Israeli Envoy’s Bid To Head U.S. Group Torpedoed

Published December 31, 2004, issue of December 31, 2004.
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The controversial attempt by one of America’s oldest Jewish organizations to hire a high-profile Israeli diplomat as its CEO appears to have collapsed.

A panel of administrative judges in Israel has ruled that the country’s former consul general in New York, Alon Pinkas, might take a post as chief executive of the American Jewish Congress — but only in July, when it will be too late for Pinkas to accept the job offer.

The decision effectively nullifies his contract with the Jewish civil-rights organization, which gave him until January 1 to start work or forgo the position, and short-circuits the debate over the appropriateness of a former Israeli diplomat filling such a post. When the hiring was first announced in August, several officials with other Jewish organizations complained that

the move could potentially fuel allegations of dual loyalties by blurring the line in the eyes of the public between the Israeli government and American Jews.

Pinkas, known for his rhetorical skills and his media savvy, was tapped by the American Jewish Congress for the position earlier this year, several months after he resigned as consul general, but he was prohibited from taking the post by the rules of a mandatory two-year “cooling-off period” required by Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Civil Service. Israeli law permits an administrative panel to waive the cooling-off period, but officials from both Israeli agencies expressed their opposition to a waiver in Pinkas’s case.

AJCongress Executive Director Neil Goldstein told the Forward that because of the opposition in Israel, the decision of the panel “did not come as a shock.”

“Obviously, we have to abide by that ruling,” he said, explaining that Pinkas’s contract “cannot go forward.” He added, however, that his group “believed Pinkas could have been an extremely valuable” addition and that he intended to explore any possibility that Pinkas might represent the organization in Israel.

The initial decision to appoint Pinkas was seen as the brainchild of the organization’s new president, Paul Miller, who got to know Pinkas well when Miller was the chairman of the northeast region of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the main pro-Israel lobby. The former president and current chairman of AJCongress, Jack Rosen, also took part in the secret negotiations with Pinkas.

At the time that they were negotiating, Pinkas was engaged in a vitriolic, highly public spat with his then-boss, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

The flap over Pinkas has created tensions within AJCongress. Some communal officials, annoyed that the diplomat did not warn the group about the potential legal hurdles to his nomination, were angered further when Pinkas made what the officials construed to be derogatory comments about the American Jewish community in an interview with the Jerusalem Post in November. Pinkas said that American Jews treat Israel like a “goddamn synagogue,” all Jewish communities outside of America and Israel are “insignificant suburbs” and that the behavior of American Jewish organizational officials reads like a chapter out of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” The Post reported.

A onetime journalist, Pinkas entered Labor Party politics during the 1990s and became prominent as chief foreign policy adviser to Ehud Barak during Barak’s 1997 run for party leadership. He served in top advisory posts after Barak was elected prime minister in 1999 and was appointed consul in New York shortly before Barak lost his premiership to Ariel Sharon in 2001. The two are known to have remained close.

Barak recently announced plans to return to politics, but suffered a setback last week during a Labor Party meeting to rank its candidates for ministers in the new unity government, when none of his supporters were chosen. It is unclear how the meeting will impact on Pinkas’s rumored ambitions to run for Knesset as a Labor candidate.

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