Jewish leaders in city defend Israeli consul amid uproar

His memo hits handling of US relations

Governor Deval Patrick greeted Nadav Tamir, Israel’s consul general for New England, at a function at the JFK Museum in May of 2008. Governor Deval Patrick greeted Nadav Tamir, Israel’s consul general for New England, at a function at the JFK Museum in May of 2008. (Mike Ritter/ Globe File)
By James F. Smith
Globe Staff / August 10, 2009

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Leaders of Boston’s Jewish community yesterday rallied strongly behind Israel’s consul general for New England, Nadav Tamir, who was summoned to Jerusalem this week to explain his controversial memo saying Israel’s handling of its relations with the United States was “causing strategic damage’’ to American public support for Israel.

That confidential memo to Tamir’s superiors was leaked to an Israeli television station last week, prompting angry criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others. Yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, criticized the memo as “not the work of a professional,’’ and said it contained more opinion than data.

But in Boston, several influential Jewish leaders defended Tamir. They said that in his three years in Boston as consul general, he has won widespread respect for his integrity and his intelligent approach to building relations within the community and with non-Jews - and they look forward to having him finish out his final year here.

“He is thoughtful, fair, and insightful. I have found him really to be the best Israeli diplomat I have worked with in my 19 years here,’’ said Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish community Relations Council since 1990. “We have found him to be an amazing partner when it comes to creating and mobilizing support in greater Boston.’’

Steve Grossman, a longtime advocate for Israel and a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, offered an equally ringing endorsement: “I’ve known Israeli consuls general for the last 30 years or so. And I don’t think Israel has had a more effective leader in New England in that time than Nadav Tamir.’’

Grossman said that while he hadn’t seen the memo, Tamir appeared to have been doing precisely what an effective Israeli diplomat should do.

“I think he believed, and believes, he has a responsibility to provide his government with timely and relevant information that will enable them to make the best possible decisions that will affect his government and the US-Israel relationship. And I think that is an entirely legitimate and critical part of his job description,’’ Grossman said.

The Israeli media published portions of the memo on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry said Tamir had been called home to meet soon with Director General Yossi Gal. Such a public order is unusual, suggesting the sensitivity in Israel of its relationship with the United States.

Some Israeli reports said Tamir’s job could be at stake.

Based on those media excerpts, the thrust of the letter is that in the past, Israel and the United States have stressed their partnership in values and interests whatever the conflict of the moment, but that recently Israel has been distancing itself from the United States in damaging ways that place the American Jewish Community “in a problematic position, in which they are forced to choose between the two.’’

Tamir adds that he does not detect any naivete in the Obama administration on Israel or the Mideast; “On the contrary, I believe they are much more realistic than their neoconservative predecessors.’’

One key source of tension is the administration’s call for Israel to stop further development of settlements as a step toward renewing peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s government has resisted those calls, and is pushing ahead with expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem.

Tamir, reached by phone, declined to comment, and referred a reporter to the Israeli foreign ministry, which did not return calls yesterday. But earlier in the day, Ayalon, the deputy foreign minister, told Israel’s Army Radio that Tamir was facing unspecified disciplinary action following the publication of his “very regrettable memorandum.’’

Ayalon was quoted as saying that Tamir was echoing Boston’s liberal “bubble,’’ and that support for Israel has risen among Americans elsewhere.

He also denied that the ministry was trying to quash debate among its diplomats, saying the problem was not just the content but also that Tamir shared his sensitive memo too widely within the ministry, all but ensuring it would be leaked.

Amid the support for Tamir voiced in Boston yesterday was at least one dissonant voice.

Boston blogger Martin Solomon published what he said was the full text of Tamir’s three-page memo on his website. He said the memo was sent to him by an undisclosed source in Israel.

Solomon argued in his blog entry that it is the Obama administration’s “naive and reckless’’ Israel and Mideast policies that are causing strains in the US-Israel relationship rather than Israel’s policies.

He asked his readers: “Who has Nadav Tamir been breaking bread with? Many of the people in so-called Jewish ‘leadership’ positions are there by virtue of their checkbooks and connections, and many of those would sell Israel down the river in a heartbeat if it made them uncomfortable at their Cambridge cocktail parties. Have they got their hooks into the local Israeli rep?’’

It remained unclear yesterday how Israel’s Channel 10 got hold of Tamir’s memorandum, which he wrote to Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of a right-wing party in the coalition government who has been highly critical of Palestinians. Israel’s political debates are very feisty and often fiercely partisan, and the media frequently publish leaked documents.

A graduate of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Tamir joined the Foreign Ministry in 1993, and rose steadily in a diplomatic service that is highly respected in the West for its nonpartisan professionalism. Tamir became a political officer at the Israeli Embassy in Washington in 1997, and an adviser to the director general in the ministry in 2001.

He spent the 2003-4 academic year as a Wexner Israel Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, earning his masters in public administration. He returned to Boston in 2006 as consul general.

Ilan Troen, an Israeli-American who is director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, spends part of each year living in Israel and follows its foreign policy closely. He said that Tamir “is one of the brightest midcareer service people in the Israeli foreign service. When you mention Nadav Tamir in the Foreign Ministry, people’s eyes light up.’’

Some news accounts have speculated that Tamir might have leaked the document himself, but Troen said, “To think that he would have leaked this is an absurdity. . . . That’s not what it’s about at all.

“It is clear he is being used,’’ Troen said. “By whom, we don’t know.’’

In Boston, Tamir’s supporters said they expected him to return from the meetings in Jerusalem and complete his tour.

The president of the American Jewish Committee chapter, Ken Levine, said he has worked closely with Tamir for his three years in Boston. “He’s a very thoughtful, reasoned voice, very articulate,’’ Levine said. “I think he’s been a great spokesman for the Israeli government in presenting Israel’s case to the non-Jewish community here in Boston.’’

“So this whole thing feels a little out of left field,’’ Levine said. “But we have no idea what the politics are and what’s really going on.’’

Grossman, a longtime Democratic Party activist as well as Israel advocate, said Boston is the sixth-largest Jewish community in North America, and an important base for Israel. He said the relationships Tamir has built here ensure Israel strong support whenever conflict arises, and that he was especially effective in arguing earlier this year that Israel had no option but to launch a military incursion into Gaza to halt Palestinian rocket fire on civilian areas.

In the memo, Grossman said, “Clearly, to use the cliché, he called it the way he saw it. And I would hope that this government is open enough to the candid assessments of its diplomats so that it can take into account their testimony.’’

James F. Smith can be reached at His blog is