Thursday, August 6, 2009
Cause he sure isn't going to be with the Israeli Foreign Ministry long, at least if this description of a three-page letter he sent to Netanyahu's office is accurate. Tamir is our local Israeli Consul, last seen in...uh...discussion (I wouldn't call it much of a debate) with PLO representative Husam Zomlot.
Israel's consul-general in Boston sent a blunt and extremely critical letter of Israel's policies toward the US to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Channel 10 reported Thursday, saying that Israel's policies were causing damage to strategic ties with the US.
In the three-page letter, entitled "Sad passing thoughts on Israeli-US relations," Nadav Tamir wrote that the perception of a conflict between Israel and the Obama administration was harming US public support for Israel, and causing it more damage than the Second Lebanon War or Operation Cast Lead.
"The way in which we are conducting the relationship with the US government is causing Israel strategic damage. The distance created between us and the Obama administration has clear implications on Israeli deterrence," Tamir was quoted as writing.
The Israeli consul went on to say that narrow political considerations were contributing to the deterioration of the ties. "There are people in the US and Israeli politics who ideologically oppose [US President Barack] Obama, and are willing to sacrifice the special relationship between the two countries in order to advance their political agenda."
He also took the government to task for making differences with the US public, while Washington was trying to downplay them. "There have always been differences in the stances of the two countries, but the governments were careful to make sure they were coordinated," he reportedly wrote.
According to Tamir, many in the US were lumping Israel together with Iran and North Korea as disobedient governments that Obama had to deal with.
The current situation, he said, is hurting American Jewry as well.
"The atmosphere of confrontation between the Israeli government and the Obama administration puts the American-Jewish community, which is so important to us, in a difficult position," he wrote. "Many of them are distancing themselves from the state of Israel because of this conflict."...
Which Americans are those? The lefties at J-Street perhaps? The Democrat Party hack Jews at CJP who are comfortable with supporting Israel only when doing so is useful to their party and completely compatible with their far left of center political views? Don't forget, this is the Boston Consul General, after all. What American Jews has he been talking to? One can easily imagine Tamir protesting, "But none of the American Jews I talk to support Netanyahu or Lieberman!"
The article doesn't describe what particular policies Tamir believes are splitting us apart, but this American Jew sees things exactly the opposite. In fact, what I'm seeing (and also hearing from an increasing number of people and groups who are traditional Democratic constituencies -- there have been so many recently that it's hardly worth reviewing) are that it's the Obama Administration's naive and reckless policy choices and their unprecedented public conduct that are causing rifts between the two countries and within the domestic community. I haven't seen any lumping of Israel in with Iran and North Korea, at least not beyond the usual suspects (and they'd probably consider lumping Israel in with those other two as a compliment).
So again I ask, 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? Is he waiting to pull the rip-cord on a golden parachute? If so, who packed it for him? Inquiring minds want to know.
Update: Full text of the letter as it was forwarded to me is below...
> Subject: Pondering American-Israeli relations
During a visit to Israel, I became more aware that we have a damaging misunderstanding regarding the intentions and policies of the American administration. I must note that even if I am wrong in my assessment of the American administration, the way in which we manage our relations nowadays is causing strategic damage to two very important aspects that make up our special relationship and they are the level of intimacy in coordinating policies, and the support of US public opinion towards Israel.
Many who read this telegram have a more extensive perspective than I do regarding the history of these relations. However, at least during the 16 years in which I have been following the relations, the Israeli attitude was characterized and rightly so by emphasizing the partnership of values and interests among both countries. This attitude favored downplaying tactical differences, and dealing with them in private, in order to create an atmosphere of strategic partnership in the administrations and public opinion.
This attitude has resulted in a high level of trust and a willingness of the [US] administration to coordinate various policies with an effort to overcome differences behind closed doors. The Israeli attitude always favored saying Yes to the Americans, rather than a strict No. It was clear to the [Israeli] decision makers that we were dealing with the most important superpower on earth, as well as our closest ally, which meant making sacrifices in favor of strategic relations on various tactical issues. For example, one might mention Prime Minister Sharon's positive answer to the Road Map despite a long list of reservations, in order to preserve the level of intimacy and coordination. One must note that the two countries have always had differences of opinion regarding the settlements, for example, or the issue of Hamas participating in the Palestinian elections, but the level of coordination between administrations and US public perception of the special relationship were maintained.
The damage to US public opinion is already evident from recently held opinion polls, and is expected to worsen. In my estimation, the media coverage, which presents an image of conflict between the Israeli government and the Obama Administration, damages Israeli support in the public eye more than the criticism due to violence and harming civilians during Cast Lead or during the conflict with Hizbullah in 2006.
Throughout the years, opinion polls have shown that the two most significant factors in US public support are the perception of a partnership in values and interests, and the perception that Israel seeks to end the conflict with its neighbors (hence the consistent public support of our right to self defense). These two parameters have suffered greatly recently. In many American circles, there is a feeling these days, that while the Obama administration tries to resolve global conflicts, it must deal with the refusal to cooperate by governments in Iran, North Korea, and Israel. Aaron Miller's words, spoken after the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, clearly show this feeling. He said it was a meeting between Obama yes we can and Netanyahu no you won't.
