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Obama administration presses multilateral approach on Iran

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The United Nations Security Council, meeting Dec. 10, hears a briefing from the chairman of the committee established pursuant to the 2006 resolution on Iran sanctions. U.N. Photo

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration continues to favor multilateral sanctions when it comes to pressuring Iran, senior officials have said.

“We want to create coalitions,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a Dec. 10 interview with Al Jazeera when she was asked if the United States was nearing the point when it would impose sanctions unilaterally to persuade Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent. “We want to find common ground with people. There are many things we could go off and do unilaterally, as the prior administration certainly demonstrated. That’s not our chosen path. We would prefer to take some more time, to be more patient, to bring people together to make the case.”

Clinton rebuffed claims that the United States and Europe had failed to persuade other major powers to make common cause on the Iran issue, referring to the recent resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, condemning Iran for failing to cooperate with its inspectors.

“The vote that was accumulated condemning Iran, calling for Iran to act, was shocking to some people because it was so unified,” she said. “It wasn’t just the United States. It was Russia, it was China and many other countries. That’s because we have spent time listening and working hard to create this common ground and these common interests, and we’ve done it out of a sense of mutual respect.”

Congress is pressing forward this week with a package of unilateral sanctions. Clinton’s spokesman, Ian Kelly, denied reports that the State Department was lobbying against the package, but added that the Obama administration prefers the multilateral route.

“We want to make sure that whatever kind of package is being considered, that it’s the right kind of package,” Kelly said in a briefing last Friday. “And I think we also want to be sure that whatever we do, we do it multilaterally. I mean, that just makes good practical sense. Any kind of pressure is going to be more effective if it’s implemented broadly and not simply bilaterally.”

Representatives of the major powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, and China — will meet before year’s end to consider the next steps with Iran in the wake of its rejection of an offer to enrich its uranium to medical research levels in exchange for greater nuclear transparency.

Last Friday, the White House endorsed a statement issued by the Council of European Union, the EU’s foreign policy arm, that warned of a “clear response” to Iranian recalcitrance, an allusion to enhanced sanctions.

“Iran’s persistent failure to meet its international obligations and Iran’s apparent lack of interest in pursuing negotiations require a clear response, including through appropriate measures,” the EU statement said.

The White House endorsement echoed that language.

“If Iran continues to fail to bring its nuclear program into full compliance with the requirements of the United Nations Security Council and the IAEA, there will be consequences and we will be consulting closely with our partners to ensure those consequences are credible,” the White House said. “We will continue to assess Iran’s responses, and together with our partners will take appropriate measures in keeping with our common approach to the Iranian nuclear program.”

JTA

 
 

A very Rahm Chanukah

WASHINGTON – Rahm Emanuel had a serious message about mutual responsibility to make in a pithy, punchy speech before he helped light the “national menorah” Sunday evening on the Ellipse in front of the White House.

Still, the White House chief of staff being, well, himself, he couldn’t resist a couple of one-liners.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who directs American Friends of Lubavitch, rushed in a “thanks” to the performers before calling Emanuel to the stage. After taking the microphone, the Obama aide quipped that “The U.S. Air Force Band, the Three Cantors, and Dreidel Man — sounds a little like the title of a Fellini movie.”

Chanukah 5770

Emanuel went on to make the lessons of Chanukah a paradigm for the collective responsibility for those not able to defend or care for themselves.

“Standing up for what is right, even when it is hard, is not a job for some other people, some other time,” he said. “It is a job for all of us.”

And still, expounding on the holiday miracle, he couldn’t resist a dig at his former habitat, Congress.

“The oil lasted longer than anyone expected — kind of like the health-care debate,” he said.

Chanukah started on a Friday evening this year, which meant that as a result of Sabbath restrictions, the opening ceremony had to wait until the holiday’s third day. That left Emanuel in the unenviable position of having to light three candles from the wind-blown crane he shared with Shemtov; Shemtov’s father, Rabbi Abraham Shemtov; a Secret Service agent; and a photographer.

