Obituaries for February 23, 2017

Stephen P. Cohen, Middle East intermediary, dies at 71

Stephen Philip Cohen, a Canadian-born academic and Jewish organizational leader who served as a confidential intermediary between Israeli and Arab leaders for three decades, died Jan. 23. He was 71 and had been in poor health.

A social psychologist by training, Cohen arranged and participated in historic breakthroughs between Israel and its neighbors, including meetings with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat prior to Camp David, the first-ever official talks by Israeli intermediaries with the PLO and what he and others called “near-miss” negotiations with Syria.

In 1978, Cohen met with Sadat in Alexandria, Egypt, months after the Egyptian leader had flown to Israel urging its leaders to return the Sinai in exchange for peace. The two discussed the Israeli leadership under Prime Minister Menachem Begin and how the Palestinian situation might play into any agreement between Israel and Egypt. Later that summer, President Jimmy Carter invited Begin and Sadat to Camp David for an intense round of negotiations that led to a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel after three decades of hostilities.

Cohen met PLO leader Yasser Arafat for the first time in 1981, when both Israel and the United States boycotted contacts with the group.

In 1986 Cohen, with the approval of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, arranged a meeting between Israeli intelligence officials Shlomo Gazit and Yossi Ginossar and two main officials of the PLO, breaking a long-standing taboo. The sides met twice more over the next two months, but any progress was cut short when the Likud leader, Yitzhak Shamir, rotated into the premier’s seat. However, much of the content of their talks eventually found its way into formal agreements made between the PLO and Israel years later.

Cohen was close to the administration of President Barack Obama and was reported to have contributed to Obama’s controversial 2009 Cairo speech, in which the president reiterated his call for a two-state solution and called on each side to see the conflict through the eyes of the other. The outgoing White House listed that speech on a list of Obama administration accomplishments in advancing religious freedoms, although it was controversial among pro-Israel groups at the time for the emphasis it put on the Holocaust as a justification for Israel’s founding and legitimacy.

Cohen is survived by his wife, educator Dr. Elaine Shizgal Cohen; daughters Rabbi Tamara, Rabbi Ayelet and Maya Cohen; and several grandchildren.

—JTA News and Features

‘Foremost authority’ Irwin Corey dies at 102

Irwin Corey, a stand-up comic and actor who was often billed as “The World’s Foremost Authority,” died on Feb. 6 in his Manhattan home, the New York Times reported. He was 102, and his death was confirmed by his son, Richard Corey.

Born on July 29, 1914 in Brooklyn as Eli Irwin Cohen, he and his five siblings were placed in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York, a fact the comedian proudly denoted on his website. At age 13, he made his way to California and enrolled in Belmont High School in Los Angeles. The world’s foremost authority in fact only completed one year of high school.

In the early 1940s, Corey returned to New York and began to develop his “professor” character, an absent-minded academic, who found no question too simple to complicate, and notably began his answers with “However.”

Asked to provide advice for aspiring comics, the Huffington Post reported, his advice was: “However … we all know that protocol takes precedence over procedures. This Paul Lindsey point of order based on the state of inertia of developing a centrifugal force issued as a catalyst rather than as a catalytic agent, and hastens a change reaction and remains an indigenous brier to its inception. This is a focal point used as a tangent so the bile is excreted through the panaceas.”

In other words, Corey said, “Marry a rich woman.”

Corey’s wife, Frances, died in 2011. In addition to their son, Richard, Corey is survived by two grandsons and two great-grandchildren. His daughter, Margaret, died in 1997, the New York Times reported. n

—Justin Katz

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