There is a report in Ha’aretz today entitled “U.S. Official’s Criticism of Israel Ambassador Sparks Furor.” The article summarizes an interview with the Hannah Rosenthal, the Head of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. In the interview Rosenthal apparently criticizes the Israeli ambassador to the US for refusing to attend, and turning down the offer to be the keynote speaker, the first annual conference of J Street, a pro-peace, pro-two state Jewish Lobby. Yet there was barely anything in the article about the comments by Rosenthal. From the article:
Rosenthal told Ha’aretz earlier this week that comments made by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, against the liberal Jewish lobby J Street were “most unfortunate.”
This is the only quotation by Rosenthal used in the article. I did a bit more research and am still a little confused as to what Ms. Rosenthal said that could be taken as anti-semitic or could have caused a furor. In Ha’aretz there is another article that quotes more of Ms. Rosenthal’s comments. In more detail, this article notes that Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador, refused to attend the event because it works “against Israel’s interests” [from original article]. From the second Ha’aretz article:
Rosenthal, who also served on the board of directors of left-wing group Americans for Peace Now, said she believed Oren “would have learned a lot” if he had participated in J Street’s conference.
“I came away realizing what a generational divide there is and I don’t know how it is in Israel. Young people want to be part of the discussion, they feel they have fresh ideas and they feel that we have to end the stalemate,” she said.
Rosenthal strongly believes that new and different voices need to be heard regarding Israel in the American Jewish community.
“We need to have as many people coming together to try and put an end to this crisis, the matzav [situation] can not continue – it’s unacceptable and that’s why I always paid my membership to AIPAC, but I have always paid my membership to Americans for Peace Now – because they all need to be supported and they all need to be at the table… We may disagree on different paths to get there – but we need to at least admit that peace is the goal and security is the goal,” she said…
Now there is a bit of an insider job here as Rosenthal did serve on the board of J Street, but there is nothing in her comments that I can see as anti-semitic or anti-Israel. In fact, she does well to reaffirm her love of Israel and her support for AIPAC. However, many have been interpreting her comments exactly that way. It seems as though support for J Street and AIPAC actually means that Rosenthal, whose father survived the Holocaust and who what her children to live in Israel, is against AIPAC and Israel. This puts a whole new spin on the idiom ‘if you are not with me you’re against me.’
While it does not surprise me that Rosenthal’s comments have been misconstrued, it serves as a reminder about the strength of the Israeli lobby in th US. Some have gone as far as to use the event to remind us that Obama, whose administration both supports and is supported by J Street, is in fact a socialist.
While it is fortunate that some see through the rhetoric (also here), I think that these are probably the minority. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a hailstorm around this big enough to force Rosenthal into early retirement.
But perhaps I am missing something here. Any thoughts?