This involved stretching to extend the shamas to the far end of the candelabrum — the younger Shemtov was ready with a cigarette lighter when the shamas blew out — to the oohs and ahhs of a thrilled and apprehensive crowd, apprehensive except maybe for Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule, who laughed and took pictures as her husband held on for dear life.

The event, dubbed the “national menorah” by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, filled all 4,000 free seats — and then some — despite mud-soaked fields.

And add one more miracle to the Chanukah canon: Drizzling rain, which plagued the D.C.-area over the weekend, stopped just before the festivities started. JTA

This article was adapted from JTA’s politics blog (blogs.jta.org/politics).

 
 

After Oren flap, Rosenthal focuses on anti-Semitism — for now

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 01 January 2010

WASHINGTON – Critics have a simple message for Israel’s top diplomat and the Obama administration’s envoy on anti-Semitism: Reread your job descriptions.

Every Israeli ambassador to Washington launches his tenure by assembling the Israeli and Jewish press and listing what he sees as his priorities: High among them, always, is outreach to U.S. Jews. But less than a year into his tenure, Ambassador Michael Oren — who started his job with a speech stressing that priority — is being criticized by some left-wing organizations, such as Americans for Peace now and Ameinu, for saying that the lobbying group J Street was “fooling around with the lives of 7 million people.”

The position of U.S. Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism is a more recent invention, but its mandate is self-evident: Defend Jews, everywhere. But Hannah Rosenthal’s first media foray in her new role as envoy took the shape of an attack on Oren, a fellow diplomat. In a Dec. 24 interview, Rosenthal told Haaretz that it was “most unfortunate” that Oren had accused J Street, the left-wing pro-Israel group, of endangering Israel. Her comments prompted a sharp rebuke from Alan Solow, a longtime Obama backer and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The flap was the latest revelation of fissures between the Obama administration (backed by some left-wing Jewish groups) on the one hand, and Israel and its establishment U.S. Jewish defenders on the other.

The sniping is in abeyance for now: Rosenthal told JTA she is focused on combating what she sees as increasing anti-Semitism in Europe and the Arab world, and would prefer not to go over the recent back-and-forth.

Oren is in Israel and his embassy staff did not return requests for comment.

Solow, a staunch defender of Oren and Rosenthal’s most prominent critic, says he, too, sees the matter as now resolved.

In his initial, formal statement, Solow had said that some people were suggesting that Rosenthal’s comments “could threaten to limit her effectiveness in the area for which she is actually responsible.” But in his subsequent interview with JTA this week, Solow denied that he had been calling for Rosenthal’s professional head.

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Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, and Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s top official monitoring anti-Semitism, are at the center of the propriety of criticism of Israel and of groups that criticize Israeli policy. Oren photo: Public Domain. Rosenthal photo: Courtesy Hannah Rosenthal

Rosenthal, without prompting, had almost the same message about keeping focused on her mandate. “It’s very important that people gather to talk about the anti-Semitism they’re fearing,” she said. “That’s my job — monitoring — but my job also says ‘combating.’ It’s important to expand the conversation to talk to other ethnic and religious groups.”

At the same time, Rosenthal was unapologetic about her comments on Oren’s slam of J Street — an organization she helped guide as a board member until her appointment last month to the government job.

“The reporter asked me about Oren’s comments, and I said that saying J Street threatens 7 million Jews was ‘most unfortunate,’” she said.

Rosenthal said that she was untroubled that in the wake of her interview Jeffrey Feltman, an assistant secretary of state, issued a statement praising Oren for his role “in maintaining and strengthening [the Israeli-U.S.] relationship through his day-to-day interaction with the administration and Congress on issues of vital importance to both countries and his vigorous outreach to Americans of all origins and points of view.”

