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Michael David Sternberg 1937 - 2014

Michael Sternberg ... made a significant contribution to peace in the region

Michael Sternberg, former US diplomat who for 24 years was the head of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) office in Israel, died on July 13 at the age of 77. As the Director General's Representative in Israel, the MFO's liaison to the Israel government, he made a quiet but significant contribution to peace in the region.

The MFO was established in 1981 in a Protocol to the Egyptian-Israel Treaty of Peace, as an independent (non-UN) organization with the mission to supervise the security provisions of the Treaty, including a presence of international forces and observers in the Sinai.

As the Director General's Representative in Israel, he forged close ties with the government, military leaders and the diplomatic corps, all the while creating a wide network of good friends throughout the country.

At a memorial service, Mr. Sternberg was eulogized by IDF Brigadier General Asaf Orion, "We are bonded by our appreciation of you as a diplomat, a patriot of both countries (Israel and Egypt), a devoted soldier in the 'Army of Peace', and above all as a real mensch."

Born in New York City, he studied literature and philosophy, receiving a BA in 1956. He thereafter pursued a Ph.D. in literature, but shortly changed course, leaving his academic studies to join the U.S. military. In 1958 he was commissioned with the rank of Ensign in the United States Navy.

During his nine years of service with the Navy, he saw shipboard duty in the North Atlantic, studied Russian in the U.S. Army language school in Monterey, California, and was assigned to Japan, where he trained as a Naval Intelligence Special Operations Officer, logging more than 1,500 flight hours in electronic warfare/reconnaissance missions. He served as the commanding officer of a Special Operations Detachment, with assignments in North and South East Asia, including Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam. His wide-ranging naval service included several submarine assignments, among them a deployment for six months under the surface in a nuclear submarine.

In 1967 he left the Navy, having attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander, to join the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Service Officer. As an American diplomat he served in Europe and the Near East for a total of some twenty-one years.

From 1967 until 1969, Mr. Sternberg was Vice Consul in Belfast, Northern Ireland; from 1969 to 1970 Operations Watch Officer at the State Department; from 1970 to 1971, desk officer for Malta, Gibraltar and Ireland; and from 1971 to 1974, Consul for Commercial and Financial Affairs in Zurich, Switzerland.

Michael Sternberg's long involvement in the Middle East began in 1974, when he became the Political/Military Officer, then Deputy Director, of the State Department's Office of Israeli-Palestinian Affairs. In a 1997 report in The Jerusalem Post he was quoted as saying: "Besides the fact that I'm Jewish, I'm very involved with the Arab-Israeli issue and stability in the area. Henry Kissinger [for whom Mr. Sternberg had worked] used to say that history doesn't reveal its alternatives. We can only speculate what would have happened had there not been the Six Day War. The thing is not to become paralyzed, but to respect the fact that people legitimately see things differently and find the points you do have in common so you can progress with life rather than regress. It is important for us to see other people as people, without condescension, and extend to all the respect and dignity which all people deserve and which is a central starting point for any dialogue in a relationship."

After four years of dealing with Israeli-Palestinian affairs, he briefly studied Greek before becoming the Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Athens during 1978-1979.

From 1979 to 1981, Mr. Sternberg returned to the Middle East as Chief of Staff (and head of "Election Modalities") of the U.S. delegation to the Palestinian Autonomy talks (a part of the Camp David process), during which he was resident in Israel and Egypt.

With the Autonomy talks sputtering towards an unsuccessful close, he departed to attend the NATO Defense College in Rome during 1981; this was followed by a four-year stint as Consul General in Thessaloniki, Greece. By then Mr. Sternberg was fluent in Greek and Russian and thereafter, as Political Counselor in Vienna from 1985 to 1988, became so in German as well (he subsequently added Hebrew). He retired from the State Department in 1988.

From 1988 to 1990, Mr. Sternberg lived and worked in New York City. During that two-year period he was a political speechwriter and screenwriter. A man with a deep passion for Jewish life and heritage, he co-founded the Jewish Presence Foundation with the esteemed Polish-American author Jerzy Kosinski, a close friend. The aim of the Foundation was to remind the world of the Jewish contribution to pre-war European civilization and, in doing so, to contribute to the resurrection of Jewish culture in Europe.

In December 1990, Mr. Sternberg was appointed the Representative of the Director General in Israel for the MFO. In that capacity, he provided broad policy support to the Director General of the MFO, as well as logistical support to the more than 2,000 men and women who serve the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai. His efforts ranged from facilitating dialogue with the highest diplomatic levels and key experts of the Israeli Government to supervising his staff to ensure that the needs of personnel in Sinai were met in a timely manner, regardless how difficult the situation. For almost a quarter of a century he devoted himself to maintaining the peace between Israel and Egypt.

