columnU.S.-Israel Relations

What type of representative does Israel need?

Netanyahu’s consideration of unabashed and outspoken advocates, including a JNS columnist, for a top job is recognition that tepid diplomacy won’t cut it anymore.

Caroline Glick. Credit: Courtesy
Caroline Glick. Credit: Courtesy
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

What is the true purpose of Israel’s diplomatic representatives in the United States? The normative answer to that question generally involves a mix of duties. They include representing the Jewish state to the U.S. government and the media, as well as to the American people and the Jewish community, not to mention the not-inconsiderable task of administering the routine functions of embassies and consulates. Yet there is no overestimating the importance of public advocacy to an embattled nation. With so many loud voices raised against it, the ability to persuasively make their country’s case on the world’s greatest stages ought to be the priority.

That’s why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right to be thinking out of the box when it comes to appointing a new consul general in New York City. If he follows through on the idea of naming veteran journalist and JNS columnist Caroline Glick to the post, it will engender a firestorm of criticism from those who will say she hasn’t the right credentials and is too outspoken an advocate on the issues to be given the job.

But that’s exactly why he ought to do it.

Advocacy isn’t always the top priority when Israel has chosen people to fill the country’s three top diplomatic posts in the United States and arguably the world: ambassador to the United States, ambassador to the United Nations and consul general in New York City. In practice, these positions are often treated more like patronage plums to be given out for political reasons rather than treated as decisions on which public support for the Jewish state can depend.

It’s also true that when it comes to filling such posts, governments of all stripes like to follow tradition and pick people who can look and play the role of diplomat. That means choosing a person who doesn’t offend anyone or step on toes. That often involves dipping into the ranks of the professionals who have served in a similar capacity elsewhere, including veterans of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

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Thinking outside of the box

Being charming at cocktail parties can also be useful. But at this point in Israel’s history, perhaps it’s time that it be represented in a major American posting by someone who goes against type. That would entail choosing a representative who is not only not a typical diplomat but also an unapologetic advocate not just for the country but for the government he or she is representing.

That is why, despite the howls of criticism and derision that have greeted the names put forward as possible choices to be Israel’s next consul general in New York, Netanyahu isn’t out of his mind to be thinking about candidates who don’t fit into the diplomat stereotype.

For a few days, it appeared that he was determined to name right-wing firebrand Likud Knesset Member May Golan to the post. But that idea fizzled quickly. May would have been willing to defend Netanyahu’s policies. That means she could have explained—as none of her country’s top diplomats in the United States have been willing or able to do—why the government Israeli voters chose at the ballot box last November is not trying to destroy democracy or turn the country into a Jewish version of Iran, as its opponents have falsely claimed.

But if that was true for Golan, it would be doubly so for Glick.

Her potential nomination does present a conflict for me, though not one that should motivate me to support the nomination.

As editor of the publication where she is a much-valued and popular writer, I actually have a vested interest in Netanyahu choosing someone else. But though it won’t help JNS, she would be an excellent choice. No one could better articulate the case for the justice of Israel’s cause. She would also be someone who would give Americans, including the Jewish community, a message that would debunk the smears and false narratives about the Netanyahu government and judicial reform that they have been fed by the corporate secular media, as well as most English-language Jewish outlets. And, as is her inimitable style, she would do so unapologetically and refusing to kowtow to those who seek to undermine Israel’s government.

Israel’s best advocates

In the past, some of Israel’s envoys have distinguished themselves as public advocates.

Abba Eban, the Jewish state’s first ambassador to the United Nations, who also jointly held the post of ambassador to the United States from 1950-59; and U.N. Ambassadors Chaim Herzog (1975-78) and Netanyahu (1984-88) ably argued the justice of the Jewish state’s cause.

It is not a coincidence that in addition to their command of the issues—and unlike many of those who have represented Israel in the United States—all three spoke fluent and idiomatic English with, respectively, South African/English, Irish and American accents. That was a major asset that enabled them to avoid the pitfalls of addressing the American public with awkward or non-idiomatic English, a must in a country where relatively few people speak a foreign language.

The same could also be said for recent ambassadors to the United States like historian Michael Oren (2009-13) and longtime Netanyahu aide Ron Dermer (2013-21), both American Jews who made aliyah before becoming Israel’s envoy to their native country.

These men had a variety of personal styles and came from different backgrounds. But they all had the gift of being to encapsulate the arguments for Zionism and Jewish rights in a way that was persuasive to both American politicians and the American people. Their pride in Israel was also a source of pride for American Jews.

But in practice, Israel hasn’t always picked the best advocates to send to the United States because of politics.

That’s why the post of consul in New York is currently open since the latest occupant, Asaf Zamir, a veteran politician and former Blue and White Party Knesset member, was appointed by then-Foreign Minister and now opposition leader Yair Lapid. Zamir resigned rather than represent Netanyahu’s government.

A similar situation involves Michael Herzog, the current Israeli ambassador to the United States. A retired military officer, and the son and brother of presidents of Israel, he was also appointed by Lapid. While an exemplary figure, he has been out of the loop since Netanyahu returned to the prime minister’s office at the end of last year. Relations with the United States are now largely the responsibility of Dermer. But in terms of representation in Washington, Herzog seems to be more the envoy of the opposition to Netanyahu than anything else.

Former Likud Knesset member Gilad Erdan, the current Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, has his hands full dealing with that cesspool of antisemitism. But it is also true that he is in New York because it was a way to remove a potential rival to Netanyahu inside the Likud. So, while he’s a strong proponent of his country’s cause, he’s not the person who is best positioned to stem the tide of propaganda emanating from the anti-Bibi resistance.

That is something Glick can do.

A native of Chicago, she made aliyah after college. She is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces; was a longtime columnist and editor at The Jerusalem Post; wrote for many other publications; and is the author of two books. She also briefly dabbled in Israeli politics, running unsuccessfully for the Knesset in 2019 with the New Right Party then led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. She currently writes and hosts a podcast for JNS.

A truth-teller rather than a schmoozer

There will be those who will argue that having someone as forthright as Glick isn’t something that will be welcomed by the Biden administration and the media. It’s likely her nomination won’t go down well with much of the organized Jewish world either. The mainstream legacy Jewish groups and other establishment types want someone who will flatter and cater to them. They aren’t interested in having an outspoken Israeli envoy to confront, rather than back down from, Israel’s Jewish critics.

What Israel needs now is just such a person. By the same token, American Jews do, too. They need an Israeli representative who will take on the intersectional left, which is gaining influence in the Democratic Party and intimidating mainstream pro-Israel liberals into silence or acquiescence. A person who will speak directly to ordinary Jews and not the Manhattan elites should be exactly what Israel should send to New York.

The prime minister will have many reasons to choose someone else. But given the dire situation in which Israel is increasingly being delegitimized on the left and in publications like The New York Times, a fearless truth-teller—not a schmoozer—is just what the Jewish state requires. Choosing Glick for consul isn’t the safe choice. But she would be the right one.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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