The release of the Feltman statement was in itself unusual: It went out to two publications, Haaretz and Politico, and while officials at both the State Department and the White House confirmed its content to JTA, neither would provide the entire statement.

In her Haaretz interview, Rosenthal also veered off the topic of anti-Semitism to discuss Israel’s peace prospects, and she repeated the Obama administration’s mantra about urgent engagement. Her discussion of that subject raised as many official Jewish eyebrows behind the scenes as did her comments about Oren.

Rosenthal said Mideast peace issues are not unrelated to anti-Semitism, because one must know how to separate legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism.

Solow said he would continue to defend Oren because he was confident there was a consensus among the Conference of Presidents’ 50-plus member organizations that that Oren was making strides in improving U.S.-Israel relations, and that it was inappropriate for Rosenthal, an Obama administration official, to criticize him. Solow also said the Conference of Presidents did not have a view on Oren’s criticisms of J Street. Oren made his most recent anti-J Street remark to a conference of leaders of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Behind the scenes, leaders of many Jewish organizations see J Street as fair game: Soon after it was created nearly two years ago, J Street drew attention by lobbing rhetorical bombs at establishment Jewish groups and figures, accusing them of impeding peace by withholding support for vigorous U.S. engagement in the Middle East.

J Street, whose officials were unavailable for comment on this story because of the holiday break, more recently has largely refrained from sharp attacks on other groups.

The flap over Rosenthal and Oren’s comments appears to be part of a larger battle between the Jewish establishment, which still seeks the marginalization of J Street for its views on Israel, and the Democratic establishment, which embraces J Street’s pro-Obama approach to engagement.

One of the jarring aspects of this debate is that the sparring is coming from two figures not known for fighting. Prior to his appointment, Oren had a reputation as an affable scholar; in 2004, at a State Department conference on Israel’s intentions in its deadly attack during the 1967 Six Day War on the USS Liberty, he refused to be baited into name-calling by those who insisted that Israel was targeting the ship and stuck to his prodigious research. And early on, after his appointment to the Washington post, Oren spoke of the need to reach out to U.S. Jewish groups that are critical of his government’s policies but are committed to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

Rosenthal, who served for years as the director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, was known as a consensus-builder for an umbrella group whose bottom line is consensus.

Perhaps not any longer. Asked if she was ready to put this behind her, she said yes, but added: “I don’t forget anything.”

JTA

 
 

Rothman meeting examines U.S.-Israeli missile defense

When Rep. Steve Rothman met late last month with the head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, the two discussed state-of-the-art defense programs that will protect the Jewish state from regional threats while providing the United States with access to superior technology.

Rothman (D-9) sits on the powerful House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, which allocates all funding for U.S. military and joint U.S.-Israel defense projects. The Feb. 23 meeting with Arieh Herzog focused specifically on three missile defense programs: David’s Sling, a short-range ballistic missile defense system; the Aarow 2, an anti-tactical ballistic missile system; and the Arrow 3, an upper-tier system capable of stopping longer range missiles. (See With Murtha gone, what are ramifications for Israel?)

“The joint projects I discussed with director Herzog — and have discussed with the highest level of military and intelligence personnel at the highest level of the U.S. government — will not only provide Israel with superior missile defense systems but will also provide the United States with access to that technology at every stage of development for use by American forces and other American allies,” Rothman told The Jewish Standard earlier this week.

David’s Sling, which Rothman said has almost completed full testing, is designed to protect against Kassam rockets from Gaza and Katyushas from Lebanon. Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and the American defense contractor Raytheon are jointly developing the system. The first live-fire test of the system is expected sometime this year.

Asked about Israel’s Iron Dome system, which the Jewish state developed on its own to protect against Kassam rockets, Rothman said it provides a larger defense radius than David’s Sling, but both would contribute to “Israel’s defensive umbrella.”