A passionate patron of Israeli arts, he often promoted cultural and artistic events, as well as providing direct support for many projects. These included the "Co-Existence" exhibition (for which artists from all over the world produced works in the desert near Mitzpe Ramon), the "Peace Paintings" exhibition and the "Markers" exhibition at the Venice Biennale. He also supported the Tira School of Film and held concerts and theater performances at his home to promote young artists and musicians.

One notable contribution, based on his service and friendships in Vienna, was to spur the strengthening of cultural ties between Israel and Austria. In 1993, he facilitated the invitation of 15 leading Israeli artists to be featured in the Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation in Vienna. At the time, the exhibition, called "Makom," was the largest ever exhibition of Israeli artists in Austria. All of the sculptures in the exhibition became part of the permanent collection of the Museum.

He was a confirmed lover of poetry and music, attended and supported art exhibitions, and was a collector of works by Israeli artists. He wrote reviews and essays on the arts, Israeli art in particular, with the intention of bringing Israeli culture to an international audience.

While he had been unwell for some time, his death was unexpected. In recognition of his long and dedicated service, the Multinational Force and Observers posthumously awarded to Mr. Sternberg its highest honor, the Distinguished Servant of Peace Award.

In presenting the award to Michael's beloved wife, Rachel Alkalay Sternberg, the Director General of the MFO, Ambassador David M. Satterfield, wrote:

"Michael's countless contributions to our mission of peace can only be recognized by our highest award, and it is with both the most profound sadness and gratitude, the MFO Distinguished Servant of Peace Award is conferred posthumously on Director General's Representative Michael David Sternberg. Even the MFO's highest award does not begin to confer due recognition of his years of service, from 1990-2014, as the voice and face of the MFO in Israel.

Tirelessly working for the MFO mission, even until the hours before his sudden passing, he contributed the talents of a polymath to everything he did, with keen intelligence and insight, an amazing personal convergence of communications, analytic, literary and technical skills, and always with great humanity, warmth, and a great sense of humor. A man of great culture and erudition, combined with practical experience from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Foreign Service, his grace and personality opened many doors for the MFO, not only in Government and with Embassies in Israel, but in all walks of life. His bond with his staff in the MFO Israel office was based on true collegiality, respect and friendship. With all his skills and passion, he threw himself into every project of the MFO, which he loved and served with unflagging enthusiasm and dedication. In so many ways, on so many issues and projects, the MFO is the better for his many contributions to our mission of peace, and the worse for the sudden loss of his creative talents, his passion for his work, and his always ready and generous friendship.

We are bolstered by the fact that Michael loved what he was doing, and that he was able to continue to work for peace and to help make a difference right up until his untimely passing."

Michael Sternberg is survived by his wife, Rachel, a lawyer in Israel, and three children from two previous marriages - Peter, a professor of Public Health at Winona State University, Winona, Minnesota; Robert, a lecturer in Science Communication at Imperial College in London; and Tamara, a U.S. Foreign Service Officer stationed in Kiev, Ukraine. He is also survived by two grandchildren – Nathaniel (9), son of Peter and Marta, and Samuel (3), son of Robert and Katherine.

He is greatly missed by the family and his legion of friends.

Long and dedicated service earns top posthumous award

In Recognition of his long and dedicated service, the Multinational Force and Observers posthumously awarded to Michael its highest honor, the distinguished Servant of Peace Award. In presenting the award to Michael's beloved wife, Rachel Alkalay Sternberg, the director General of the MFO, Ambassador david M. Satterfield, wrote: Michael's countless contributions to our mission of peace can only be recognized by our highest award, and it is with both the most profound sadness and gratitude, the MFO Distinguished servant of Peace Award is conferred posthumously on Director General's Representative Michael David Sternberg. Even the MFO's highest award does not begin to confer due recognition of his years of service, from 1990-2014, as the voice and face of the MFO in Israel. Tirelessly working for the MFO mission, even until the hours before his sudden passing, he contributed the talents of a polymath to everything he did, with keen intelligence and insight, an amazing personal convergence of communications, analytic, literary and technical skills, and always with great humanity, warmth, and a great sense of humor. A man of great culture and erudition, combined with practical experience from the U.s. Navy to the U.s. Foreign service, his grace and personality opened many doors for the MFO, not only in Government and with Embassies in Israel, but in all walks of life. his bond with his staff in the MFO Israel office was based on true collegiality, respect and friendship. With all his skills and passion, he threw himself into every project of the MFO, which he loved and served with unflagging enthusiasm and dedication. In so many ways, on so many issues and projects, the MFO is the better for his many contributions to our mission of peace, and the worse for the sudden loss of his creative talents, his passion for his work, and his always ready and generous friendship. We are bolstered by the fact that Michael loved what he was doing, and that he was able to continue to work for peace and to help make a difference right up until his untimely passing. 

 

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