1953, he was elected to the first of two three-year terms as President of B'nai B'rith. His presidency focused on strengthening the century-old organization's internal structure and expanding its constituency. He visited B'nai B'rith districts worldwide and worked to strengthen lodges in post-war Europe and Israel. Domestically, he instituted a membership drive, expanded support for youth programs and traveled in southern states to discuss B'nai B'rith support for school desegregation.

Klutznick was also active in international affairs. In 1957, he served a three-month term as a United Nations delegate. He gained the rank of ambassador as U.S. representative on the UN Economic and Social Council in 1960, working closely with Ambassador Adlai Stevenson II. Klutznick resigned his UN post two years later, contending that a failure to integrate political goals with economic and social needs undermined the effectiveness of international diplomacy. In later years, he remained active in international affairs, completing a survey of Brazilian housing for the Johnson administration, writing and speaking frequently on international issues and working with the United Nations Association of the U.S.A.

Klutznick had a special interest in the Middle East and in U.S.-Israeli relations. As B'nai B'rith President, he traveled to Israel and advocated the use of German reparations funds to support Jewish organizations. He was among the American Jewish leaders to meet with President Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to discuss Middle Eastern policy and events. In 1977, Klutznick became President of the World Jewish Congress, succeeding Nahum Goldman who had led the group since 1949. The WJC, an umbrella organization of Jewish groups, represents the diplomatic interests of the international Jewish community to governments and bodies such as the United Nations. During negotiations that preceded the 1977 Camp David Accords, Klutznick met with Israeli leader Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Jimmy Carter, as well as other U.S. adminstration officials. In 1978, Klutznick initiated a commission headed by Baron Guy de Rothschild to examine the economic implications of Arab-Israeli peace for Israel and the international Jewish community. Another focus of his leadership was Jewish culture, demonstrated in efforts to strengthen and reorganize the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and Beth Hatefutsoth, the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora. Klutznick's service as WJC President was brief. He took a leave of absence upon his appointment as Secretary of Commerce in 1979, and chose to leave the position to his replacement, Edgar Bronfman, after leaving the government.

Klutznick's views on Middle Eastern issues were often controversial in the American and international Jewish communities. He considered himself a Zionist, and a strong defender of Israel, but encouraged dialogue with Arab groups and leaders. In 1975, he served on a "Middle East Study Group," sponsored by the Brookings Institution, which produced a report encouraging both Israeli and Arab concessions and active involvement by the U.S. government. In 1981, he traveled to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and the West Bank as part of a private group to meet with leaders in government, education, military affairs, business and communications, as well as political dissidents. The resulting "Seven Springs Report" attempted to provide a base of knowledge and understanding for the conduct of future negotiations and peace plans. In June, 1982, Klutznick joined with Nahum Goldmann, former President of the World Jewish Congress, and Pierre Mendes-France, former Prime Minister of France, to issue the "Paris Declaration," encouraging an end to Israel's siege of Beirut and negotiation with the PLO to ensure regional peace and security. Klutznick's involvement in each of these reports and statements prompted both widespread support and protest from Jewish organizations and individuals.

In January of 1980, Klutznick began service as Secretary of Commerce under President Jimmy Carter. He had long-standing relationships with Vice-President Walter Mondale and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and his ties to the Carter administration were further strengthened by his significant role in Arab-Israeli peace talks. His appointment was viewed by some critics as an effort to strengthen Carter's status among Jewish voters. Klutznick's tenure was marked by the economic recession and inflation that characterized the later years of the Carter administration, Carter's unsuccessful bid for reelection and the completion of the 1980 census.

Klutznick married Ethel Riekes in 1930. They had six children, Bettylu, Richard, who died in early childhood, Thomas, James, Robert and Samuel. Ethel Klutznick died in 1996. Philip M. Klutznick died of Alzheimer's disease on August 14, 1999.