The Arrow 2 system is already operational. It is designed to protect against lethal short- to medium-range ballistic missiles, such as those currently located in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

The Arrow 3 system is designed to intercept a future Iranian or other long-range missile that achieves its range by leaving Earth’s atmosphere. Unlike the Arrow 2 warhead, which can explode without directly hitting its target, the Arrow 3 needs to directly strike the offensive missile. This, Rothman said, makes the Arrow 3 a less expensive system than its predecessor since it requires fewer explosives and thus has a smaller payload to carry.

“One of the benefits of the Arrow 3 is it will be cheaper to make and more can be acquired in Israel’s and America’s defensive arsenal for less money, yet [they will] get the job done,” Rothman said.

Israel and the United States have worked on the Arrow project since the late 1980s, and Israel deployed the first Arrow battery in October 2000. The system is a project of Israel Aerospace Industries and Boeing. Developers hope the Arrow 3 will be operational sometime between 2012 and 2014, Rothman said.

Rothman and Herzog discussed “every potential threat to Israel’s security, including the Iranian threat,” Rothman said, without going into further detail. The meeting was not a response to any specific threat, Rothman noted, but rather was part of a regular series of meetings he holds with the IMDO.

Israel advocates have criticized President Obama’s policies toward Israel, specifically regarding pressure on the Jewish state to make concessions in the Palestinian peace process. Rothman, however, said that military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries has never been higher than under Obama.

 
 

Obama’s bullying of Israel

 

At AIPAC, Clinton gets friendship, Bibi gets love

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to thousands of pro-Israel activists in Washington at the annual AIPAC policy conference on Monday. AIPAC

WASHINGTON – Hillary Rodham Clinton to AIPAC: We’ll keep complaining about building in Jerusalem.

Benjamin Netanyahu to same: And we’ll keep building.

Guess which speech got the bigger cheers.

To be sure, in speeches this week at the annual AIPAC policy conference, all sides repeatedly stressed complete confidence in the durability and necessity of a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship, and highlighted areas of agreement, first and foremost the need for tough action to block Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Several key differences were on display, however, as the Israeli prime minister, the U.S. secretary of state, and the leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee did not back down from their bottom lines.

AIPAC officials insisted that disagreements between Jerusalem and Washington take place behind closed doors. Clinton said the Obama administration will make its unhappiness clear and public when it regards an Israeli action as undermining the peace process.

For Netanyahu and AIPAC, Jerusalem is off the table; for Clinton it’s very much part of the discussion.

Clinton went out of her way to praise the Palestinian Authority; Netanyahu went of his way to criticize it.

The two speeches Monday — Clinton for breakfast and Netanyahu for dinner — culminated two weeks of tensions sparked when Israel announced a major housing start in eastern Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that had been aimed at underscoring the close U.S.-Israel friendship and restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“It is our devotion to this outcome — two states for two peoples, secure and at peace — that led us to condemn the announcement of plans for new construction in East Jerusalem,” Clinton said. “This was not about wounded pride. Nor is it a judgment on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be settled at the negotiating table. This is about getting to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it, and staying there until the job is finally done.”

Clinton’s mild rebuke brought surprising, if light, applause. It was a mark of the success of repeated pleas from AIPAC’s leadership to more than 7,500 activists in attendance to keep things civil. Clinton earned standing ovations coming in and out, and there was no audible booing.

Netanyahu’s Jerusalem encomium, by contrast, brought the house down — delivering perhaps the biggest cheers during this year’s conference.

“The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today,” he said. “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.”

Netanyahu’s message in meetings with U.S. leaders, his spokesmen said, was that the dispute over Jerusalem could delay peace talks by a year.

AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr and President Lee Rosenberg were equally as determined to make Israel’s point, almost to the word.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement,” Kohr said in the line of the morning that brought the greatest cheering. “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

Kohr also made the case for keeping such disputes out of public view.

“When disagreements inevitably arise, they must be resolved privately as is befitting close allies,” he said.

