It's been an odd week tracking the relationship between Israelis and
Most of the attention here has focused on the fact that a young Israeli man
named Golan Cipel was the governor of New Jersey's alleged extramarital lover
or, depending on whose story you believe, the victim of sexual harassment by
the state's chief executive.
The fact that Gov. James McGreevey announced last week that he was "a gay
American" who cheated on his wife wasn't the scandal in the eyes of most
observers. It was the fact that McGreevey had appointed Cipel to a high-paying job as
a state homeland security advisor, in spite of the fact that he wasn't
remotely qualified and, as a foreign national, couldn't get a security clearance to
receive classified information from Washington.
The fact that an Israeli who hadn't even troubled to become an American
citizen would even be considered for such a position marks an interesting turning
point in the relationship between Israel and America.
'MICKEY MARCUS, HINENEI'
Israel began its history with citizens of other countries serving key roles
in its armed forces. Most famous was U.S. Army Colonel David "Mickey" Marcus,
who commanded the Israeli forces that lifted the siege of Jerusalem in 1948.
Marcus was buried at his alma mater, West Point, the only American soldier who
died fighting under a foreign flag to be so honored.
But Cipel apparently was ready to return the favor. Like World War I American
Gen. John J. Pershing, who landed in France in 1917 with the words,
"Lafayette, we are here!" on his lips, Cipel might well have proclaimed, "Mickey
Marcus, hinenei 'I am here!' " when he entered the office that went along with
his $110,000 salary.
Yet the McGreevey mess isn't the only example of Israelis becoming players on
U.S. shores. In a story that hasn't even been a blip on the radar screen of
the secular news media, another Israeli has been appointed to an American job,
raising different though troubling questions.
It was the announcement that the American Jewish Congress was appointing Alon
Pinkas as its new CEO.
Who's Pinkas? Up until a few weeks ago, he was Israel's consul general in
New York, serving in one of the Jewish state's most important diplomatic posts.
But if the AJCongress gets its way, he will doff the mantle of diplomat, and
take up the less-exalted title of chief macher for a Jewish organization best
known for its unyielding stand on the separation of church and state in the
Perhaps I'm missing something, but the idea of a man who was an Israeli envoy
just weeks ago taking the helm of a group that attempts to represent the
interests of American Jews strikes me as more than a bit odd. Granted, maybe not
as odd as the idea of the baby-faced Golan Cipel defending the people of New
Jersey from Al Qaeda, but still rather strange.
Granted, too, that the future of the Jewish people probably doesn't rise or
fall on the question of who heads the American Jewish Congress or, for that mat
ter, who leads the American Jewish Committee or the Anti-Defamation League.
AN INAPPROPRIATE CHOICE
That's no insult to these mighty names in Jewish organizational life. It's
just a fact that, like most Jewish institutions, they aren't quite as important
as they once were.
While a lot of people, including many who detest him, know that Abe Foxman is
the head honcho of the ADL, I dare say not one out of 100,000 American Jews,
if that many, could have pulled the name of Neil Goldstein out of their
sleeves if asked who was previously the executive director of the AJCongress.
So maybe doing anything, even tapping someone who is clearly an inappropriate
choice, to be its new leader wasn't such a bad idea. But AJCongress has still
crossed a line.
Pinkas, previously a foreign-policy advisor to Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak,
has spent the last few years waltzing his way through the complicated labyrinth
of New York Jewry. By all accounts, he has done a fine job, charming both the
hoi polloi and the high-and-mighty.
But while some Israelis have finished their terms in that office and fled
back to Israel for a break from unending rounds of lox-and-bagel breakfasts and
caviar receptions, Pinkas apparently can't get enough of it, and will get a
salary from AJCongress far greater than the pittance New Jersey taxpayers shelled
out to Cipel.
Pinkas does help position AJCongress a bit to the left after its recent tilt
toward the center, and he may very well be able to revitalize fundraising for
the group. His expertise on Mideast issues should prove invaluable. But as
smart as he is, how can he possibly lead a group whose main focus has always been
on domestic concerns, such as abortion rights, gun control, and the
opposition to school prayer and vouchers?
As it happens, AJCongress may wind up not getting its man. Pinkas might be
violating an Israeli law by landing a job in a country where he recently served
as a diplomat. The appointment may be put on hiatus while Pinkas tries to
mollify an Israeli foreign-service establishment that is outraged by his chutzpah.
Yet it appears AJCongress is prepared to wait several months or more for the
man to be free to join them.
But don't the good people at AJCongress understand that blurring the line
between American Jewish leadership and Israel isn't healthy for America Jews or
The old slogan of the United Jewish Appeal was "We are one." But that was
supposed to be a symbol of solidarity, not an avowal that no difference exists
between being a U.S. citizen and one of the State of Israel.
Israelis carry many burdens that American Jews don't shoulder, including army
service and paying confiscatory taxes. But that ought not to entitle them to
be parachuted into an American organization.
When the McGreevey story broke, a few scared Jews worried that the
involvement of an Israeli in a sordid affair would be a black eye for the Jews.
They're wrong. Like any other people, we have our scoundrels, as well as our
heroes, and nothing Cipel does should make us ashamed anymore than an
Irish-American should feel responsible for McGreevey.
But when some ask who do groups like AJCongress really represent the State
of Israel or the many loyal Americans who love both nations do we really
want that question answered by a foreign diplomat?
By even contemplating the Pinkas appointment, AJCongress has stumbled badly.
Their timing was also off in more ways than one. This was, it turns out, not a
good week to be hiring an Israeli to fill a job better suited to an American.