A controversy over the conduct of Nadav Tamir, Israel’s consul general for New England, is roiling the Israeli Foreign Ministry as well as Boston Jewry. Tamir, a career diplomat, is apparently not fond of Israel’s current government led by Benjamin Netanyahu and its policies. He seems to have something of a crush on the Obama administration despite its propensity to pick fights with Israel and to curry favor with its Arab foes. But rather than merely gripe privately about his bosses, the consul wrote a memo detailing his disagreements with his country’s policies on settlements and defending Obama’s stands. The memo was leaked to an Israeli TV station last week, and not surprisingly, Tamir was recalled to Jerusalem for an explanation of his conduct.
The text of that memo can be found on a website run by a Boston blogger, Martin Solomon. It reflects, as Solomon notes, the J Street view of the world. Indeed, Tamir seems to think that most Americans see Israel as part of a troika of states that won’t cooperate with Obama’s vision—in the same realm as Iran and North Korea, in a new version of the old axis of evil. Tamir attacks the George W. Bush administration as being run by neoconservatives who were more naive about the world than are Obama’s realists. He laments most Israelis’ distrust of Obama and says that Israel’s government must accommodate the U.S. president’s wishes. Most interestingly, he says that Jerusalem is making a mistake in trying to rally support among American Jews. Tamir apparently believes this approach has no chance, since most Jews voted for and still like Obama.
It should be understood that there is nothing wrong with a diplomat writing a confidential memo expressing an opinion that differs from that of his masters at home. However, when such a diplomat leaks the document in an effort to embarrass those whom his country’s voters have elected to be his superiors, then his behavior is no longer defensible.
Tamir may not be representative of Israeli public opinion, but he does sound like someone with his finger on the pulse of the liberal Jewish establishment in this country, as the Boston Globe reports today that the leaders of major Jewish organizations in New England have spoken out in support of Tamir.
While Tamir’s conduct is unusual (he is widely suspected to have leaked the document himself), it is not without precedent. At the start of Netanyahu’s first term in office in the 1990s, Colette Avital, a follower of Shimon Peres, who had just been defeated by Netanyahu, led Israel’s crucial New York consulate. Until she was finally replaced, Avital made it clear to anyone who had contact with her that her office was not there to defend her country’s government, a stance that clearly differed with her conduct when someone whom she liked better than Bibi led it.
Like Avital, Tamir seems deeply frustrated by Israeli voters’ thorough rejection of policies he supports. But like other left-wingers who hope to win by American pressure what they could not achieve at the Israeli ballot box, he sympathizes with an American administration and its Jewish apologists who seek to hammer his own government.
More important than the fate of Tamir is what this incident says about Israel’s ability to defend itself in the United States. Israel has a strong case to make, and it still resonates with the majority of Americans, including the majority of Jews who voted for Obama. But if its appointed representatives are so out of sync with the will of Israel’s voters that they identify more with their country’s American opponents than its defenders, then any efforts to explain to Americans that Israel’s stances on settlements, Jerusalem, and security issues are justified are bound to be compromised.