That’s been the mantra of AIPAC, along with the center and right in the pro-Israel community — and Clinton turned it around.

The announcement of new construction in the west bank and eastern Jerusalem, she said, “exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit. And it undermines America’s unique ability to play a role — an essential role, I might add — in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree to say so, and say so unequivocally.”

It was clear, though, that Clinton was sensitive to Israeli and pro-Israel complaints that the opprobrium she had heaped onto Israel — she called the building announcement an “insult” — was one-sided and that she had ignored Palestinian violations.

In fact, her spokesmen have condemned Palestinian incitement. And Monday, Clinton picked up the two signal issues that have exercised Israel’s advocates: the naming of a public square in Ramallah for a terrorist who led a deadly 1978 attack, and Palestinian rioting greeting the rededication of an Old City synagogue destroyed during the 1948 Independence War.

“These provocations are wrong and must be condemned for needlessly inflaming tensions and imperiling prospects for a comprehensive peace,” Clinton said to applause.

Clinton leavened her calls for an end to incitement by attempting to shift blame for the naming of the square from the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority to Hamas. And she had praise for the PA leadership.

“We commend the government of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for the reforms they’ve undertaken to strengthen law and order, and the progress that they’ve made in improving the quality of life in the west bank,” she said.

Netanyahu had only criticism.

“What has the Palestinian Authority done for peace?” he asked. “They have placed preconditions on peace talks, waged a relentless international campaign to undermine Israel’s legitimacy, and promoted the notorious Goldstone report that falsely accuses Israel of war crimes.”

AIPAC, Israel, and the Obama administration have differences on Iran as well. AIPAC activists pushed hard for enhanced Iran sanctions when they lobbied Tuesday afternoon on Capitol Hill, while the administration wants time to exhaust the prospect of multilateral sanctions.

Here, though, Clinton was able to throw the crowd some meat, saying that whatever sanctions emerged, they would not be glancing.

“Our aim is not incremental sanctions but sanctions that will bite,” she said. “It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring these nuclear weapons.”

Rosenberg, just inaugurated as AIPAC’s president and a key fund-raiser in candidate Barack Obama’s presidential run, also made sure to hit affectionate notes, noting Clinton’s pronounced pro-Israel record in her eight years as a U.S. senator from New York. Among other things, she led the successful effort to force the International Committee of the Red Cross to recognize Israel’s Magen David Adom.

Netanyahu made sure to praise Obama for increasing security cooperation.

“From one president to the next, from one Congress to the next, America’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unwavering,” he said. “In the last year, President Obama and the U.S. Congress have given meaning to that commitment by providing Israel with military assistance, by enabling joint military exercises, and by working on joint missile defense.”

Kohr, the longtime AIPAC director, used the policy conference to outline the group’s priorities. He focused on gaining Israel its deserved entry into the international community through membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which coordinates economic policy in the developed world; getting Israel a seat on the U.N. Security Council; and forging a closer relationship between Israel and NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

All have been Israeli priorities for years, but throughout the Bush administration and the prevalence of neoconservatism in its foreign policy, AIPAC’s embrace of these issues was low-grade. In fact, in making the case for advancing Israel in the United Nations, Kohr even asked: “Now, some of you may be asking, why does it matter?”

He ran through an explanation of the U.N. Security Council’s powers, but left unsaid why else it matters: The Obama administration’s emphasis on multilateralism and on working out differences in international forums. Kohr was telling his activists that this was the new Obama order.

News Analysis

Perhaps most telling was where Clinton ad-libbed away from her prepared remarks and revealed a soft affection for Israel and its friends.

She delivered a prepared line about “pioneers who found a desert and made it bloom,” then paused and said, “There were people who were thinking, how could that ever happen? Ahh, but it did.”

She amended a line about warriors offering peace to describe them as “so gallant in battle.” Clinton asked the crowd if they thought she thought it necessary to speak “because AIPAC can get 7,500 people in a convention center? I don’t think so.”

