How fair is Martin Indyk, who says he was motivated by ‘my… connection to Israel’?

Martin Indyk is said to be John Kerry’s new American mediator in peace talks. Can Indyk be fair?

Indyk launched his American career by working for AIPAC, the Israel lobby, and states that he then founded a thinktank “with support from the pro-Israel community.” He wrote (in the book Innocent Abroad 4 years ago)  that: “I was first drawn to the Middle East through my Jewish identity and connection to Israel.”

Indyk now works at Brookings for a man he calls his “godfather,” Haim Saban. Saban has said that his “greatest concern… is to protect Israel.”

Indyk was described in 1992 by a former AIPAC president as AIPAC’s political asset in the Clinton campaign. 

After the spectacular failure of Camp David negotiations that he helped conduct in 2000, Indyk was characterized by former Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Dahlan as having a pro-Israel bias and “advanced negative attitudes toward Palestinians.”

While former Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said that Indyk was “partial, biased, pro-Israel” and defended Israeli settlements more than Israelis did.

The news. Laura Rozen reports:

Former US ambassador to Israel and Clinton Near East envoy Martin Indyk may take a lead role in helping US Secretary of State John Kerry conduct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, diplomatic sources tell Al-Monitor, although an official cautioned that a decision has not been finalized.

Indyk, vice president of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, did not respond to a query Saturday. Gail Chalef, a spokesperson for Brookings, said Sunday that Indyk was away for the weekend and they declined to comment.

The Times: “Seasoned Hand in Mideast May Shepherd Peace Talks.”

Channel 2 News in Israel reported that Mr. Kerry had told the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that Mr. Indyk was his choice; the channel said both leaders expressed approval..

Frank Lowenstein, Mr. Kerry’s longtime adviser on Middle East issues, is also expected to remain heavily involved in the talks.

That piece is co-bylined Isabel Kershner. Indyk says in this book that Kershner and her husband Hirsh Goodman, who works for an Israeli thinktank, were among friends who gave him “solace and salvation.”

Note Indyk’s careerism by twitter last Friday:

So Kerry did it. By George he did it! Negotiations will resume forthwith. Now watch the naysayers declare there’ll never be an agreement.

Scott Roth’s take:

By George he got it! Martin Indyk to be US representative to farcical Israeli-Palestinian talks.

The AIPAC connection. Indyk has written that being at Hebrew University in Jerusalem during the desperate days of the 1973 war was a “defining moment in my life.” He then went to work at AIPAC in 1981 and “with support from the pro-Israel community,” helped start the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which AIPAC spun off as a thinktank in 1985.

From a secretly-recorded telephone call by AIPAC’s president in 1992:

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: [W]e have a dozen people in [the Clinton] campaign, in the headquarters… in Little Rock, and they’re all going to get big jobs. We have friends. I also work with a think tank, the Washington Institute. I have Michael Mandelbaum and Martin Indyk being foreign policy advisers. Steve Speigel—we’ve got friends—this is my business….

Mitchell Plitnick says that Indyk is a signal from Obama to AIPAC that things are copacetic:

The key party who is well aware of Indyk’s bias toward Israel is, of course, AIPAC. The fact that Indyk is apparently being appointed to this position is a powerful indicator of the Obama administration’s determination to both renew talks and make sure they are conducted in a way that AIPAC does not object to. Can there be any clearer signal that the endgame of restarting talks was just that — resuming them without aiming for a resolution?

Indyk has pooh-poohed the idea of an Israel lobby, saying the assertion that it distorts US foreign policy is anti-Semitic:

“[T]his notion of a loosely aligned group of people that all happen to be working assiduously for Israel is indeed a cabal, the very thing [John Mearsheimer] insists he is not referring to. This is exactly what he suggests. And this cabal includes anyone that has anything positive to say about Israel… And what does this cabal do? It ‘distorts’ American foreign policy, it ‘bends’ it, all these words are used to suggest that this cabal is doing something anti-American.”

