I find myself deeply disturbed by the Obama administration’s abandoning its support of its State Department anti-Semitism official, Hannah Rosenthal, for her mild rebuke of the Israeli ambassador for his refusal to attend the J Street national conference. Rosenthal has become the bete noire of the Israel lobby and attacked for her former role as a member of the J Street board. Supposedly holding such a position identifies her as being insufficiently supportive of this Israeli government.
The Israeli response to Rosenthal’s remarks has been the equivalent of a firestorm and characteristically disingenuous:
Senior government officials told Haaretz on Friday that “We were surprised at Ms. Rosenthal’s remarks, as reported in Haaretz.” The officials stressed that he comments “don’t reflect the nature of the relations between Israel and the U.S., nor do they reflect the great respect and appreciation of the ambassador and his staff felt both in Jerusalem and in Washington.”
Does Israel really believe that the Obama administration is pleased that Oren stiffed J Street, when the former sent its national security advisor as the conference keynote speaker?? As for holding Oren in “great respect” such respect is in the eye of the beholder, in this case, Israel. I can’t speak for the Administration, but Oren is held in disrepute by most peace-loving American Jews. He’s a weasel and little more than an elegant fob for the rightist Israeli government.
I’d like to bring further proof of my claim. The Forward reports that Oren gave a deeply disingenuous report to a Conservative Jewish gathering in DC in which he claimed that a Conservative Jewish supporter of Women of the Wall was NOT arrested by Israeli police at a demonstration a few weeks ago. This despite the fact that Haaretz reported that she WAS forcibly arrested, questioned at a police station for 2 1/2 hours and forced to sign a statement that she would refrain from coming to the Kotel for 15 days.
Based on a highly reliable source, I believe that Oren knew he was lying when he made this statement. The Forward has reported that Oren has withdrawn with his tail between his legs and now blames the Israeli officials who briefed him on the matter for misspeaking. He didn’t misspeak. He thought he could get away with lying. Only when he was called on it did he attempt to backtrack, rather feebly.
He promised a further “inquiry” to clarify the matter. Don’t hold your breath.
Further, this meeting with Conservative Jews was the same one at which Oren blasted J Street claiming fraudulently that it never supported the policies of any Israeli government. They say that a diplomat is a man who happily lies in service to his country. That couldn’t be truer in Oren’s case.
Returning to Rosenthal, the Israelis have exhibited further chutzpah in this statement:
Senior Israeli officials told their American colleagues that it was unacceptable for an administration official to publicly criticize Israel’s ambassador over his relationship with Jewish organizations…
Why? What’s sacred about the ambassador’s non-existent relationship with J Street such that it cannot be faulted by an American Jew who happens to serve in the Administration?
What disappoints me most about the Rosenthal affair is the Administration rolling over in the face of Israeli displeasure:
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, issued a statement distancing himself from Rosenthal’s remarks. Statements were also delivered to the Israeli embassy in Washington stating that Rosenthal’s sentiments do not reflect the position of the U.S. administration.
Cowards. Wimps. Rosenthal was right. She said nothing radical or uncivil or embarrassing to the U.S. They should’ve released a statement saying merely that Rosenthal was speaking in a personal capacity and that her views don’t necessarily reflect those of the Administration. To renounce what she said is chicken-shit.
Of course, one has to understand that the reporters who wrote this story are two of Israel’s great stenographers on behalf of the government and power elite. Neither Barak Ravid nor Natasha Mozgovaya ever deviate from the party line in government ministries in Israel. So whether they’re reporting accurately the U.S. government response, or merely reporting the response as their government minders would like them to isn’t clear.
The Conference of Presidents, run by that neocon Israel-firster, Malcolm Hoenlein, has denounced Rosenthal and asked for her head:
Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations…issued a condemnation of Rosenthal’s remarks, casting doubt over her ability to fulfill her responsibilities as an opponent of anti-Semitism.
“As an official of the United States government, it is inappropriate for the anti-Semitism envoy to be expressing her personal views on the positions Ambassador Oren has taken as well as on the subject of who needs to be heard from in the Jewish community. Such statements have nothing to do with her responsibilities and, based upon comments I am already receiving, could threaten to limit her effectiveness in the area for which she is actually responsible,” said the statement.
What Solow (I’ll bet this statement was written for him by Hoenlein or his PR flack) really means to say is that Rosenthal has no right to criticize any Israeli official even when his actions are detrimental to U.S. policy, as Oren’s were. That notion of the Israeli ambassador as sacred cow is preposterous. J Street represents an entirely legitimate Jewish organization that supports U.S. policy and advances the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Oren’s refusal to engage with them is a slap at J Street and indirectly a slap at Obama administration Middle East policy.
While I have no doubt that Rosenthal’s views were deeply personally held. That doesn’t make them personal views alone in this context. They were legitimate views about policy and as such she had a right to make them and her government should’ve supported her more fully.
I hope someone in the Administration will slap down the Conference and Hoenlein before they get too big for their britches. If they don’t, the next thing you know they’ll be on the warpath for Hannah Rosenthal’s scalp. We owe her support in that eventuality.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.