The naming of Alon Pinkas as the new chief executive officer of the American Jewish Congress breaks just about every rule in the unwritten code of Israel-Diaspora relations. It puts an Israeli citizen at the helm of a venerable Jewish agency that prides itself on its distinctly American identity. It puts the organization on a dovish path at a time when hawks rule the roost in most of the organized Jewish advocacy field.
Most important, it violates a sensitive Israeli rule that diplomats not move directly from a diplomatic posting into a local job in the country where they served. In Israeli eyes, such behavior is seen as tantamount to jumping ship.
For all that, the appointment may well be the master-stroke that puts the American Jewish Congress back on a path to recovery after years of drift. Pinkas is one of the smartest players in the international field of Middle East diplomacy, and his leadership will automatically put the organization back at the center of things. As a Laborite serving as a spokesman for a Likud government, he knows when to pick a fight and when to fall in line. A former journalist and a lead figure in Israeli outreach to the Diaspora, he knows the American Jewish communal world and its role in the broader national debate better than almost anyone else, American or Israeli.
Most important, he is a pragmatic dove who can put the American Jewish Congress back where it belongs, as a voice of smart, tough-minded American Jewish liberalism.