New consul-general to NY nominated

David Sharan, Steinitz confidant, to represent Israel at key post.

July 21, 2010 05:34
4 minute read.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Eyebrows rose in the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday following reports that Avigdor Lieberman has nominated David Sharan, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s chief of staff, as Israel’s next consul- general in New York.

Foreign Ministry officials confirmed that the process to approve Sharan’s nomination had begun.

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Lieberman’s nomination of Sharan, a political appointment, comes just a few days after the foreign minister announced the appointment of Meron Reuben as the next envoy to the UN.

While the Reuben appointment was officially deemed “temporary” in order to bypass the need for Lieberman to get the approval of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Sharan’s nomination will have to go to the full cabinet for its okay.

Filling both positions has been a source for disagreement between Netanyahu and Lieberman in recent months. The prime minister nixed Lieberman’s first choice for the UN job, former consul-general to New York Alon Pinkas (currently a foreign affairs analyst for the Fox News Channel), as well as his preferred candidate for the New York position, former consul- general in Miami Shai Bazak.

In light of the current tension between Netanyahu and Lieberman over the conversion bill and the draft budget – tension they both tried to put behind them at a meeting on Monday night – neither’s office was willing to talk on Tuesday about the Sharan nomination. Sharan himself was not talking to the media about the matter on Tuesday.

In recent months, when Sharan was being bandied about as a candidate for the job in addition to former Netanyahu advisers Bazak, Bobby Brown and Yechiel Leiter, he was not considered inside the Prime Minister’s Office as a serious candidate.

The reason, one source said, was because even though he speaks fluent English – he was born in Israel to American parents who immigrated in the 1960s – he has no known public diplomacy experience or expertise in the American Jewish community.

He lived in the US on and off as a youth and graduated from a Los Angeles high school in 1988.

One diplomatic official said the two main jobs of the consul- general in New York were to act as a liaison with the American Jewish community, something that would become especially sensitive as the conversion issue comes to a head, and to interface with the many media outlets represented in the American metropolis.

“Who on earth is David Sharan?” one diplomatic official asked. “He has no name recognition, no proven hasbara [public diplomacy] ability or any known expertise on the American Jewish community. If he was the right-hand man of the prime minister, then I could understand they want someone in New York to be their antenna, but this is not the case.”

Sharan, who has an master’s degree in American studies and is a lieutenant-colonel in the reserves, is a confidante of Steinitz who has worked with him ever since the finance minister went into politics in 1999.

When Steinitz was chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Sharan, according to government sources, developed a close working relationship with a number of US senators and representatives.

If his nomination is approved, Sharan will replace Assaf Shariv, who was appointed consul-general in 2007 by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. Shariv served as a spokesman to both Olmert and his predecessor, Ariel Sharon.

In the US, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman told The Jerusalem Post that while he did not know Sharan personally, he was “looking forward to welcoming him.”

“The fact that the foreign minister feels that he is capable and able to do the job is good enough for me,” Foxman said, adding that Sharan would have “big shoes to fill” in following Shariv.

Sharan’s facility with English, Foxman said, was “a good beginning, but it’s a big job, communicating Israel’s policy and representing Israel in its various forms. It’s a job and a half.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, characterized the job of consul-general as being “24/6,” and said the nomination came at a critical time for Israel’s relations with various American communities.

“This is a very important period, given the efforts at delegitimization of Israel, both around the world and in the United States,” Hoenlein said. “We need someone who can articulate Israel’s case, and who will help foster closer ties between Israel and both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

Hoenlein said he had heard Sharan’s English was quite good, which “would be very helpful.

He will follow in the tradition of his predecessors, most of whom did outstanding jobs.”

Jewish International Connection NY Chairman Jeff Stier said Sharan’s “strong connections to the US make him especially wellsuited to serve here in New York. I believe he’ll fit in well with New York’s Jewish community, as well as our political establishment. I look forward to working with him.”

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