February 24, 2000
Ivry to Jews: Don’t Lecture Us
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David Ivry isn't the slickest or most media-savvy envoy in recent years, but he knows what he wants, and has the right credentials to get it.
As he starts his term, Israel's new ambassador in Washington is laying down clear markers. Ivry and his bosses are tired of American Jews second-guessing them on critical security matters -- Jews who have generally not experienced more danger than the risk of paper cuts as they defend Israel with reams of press releases.
But stern talks won't be enough. To get that message across, Ivry will have to address real concerns his predecessors helped create. And he will have to help reeducate American Jews on security matters that are far more complex than the dogma of pro-Israel faith suggests.
Israel's current leaders are betting Ivry -- a former general and top Defense Ministry official with a quiet but firm demeanor -- is just the man to do the job.
At a recent meeting with veteran pro-Israel activists, he used the direct language of a former commander, not couched diplo-speak, to deliver this message: Don't you dare challenge the security credentials of Israel's most decorated soldier, Ehud Barak. Don't suggest Barak and his generals are wimps who can be pushed around by Washington.
The message was more polite but no less clear to leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby group.
Ivry's blunt, confident style is more like that of the last general to serve as ambassador to Washington -- Yitzhak Rabin -- than any more recent envoy.
But his task is a daunting one; his predecessors did a good job teaching American Jews about Israel's security needs. Now, some of that education is coming back to bite them.
The Golan Heights are indispensable, American Jews were told over and over again; the Lebanese security zone is necessary to protect Northern Israel; Palestinian statehood is unthinkable.
Those positions were presented as absolute doctrine intended to spur political activism, not complex strategic perspectives that could be modified as conditions warranted.
Today, a strong majority of Israelis want out of Lebanon. Many have grave reservations about abandoning Golan, but the belief is more nuanced than it is among American Jews; increasingly, Israelis are ready to at least discuss the subject.
A broad spectrum of Israeli leaders concede the inevitability of Palestinian statehood; now the only questions are how, when and how big.
American Jews haven't caught up; they're still thinking in terms of yesterday's slogans, which were effectively taught by Ivry's predecessors.
That's the gap in thinking Ivry will try to narrow during his tenure here. Israel did a very effective job of hasbarah -- and now, perhaps, it has to undo some of its success.
The primary target of his government's ire is the political right, which argues Israel is making suicidal mistakes. More and more, they are scattering political time bombs in the path of the peacemakers. Accusations of blunders and betrayals fill their pronouncements.
But the left has been guilty of security second-guessing, as well; it would be naive to think the peaceniks won't squawk if Barak backs away from the current negotiations.
Ivry's bosses in Jerusalem want nothing less than a realignment of relations with politically active American Jews, and the ambassador could be the primary instrument of that effort.
They still want American Jewish support, but they also want Jews here to stop trying to sabotage negotiations the generals now see as critical to their country's long-term security.
Some of their desire is politically self-serving. After all, many of the One Israel officials now in power didn't protest left-wing criticism during the Netanyahu years.
But an even larger part reflects the fact that Israel is coming to terms with the tough choices it has to make for a new era. Those choices are hard enough without American Jews carping, complaining and complicating.
David Ivry, a soft-spoken former general who would rather talk about missile defenses than politics, was chosen for the Washington job, in part, because he is a man who can deliver that message with authority.
In his first few weeks on the job, the new envoy has made it clear he will not seek confrontations with American Jews, but also that he will not shrink from them when Jewish groups cross the line.
But Ivry will also have to become as effective an educator as his predecessors.
He will have to lead a major effort to explain why yesterday's absolutes -- about Golan, a Palestinian state, Lebanon -- are no longer quite so absolute.
"Don't worry, we know what we're doing," won't be enough.
Ivry is unlikely to stop the flow of invective from the far right. It's the Jewish middle he needs to address -- a group whose legitimate anxieties the Israeli government has yet to allay.