Irene Hirano Inouye, wife of late US senator Dan Inouye, was an honored guest of the Defense Ministry for dedication ceremonies at a secret Arrow defense missile facility and the Israel Arts and Science Academy high school in Jerusalem.
Inouye attended the emotional inauguration of a scholarship in perpetuity in Dan’s memory on Wednesday in the presence of former Israeli ambassadors to the US.
The school represents the principles that Dan believed in, Inouye told The Jerusalem Post in an interview, adding that there “was no better way to continue his memory in Israel.”
Inouye said that the unveiling of a plaque as part of the naming of a building of the Arrow III simulation laboratory on Tuesday was very moving and extraordinary because it was the first time Israel had named a military facility after a non-Israeli.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, past presidents of AIPAC, along with the board of directors attended the ceremony.
Dan Inouye, a US citizen by birth and of Japanese descent, was the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in America’s history. Irene, on her first visit to Israel, is the president of the US-Japan Council based in Washington.
“Dan was an outstanding friend of the Jewish people. A hero to whom Israel owes an historic debt,” former ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, told the Post.
Former envoy to the US and defense minister Moshe Arens told the Post, “There are many friends of Israel in Congress, but I think he was the greatest.”
Inouye was “unbounded” and had “no limits to what he would try to do.”
Furthermore, Arens pointed out that “he was not overly concerned about the settlements,” and he “visited them with me.”
Arens remembered his first visit with the senator who asked him, “Why did you sign that treaty with Egypt?” Former Likud MK Dan Meridor said he did not think there was “anyone more dedicated – a staunch ally to the Jewish people.”
What was special about him was that he was unique because of his background and his long service in Congress. If it was not for him, many Israeli programs would not have come about, he said.
“Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu was one of the first foreign officials to contact me and offer condolences,” said Inouye.
Asked how the dedications came about, Inouye said that Robert Asher, a former president of AIPAC, contemplated doing something special with Netanyahu who told her, “I really would like to do something to honor Dan’s long time commitment to Israel.”
Asher, who is helping coordinate the events, said that after Inouye died in 2012, he had told the PM that the country should do something in his memory.
Asher recalled a story that the senator told him about the time when he was visiting the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv during the First Gulf War, when Iraq was firing scud missiles at Israel.
Hearing the sound of scud missiles outside, Inouye was directed toward the bomb shelter.
“What are they [the Iraqis] firing at?” Inouye inquired.
The official responded, “Probably here.”
“So, I will stay here,” said Inouye.
Inouye said that her husband was well acquainted with Israeli leaders as well as having close ties with the US Jewish community.
He even considered converting to Judaism, she said, but he thought that his mother would have disapproved since she was a devout Methodist.
Dan petitioned to join the US army during World War II and ended up fighting in Italy and France, losing his right arm. It was in the hospital, speaking to a fellow soldier who had liberated a Nazi concentration camp, where he first learned about the Jews.
“Why do people want to kill the Jews,” he asked.
“People hate the Jews,” the soldier responded.
This sparked Inouye’s interest in the Jews and Israel, going on to study about their history and becoming one of their greatest advocates.
Inouye said that the Japanese- American experience of being put into camps during World War II and suffering from discrimination, helped him identify in some way with the Jews.
Concerning the charter high school, that Bob Asher and his wife, Mary Jane, founded over 20 years ago; Inouye said her husband had laid a cornerstone.
Asher points out that one of the largest donations to the school was due to Inouye’s efforts in getting US funding.
On Asher’s monthly visits to Washington, he would meet with Inouye and he always would ask about the school, he said.
Irene Inouye went on a tour of the school and met with talented students, learning about its unique teaching methods, which include a requirement for weekly community service.
The school combines humanities with sciences and has students from all sectors of society.