US Sen. John McCain, who died of cancer in Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday at the age of 81, was a man of integrity, an American patriot and a good friend of Israel. McCain, a Republican who served in the Senate for three decades comprising six terms, left Washington in December after being diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor in July. On Friday his family announced his decision to discontinue medical treatment.

McCain was a fighter and a hero. He served as fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, and spent more than five years as a POW after his plane was shot down, enduring torture that left him with lifelong disabilities.
A member of Congress representing Arizona since 1983, he ran for president twice. In 2000, he was beaten in the Republican primary by George W. Bush. He won the nomination in 2008 – choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate – but lost the presidential race to Barack Obama. He was a constant critic of both Obama and US President Donald Trump, yet was admired across the political spectrum.

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McCain was a strong advocate of Israel’s right to exist and protect itself, as well as US aid to Israel. In an address to AIPAC in 2002, he said that “no American leader should be expected to sell a false peace to our ally; consider Israel’s right to self-defense less legitimate than ours; or insist that Israel negotiate a political settlement while terrorism remains the Palestinians’ preferred bargaining tool.”

He strongly condemned the outgoing Obama administration in 2016 for not vetoing the UN Security Council Resolution against Israeli settlements, calling it “another shameful chapter in the UN’s bizarre anti-Israel history.” He was also a vocal opponent of Iran’s nuclear program, and led the opposition in Congress to Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

McCain visited Israel numerous times, beginning in the 1970s, often with fellow senators and friends Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. In 2013, at a news conference at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, McCain and Graham urged the Obama administration to take “decisive” action against the Assad regime, warning that “Syria is literally blowing apart.” Their pleas were ignored, and the Syrian civil war raged on.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post at that news conference, McCain expressed doubt about then-secretary of state John Kerry’s efforts to reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. His words still ring true today.

“We are a bit skeptical about the chances of success, but I think it’s very important for all of us to understand that the Israeli government is ready to go into negotiations with no preconditions,” he said. “It seems to me it would be appropriate for the Palestinian side to go into these negotiations with no preconditions, and that is the best way, I think, to achieve a lasting settlement.”

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McCain had the rare knack, in today’s political climate, of cutting across party lines. Obama, who is due at McCain’s request to deliver a eulogy at his funeral in Annapolis together with Bush, said that they had shared, for all their differences, “a fidelity for something higher – the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.” Bush said, “John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order.”

Trump, who unfortunately denigrated McCain’s accomplishments and character while he was alive, joined those who tweeted condolences upon his death.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mourned McCain, describing him as “a great American patriot and a great supporter of Israel.”

President Reuven Rivlin paid tribute to McCain as “a great leader, a defender of his people, a man of strong values, and a true supporter of Israel.” Opposition leader Tzipi Livni called him “a war hero who continued to fight in public life for his beliefs with a clear and steady voice until his last days.”

Similar statements were issued by American Jewish leaders and organizations. AIPAC called him “an extraordinarily courageous defender of liberty,” saying that “throughout his congressional career, Senator McCain stood with Israel – because throughout his life he stood up for America’s allies and our shared democratic values.”

Israel has lost one of its dearest friends and champions, and the world has lost a man of true character.

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