The fine line between constructive and contemptible…writes Gabsy Debinski

February 7, 2014 by Gabsy Debinski
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It all started last Saturday against a bright blue backdrop in a room filled with diplomats and reporters.

Gabsy Debinski

Gabsy Debinski

It was the Munich Security Conference and the US Secretary of State was delivering a keynote address to a room packed with all the important people about collaboration on economic and security issues.

Indeed, John Kerry has an air about him. He has the gift of the gab that may not match the oratory proficiency of his superior, President Obama, but comes somewhat close. Secretary Kerry has become an expert in integrating the perfect euphemism and inclusive language to engender a sense of idealism and inspiration. This is precisely what he did in Munich as he sought to “reinforce” the strong bond between Europe and the US. You can see the full talk here.

About this partnership, and with the rest of the world, he said enthusiastically;

“What we need in 2014 is a trans-Atlantic renaissance. A new burst of energy, commitment and investment in…our economic prosperity, our shared security and the common values that sustain us.”

He used the recent agreement between the P5+1 and Iran as an example;“Iran agreed to freeze and roll back its nuclear weapons program for the first time in a decade. And in the coming months we will remain unified…to guarantee Iran’s willingness to reach a comprehensive agreement that resolves the world’s concerns with its nuclear program hopefully through diplomacy, but backed up by the potential of force.”   

This created a feel good moment, encouraging attendees to pat one another on the back for their ‘successful’ collaborative efforts.

However, Kerry’s comments on Israel and the Middle East set a chain of explosive events in motion.

He talked about the “Increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things.” 

Adding that the current status quo was “not sustainable… It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity. There’s a momentary peace.”

For many, Kerry’s reference to the spread of boycotts against Israel came across as a threat.  Several Ministers in the Israeli government (mainly from Habayit Hayehudi) were flabbergasted and let the world know it.

Home Front Defence Minister Gilad Erdan said: “It’s difficult to accept Kerry’s explanation that he was describing the situation as an onlooker…He appears more like someone trying to fan the flames of threats against Israel’s economy.”

Meanwhile ever controversial Economy Minister, Naftali Benett responded curtly: “You must not know the Jewish nation; the Jewish nation is stronger than these threats. We will not collapse in the face of intimidation.”

“We expect our friends around the world to stand by our side to face the antisemitic attempts to boycott Israel, not to be their mouthpiece,” he added.

But most extreme was the reaction of Habayit Hayehudi MK, Moti Yogev, who according to the TOI said during an interview on Israel Radio this week that “the prime minister is manoeuvring under the obsessive and unprofessional pressures that might also bear an undertone of antisemitism on Kerry’s part.”

The TOI reported that Yogev went on to write a letter to the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, saying he was retracting the charge of antisemitism, but maintained his opposition to Kerry as a fair broker.”

Understandably, these comments coming from the Secretary, who is supposed to stand as the beacon of neutrality and even handedness, evoke a sense of uneasiness.

Prime Minister Netanyahu was calm and composed as he said that Israel would not be swathed by threats. I believe this is an important point for the PM to make. However, the tone and approach adopted by several in the far right wing and religious camps does nothing to further our cause and indeed shames us all.

This week, Rabbis from two groups, SOS Israel and the Committee to Save the Land and People of Israel, published an open letter to the Secretary of State which reads as follows:

“Your incessant efforts to expropriate integral parts of our Holy Land and hand them over to Abbas’s terrorist gang amount to a declaration of war against the Creator and Ruler of the universe.”

They went on further to compare Kerry to Haman, and according to the TOI also compared him to “Nebuchadnezer and Titus, who each destroyed, respectively, the first and second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem.”

I praise, The Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union (the largest Orthodox Jewish synagogue roof body in the US) who issued a joint statement criticizing this “extreme and offensive rhetoric.”

The statement said: “These rabbis… seem to arrogate to themselves unusual insight into the desires of the Almighty.”