In her lengthiest unscripted passage, Clinton recalled traveling the world during the 1990s, the heyday of Arab-Israeli peace talks, and never hearing anyone mention the conflict outside the confines of the Middle East. These days, she said, its periodic explosions into war is often the first item, however far-flung her travels.

It was a gentle unsettling of the belief that the Israel-U.S. relationship exists in a bubble unaffected by outside realities.

“We cannot escape the impact of mass communications,” Clinton said. “We can only change the facts on the ground.”

JTA

For a first person account of the AIPAC conference, go to ‘We prayed with our feet’.

 
 

Playing to their base

Lois GoldrichEditorial
Published: 02 April 2010
 
 

Celebrate Israel, don’t demonize Obama

 

Israeli journalist to speak about the age of ‘Obibi’

Lois GoldrichLocal
Published: 16 April 2010

Israelis are always kvetching, says journalist Herb Keinon.

Even the rain (“Thank God we had a good winter,” he said) is a matter of contention, with some arguing that while it undoubtedly fell, “it didn’t fall in the right places.”

Still, said Keinon — a longtime writer for The Jerusalem Post — while his fellow countrymen tend to “look for a cloud in the silver lining,” there is good reason for concern right now as regards U.S.-Israeli relations.

“I’m not an alarmist,” said Keinon, who will speak at both the Jewish Community Center of Paramus and Teaneck’s Cong. Rinat Yisrael on April 18. “The relationship between the United States and Israel is multi-faceted; there’s a huge fabric to it. But that being said, there are serious disagreements.”

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Herb Keinon

Keinon — a diplomatic correspondent who spent 10 years covering the travels of Israeli prime ministers, beginning with Ehud Barak — said he has never seen the kind of ill feeling that now exists between the governments of the two nations.

“I don’t remember anything like this,” he said. “I don’t remember this level of tension.”

He attributed the problem to differing mindsets.

“So much of what Israel does and what the public expects of the government” is a result of what happened between 2000 and 2005 during the height of the second intifada, he said. “There was a fundamental change of perception.” While many Israelis in the early 1990s had embraced the Oslo accords, “those horrible five years flipped [the Israeli position] on its head.”

Concluding that “that paradigm didn’t work and isn’t going to work, [Israelis] went through a huge transformation,” said Keinon. “Everybody was bitten. Everybody was feeling the insecurity of putting a kid on the bus and wondering if he would get back. It’s not theoretical. Buses were blowing up. It transformed the country’s mindset.”

Israel was “mugged by reality,” he said.

Illustrating the nation’s change of heart, he pointed to the 1992 elections in which Meretz and Labor, which endorsed the concept of land for peace, won 56 seats. In 2009, he said, they won only 16.

The problem, he said, is that the new administration in Washington has not freed itself from the Oslo paradigm.

“They still want to go down that road,” he said. “That’s the root of the problem,” he added, not the settlements in east Jerusalem. “There are serious conceptual differences between Israel and the United States.”

While the United States is hopeful that the proximity talks will lead to direct talks and then to peace, “Israelis are extremely skeptical. It’s done this before. What changed?”

“Every [American] administration thinks it will rediscover the wheel,” said Keinon. “President Obama has to do something, but there are only a finite number of possibilities, so he will try to do this again.”

Keinon noted that while neither Obama nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forthcoming about what occurred at their recent meeting, the fact that no photos were taken or statements put out are important indicators.

“The atmospherics were very bad,” he said. “That’s all I see. It’s also what the Arabs are seeing.”

He said people would inevitably compare that with what he expected to be a warm reception for Jordanian King Abdullah II in Washington on Monday.

“It adds insult to injury and it’s the second time it happened,” he said, noting that Netanyahu’s last visit also did not result in a press conference.

