Dec. 5, 2004
Pinkas comments to 'Post' rankle US Jews

By URIEL HEILMAN
NEW YORK

Less than four months after stepping down as consul general of Israel in New York, Alon Pinkas is rankling some American Jews with comments he made to The Jerusalem Post about the failed priorities of American Jewish groups and their mistreatment of Israel.

In a story that appeared in the Post on Nov. 28, Pinkas said American Jews treat Israel like a "goddamn synagogue" all Jewish communities outside of America and Israel are "insignificant suburbs," and the behavior of American Jewish organizational officials reads like a chapter out of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Pinkas' remarks were harshly criticized by Jewish officials.

"It's almost sad to have a guy of his caliber totally misrepresent the relationship that exists between Israel and the American Jewish community," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "It seems that he either did not learn very much in all his years of public service or he totally forgot."

In his remarks, Pinkas said it is not Israel's responsibility to educate American Jews about Israel and Jewish identity, but the American Jewish community's-and it is not doing a very good job.

"Where the hell has American Jewry been?" Pinkas demanded. "Rather than play foreign minister and go to the world's capitals and deal exclusively with anti-Semitism," he said, referring to Jewish organizational officials, "they should focus on educating American Jews."

"What-are you writing the next chapter in the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion?'" he asked rhetorically.

The future of American Jewry, Pinkas said, "would be much better served by American Jews going to Omaha, Neb., to Austin, Texas, to Tallahassee, Fla. and Columbus, Ohio than another photo-op with the Israeli chief of staff or another meeting with the Belgian foreign minister."

The executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, said, "For Jews to be invoking or citing the 'Protocols' against other Jews is frankly both bizarre and outrageous."

Harris also said his travels to the world's capitals help promote Israel's interests abroad; the American Jewish Committee meets with about 60 foreign ministries in the course of each year, he said. In the last month alone, Harris said, he visited Geneva, Warsaw, Berlin and Brussels-where he met with the Belgian foreign minister.

In the United States, Harris said, he had been to Boston and New Jersey.

"It's not about one person. It's not about where I spend my time," Harris explained. "On any given day we're present in 33 cities." The committee has offices in 33 U.S. cities and a staff of about 275.

After leaving the consulate this summer in part over differences with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Pinkas was offered a job as CEO of a group that once almost merged with the committee: the American Jewish Congress. Pinkas accepted the post, but the appointment was put on hold after Israel's civil service commissioner said it violated a two-year "cooling-off period" required of Israeli foreign envoys seeking work in the countries of their postings. Pinkas has submitted a formal request to circumvent the rule and is awaiting a decision.

The executive director of the American Jewish Congress, Neil Goldstein, said this week that he agreed with Pinkas' viewpoints.

"What Alon says about the need for addressing continuity issues in America and getting Jews to be more committed to the interests of the Jewish people here domestically are in fact valid goals," Goldstein said.

"We are living in new times, and we have to start addressing those issues," he said. "It's one of the reasons we thought it would be a good idea to bring Alon on board."

This is not the first time Pinkas has blasted American Jewish groups and the ways they spend their time. In October 2001, Pinkas, then consul general, sent a cable to the Israeli Foreign Ministry rebuking officials there for holding countless useless meetings with U.S. Jewish organizations.

"Another breakfast with the ADL in New York," he wrote in a widely publicized cable, "only adds calories-bagels and lox. If anything threatens the world's salmon population, it is Israel's information campaign policy."

"Four hundred Jews in Miami are more important than the President's Conference," he added, writing that visiting Israeli officials, rather than meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, should "go to Boston, Houston, or Philadelphia."

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, called Pinkas' remarks to the Post "insulting," "outrageous" and "contradictory."

"For a guy who wants to head a Jewish organization, this is a strange comment," Hoenlein said. "He was consul general for four years; what did he do about these things?"

Hoenlein also said Pinkas was inconsistent, allowing that the Jewish people have a right to tell Israel what they think because the Jewish state is a project of the Jewish people, but then rebuking them for telling Israel what they think.

Told this week of the reaction of American Jewish organizational officials to his comments, Pinkas was unrepentant.

"It is unfortunate that instead of responding to the challenge of engaging in a substantive dialogue about the real priorities of US Jewry, some people resort to personal pontification stemming from their sense of infallibility," he said. "The knee-jerk reaction only reinforces my argument - some American Jewish organizations should revisit their agenda before it is too late."

Privately, some officials said Pinkas remarks merely constitute posturing for a job in the Knesset, where Pinkas really sees his future and where criticism of American Jewish organizations would play well.

Pinkas has said that if things don't work out for him in America, he will return to Israel and would strongly consider running for the Knesset.

Arye Mekel, who succeeded Pinkas as consul general in New York, said he considers the work of American Jewish organizations to be "very positive and important," especially when it comes to helping convince other countries to take less hostile positions toward Israel in the United Nations. Mekel was Israel's deputy ambassador to the U.N. before being appointed consul general.

"When the Jewish organizations get into the picture," Mekel said, leaders of other countries "realize that we actually have very potent allies, who are the American Jewish community as represented by its organizations. This does a very good service to the State of Israel because this proves that we are not alone."