JCRC Mourns Passing of Vice President Walter Mondale
The most consequential Vice President in American history, Mondale was instrumental in achieving Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt
April 20, 2021
The JCRC mourns the passing of Minnesota statesman and former Minnesota Attorney General, Senator and Vice President Walter Mondale. The most consequential Vice President in American history, Walter Mondale’s critical efforts at Camp David were critical in the success of the Camp David Accords which ended the conflict between Israel and Egypt. For decades, Mondale was a great friend to Minnesota’s Jewish community and we will miss his graciousness, generosity, and wisdom dearly.
From the time he came to Macalester College from Ceylon, MN—the son of a minister and a part-time music teacher—Vice President Mondale was deeply immersed in championing civil rights. As Minnesota Attorney General in 1963, he led a group of twenty-three state Attorneys General submitting an amicus brief in support of the right to counsel for indigent defendants in the Gideon case.
Walter Mondale’s early years in the Senate were dedicated significantly to civil rights issues. In support of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he told the Minneapolis Spokesman on March 4, 1965: ‘Who are we—we who enjoy all our rights—to tell the Negro to be patient or set time-tables for the exercise of his Constitutional rights. The time for patience is past. The insistent demands for Freedom Now require action now—action by an effective federal instrumentality.’ President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965.
Senator Mondale co-authored the Fair Housing Act of 1968 with Sen. Edward Brooke (R., Mass) who was the first popularly elected African American United States Senator. The legislation came to the floor of the Senate shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mondale urged the Senate to fulfill’s King’s dream ‘by moving quickly to provide employment and housing opportunities for all blacks and whites.’ Among the law’s provisions was officially making the use of racial restrictive covenants illegal. Restrictive housing covenants were one of the primary drivers behind the segregation of the Twin Cities.
As Vice President, Mondale forever changed the role of the office with the responsibilities he assumed—including his vigorous role and voice in United States foreign policy. His Test of Civilization speech to the United Nations Conference on Indochinese Refugees in July 1979 summoned the world’s conscience on behalf of the desperate people of southeast Asia. Explicitly he referenced the failure of the Evian Conference to help the Jews of Germany in the most desperate year of 1938. Comparing the two situations he urged: “[t]he question they underline is not simply humanitarian…[i]t is a test of civilization….”
Ten months earlier, President Jimmy Carter staked his presidency on successful negotiations between Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat at Camp David. Vice President Mondale’s long standing friendship with then Defense Minister of Israel (and future President of Israel) Ezer Weisman was a critical back channel to Begin as the intricate, intimate and fateful negotiations were on the verge of collapse. The Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979, which resulted from the Camp David talks, has maintained the peace for more than four decades.
Civil rights, Democratic politics and Israel among other facets anchored the deep and enduring partnership between Walter Mondale and the Minnesota, Upper Midwest and national Jewish communities. I had the chance over the years to interview Walter Mondale about many of these topics for which he was always generous with his time and recollections.
I close with a couple favorite pictures of Walter “Fritz” Mondale: celebrating his 90th birthday with the JCRC and the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs with keynote speaker Stuart Eizenstat (bel0w), as well as a much earlier photo of Walter Mondale, Joan Mondale, and Eleanor Mondale visiting with Golda Meir at her home in Jerusalem (at top).
As the public affairs voice of the Jewish community, the JCRC fights antisemitism and prejudice, advocates for Israel, provides Holocaust education, promotes tolerance and social justice, and builds bridges across the Jewish and broader communities.