NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

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Abe Pollin was the longest-tenured owner of an NBA team. He owned the Washington Wizards franchise for 46 years.
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Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin presents a trophy to NBA superstar Michael Jordan for scoring more than 30,000 points in his career.

In Memoriam: Abe Pollin

Morris Pollin locked the door behind him and issued an ultimatum to the men in the room. “Nobody leaves here until we raise the money,” he said.

Seated around the table were 20 leaders of the Washington Jewish community. World War II had just ended, and the horrors of the Holocaust had become widely known. Jewish refugees in Europe needed help reaching the Land of Israel. Morris was determined not to sit and watch while virtually all the rest of the world did nothing.

He convinced the men in the room to contribute every dollar they could. The next morning, they bought an old steamship in the port of Baltimore that would be used to transport Jewish refugees from Europe to British-controlled Palestine. The men renamed the ship Exodus. The rest, as they say, is history.

From Father to Son

Morris’ son, Abe, was in the room with his father on that day more than 60 years ago. It was a moment that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

Abe learned from his father that the safety of Israel and the Jewish people could never be taken for granted. That’s why he got involved in politics, and that’s why he got involved with AIPAC many decades ago. He was an AIPAC National Board member since 1992 and was president of the Near East Report board as well. In more recent years, he was instrumental in helping AIPAC secure its new headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In his decades of pro-Israel advocacy, Abe was friendly with U.S. presidents and Israeli prime ministers alike. He had a particularly close friendship with Bill Clinton; in 1993, he hosted an inaugural gala for the newly elected president at his Washington sports arena.

Abe was also friends with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; the two met when Rabin was Israel’s ambassador to the United States in the 1970s. The pair would play tennis together whenever they had time. After an assassin’s bullet killed the Israeli prime minister in 1995, Abe was so moved by the tragedy that he changed the name of his NBA franchise, the Washington Bullets, to the Washington Wizards.

"My friend Rabin was shot in the back," Pollin told The Washington Post, when he returned from the funeral in Israel. "The name Bullets for a sports team is no longer appropriate. That is more important than the history of the franchise." BACK TO TOP

A Friend of Israel—and a Mensch

Abe was one of the most successful businessmen in Washington, D.C. He was the longest-tenured owner of an NBA team, having owned the Washington Wizards franchise for 46 years.

But despite his tremendous clout in the nation’s capital, Abe’s number one priority in politics was to encourage lawmakers to support strong ties between the United States and Israel. That was the main reason he went to lobby on Capitol Hill.

And when he paced the halls of Congress, everybody recognized him—members, staffers, security guards, custodians and everyone in between. It was difficult for him to be on time to meetings with so many people stopping him to say hello, but Abe made sure to greet each of his fans. In a town where power and status often define people, Abe did not discriminate between men and women with impressive titles and those with no title at all.

In addition to being a pro-Israel advocate and an accomplished businessman, Abe was also a generous philanthropist. In the days after his death, everyone from grateful college graduates who attributed their education to his generosity, to basketball superstars who attributed their life choices to his mentoring, had words of gratitude for the famous Washingtonian. BACK TO TOP

A Devoted Husband

No one was closer to Abe than Irene, his wife of 64 years. The pair married in 1945, when Abe was 21 years old. Irene traveled often with her husband, and she shared his passion for Israel advocacy.

On the afternoon of Nov. 24, a dozen yellow roses arrived for Irene. The accompanying card read: “Happy Thanksgiving, Love, Abe.” As Irene said thank you to her husband of 64 years, his heart stopped beating.

“The doctors said the disease simply stopped his heart,” said Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, in a eulogy at Washington Hebrew Congregation, “which seems impossible… for you who gather here this day; for you know by deed and by love that Abe’s heart was exceptional …it was loyal, it was loving, it was brave...it was filled always with simple, humble gratitude for the gift of life …the gift of love.”

For his warmth, leadership and commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, Abe Pollin will be deeply missed and always remembered.
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