S. Daniel Abraham

S-Daniel Abraham

“Keep going. Keep working for it. Keep fighting for it... We're not going to stay in conflict forever. As much as every day seems like forever, it isn't.”

Peace Activism
1988 – present
S. Daniel Abraham Center for Peace

Interview Date
March 1, 2016

Interviewer
Aliza Becker

 

The Interview

As a young man living in Long Beach, New York, far from the conflict unfolding in Europe, S. Daniel Abraham borrowed money from his father to purchase a mimeograph machine. He used it to publish a newspaper he coined The Long Beach Beacon, in which he urged Americans to “wake up...and start supporting the Allies, because otherwise the Germans are going to occupy the world.” Abraham cites the horrors of war that he experienced as an infantry soldier in World War II as the catalyst for his quest for peace.

Abraham, known affectionately as “Danny”, became involved in Middle East peace efforts after traveling to the region with Congressman Wayne Owens (D-Utah) in 1988, following a chance meeting at a United Jewish Appeal fundraising dinner. While Abraham had frequently visited and had even lived in Israel, this trip was different as they traveled to Arab countries as well as Israel. Abraham “was a little afraid to go” because of his background. “I was a strong Zionist, and I felt all the Arabs were our enemies.” But after meeting “Egyptian President Mubarak and meeting King Hassan of Morocco, we became very friendly. I became friendly with all of the leaders.”

“All of the leaders of the Arab States said basically the same thing. Israel is a Zionist, expansionist state, and we're very concerned about that – not that we're enemies of Israel… We think they're against us…and they think we're against them. People don't stop to try and understand the other side. That was in 1988. The same thing is true today…Our leaders lead us to fear the Arabs, and the Arabs sometimes lead their people to fear Israel when neither one is correct. We don't want war with them, and they don't want war with us.”

Together, Abraham and Owens travelled to the Middle East more than 60 times. In 1989, they co-founded the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. The Center hosted informational workshops and conferences with the goal of impressing upon members of Congress the importance of a two state solution in establishing peace and stability in the region, and brought many members on congressional delegations abroad. Their access to key leaders in the affected countries offered invaluable insight to participants, and led to the organization facilitating the connection of key players during the Oslo process in the 1990s.

As a businessman, Abraham felt well suited to help facilitate peace negotiations. “The first thing you learn in business is the best sales are made after the fifth visit to the buyer. The first visit he throws you out. Get out. I don't want a buy your junk. Ok, then you come back again. I got a special price for you. Get out of here. So, the best sales are made after you hit the guy four or five times. All right. You're a pain in the neck. I'll give you the lot for so much. So, you learn that you have to keep coming.”

Abraham is highly critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administration and the current state of Israeli politics, stating:  “Now, I don't know what the prime minister of Israel wants with the West Bank, whether he wants to occupy the whole thing or not, but he certainly seems that he's not making any effort to bring us to peace...I know Bibi very well. I know that if Bibi wants peace with the Palestinians we would have it. But it doesn't seem to be in his DNA to want it, and he leads now an ever-increasing ultra Right group of Israelis."

“Israel today is the strongest military nation on earth per capita. Stronger than every Arab nation in the Middle East combined... ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ as Roosevelt said. But there are people that stir up the well of hatred and of fear. They're going to come and get us…I believe the Prime Minister of Israel is one of those types of people….If we have a better, different prime minister who really wants to have peace with Palestinians, ba-boom, we would have peace. But we'd have to give up the West Bank, almost to the '67 border but with equal swaps.

“What are we afraid of?

Biography

Daniel Abraham was born in 1924 and was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home. His father was an ardent Zionist, a follower of the right wing Zionist Ze'ev Jabotinsky. His passion for politics was passed down to his son, who as a teen used a mimeograph he purchased to print an independent newspaper calling on Americans to “wake up” to the Nazi threat.

Years later, Abraham served in the United States Army as an infantry soldier in World War Two’s European Theater. His wartime experiences made an indelible impression that influenced his lifetime pursuit of peace.

Abraham moved with his wife and four daughters to Israel in 1970, where he lived through another armed conflict, the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He described his political affiliation at this time as “ultra-right”, living in fear that the Egyptians would invade their city. “So we had an entresol which is built off the ceiling to store things...If they come up to the apartment on the fifth floor in Netanya, hide the girls there.” He and his family returned to the United States in 1978.

A decade later, he met Congressman Wayne Owens at a 1988 United Jewish Appeal (UJA) meeting, sparking an unlikely friendship. Congressman Owens represented a district in Utah and was a lifelong member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. A week after sharing a table at the UJA event, Owens called Abraham and asked that he join him on a trip to the Middle East because he wanted to see the region “through his eyes.” Abraham immediately agreed; the trip was transformative, and marked the beginning of a shift in Abraham’s perspective on how best to achieve peace in the region.

Owens and Abraham formed a partnership and founded the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace a year later. Their mission: to work “with leaders, policymakers, and constituencies in the United States and the Middle East to help reach a just and comprehensive peace that will bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Owens passed away unexpectedly in 2002, and the Center continues its mission in his loving memory. Since 2010, the Honorable Robert Wexler has served as president and Abraham continues to have hands-on involvement.

Aside from his dedication to the Center, Abraham is also an extremely successful entrepreneur. His company, Thompson Medical, introduced the hugely popular Slim-Fast line of diet products in the late 1970s. Unilever acquired Slim-Fast for $2.3 billion in 2000.

Abraham is involved in a number of philanthropic projects. He is also a long-time donor to the Democratic Party and the Clinton Foundation.

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