Madeleine Albright, 1st female secretary of state, dies; discovered Jewish heritage at 59

Albright discovered she was Jewish only after being appointed to the post by then-president Bill Clinton in 1997.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State, died Wednesday from cancer at age 84.

Albright was known for encouraging women to reach their full potential. The Ms. Foundation, for example, which advocates for women, included her in its 1997 list of top women role models.

Albright discovered she was Jewish only after being appointed to the post by then-president Bill Clinton in 1997.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Albright “a friend of Israel” who  supported the Jewish state, “emphasizing the obligation of the United States to protect the strategic relationship and Israel’s qualitative [military] edge.

“She was -and still is – an inspiration to us all. May her memory be blessed.”

“Saddened by the passing of Secretary Madeleine Albright, a groundbreaking diplomat, feminist icon & outstanding leader, whom I always admired. Our last correspondence was when she graciously congratulated me on my election. She was a true friend of Israel and we will miss her,” President Isaac Herzog tweeted.

Albright, born in Czechoslovakia in 1937, grew up as a Catholic, not knowing that her parents had converted to Christianity in 1941, fearing antisemitic persecution. They fled their native country for Great Britain in 1939, returned to Czechoslovakia after World War II, and moved on to the U.S. in 1948, fleeing Communism.

Three of Albright’s grandparents were murdered during the Holocaust.

“This was obviously a major surprise to me,” Albright said upon learning she was born Jewish from The Washington Post, which investigated the history of the highest-ranking woman in government at the time. Her parents had never told her.

Albright was a firm believer in the Oslo Accords and played a major role in crafting the 1998 Wye River Memorandum, the follow-up agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which gave the Palestinians full control over 40% of Judea and Samaria.

She was also heavily involved in the 2000 Camp David negotiations, when PA head Yasser Arafat refused then-prime minister Ehud Barak’s offer to establish a demilitarized Palestinian state on some 92% of the disputed territory.

Albright was known as a hawkish Democrat deeply suspicious of tyrannical regimes, yet she supported the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015.

“During my time in office, we offered to engage in dialogue, but the Iranians were not ready,” she wrote for CNN before Congress voted on the controversial agreement.

She was “wary of the Iranian regime and realistic about the prospects for an overnight change in U.S.-Iranian relations. But it is dangerous not to pursue dialogue, and experience convinces me that the nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran is a wise diplomatic initiative.”

“Madeleine Albright was a force for goodness, grace, and decency — and for freedom. Hers were the hands that turned the tide of history. Jill and I will miss her dearly and send our love and prayers to her family,” President Joe Biden stated.