“There’s a certain pattern,” he said. “It’s not all about settlements. There are deeper issues [such as] whether or not [Israelis and Palestinians] can quickly come to an agreement, and whether the priority should be Israel or Iran.”

Keinon noted the unusual speed with which Vice President Joseph Biden’s affirmations of friendship for Israel degenerated into Hillary Clinton’s “dressing-down” of that nation shortly afterwards.

While the timing of the east Jerusalem settlement announcement, during the vice president’s visit, was “incredibly stupid,” he said, most likely someone in Washington “made a decision that we can take advantage of this situation for our own purposes.”

Still, said Keinon, while the situation is undoubtedly serious, “it’s not something Israel can’t deal with. We have a tendency to go nuts and think every crisis is end of the world. But there’s no reason to panic. We have incredible abilities and control our own destiny.”

On a lighter note, Keinon spoke about his book, “Lone Soldiers: Israel’s Defenders from Around the World” (Devora Publishing, 2009), which “deals with good things, something positive.”

“Kids come from abroad to serve with the Israeli army,” he said, whether because of idealism or the search for adventure. “It’s a reaffirmation of Zionism. Many leave comfortable surroundings.”

According to the author, such youngsters are coming in higher numbers, as many as 3,000 a year from all over the world, with about 500 from the United States.

“The whole phenomenon is gaining steam,” he said, noting that some of the newcomers have Israeli parents, demonstrating that even though their parents left the country, they never lost the connection.

Originally from Denver, Keinon has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. He has lived in Israel for 26 years.

His talk in Paramus, at noon, will be on “The Obibi Era: American-Israeli Relations in the Age of Obama and Netanyahu.” For information, call (201) 262-7691.

His presentation in Teaneck, called “Between a Rocket and a Hard Place: How Terror Has Changed Israel, Its Politics, the Zionist Dream, and the Path to Peace,” will take place at 8 p.m. For information, call (201) 837-2795.

 
 

Obama spreads the love, keeping Jewish leaders happy — for now

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is projecting a new attitude when it comes to Israel, and is selling it hard: unbreakable, unshakeable bond going forward, whatever happens.

Jewish leaders have kicked the tires and they’re buying — although anxious still at what happens when the rubber hits the road.

News Analysis

“It’s a positive development,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the recent Jewish outreach blitz by the administration. “There are two questions, though, that will only be answered over time: Will the outreach be sustained, and will the policy be consistent with the positions being expressed in the outreach?”

Tensions between the administration and Israel were sparked in the first week of March, when Israel announced a major new building initiative in eastern Jerusalem during what was meant to be a fence-mending visit by Vice President Joe Biden. Biden’s rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the trip was followed by a 45-minute phone berating by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then statements by senior administration officials that the announcement had been an affront.

That in turn spurred howls of protest by top Jewish figures saying that while Netanyahu indeed had blown it, the backlash should have ended with Biden’s rebuke. Worse, opinion-makers in Washington had seized on a paragraph in 56 pages of Senate testimony last month by Gen. David Petraeus in which the Central Command chief said that one of many elements frustrating his mission in the Middle East was the Arab-Israeli peace freeze.

The turning point, Solow said, was the letter he received April 20 from President Obama.

“Let me be very clear: We have a special relationship with Israel that will not be changed,” Obama wrote. “Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests. Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.”

Obama suggested that the letter was prompted by the “concerns” Solow had expressed to White House staff. Solow said the letter was a surprise.

Whatever the case, the letter was only one element in a blast of Israel love from the administration, including speeches by David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser, at the Israeli Embassy’s Independence Day festivities, and to the National Jewish Democratic Council; Clinton to the Center for Middle East Peace last week and to the American Jewish Committee this week; Petraeus, keynoting last week’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s commemoration at the U.S. Capitol; Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, meeting recently with a group of 20 rabbis; Jim Jones, the national security adviser, last week at the pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Jones’ deputy, Daniel Shapiro, addressing the Anti-Defamation League next month.

