Singling Out Martin Indyk

Martin Indyk, currently U.S. Ambassador to Israel, is slated to become the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, ostensibly the number one Middle position at the State Department. He will be the first Jew to hold the post—unless the zealots of the Zionist Organization of America have their way. Establishing a new standard for ideological purity, the ZOA has reportedly decided to oppose Indyk's nomination.

Indyk, for those who don't know, worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He was handpicked by the machers there to head a think tank designed to give greater academic legitimacy to pro-Israel research. How can any friend of Israel oppose a guy with this background?

Well, ZOA apparently believes Indyk has lost his way and become a danger to Israel. Why? Because he has represented the Government of the United States and his bosses, the Secretary of State and the President, rather than the ZOA?

Sure, it's been disappointing to see Indyk criticize the Israeli government on occasion and not to be a public advocate for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but he has chosen the career path of a politician/bureaucrat rather than an activist. If you want to work for the government, particularly the State Department, you cannot have an independent foreign policy agenda. You accept the job knowing that personal views may have to be modified, compromised or abandoned.

Sound outrageous?

I certainly would find it difficult to subsume my personal beliefs, but that is one reason I don't work for the government. I'd probably feel the need to resign every other minute when policies were adopted that I did not agree with. Amb. Stuart Eizenstat provided me a good explanation, however, for why such behavior is counterproductive. Eizenstat, who is also now at State, is a shrewd 30-year political veteran who served as Jimmy Carter's chief political adviser and has played a variety of roles in the current administration, most recently overseeing the report on the disposition of Nazi gold.

Carter's policies occasionally were at odds with the interests of the pro-Israel community. The White House liaison to the Jewish community even resigned over Carter's decision to sell fighter planes to the Saudis. Eizenstat stayed for the duration. He said that he often disagreed with policies, but that resigning would not help change them. He preferred, instead, to stay in the administration and fight another day, because, he said, his view might prevail on another important issue.

People outside the beltway may have difficulty understanding the bureaucratic mentality, but the Stu Eizenstats who quietly influence policy for decades recognize that politics is the art of compromise and not even the President gets his way all the time. Indyk appears to have chosen to adopt the Eizenstat model and be a player rather than be relegated to the sidelines as a protestor.

Bully for Martin. That doesn't mean we should support his career ambitions.

No, but it is important to understand his thinking before dismissing him as yet another (alleged) self-hating Jew at Foggy Bottom. ZOA and the rest of the pro-Israel community should be making the same kind of political calculations about Indyk as he is making for himself. Are we better off with the devil (and Indyk is more of an angel) we know or the one we don't know? Can ZOA think of anyone short of the reincarnation of Jabotinsky who would satisfy their criteria for the position? The Assistant Secretary is typically a career Foreign Service Officer, so that means the alternatives are almost certainly Arabists. Would one of them be preferable to a guy whose career was made by his pro-Israel credentials and connections? Does ZOA know someone who would offer them greater access?

Rather than casting aspersions and trying to undercut Indyk, the pro-Israel community should enthusiastically welcome his appointment. Once he's confirmed, we should make him the target of an unrelenting campaign to change administration policies that are harmful to the Middle East peace process and regional interests of the United States. A steady stream of representatives should parade through his office to explain why the Administration should accept the wishes of the American people and their congressional representatives and recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

This, my Zionist friends, is the way to exercise influence in Washington.