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Monday, August 10, 2009

Israel's undiplomatic diplomat

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Monday that New England consul general Nadav Tamir should either follow government policy or quit.
"There are several issues regarding this matter which we should take in our stride. In any democracy, there is clear distinction between the professional echelon and the political-diplomatic echelon. The diplomatic echelon makes policy, and the professional echelon must implement that policy," Lieberman said during a staff meeting in his office.

"The policy of this government is different from the policy of the previous government; this is why we were elected. At least four out of five parties in the current coalition have presented a clear ideology...the public knows who it elected and with all due respect to the consul, he is not part of the professional echelon and it is not his job to express political opinions, nor is it his job to criticize the diplomatic echelon."

The foreign minister further said that Tamir intended for the contents of his cable to be leaked to the media.

"The fact that this cable was disseminated so widely shows that he wanted it publicized. Had Tamir wanted to warn or express reservations on a professional level, he could have turned to his direct superintendent or even to the deputy [foreign] minister. None of these people notified me about anything [coming from Tamir]. If someone cannot live with the government's policies, the way is not to slander it and leak things to the media, but to resign. This is what I expect of everyone in the professional echelon."
In Boston, local Jewish leaders have rushed to Tamir's defense.
“He is thoughtful, fair, and insightful. I have found him really to be the best Israeli diplomat I have worked with in my 19 years here,’’ said Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish community Relations Council since 1990. “We have found him to be an amazing partner when it comes to creating and mobilizing support in greater Boston.’’

Steve Grossman, a longtime advocate for Israel and a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, offered an equally ringing endorsement: “I’ve known Israeli consuls general for the last 30 years or so. And I don’t think Israel has had a more effective leader in New England in that time than Nadav Tamir.’’

Grossman said that while he hadn’t seen the memo, Tamir appeared to have been doing precisely what an effective Israeli diplomat should do.

“I think he believed, and believes, he has a responsibility to provide his government with timely and relevant information that will enable them to make the best possible decisions that will affect his government and the US-Israel relationship. And I think that is an entirely legitimate and critical part of his job description,’’ Grossman said.
Amid all the praise for Tamir in Boston, there is one dissenting voice: Fellow blogger Martin Solomon (whom I had the privilege of meeting in Boston in March 2008):
Boston blogger Martin Solomon published what he said was the full text of Tamir’s three-page memo on his Solomonia.com website. He said the memo was sent to him by an undisclosed source in Israel.

Solomon argued in his blog entry that it is the Obama administration’s “naive and reckless’’ Israel and Mideast policies that are causing strains in the US-Israel relationship rather than Israel’s policies.

He asked his readers: “Who has Nadav Tamir been breaking bread with? Many of the people in so-called Jewish ‘leadership’ positions are there by virtue of their checkbooks and connections, and many of those would sell Israel down the river in a heartbeat if it made them uncomfortable at their Cambridge cocktail parties. Have they got their hooks into the local Israeli rep?’’
I agree with Solomon that the strains in the US - Israel relationship are the US's fault and not Israel's. In fact, President Obama has admitted as much, telling Jewish leaders last month that he had decided to 'put some distance' between the United States and Israel.

But the point isn't whether Tamir has 'gone native' as Solomon terms it elsewhere in his post. The point is that Tamir is supposed to be representing this Israeli government's positions in the United States whether he personally agrees with them or not. And if he wanted to send a letter like the one he sent - and although I personally disagree with him he has every right to hold and express his opinion - the way to do it is to send it to Lieberman and Netanyahu in the diplomatic pouch with instructions that it is for them personally and not to release it to a cable television station that is on its last financial legs and seeking headlines, where the letter would undoubtedly become the lead story on the nightly newscast.

The JPost notes that the 'professional staff' at the foreign ministry is quite upset that Tamir has been summoned home:
Inside the ministry, however, there was widespread support for Tamir, amid a feeling by many that summoning him for clarification and a possible reprimand could deter others from writing critical, but honest, cables from their postings abroad.

"There is a feeling of solidarity for Tamir, even if there are those who have criticism of how he wrote and distributed the cable," one official said. "Everyone can picture themselves in his shoes."

The official said that the proper way to deal with the cable would have been for the director-general of the North American desk, or the director-general of the ministry himself, to telephone Tamir and say they did not agree with how he drew his conclusions, or did not think the cable should have been distributed so widely. [That's called a slap on the wrist. It would do nothing to deter the next rebel in the foreign service. CiJ]

But to summon him to Jerusalem was something done on only very rare occasions, and, the official said, left many people in the ministry now concerned about freely airing their criticism.
The foreign ministry staff knows fully well that the way to air criticism is not through a Channel 10 newscast. The reason they're so upset is that they - like Tamir - were mostly hired by Leftist foreign ministers. Their views no longer hold sway in Israel, and as a result of what is happening with Tamir (and I would say the odds are fairly good that he will be fired) they are realizing that they will either have to represent the government's views in public or find other employment.

I'd be happy to see many of these people resign. It would give Netanyahu and Lieberman an opportunity to remake the diplomatic corps with people who actually believe that our main diplomatic goal should be building support for the State of Israel and not building support for a 'Palestinian' state reichlet. It should be an interesting couple of days.


Jonathan Tobin rips Tamir.
While Tamir’s conduct is unusual (he is widely suspected to have leaked the document himself), it is not without precedent. At the start of Netanyahu’s first term in office in the 1990s, Colette Avital, a follower of Shimon Peres, who had just been defeated by Netanyahu, led Israel’s crucial New York consulate. Until she was finally replaced, Avital made it clear to anyone who had contact with her that her office was not there to defend her country’s government, a stance that clearly differed with her conduct when someone whom she liked better than Bibi led it.

Like Avital, Tamir seems deeply frustrated by Israeli voters’ thorough rejection of policies he supports. But like other left-wingers who hope to win by American pressure what they could not achieve at the Israeli ballot box, he sympathizes with an American administration and its Jewish apologists who seek to hammer his own government.

More important than the fate of Tamir is what this incident says about Israel’s ability to defend itself in the United States. Israel has a strong case to make, and it still resonates with the majority of Americans, including the majority of Jews who voted for Obama. But if its appointed representatives are so out of sync with the will of Israel’s voters that they identify more with their country’s American opponents than its defenders, then any efforts to explain to Americans that Israel’s stances on settlements, Jerusalem, and security issues are justified are bound to be compromised.
Yes, Colette Avital came to mind - she is currently one of the Labor MK's who is defying her own party head by not participating in the government.

And as I noted in my first post on this subject it is long past time to clean up Israel's consulates abroad.


At 6:20 PM, Blogger Solomon said...

Thanks for the link, Carl. Correction: The link goes to the trackback on the post. The actual text of the letter is located here: http://www.solomonia.com/blog/archive/2009/08/is-nadav-tamir-bucking-for-a-job-with-j-/index.shtml

My newer post, including a letter from Boston's Russian Jewish Community asking the Israeli government to recall Tamir is here: http://www.solomonia.com/blog/archive/2009/08/israeli-consul-nadav-tamir----welcome-bo/index.shtml

At 7:45 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Agreed. Those who don't agree with government policy are free to resign and express their views as private citizens. They must not be allowed to undermine their country abroad and diplomats must remember they represent their country and serve their government - and yes, they're paid to lie for it.


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