The main theme of the remarks is, as Jones put it, “no space — no space — between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.”

Petraeus especially seems to have developed a second career keynoting Jewish events. He also spoke recently at the 92nd Street Y in New York and is addressing a Commentary magazine dinner in June.

Much of his Holocaust address, naturally, concerned itself with events of 65 years ago, but he couldn’t help wrenching the speech back into the present tense to heap praise on Israel.

Speaking of the survivors, he said, “They have, of course, helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies.”

The blitz also has assumed at times the shape of a call and response. After the initial “crisis,” a number of Jewish groups wondered why the administration was making an issue of Israeli settlement and not of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to renew talks until Israel completely froze settlement-building and of continued incitement under Abbas’ watch.

In fact, the administration repeatedly warns against any preconditions and has made a consistent issue of Palestinian incitement, but Clinton appeared to get the message that the message hasn’t been forceful enough.

“We strongly urge President Abbas and his government to join negotiations with Israel now,” she told the Center for Middle East Peace on April 15. She also called on the Palestinian Authority to “redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians.”

Jewish leaders also were wounded by what they saw as a dismissive attitude to Israel’s contributions to the alliance.

“It is Israel which serves on the front lines as an outpost of American interests in a dangerous part of the world,” Lee Rosenberg, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee president, said April 14 at Israel’s Independence Day celebrations. “Israel’s military expertise and the intelligence they share with us help the United States remain on the offense against those who seek America’s destruction in some of the darkest and most difficult places on the planet.”

Cue Jim Jones, addressing the Washington Institute exactly a week later.

“I can also say from long experience that our security relationship with Israel is important for America,” Jones said. “Our military benefits from Israeli innovations in technology, from shared intelligence, from exercises that help our readiness and joint training that enhances our capabilities, and from lessons learned in Israel’s own battles against terrorism and asymmetric threats.”

The feel-the-love show extends to Israelis as well, a marked change from the no-photos snub Netanyahu received when he met at the White House with Obama in late March.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates rolled out the red carpet for his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, on Tuesday, a signal that the sides are coordinating closely on Iran containment policy. And when the Israeli defense minister met at the White House with Jones, Obama dropped by Jones’ office to chat informally — a signal that presidents have traditionally used to underscore the closeness of a relationship.

Furthermore, the administration is not limiting its message to Jewish audiences. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke last week to the Arab American Institute and made points that essentially were the same as Clinton’s when she addressed the Center for Middle East Peace.

“Our position remains clear: We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” Rice told the Arab American group. “Israel should also halt evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority should continue to make every effort to ensure security, to reform its institutions of governance, and to take strong, consistent action to end all forms of incitement.”

Differences remain — like Rice, Clinton has emphasized that the Obama administration is not about to let the settlements issue go. More subtly, Obama is not going to concede in his overarching thesis of a “linkage” that has been repudiated by Israel and its defenders here: that Arab-Israeli peace will make it much easier to secure U.S. interests in the region.

“For over 60 years, American presidents have believed that pursuing peace between Arabs and Israelis is in the national security interests of the United States,” Obama said.

That’s essentially true — Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, made the same point multiple times, but not with the doggedness and emphasis of Obama.

Jewish leaders said they would closely watch the aftermath of next month’s visit to Washington by Abbas, when the sides are expected to announce the resumption of talks. The nitty-gritty of the talks may yet derail the new good feelings; how that works depends on communications, said William Daroff, who heads the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“This charm offensive is part of a prefatory way of setting up the communications so that when we get to proximity talks we will all move forward instead,” he said.

Critical to that success was listening, said Nathan Diament, who heads the Orthodox Union’s Washington office.

“Too many of the tensions of the past months have been generated by a lack of communication,” Diament said. “But just as important is for the administration to talk with, not just at, the community. The president benefits from having more input inform his policy choices.”

JTA

 
 
 
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