(May 2, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) A seven-time all-star professional football player, Jack Kemp was equally successful in his political career. In the course of that second career, he authored one of history’s most influential pieces of tax legislation, served in George H. W. Bush’s cabinet and was a Republican nominee for vice president.
He was also an extraordinary friend of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Raised in Los Angeles’s Wilshire district, an Orthodox enclave, he attended a mostly Jewish high school. As with his later experiences playing football alongside black teammates, this set him on a lifelong path of appreciation and respect for his peers.
Almost as soon as he was elected to Congress, Kemp helped co-found the Congressional Coalition for Soviet Jewry. It was a cause that also became a passion for his wife; they attended countless meetings and events to raise awareness on the issue. Kemp then became one of the original co-sponsors of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to ensure that Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union actually happened.
Later, in 1991, as U.S. Housing Secretary, he met with Israel’s Housing Minister Ariel Sharon. It was an act made in deliberate and conscious revolt against the wishes of the State Department, but it was Kemp’s way of showing the world which side he was on and demonstrating his support for it.
As a prominent member of the Republican Party, Kemp made every effort to ensure that the GOP would recognize the importance of the Israel-U.S. alliance and the virtues of the State of Israel. He was one of the Republican Party’s strongest pro-Israel voices. His courageous leadership on the issue of Israel influenced many up-and-coming political figures in the party, including future House Speaker Paul Ryan, that America should always stand with Israel.
Kemp “instinctively knew that Israel stood with America on the front lines of human freedom,” said one of his colleagues, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, “… he was a leader throughout his time in Congress in building the support for Israel that exists to this day.”
The “bleeding-heart conservative,” as Kemp called himself, remained committed to righteousness throughout his life—from combating discrimination and poverty while in Congress to later helping to establish the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
In championing Israel, Kemp repeatedly explained that Israel was like America when it began: “a city on the hill, a place where it was important to protect, defend and display the light of freedom.”