Mideast Mediator Martin Indyk Draws Ire From Both Sides of Israeli Spectrum

Too Critical of Bibi for Some, Too Hawkish for Others

Straight to Point: Martin Indyk brings an ‘Australian bluntness’ to the job as Mideast peace mediator. Is that a good thing?
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Straight to Point: Martin Indyk brings an ‘Australian bluntness’ to the job as Mideast peace mediator. Is that a good thing?

By Nathan Guttman

Published August 02, 2013, issue of August 09, 2013.
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A recent post on the Facebook page of Im Tirtzu, an Israeli right-wing group, depicts Washington’s new special envoy for the Middle East peace process as a sock puppet operated by the progressive group the New Israel Fund.

“We ask the U.S. government to appoint an ‘honest broker.’ Mr. Martin Indyk, the chairman of the New Israel Fund’s International Council, is not perceived as such by the Israeli public,” the group’s chairman, Ronen Shoval, wrote in a open letter to the American ambassador in Israel.

On the other end of the political spectrum, left-wing commentator M.J. Rosenberg criticized Indyk for his previous affiliation with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the huge Israel lobby juggernaut. Indyk’s work for that lobby in the 1980s, Rosenberg argued, was yet further proof of “the simple fact that the United States has unambiguously taken Israel’s side for decades.”

Political wisdom has it that being attacked from both ends indicates that one’s positions are safely in the center. But for Martin Indyk, it is also yet another sign of his conflicted image in the world of Middle East peacemaking: too pro-Israeli in the eyes of Israel’s critics, and at the same time too tough on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for many Israelis.

Juggling personal and family connections with Israel has long been a challenge for Jewish negotiators and envoys dealing with Israel and the Middle East, as they came under attack not only from critics of Israel, but also from Israelis themselves. Indyk, when serving as ambassador to Israel, was called “Jew boy” by the late Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Ze’evi. Other Jewish administration officials and diplomats have also suffered insults and accusations by Israeli officials who saw their criticism of Israeli policies as incompatible with their Jewish faith.

Indyk, who at the time warned Ze’evi that the last person who hurled anti-Semitic slurs at him in school received a punch in his face, views his ties to Israel as formative to his professional life. In his acceptance speech after being appointed special envoy July 29, Indyk spoke of his experience as a post-graduate student in Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, when a surprise military attack by Egypt and Syria against Israel made strong initial advances.

“In those dark days,” he said as he turned to Secretary of State John Kerry, who was standing next to him, “I witnessed firsthand how one of your predecessors, Henry Kissinger, brokered a cease-fire that ended the war and paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt.”

Indyk spent part of the 1973 war volunteering in a kibbutz in Israel’s southern region. In his 2009 book, “Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East,” Indyk called his days in Israel during that war “a defining moment in my life.”

At the time, Indyk said in a 2011 interview, he even considered immigrating to Israel.


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