Ha'aretz - December 4, 2009
American Jews eye Obama's 'anti-Israel' appointees
By Natasha Mozgovaya
Every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community. In the case of Obama's government in particular, every criticism against Israel made by a potential government appointee has become a catalyst for debate about whether appointing "another leftist" offers proof that Obama does not truly support Israel.
A few months ago, boisterous protests by the American Jewish community helped foil the appointment of Chaz Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council, citing his "anti-Israel leaning." The next attempt to appoint an intelligence aide, in this case, former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, also resulted in vast criticism over his not having a pro-Israel record. American Zionists are urging Obama to cancel Hagel's appointment because of what they call a long and problematic record of hostility toward Israel.
The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton A. Klein, described Hagel's nomination as such: "Any American who is concerned about Iran's drive to obtain nuclear weapons, maintaining the Israeli-U.S. relationship and supporting Israel in its legitimate fight to protect her citizens from terrorism should oppose this appointment."
Republican Jews have also protested Hagel's appointment, citing an incident in 2004 when Hagel refused to sign a letter calling on then-president George Bush to speak about Iran's nuclear program at the G8 summit that year. In August of 2006, Hagel refused to sign a letter requesting the UN declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
In a speech at the conference of self-declared "pro-peace, pro-Israel" lobby J Street, Hagel spoke about his views on the issue of Israel and the Middle East. "The United States' support for Israel need not be – nor should it be – an either-or proposition that dictates our relationships with our Arab allies and friends. The U.S. has a long and special relationship with Israel, but it must not come at the expense of our Arab relationships," Hagel said.
The latest round of heated debate has been over the nomination of Hannah Rosenthal to head the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in the Obama administration. Rosenthal, who is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, served as a Health Department regional director under the Clinton administration, and held positions in different left-leaning Jewish organizations. Between 2000 and 2005, Rosenthal was the head of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; she was also the executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Women. In recent years, she has served on the advisory board of the J Street lobby.
The president of Americans for Peace Now lauded Obama's appointment of Rosenthal. Even Anti-Defamation League chairman Abraham Foxman came out in support of Rosenthal's appointment. "This appointment signals the continued seriousness of America's resolve to fight anti-Semitism," Foxman said in a statement.
Shortly after the announcement of Rosenthal's nomination, conservative Jewish web sites began to attack her, some of them declaring that Obama appointed an anti-Israeli to fight anti-Semitism. Rumors brewed that she had accused Israel of systemically strengthening anti-Semitism. Bloggers argued that her appointment would cause Jews and Israelis to cast doubt on Obama and his relationship with Israel.
In one of her articles, Rosenthal criticized conservative voices in the Jewish community who she accused of taking over the discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It's a scary time, with people losing the ability to differentiate between a Jew, any Jew, and what's going on in Israel," Rosenthal said.
In an interview with the new online Jewish magazine, Tablet, Rosenthal said that she loves Israel. "I have lived in Israel. I go back and visit every chance I can. I consider it part of my heart. And because I love it so much, I want to see it safe and secure and free and democratic and living safely," Rosenthal said.
Earlier this year, in reflecting on President Obama's Inauguration speech, the Israeli writer Gideon Levy wrote:
When we say that someone is a "friend of Israel" we mean a friend of the occupation, a believer in Israel's self-armament, a fan of its language of strength and a supporter of all its regional delusions. When we say someone is a "friend of Israel" we mean someone who will give Israel a carte blanche for any violent adventure it desires, for rejecting peace and for building in the territories.
Israel's greatest friend in the White House, outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, was someone like that. There is no other country where this man, who brought a string of disasters down upon his own nation and the world, would receive any degree of prestige and respect. Only in Israel. ...
That's because Bush was a friend of Israel. Israel's greatest friend. Bush let it embark on an unnecessary war in Lebanon. He did not prevent the construction of a single outpost. He may have encouraged Israel, in secret, to bomb Iran. He did not pressure Israel to move ahead with peace talks, he even held up negotiations with Syria, and he did not reproach Israel for its policy of targeted killings. ...
That's just how we like U.S. presidents. They give us a green light to do as we please. They fund, equip and arm us, and sit tight. Such is the classic friend of Israel, a friend who is an enemy, an enemy of peace and an enemy to Israel.
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