Washington – The new State Department anti-Semtism czar (you didn’t know such a thing existed?), Hannah Rosenthal, publicly criticized the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, for criticizing J Street, the left-leaning Jewish lobbying group.
In an interview with Haaretz in Jerusalem, where Rosenthal was the administration’s envoy to the Foreign Ministry’s Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, Rosenthal, who once served on J street’s board of directors, said she opposes blurring the lines between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel.
“It is not 1939,” she said. “We have the state of Israel. We have laws in countries that are holding people accountable.”
When Ambassador Michael Oren turned down J Street’s request to be keynote speaker at its first annual conference, and chose not to attend, debate over the group, already intense in the American Jewish community, reached as far as Jerusalem.
Obama’s national security adviser, General James Jones, gave the keynote speech at the conference, while Israel sent a low-level official, claiming that J Street works against Israel’s interests.
Rosenthal, who also served on the board of directors of left-wing group Americans for Peace Now, said she believed Oren “would have learned a lot” if he had participated in J Street’s conference. “I came away realizing what a generational divide there is and I don’t know how it is in Israel. Young people want to be part of the discussion, they feel they have fresh ideas and they feel that we have to end the stalemate,” she said.
Rosenthal strongly believes that new and different voices need to be heard regarding Israel in the American Jewish community. “We need to have as many people coming together to try and put an end to this crisis, the matzav [situation] can not continue – it’s unacceptable and that’s why I always paid my membership to AIPAC, but I have always paid my membership to Americans for Peace Now – because they all need to be supported and they all need to be at the table.”
“We may disagree on different paths to get there – but we need to at least admit that peace is the goal and security is the goal,” she said.
Rosenthal, 58, who held senior positions in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, said she met Obama in Chicago when he was still a senator. She said criticism of her appointment in the Obama administration, from the leaders of some American Jewish organizations, was “from a very few people who blog a lot.”
Although she did not say outright what she thought Israel should do regarding the peace process, when pressed, she said: “I lived in Israel in 1973 in the bomb shelters. I don’t want my kids or my grandchildren to have to ever come visit their homeland and to live in a bomb shelter – that is what I mean when I say the matzav … Sometimes I wonder what it does to the psyche of people and children to know that they have to know where the nearest bomb shelter is – that’s not okay. As a peace loving person and as a Jew who wants my kids to feel comfortable here – I think that’s what I mean that the matzav cannot continue.”
Rosenthal’s position, founded during former president George W. Bush’s term, was upgraded by Obama when he symbolically moved her office to the same floor in the building housing the State Department where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has her office.
“We have seen huge increases in anti-Semitism. Research shows that 46 percent of the population in Spain has negative views of Jews – in Spain. Two days ago it was reported that anti-Semitic incidents in France more than doubled last year. Ninety-five percent of the Jordanians and Egyptians have negative views of Jews. How can we hope to get to this goal with this climate,” Rosenthal said.
When asked to comment on the view of some in the Israeli government that the Goldstone report was anti-Semitic, Rosenthal said: “I do believe that some of the criticism against Israel is anti-Semitism but not all of it is. And I think that healthy democracies – and Israel is one – has to do self reflection and the world looks at the light unto the nations and says I agree to this policy or I don’t agree – that is not anti-Semitism. But having the UN single out Israel for 170 resolutions over the last five years – when everybody knows that Sudan is committing genocide and they have only five resolutions. When Israel is the only agenda item on the human rights council – I think it’s legitimate to look at this singling out, holding Israel to a different standard than the rest of the world. I think that crosses the line to anti-Semitism.”
“But it is not anti-Semitic to look at a certain policy of Israel and say – I disagree with it. Half of the population in Israel isn’t anti-Semitic by not agreeing with policies,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal’s father is a Holocaust survivor, the sole survivor of his family. “I said to my father at this point – ‘dad how did you survive?’ And he turned to me and said – ‘I survived to have you.’ This is why I am so driven and have a feeling of urgency for this issue,” she said.