Kerry remained relatively mum about the spate of accusations. In aninterview with CNN he merely said “my comments need to be properly represented, not distorted. I did not do anything except cite what other people are talking about as a problem.”

However, National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, made it clear that she was less than impressed with the denunciations of Kerry, and took to twitter to vent her outrage.

Rice first tweeted that personal attacks in Israel directed at the secretary are “totally unfounded and unacceptable.”

She then wrote that “Kerry’s record of support for Israel’s security and prosperity is rock solid” and said the US government “has been clear and consistent that we reject efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel.”

This exchange brings several noteworthy factors into focus. First, it highlights the changing nature of international diplomacy where rather than call a press conference politicians take to twitter and Facebook to vent their dissatisfaction. The scope is infinite and the effect immediate.

Furthermore, as Jews and Zionists who care deeply about the outcome of these negotiations we may have the right to voice our scepticism, but where is the ‘red line’?

I came across an interesting op-ed on Kerry’s diplomacy written by founding editor of the Times of Israel, David Horowitz, and juxtaposed his approach with that of those aforementioned.

Horowitz is an unabashed critic of Kerry’s handling of Iran, Syria, Egypt and Israel. Yet personal attacks do not play into his argument. Rather, his criticism is rooted in examples and constructive analysis (while at the same time establishing “that I have no time for those on the rejectionist right who waded in to publicly assail the secretary.”)

In the op-ed he wrote; “Good diplomacy, Mr. Secretary, means that you most certainly should address the boycott and delegimitization issue in public — to make plain that it is unconscionable to misrepresent Israel as some kind of illegal entity; to explain that the notion that the Jews, uniquely, have no right to a state is an apartheid argument…to urge that those who purport to support the Palestinian interest use their influence to encourage both sides toward viable positions that can enable long-term co-existence.”

Horowitz concludes; “In short, the most profound concerns that Israelis have about the fragility of their security and prosperity stem somewhat less from their failures, Mr. Secretary, than from yours.”

I recommend you read Horowitz’s article linked above. Taking the high road really does give one’s case more credence and we would all do well to keep that in mind.

Gabsy Debinski is Advocacy and Media Director at the Zionist Federation of Australia


One Response to “The fine line between constructive and contemptible…writes Gabsy Debinski”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    One of the most difficult issues to address is the raport of strength between state and ideology.
    Anyone interested in conflicts, such as the ME one, must define the dynamics of politics as dependent on WHAT ideologies, meaning here national interests, are at play. The same one must also define the notion of “national interests”.Foreign affairs are the…affairs of the internal body politic of the same national intersts.
    It is realistic to state that the national interests ( including therefore foreign affairs )of the United States reside stronlgy with a strong Israel.
    This is a fairly convoluted way in articulating the message that, REGARDLESS OF ADMINISTRATION , Unted States can be relied on as the most reliable support Israel could possible have.
    Kerry and Obama would introduce slight variatons in terms of tactics, but the strategy remains unaltered, the fundamentals untouched.
    The seemingly conflicting statements quoted above do NOT reveal a United States engaged in anything inimical toward Israel. Rice is right and those who interpret Kerry as betraying Israel are wrong !!!
    One thing is indispesible in the comprehensive picture of US foreign/national interests and that is the logicl expectation that the same US cannot be expected to engage itself into constant aggressive conflicts with ANYONE if and when aparent conflicts of interests may be aparent. To be fair, USA has been involved in NUMEROUS armed conflicts, boycotts, harsh pronouncements and decisive direct interventions. Yet, a finely tuned engagement, be it in appearance only rhetorical, may NOT be seen as a transgression an abanadonment of traditional, national-designated policies.
    Devout enemies of Israel know it too well that an open conflict against Israel also means engaging United States in more ways than one. This is the logical line that any commenator must retain and/or read berween any lines, but, more importantly, NOT jump to conclusions which may be utterly absurd, totally unrelated to the intent and word of the speaker.

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