A recent remark by the head of the U.S. administration's Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, has sparked a wave of harsh criticism in Jerusalem.
Rosenthal told Haaretz earlier this week that comments made by Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, against the liberal Jewish lobby J Street were "most unfortunate."
Senior government officials told Haaretz on Friday that "We were surprised at Ms. Rosenthal's remarks, as reported in Haaretz." The officials stressed that he comments "don't reflect the nature of the relations between Israel and the U.S., nor do they reflect the great respect and appreciation of the ambassador and his staff felt both in Jerusalem and in Washington."
J Street was established a few years ago as a new pro-Israel lobby to counterbalance the strong, veteran group AIPAC, considered to be toeing a more right-wing conservative line. Under the motto "pro-Israel, pro-peace," J Street began to promote issues like a freeze on settlement construction and a two-state solution.
In the interview, published Thursday, Rosenthal, who once served on J Street's board of directors, lamented Oren's rejection of an invitation to take part in a J Street conference earlier this year. While the U.S. administration embraced J Street, which lends its unqualified support to U.S. President Barack Obama, the Israeli government turned a cold shoulder to the group. Obama's national security adviser, General James Jones, gave the keynote speech at the conference, while Israel sent a low-level official, claiming that J Street works against Israel's interests.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington requested clarification from the U.S. administration over Rosenthal's remark. Senior Israeli officials told their American colleagues that it was unacceptable for an administration official to publicly criticize Israel's ambassador over his relationship with Jewish organizations.
Jewish community leaders and White House officials also demanded clarifications. In the wake of the storm Rosenthal's remarks stirred, the White House asked the State Department to issue a clarification notice.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, issued a statement distancing himself from Rosenthal's remarks. Statements were also delivered to the Israeli embassy in Washington stating that Rosenthal's sentiments do not reflect the position of the U.S. administration.
Feltman told Haaretz on Thursday that the U.S. maintains relations with groups representing the entire political spectrum, and that the fact that so many groups aim to strengthen U.S.-Israel relations is commendable.
He added that the U.S. State Department has developed a close relationship with Michael Oren and the embassy staff.
Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and a confidant of U.S. President Barack Obama issued a condemnation of Rosenthal's remarks, casting doubt over her ability to fulfill her responsibilities as an opponent of anti-Semitism.
"As an official of the United States government, it is inappropriate for the anti-Semitism envoy to be expressing her personal views on the positions Ambassador Oren has taken as well as on the subject of who needs to be heard from in the Jewish community. Such statements have nothing to do with her responsibilities and, based upon comments I am already receiving, could threaten to limit her effectiveness in the area for which she is actually responsible," said the statement.