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Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2000 /25 Elul, 5760

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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When neutral observers aren’t so neutral -- DESPITE THE SHAKY NATURE of his government and its failure to secure peace with the Arabs or among Jews, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is proud of pointing to one triumph of his administration: Israel’s generally positive image in the world media and the United Nations.

In contrast with the bashing Israel took under his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak’s government has basked in the admiration of its allies in the Clinton administration as well as European governments. The reason for this is that fact that Barak has made the concessions on territory and security that both Washington and the Europeans have demanded. Should he ever stop giving, he may yet get the same treatment as previous Israeli prime ministers.

Yet, even amid these good times for Israeli public relations, not all is sunshine and light. Some of the people who are supposed to be most objective on the Middle East and the peace process are proving to be not quite so objective.

A case in point is Amnesty International, the human rights defense group. In a host of situations around the world, Amnesty’s nonpartisan tactics of speaking out for victims of persecution has gained the respect of friends of freedom everywhere. Amnesty has been an important player in the under appreciated and undercovered struggle for international human rights in countries such as Russia, China, as well as the Muslim world.

Amnesty has also pointed its spotlight on Israel’s policies. While some of Amnesty’s charges of rights violations against Israel are debatable and all needed to be understood in the context of an ongoing terrorist war, few were prepared to challenge the group’s fairness.

Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

That’s because Amnesty International was listed as one of the sponsors of a rally held in Washington, D.C., last weekend on behalf of the “Palestinian Right of Return.”

Such a “right” — which involves swamping Israel with millions of those who claim descent from the Palestinian Arab refugees who fled Palestine because of an Arab war of invasion and have spent decades being abused by Arab countries —is tantamount to calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.

Amnesty’s involvement is a shocking blow to its credibility.

Having allowed itself to become part of an anti-Israel propaganda show, it can never again issue a report about the Middle East without observers taking the group’s clear bias against Israel into account.

Another instance of a supposedly neutral figure intervening against Israel is Martin Indyk, the current American ambassador to the State of Israel. Whereas the role of ambassador to a country ought to be one of representing America’s interests there and refraining from intervention in Israel’s politics, Indyk has shown that he is incapable of behaving in a diplomatic manner when it comes to his hosts.

Indyk, who is currently serving in his second term as America’s envoy to Israel is a remarkable figure in that he is the first Jew to serve in this sensitive position, thus breaking the taboo that no Jew could serve in that post.

He is also remarkable in that he is an immigrant to Australia who came to the United States to study and eventually made his way to the corridors of power at the U.S. State Department via work at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Washington think tanks. And rather than hiding his identity, Indyk is someone who is openly affiliated with the Jewish community.

But, for all that, Indyk is very much the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Serving in an era when Washington has sought to pressure Israel to make concessions on Jerusalem, Indyk has been more than a faithful messenger or a voice of caution. Instead, he has become a rabid partisan within the complex world of Israeli and Middle East politics.

During his first tour of duty in Israel, Indyk went out of his way to demonstrate that he favored the re-election of Labor party candidate Shimon Peres in May 1996. His blatant interference in the campaign gave Israel the look of a banana republic rather than a strategic ally of the United States.

This absurd stance backfired when Israelis ignored Indyk’s “advice” and elected Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even worse, Indyk’s various statements on the status of Israel’s capital have probably done more damage to Israel’s hold on Jerusalem than that of all of his predecessors put together.

In 1995, during his first tour of duty in Israel, he infuriated the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin when he deliberately snubbed the official opening of the Jerusalem 3000 ceremonies, which celebrated the 3,000 anniversary of the establishment of King David’s capital. That action set the tone for similar snubs by the European countries and helped make Jerusalem 3000 a fiasco.

Matching that disturbing action was a statement calling for the division of Jerusalem that Indyk made earlier this month.

While being honored at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, he said that Jerusalem must be “shared” and intimated that anything less than divided sovereignty over the city was incompatible with peace. “There is no other solution,” Indyk said.

Indyk’s open call for an end to Jerusalem’s unity is a shocking departure from established American policy, as well as an affront to Israelis and Jews around the world.

It was also clearly calculated to put Israel on notice that if the peace talks with the Palestinians resume, the United States will expect that — contrary to Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s expectations — Barak’s Camp David concessions will remain on the table.

Ironically, just when he was proving how “objective” he could be about Israel, Indyk found himself in trouble on a completely different issue. According to reports in the press, he was taking notes on meetings concerning the peace process and transcribing them on his laptop computer. Apparently this is a no-no because the notes are technically classified material. After recent fiascos involving both the CIA and the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Laboratory, the State Department is cracking down on diplomats who are not fastidious about their use of intelligence on computers.

Though Indyk is not suspected of misusing or giving away classified material, the upshot is that he is suspended until he can prove his innocence. That's hard luck for him but, contrary to the sympathetic noises being made about his plight by people such as Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman, I don't think Indyk is a victim of anti-Semitism.

The point here is, Indyk took on certain responsibilities and political positions when he chose to become a U.S. government official. In his work as ambassador, he certainly proved his loyalty to the Clinton Administration was more important than anything else. If he was unable to live up to the other specifications of the job, that's his tough luck. The unproven allegations that he is being singled out for rough treatment only because he is Jewish, sound a little odd coming from people who have never accepted similar excuses when they were presented by supporters of Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. Navy analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel.

Just as Pollard was no Dreyfus, Indyk is no Leo Frank.

It is still unclear how any of this will play out in the long run. Indyk may be finished or he may be back in Jerusalem to help push its division. Either way, it cannot be denied that Indyk has been a symbolic figure who may have helped to undermine Jerusalem’s unity.

With objective observers like Amnesty International and close friends like Martin Indyk, it would appear that Israel doesn’t need any biased enemies.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association's highest awards in two categories: First Place in the Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing for his column "Israel's China Syndrome -- and Ours" and First Place for Excellence in Arts and Criticism for his column "Jewish Art, Jewish Artists." The awards were given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 2000 Simon Rockower Awards dinner at Washington D.C. on June 22, 2000. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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