But in his 2009 book, Innocent Abroad, Indyk explains that American Jews were “a core base of political and financial support for Clinton,” and says he was brought on to the Clinton campaign to help Clinton gain Yitzhak Rabin’s endorsement at a time when Clinton feared that endorsement would go to George H.W. Bush. And Indyk acknowledges that “all the members of Clinton’s peace team were Jewish.”
“[O]ne particularly acerbic Arab journalist labeled us ‘the five rabbis.’ The fact that I had begun my Washington career eleven years earlier working at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC, often referred to as ‘the Israel lobby’)  only reinforced the image in much of the Arab world and among pro-Arab Americans that Clinton’s policy had been taken over by a Jewish cabal…
“Behind that stereotyping lay the reality that our Jewish identities generated a deep desire in all of us to make peace since we all believed that Israel’s security depended  on ending the conflict with its Arab neighbors and that American interests would be well served by doing so.
So is talk of the Israel lobby anti-Semitic? Or is it maybe fair criticism?
Clayton Swisher writes in The Truth About Camp David that after that failed peacemaking effort, Indyk told him that settlements were “never” an issue in negotiations. But Nabil Shaath told him, “probably the settlement issue was the single most important destroyer of the Oslo agreement.”
Swisher says Indyk and Dennis Ross aroused “the greatest suspicion among Palestinians” because they sided with the Israelis in supporting the settlements. Shaath:
“It’s not a question of their religion, because Aaron Miller is Jewish, and Ambassador [Dan] Kurtzer is Jewish, and the two were never suspected by the Palestinians of being partial, whereas Ambassadors Ross and Indyk were viewed by everybody as partial, biased, pro-Israel and they sometimes defended Israel much more than the Israeli delegates did…. many people in [Clinton’s] delegation were so close to Israelis that sometimes they adopted positions that were more extreme than most of the Israelis.”

Yesterday, MJ Rosenberg mocked the never-ending Jewishness of US mediators:

US rule: all negotiators on Israel-Palestinian issues must be Jewish and preferably have worked for AIPAC: Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross…

In an email to me, Rosenberg developed the idea: “The idea is crazy. Are there no Protestant or Catholic diplomats? After the experience with Ross, Miller, Berger, Albright and Indyk in 2000 [the failure of Clinton’s negotiations at Camp David], might we consider the possibility that all Jews should recuse themselves. Unless, of course, it’s all part of the charade (which it is). Muslims  of course, should also recuse themselves although no Muslim would ever be considered. “

Colin Wright makes a similar point in an email to me:

Bits from Indyk’s resume:volunteer in a kibbutz during the 1973 Yom Kippur War…American ambassador to Israel…”

Ever get the feeling the deck is…stacked?  To ‘mediate’ a dispute
between two ethnic groups, we pick someone who… volunteered to help that group when it went to war, … served as ambassador to that group.

If we proposed to mediate between the Serbs and the Croats, would we
pick a Serb who had volunteered to help Serbia and been an ambassador
to Serbia?

More ethnic politics. In 1999, Indyk at first defended the only Arab-American involved in policymaking on the issue, assistant Joe Zogby (son of the Arab-American leader James Zogby) when young Zogby was smeared by Israel lobbyists. But according to the Daily Star of Lebanon, young Zogby left State for Justice Department, because Indyk’s defense was “half-hearted.” The Star also focused on the ethnic imbalance in the State Department:

there are at least 6 million Muslims in the U.S., and another 1.5 million Christian Arab Americans, yet none are among those in the U.S. government dealing with the Israel-Palestine peace process. In fact, there seem to be no Christian Americans involved either.

The top three State Department officials dealing with Israeli-Palestinian affairs are Indyk, peace process czar Ambassador Dennis Ross, and his deputy, Aaron David Miller. All three are Jewish. In the White House the top foreign policy official, National Security Adviser Samuel Berger, also is Jewish.

Even before the May 12 visit by Arab and Muslim American leaders to the White House and State Department, however, Joe Zogby, unhappy over Indyk’s half-hearted defense, decided to leave the State Department and accept the Justice Department position for which he had applied before the complaint arose. But just for the history books, here’s one of the things that Joe Zogby wrote that were so upsetting to his pro-Israel critics:

“The American government, by virtue of its role as Israel’s largest donor, has significant leverage over the Jewish state, which it could use to convince the Israelis to ameliorate their policies toward the Palestinian people.”

Meanwhile, Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian writes that Kerry’s vaunted talks are already stalemated inside the Israeli governing coalition:

In a high-profile dismissal of the embryonic process, Israel‘s former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, wrote on Facebook that there was “no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least not in the coming years, and what’s possible and important to do is conflict-management”.

Naftali Bennett, economics minister, insisted construction on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would continue, regardless of talks .

The comments by two crucial partners in the Israeli coalition are a sign of deep hostility within the government over the agreement for preliminary talks forged by Kerry on Friday.

Indyk tried to dampen expectations himself on Saturday. Again from his twitter feed, quoting the New York Times:

“…this is not the end…not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”