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Israeli minister rebukes consul

Fate of envoy in Boston unclear

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (left) faults Tamir not only for the memo but for distributing it internally. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (left) faults Tamir not only for the memo but for distributing it internally.
By James F. Smith
Globe Staff / August 11, 2009

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Israel’s foreign minister said yesterday that the consul general in Boston should resign if he can’t support Israeli government policies - but stopped short of saying he would fire Nadav Tamir over his internal memo criticizing his country’s approach to US relations.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, speaking in Jerusalem, was quoted as telling a meeting of officials in the Foreign Ministry that “if someone is not happy and can’t live with government policy, the way is not to criticize and leak but to resign. With all due respect to the consul . . . it is not his job to express political positions.’’

Lieberman has ordered Tamir to return to Israel this week to explain his memo critical of Israel’s handling of its relations with the United States, which caused a firestorm in Israel after it was leaked to the media last week. Lieberman faults Tamir not only for the content of the memo but for distributing it internally, making it all but certain to be leaked.

It was evident that Tamir, who is respected by mainstream Jewish groups in Boston as well as colleagues in Israel’s foreign ministry, has become entangled in a larger debate among Jews in Israel and the United States over which country is responsible for the growing tensions between them.

In Boston, a coalition of Russian Jewish immigrants said the Israeli government should recall Tamir and send in his place a diplomat who would represent Israel “without being ashamed of his country.’’ But more Jewish leaders and organizations spoke out in defense of Tamir and called on Israel to let him complete his final year as consul general for New England.

Tamir has declined to comment. He will meet in the next few days with Ministry Director General Yossi Gal.

Yesterday there were hints that Tamir would be allowed to serve out his term in Boston and move on with his diplomatic career. One government official, speaking by phone from Jerusalem, said most people expect that Tamir, a career diplomat, would be reprimanded but not dismissed and would return to Boston to resume his work here. The official insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for publication about the situation.

In excerpts of his memo published in Israel, Tamir argued that Israel’s stance on settlements was causing “strategic damage to Israel’’ by alienating the Obama administration and creating a perception that Israel was being obstinate. The document was leaked to Israel’s Channel 10 on Thursday, and many prominent Jewish organizations in Boston have spoken out in support of him, arguing that it is Tamir’s responsibility to reflect opinion in the community where he is serving.

Michael Ross, president of the Boston City Council and son of a Holocaust survivor, joined that chorus yesterday, calling Tamir “a dedicated advocate for Israel’’ and saying, “I hope Israeli leadership will recognize his value to both their government and to Boston and will keep him in New England through the remainder of his tenure.’’

Ross said Tamir “has been tireless in his efforts to improve the relationship between the United States and his country, and he has reached out to New England’s Jewish and non-Jewish communities to foster a greater understanding between the two groups.’’

However, some conservative voices said Tamir had swallowed a liberal Boston line and ignored the grassroots Jewish community that has become disenchanted with Obama’s approach to Israel and the Mideast.

“What you’ve got here could be emblematic of the Jewish community’s increasingly conflicted view of Obama,’’ said Charles Jacobs of Newton, a defender of Israel and cofounder of the David Project, a Jewish leadership program. “We voted for him by a nearly 80 percent margin, and Jews form a major source of funding and energy and ideas on his domestic agenda. On the other hand, there’s increasing and deep concern about Obama’s foreign policy.’’

Tom Mountain, a conservative columnist for The Jewish Advocate in Boston, said in an interview that Tamir should resign. “The bottom line is that the Obama government has been hostile to the Israeli government from the beginning. . . . Tamir is writing as an apologist for the Obama administration.’’

The Russian immigrant group that wants Tamir to be called back to Israel joined in rebuking the Obama administration. In a letter published on the Jewish Russian Telegraph website, the group faulted what is called Obama’s “fixation with settlements [and] easy-going attitude toward the fanatical Iranian regime.’’ The letter said Tamir knows the Russian Jewish community, “but somehow, when it came to his ideological preferences, the Russian Jews of Boston became invisible to him.’’

Lieberman leads the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which draws much of its support from the large Russian immigrant population in Israel. He has been a strong defender of Israel’s right to expand its settlements in what Palestinians regard as their territory. The Obama administration has pushed Israel hard to stop all settlement activity, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed the pressure, ratcheting tensions between the United States and Israel to levels not seen in many years.

Those who support Tamir say he has been swept up in larger political disputes in the United States and in Israel.

Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis professor who is one of the nation’s leading Jewish historians, said yesterday he had known many Israeli consuls over the years, “and Nadav has been seen as the most effective that anyone can remember. . . . I think it would be tragic if the message went out that people who have the kind of success that he has had in Boston are no longer appropriate candidates for Israel’s consular offices.’’

“Within the Boston Jewish community, the surprise for many people reading the memo was that this was considered revolutionary in Jerusalem,’’ Sarna said. “I don’t think most people would be astounded by his analysis; this is not a radical analysis. The fact that it was taken that way may tell you more about what’s going on in some parts of the foreign ministry than about Boston.’’