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U.S. Ambassador To Israel Is Target Of Anti-Semitic Attack While Jewish Groups Remain Silent

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
Januray-February 2002

In January, Zvi Hendel, a Knesset member of the National Union-Israel Our Home Party, called U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, an Orthodox Jew, “yehudon,” a Hebrew insult meaning “little Jew boy.” He was upset, he said, because Kurtzer had criticized Israel’s settlements policy - something every American administration has done for more than 30 years.  

“Hendel’s attack was emphatically denounced across the Israeli spectrum, most notably by Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Moshe Katsev, which is more than can be said for American Jewish leaders,” writes Douglas Bloomfield in Washington Jewish Week (Jan. 17, 2002).  

Mr. Bloomfield declares that, “Only one Jewish group, the Zionist Organization of America, appeared to take notice of the event - not to censure Hendel’s slur but to endorse his denunciation of Kurtzer and call for Kurtzer’s dismissal. ZOA . . . felt the ambassador was guilty of ‘gross interference in Israel’s internal affairs’ and ‘giving comfort’ to Yasser Arafat . . . Hendel said that how Israel spends its money is none of Kurtzer’s business, and he was meddling ‘in an internal Israeli dispute.’ Kurtzer, however, was not speaking for himself but for the Bush administration, and his comments, disturbing as they were to settlers and their champions, reflect longstanding U.S. policy.”  

This was not the first Israeli attack against an American Jewish diplomat, Bloomfield points out: “The late Rehavam Ze’evi used similar language to attack Martin Indyk, the first Jewish U.S. ambassador to Israel in 1997 . . . Both Hendel and Ze’evi said they were offended that the American ambassador would interfere in Israeli politics. But neither ever expressed any objection when it was the other way around. There is probably no country in the world that is more directly involved in Washington lobbying than Israel.”  

Members of Congress have been repeatedly lobbied by Israeli officials, often on behalf of third countries where Israel was eager to demonstrate its clout in Washington, states Bloomfield: “Greek and Armenian Americans, for example, have complained that Israeli officials have intervened on behalf of Turkey on issues important to their communities.”  

Bloomfield concludes: “Whatever one thinks of Kurtzer’s views or his actions, there can be no justification for anti-Semitic attacks, whether by Jews or others. Ze’evi, Hendel and ZOA also reflect the different standards applied to Jewish American diplomats. Previous U.S. ambassadors have spoken harshly of settlements, but none has been slapped with a bigoted insult by Israeli officials; ZOA, while it has attacked many who do not meet its standards of pro-Israel fealty, seems particularly infuriated when the diplomat happens to be Jewish. The charge is always made that these officials are ‘bending over backward’ to prove their loyalty to the U.S. Government. In fact, these critics want them to do something else; put narrow Israeli political interests ahead of their oaths of office. Fortunately, these high-caliber Jewish diplomats ignore that dangerous advice.”  

Discussing the attack on Ambassador Kurtzer, as well as the response of groups such as the ZOA and the call by Morris Amitay, former executive director of AIPAC, that Jews may be unfit for some diplomatic appointments, such as U.S. ambassador to Israel, The Forward (Jan.18, 2002) commented editorially:  

“Lurking behind all this is a growing desperation on the Jewish far-right, which seeks legitimacy for the settlements in the territories and hasn’t found it, despite 30 years of trying. The American government considers the settlements an unnecessary irritant, a view shared by much of the Israeli public. The rest of the world calls them immoral. Mr. Hendel and his allies, flailing about for a response, appear to have hit the idea that their isolation is due to Jewish influence on American policy, which would otherwise endorse the settlements. Simply put, it’s the Jews fault.  

“Let’s be clear: If anybody else tried to peddle this sort of garbage, the rest of us would come down on them like a ton of bricks. That’s just what the British Foreign Office did last week, after the Iranian mullahs said they wouldn’t approve Britain’s new ambassador-designate, David Reddaway, calling him a ‘Jewish spy.’ The Brits responded by threatening to downgrade ties with Tehran. They didn’t bury the affair, ignore it or move on. They told the bigots to go to hell. Our own bigots deserve no less.”  

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