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Tribute to Canadian Senator Jerahmiel ‘Jerry’ Grafstein

  • Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin
    US












Senate

111th Congress, First Session

Madam President, I wish to draw the attention of my colleagues to the retirement of Jerahmiel S. Grafstein from the Canadian Senate. 

As a member and now as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have had the privilege to know and work with Jerry Grafstein over the years through participation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–the OSCE. I know that my colleague from Ohio, Senator Voinovich, also knows Jerry well, having just worked with him on a resolution at this year’s Annual Session of the Assembly in Vilnius, Lithuania, on combating anti-Semitism. I suspect that many of my other Senate colleagues have also worked with him over the years, as have many of our colleagues in the House of Representatives. 

Anybody who has met Senator Grafstein immediately recognizes him as a man of tremendous energy, deep commitment and brilliant mind. Commenting on Jerry’s career, one of his Canadian Senate colleagues noted the daunting task of paying tribute “to a force of nature disguised as a person.” A successful lawyer, businessman and member of the Liberal Party, he was summoned to the Canadian Senate in 1984. Jerry Grafstein’s accomplishments over the next 25 years of public service are much more than I can relay here. 

I do, however, want to highlight Jerry’s prominent work with the 56-country, 300-member OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Serving for 6 years as the Assembly’s treasurer and then, with me since 2007, as one of nine Vice Presidents, Jerry has understood the potential of this multilateral parliamentary forum to promote human rights, democracy and tolerance. Such a vital forum, however, does not just magically appear for the world’s benefit. Someone has to take the time to make it function by participating as an officer, attending countless organizational meetings and, for us and our Canadian neighbors, traveling frequently across the Atlantic to do so. Jerry was one who rose to the challenge and then some. 

Even as he helped on organizational matters, Jerry Grafstein found more time than most others to focus on substance. First and foremost, he has helped to lead the charge against rising anti-Semitism across Europe and around the world. Diplomacy has a tendency to soften the criticism and downplay the negative, often until it is too late, but Jerry has helped to ensure that the OSCE did not shy away from dealing directly with this and other manifestations of hate and prejudice that dangerously confront far too many societies. Today, thanks to the vigilance of Jerry Grafstein and others, efforts to promote greater tolerance are now a solid, ongoing and vital aspect of the OSCE’s work. 

This distinguished Senator from Canada also found time to participate and help lead OSCE PA missions observing elections and referenda in places like Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Montenegro. By being an international observer, he became a witness to history and, in my view, helped history forward and made the world a more democratic place. 

In all his public endeavors, Jerry Grafstein has been a close friend of the United States of America. He has helped over the years to develop the bilateral dialogue between the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament. He has come here to Washington on many occasions, including as a participant in Helsinki Commission events. He has always made clear that he is Canadian and proud of the country he represents, but that has never kept him from developing areas of common interest and seeking points of agreement even on some issues where our national views may otherwise diverge. 

Jerry Grafstein has been and will remain a close personal friend as well, always concerned, always engaging, never pretentious. I wish him and his wife Carole the very best. Although he deserves some time off, I am confident that he will remain prominent in the life of the vibrant city of Toronto. 

In noting the many accomplishments of Jerahmiel Grafstein and thanking him for his commitment to public service, I respectfully borrow the Canadian Senate’s tradition and join his colleagues in saying: “Hear, Hear!” On a personal level, I believe I speak for numerous colleagues of my own in saying that Jerry will be missed, and always welcome to come and visit.

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