Boston area Jews split on Nadav Tamir

Russian emigrants demand Israeli envoy's recall, while mainstream groups support him.

boston skyline 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
boston skyline 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Boston's Russian Jewish community is urging Jerusalem to recall Consul-General Nadav Tamir, following the wide circulation of a cable in which Tamir said the government's policies were hurting Israel's relationship with the US. A coalition of Russian Jewish groups publicized a letter on Monday lambasting Tamir, following similar criticism by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. "Nadav Tamir proved that he is not a diplomat, but an ideologue," read the letter, signed by representatives of the Russian Jewish Community Foundation of Massachusetts, Boston For Israel, the Jewish Russian Telegraph, the Russian School of Mathematics and Boston Russian Media Group. But the sentiment represented a sharp break with widespread support for Tamir among Boston-area Jewish groups. Longtime communal leaders described him as a skilled diplomat who exercised a keen ability to advocate for Israel and explain the Israeli government's policies to many different audiences. Jewish leaders also defended his ability to gauge the community's views - and insisted their community was not one-dimensional - following statements made on Sunday by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who said Tamir got the facts wrong and represented only what he was hearing in his "bubble" in Boston. "I've seen a person who has built enormous credibility," Steve Grossman, a longtime advocate for Israel and a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said of Tamir. Rejecting the notion that the Israeli diplomat worked in a bubble, Grossman said Tamir traversed New England, reaching a cross-section of civic, religious and business leaders, as well as activists and others. "I think that the region in which Nadav is posted may be politically a more progressive part of the world than others, but I think Nadav is a sober, sophisticated, keen observer of what he's seeing," Grossman said. He said the Boston-area Jewish community espoused a range of views on the recent divide between American and Israeli policy in Israel and the Middle East. "There are strong differences of opinion," he said. To that point, Charles Jacobs, a longtime community activist and head of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, said depicting Boston as a bubble was not wholly inaccurate. "It's the epicenter of liberalism in America, maybe even the epicenter of Jewish liberalism," Jacobs said. But he said the current flap reflected the Jewish community's conflict with the Obama administration regarding its Middle East and Israel policies. "The Jews are conflicted, the Jewish community is conflicted. It overwhelmingly supports his [President Barack Obama's] domestic policies, but more and more it has serious concerns about his foreign policy, particularly his Middle East foreign policy," Jacobs said. Still, the letter from the Russian Jewish groups said Tamir did not seek their opinion on the matter. Instead, his cabled report had "no connection with reality, no knowledge of the trends or American public opinion, nor that of the political reality on the ground." But the portrayal of Boston as cut off from the rest of the US was seen as troubling. "In many ways, we are a microcosm, I think, not a bubble," said Beth Wasserman, community liaison for the Boston chapter of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom. "I think Boston actually reflects the greater American Jewish community in the sense that there's a really wide variety of views." To Tamir's credit, she added, he addressed groups with that wide variety of views, and in the wake of his cable, has mustered broad support from within the community. "I think he has helped create the broadest base of pro-Israel support our community has had in a long time," Wasserman said. Others heads of Jewish organizations in Boston expressed similar support for the envoy and said they hoped he would return to his post. "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," Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish community Relations Council, told The Boston Globe. "We have found him to be an amazing partner when it comes to creating and mobilizing support in greater Boston."