The sense of conflict between the Israeli government and the Obama administration places the American Jewish community, which we care so much about, in a problematic position, in which they are forced to choose between the two. You must remember that most of the American Jewish community supported Obama (78 percent), and this conflict distances many of them from the State of Israel.
There are, of course, players in American and Israeli politics who oppose Obama ideologically and are willing to sacrifice the special relationship between the countries to further their own political agenda, but we cannot let these players damage the bipartisan attitude that rightly characterized the conduct of Israeli governments toward the US. In this context, we should look at a positive example, like the success of PM Tony Blair, who was an ideological partner of Clinton, and managed to maintain the strategic alliance between the US and the UK despite the change of governments in the US, due to an understanding that this alliance is more important than minor differences between a Labour-led UK and the Conservative Bush administration.
The distance that emerged between us and the American administration has clear consequences regarding Israeli deterrence in our region, and our global status. The astonishing fact that only 8 percent of Israelis see the Obama administration as friendly, while in the rest of the world he enjoys unprecedented popularity, is very disconcerting. This is no doubt a failure by the Obama administration to communicate with the Israeli public, but we at the Foreign Ministry have an interest in changing this situation, which jeopardizes our ability to present ourselves as the US's only true friend in the Middle East.
Some claim it was the Obama administration that preferred to distance itself from us in order to better its relations with the Muslim world. In my estimation, the administration indeed emphasized these differences before the Cairo address in order to get more attention in the Muslim world. However, since then, they have been making an effort to downplay our disagreements, and we have become the source of public displays of disagreement. Even if those who claim that the Obama administration is trying to distance itself from Israel are right, it is unclear to me why we are doing everything in our power to assist it.
As for our suspicions towards the Obama administrations intentions and willingness to supposedly sacrifice Israeli interests in order to appeal to the Muslim world I do not see any indication of this. In my estimation, the Obama administration realizes that the most significant challenge to American interests stems from the Middle East. Their analysis of the Middle East situation matches the one we have heard from our intelligence community in recent years, namely that during the Bush administration, the US lost its influence and levers in the region for various reasons. The intention of the engagement policy is to renew those levers in order to reverse the decline of US influence in the Middle East in the face of a rise in radical influence, led by Iran and Al-Qaeda.
I do not detect any naivte in the attitudes of the Obama administration. On the contrary, I believe they are much more realistic than their Neoconservative predecessors. An example of this is Obama's refusal to fully support the post-election protesters in Iran and speak out against human rights violations, knowing that these statements will only help the [Iranian] regime, and his preference to focus on a response that will preserve American options regarding the Iranian nuclear program.
The Obama administration is determined to take leadership and create influence levers in order to deal with the two most significant strategic challenges to the State of Israel -- the threat posed by Iran and its minions, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fact that they are unresolved poses a threat to our way of life as a Jewish and Democratic state.
There is no country on earth that has more to benefit from the American move than us, and I am surprised that we would rather emphasize negative tactical issues over the positive strategic move, and that we focus on the trees instead of the forest (evident in the Israeli responses to various utterances in the Cairo address). Despite the fact that it is hard to isolate the influence of various factors in foreign policy, I think that the engagement policy deserves at least partial credit for the sorry state of the Iranian Mullah regime, and the fact that the Lebanese elections were at least a departure from recent negative trends.
In order to restore the intimacy and coordination between us and the American administration, and in order to restore our status in public opinion, I suggest that we dramatically change our conduct regarding the Obama administration. Even those of us who suspect the administration's intent (as stated, I am not one of those people) must be reminded that we do not have strategic substitutes for the US, at least not in the foreseeable future.
I suggest that we declare publically that we share the Obama administrations world view and that we are interested in helping promote the policies of empowering moderate forces in the Middle East via an honest attempt at engagement, which will restore American hegemony in the Middle East, and deny radical forces the popularity they enjoyed during the Bush administration.
I suggest that we talk of our ambition for peace and our support of the two state solution more convincingly, and not like we are bowing to American pressure, but like those who understand that this is first and foremost an Israeli interest. I recommend we deal with disagreements regarding construction in the [disputed] territories away from the eyes of the media. History proves that when we present a political initiative, we do not have to deal with other problematic or uncoordinated initiatives.
This does not mean surrendering to every American dictate. As you remember, Prime Minister Sharon refused to promise that we would not respond to missile attacks from Iraq, which meant that the Americans favored destroying rocket launchers placed in Western Iraq in the early days of the American invasion. We shouldn't promise that we won't attack Iran if we feel that all other options have run out because it is indeed a strategic matter, but we must save these discussions for intimate meetings, not the media.
We can continue influencing American policies on Iran, Syria, and the Palestinians far better if we restore our status as partners in the administration's moves, and not a country with which to communicate through State Department briefings, as is done with Venezuela and North Korea.
After reading this I'm thinking I should have entitled this post "Nadav's Gone Native." I'm struck at the similarities among so many foreign service people (of whatever country) who end up taking on the persona of nation they're stationed in. Tamir is doing the same thing that so many American government hacks did during the Bush years when Bush policies (supposedly) were making us unpopular abroad -- rather than doing their job and representing the United States to the world, they got embarrassed and uncomfortable and started blaming America for the difficulties and demanding that WE were the ones who needed to change. Tamir is suffering from the same loss of nerve.
Update 8/10/09: The Boston Globe picks up the story, and there is a letter from the Boston Russian Jewish Community calling for Tamir's recall, here.
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