Mondoweiss

‘This miracle, this gift, this jewel’ — Obama’s ambassador to Israel declares he’s a Zionist

Former US ambassador Daniel Shapiro at Park Avenue Synagogue March 28, 2017, photo from Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove's twitter feed

Two weeks ago in Washington, Hanan Ashrawi told a crammed hall at the National Press Club something I did not know before, that Obama’s ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, was now an expert at a quasi-official Israeli security thinktank. Speaking with bitter disdain, the longtime Palestinian negotiator described Shapiro as part of the “revolving door” of Israel lobbyists inside and outside government, who have made sure the US participation in the peace process was biased toward Israel:

They don’t need to lobby; they are decision makers… You’d be surprised that…ex-ambassador Daniel Shapiro, for example, decided to stay in Israel, has joined the Institute for National Security Studies. Which is something that also Dennis joined at one point or another– Dennis Ross. So it’s interchangeable. Either they are influencing policy or they are making policy.

And that’s why American policy was so distorted, because they played a significant role in framing and defining the discourse and perceptions but went beyond that to manipulating the verbal public space, anything related to the peace process. And they generated a narrative based on myths and provided alternative facts. It’s not Kelly Anne who invented alternative facts. We’ve been victims of alternative facts all our lives, they’ve certainly willfully misled public opinion.

As luck would have it, a few days after Ashrawi spoke, Shapiro appeared at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York on a panel on the “Future of Zionism,” and I paid $25 for the privilege of hearing him. He repeatedly described himself as a Zionist that night:

I, as will emerge in the course of our discussion, am somebody who spent my whole formative years and much of my professional life committed out of Zionist impulses and out of an understanding of what US foreign policy interests are to insure Israel’s security, to help Israel pursue peace with its neighbors. I could never have worked for an administration that was not committed to the same goals…

Nobody has a monopoly on what it means to be a Zionist, nobody has a monopoly on how to express that support for the state of Israel…. It is not just possible, it is definitionally appropriate, to have liberal values and Zionist values intersect very closely with one another. Of course the establishment of the State of Israel was a fulfillment of that centuries-old dream, and that actualization of the self-determination of the Jewish people, that unites Zionists whatever their politics are…

He issued the traditional warning about American Jews needing to defer to Israel on security issues.

[T]there are major risks and threats, and we Zionists in the Diaspora don’t experience them the same way that Israelis do.

Because both conservative and liberal Zionists share a protective feeling toward “this miracle, this gift, this jewel”–

the same impulse of insuring that this miracle, this gift, this jewel that we in our day and age after centuries of exile, get to experience, which is a sovereign state of the Jewish people in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

And P.S., Ms Ashrawi, Ambassador Shapiro said Palestinians are “not a reliable partner” for Israel.

Shapiro’s frank expression of Zionism made me wonder whether any of us knew this before he went into office.

Shapiro noted his Jewish roots, and his affinity for Israel, in his confirmation hearings. His testimony in May 2011 to Senate Foreign Relations Committee makes it clear that he’s very drawn to Israel, but that attraction has an academic/professional tenor here; he never said anything about his redemptive feelings about the Jewish state, or even that he was Jewish.

Mr. Chairman, my own interaction with Israel has taken many forms over the years, each of which has helped me gain a greater appreciation of the unique experience and perspective of the Israeli people. I first went to Israel at the age of four. My parents, who were academics, took our family there for a six-month sabbatical. It was 1973, and I was there during the Yom Kippur War… I remember, at the same time, our family enjoying many examples of the warmth and generosity of the Israeli people…

I returned to Israel after high school and again during college. In 1988, as the country was reeling from the violence of the first intifada, rocks rained down on the bus I took to Hebrew University and my Israeli classmates intensely debated the meaning of these events for their country’s future.

As a Congressional staffer, I traveled to Israel as the hopes born of the Oslo Accords made peace seem within reach, celebrated the signing of the peace treaty with Jordan, mourned the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin days after he had returned to Israel from Washington, and worked to address the threats posed to our nations by Hamas and Hizballah. As my professional involvement with Israel has deepened, so too has my understanding of Israel’s security needs and its people’s justifiable concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons program, suicide bombers, missile attacks from Hamas and Hizballah, and the ongoing efforts of some to delegitimize the Jewish state.

But I have also grown more keenly aware of Israel’s deep-rooted strengths and its people’s dreams – manifested in the building of a modern state, the flowering of Jewish culture and democracy, the Start-up Nation, and the unrelenting search for peace.

Notice how he keeps saying the Israeli people’s dreams, as if they’re not his own. Whereas at Park Avenue synagogue he spoke repeatedly about the “Jewish people,” of which he was one. Notice that he says Hamas and Hizballah pose a threat to “our nations.” Really it’s just one nation they threaten: Israel.

I read a number of Shapiro’s speeches as ambassador and while I found many testimonies to Israel’s greatness, I did not find any of the personal Jewish/Zionist declarations that he made in the Park Avenue Synagogue.

This seems to me an issue of transparency. I’m aware that Shapiro backed up President Obama repeatedly in his criticisms of the settlement program (and also in the giant aid package Obama delivered). I’m not saying a Jew can’t be an ambassador to Israel. “[A generation ago] the U.S. State Department had a policy of not sending Jewish diplomats to the top post in Israel,” Ron Kampeas said in 2011 when Shapiro was appointed. “The notion of an ambassador to Israel having a pre-existing affinity with the country, never mind fluency in its native tongue, was unimaginable.

Still I feel a bit snookered. I wish Zionists in public life would emulate Roger Cohen of the Times, and cop to it openly. So the ideology can be contested.

Oh and since Ashrawi commented on the revolving door of the Israel lobby, Shapiro fulfilled that very role, writing an article for Bloomberg saying that “the next war in Gaza is coming.” The article repeatedly characterized Israeli assaults on Gaza in favorable terms– “Israel responds with carefully placed airstrikes” — without a word about the massive civilian killings Israel has committed in the Strip.

That’s something else Ashrawi described in her speech: the whole families destroyed in Israel’s attacks on Gaza. It’s no mystery why Shapiro doesn’t mention that.

Thanks to Allison Deger.