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Some Likud heavy-hitters and Jewish organization leaders in the US have bound together to get Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to rethink the appointment of Alon Pinkas as ambassador to the UN, senior diplomatic officials said Thursday.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was expected last Sunday to bring a batch of new diplomatic appointments to the cabinet for approval, including that of Pinkas, but at the last minute he removed that item from the agenda.
Lieberman is expected to discuss the issue with Netanyahu when he returns from Europe next week.
Neither Lieberman's office nor the PM's office would comment on the matter.
Pinkas, a former consul-general in New York, widely acclaimed for his media appearances, was removed from that post in 2004 by then Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, in a nasty fight over whether Pinkas's contract should be renewed. Shalom is one potential Likud rival that Netanyahu would not want to upset over minor issues right now.
While Pinkas had a reputation for representing Israel well in the media, he didn't always get along smoothly with Jewish organizations in New York. And some leaders of those organizations have reportedly advised against his appointment.
Pinkas skewered both Shalom and the organized Jewish leadership in a biting cable he wrote before leaving his post in 2004.
"During my tenure in New York there have been four foreign ministers - Shlomo Ben-Ami, Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Silvan Shalom. The keyboard naturally wants to continue and type, 'I have learned from them all,' but who would believe such hypocrisy? What have I learned from the current foreign minister?" wrote Pinkas of Shalom.
And he wrote of American Jewish organizations, whose importance he downplayed in a 2001 cable, that one of his goals as consul-general in New York was "to clarify, emphasize, and insist that the State of Israel is not another Jewish organization, that it is a sovereign and independent state which is the fulfillment of Zionism, and not a branch of the Presidents' Conference [the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations] or a tourist office for government ministers who come to New York to take out their anger on innocent salmon," a reference to bagel and lox breakfasts.
But Jewish leaders said their previous misgivings should not derail Pinkas's possible appointment at the UN.
"He was a very successful consul-general. He was very articulate, a good diplomat, who established relationships with the media," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who spoke out against Pinkas's comments about American Jewry several years ago. "The issues around him really came later and had very little to do with his ability to represent the state of Israel."
"Any public person comes with baggage," he added, "and if there's no controversy, it indicates he didn't do anything."
But other leaders took issue with Pinkas's politics. "I always found him to be a very smart, articulate spokesman for Israel, but I was concerned about Alon that he was too ready to make one-sided concessions to the Palestinians," said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
Klein said he has fielded calls from colleagues at mainstream organizations who have similar concerns. "I'd be concerned if he had an important policy role in this administration," said Klein.
Prior to serving as consul-general, Pinkas served as diplomatic adviser to Peres and Ehud Barak when they were foreign ministers, and as the chief of staff for former foreign ministers David Levy and Ben-Ami. Before that he was defense correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.
In addition to Pinkas, Shai Bazak, who served as Netanyahu's spokesman during his first term as prime minister and then later became Israel's consul-general in Miami, is also waiting for the final nod as Israel's new consul-general in new York.
Israel's ambassador to Washington and the UN are considered among the most important positions abroad, and are generally filled by political appointees. One senior diplomatic source said that with the UN moving towards additional sanctions on Iran, the ambassador to the UN would be critical in the coming year.
Regarding Iran, Lieberman told Russian TV while in the country, "We are impatiently waiting for concrete steps to be taken by the international community on the Iranian issue. Whoever wanted positive proof that the Iranians do not intend to reach an agreement, received it in the past few days. From Israel's standpoint, all options are on the table."
Lieberman is currently in Russia co-chairing the first meeting of the Russian-Israel commission on trade and economic cooperation.
In Israel, meanwhile, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia's National Security Council, has been holding talks since Wednesday with top Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, Barak and NSC chairman Uzi Arad.
Arad issued a statement saying the talks have "encompassed a range of issues of strategic significance to both countries and reflected an affinity on various points, including fundamental issues. The two sides agreed to continue the format of consultations on a regular basis."
E.B. Solomont contributed to this story.