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August 14, 2009

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PAGE 22A Supporters From page 1A she has ever made, but it's clear that she has been an agent of change and a fighter for good." White House press secre- tary Robert Gibbs delivered a similar message at his daily news conference Aug. 4. Robinson an honorary president of Oxfam Interna- tional, chair of the Board of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations. and president of a New York-based initiative to put human rights concerns at the center of globalizatibn called the criticism "totally without foundation" and pointed a finger at Jewish critics. "There's a lot of bullying by certain elements of the Jewish community," Robinson, the former president of Ireland, said Aug. 2 in an interview with RTE Radio One that was reported in Irish newspapers. "They bully people who try to address the severe situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Archbishop Desmond Tutu gets the same criticism." Tutu, an anti-apartheidac- tivist who the ZOA also called a"virulent critic" of the Jewish state, also is among the medal recipients. The Robinson award comes as the Obama administration is already facing increasing criticism from several Jew- ish groups over a Middle Settlements From page 4A foresee a peaceful, two-state resolution. And yet... In fairness, that is only part "of the story. Even mainstream~ defenders of Israel take issue more with President Obama's tone in criticizing the settle- ments than with the sub- stance of his argument that continued Settlement growth works against any chance of peace. We no longer hear that settlements are a strategic Security benefit, a buffer against hostile forces. And for the Palestinians to see the number of. Jews living in these areas continue to- grow at such a fast rate adds to their perception that Israel has no intention of giving up any land. Pragmatism also must take into account that Israel's image is weakening, not only in the halls of the United Na- East strategy that they see as placing disproportionate pressure on Israel compared to the Palestinians and Arab states. The president report- edly plans to embark on a campaign of media interviews with reporters from Israel and Arab countries in order to better explain the policy. The growing controversy over Robinson could .poten- 'tially complicate such efforts to win over the Israeli public, since the former U.N. human rights chief is slated to visit the region just a couple weeks after theAug. 12 White House medal ceremony. Robinson is expected to join Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter, a longtime Israel critic, on a mission to Israel. the West Bankand Gaza as part of an international group of statesman and dig- nitaries that calls itself The Elders. Any anti-Israel rebuke from Robinson or the group is likely to prompt a new round of criticism and questions about Obama's decision to honor her. The controversy is fueling speculation over whether the controversy Is an example of poor vetting or a conscious decision to push ahead despite the predictable complaints from some sectors of the Jewish community. So far. the White House is refusing to discuss the deliberations that led to the selection of Robinson. Tevi Troy, a former Jewish liaison and domestic policy adviser in the George W. Bush administration, said he was surprised that such a con- troversial honoree could pass what should be an extensive vetting process in the White House. Troy said that when he worked in the Bush admin- istration, one person had the job of researching every person selected for an honor or scheduled to meet withthe president to make sure the person had nothing in his or her past that might reflect badly on the president--from a controversial public state- ment to a tax lien. Finally, Troy said, any major award would have to "get clearance" from senior staff, which in this case would likely include top adviser Da- vid Axelrod and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Troy, who in a column for the New York Post praised Robinson's "noble com- mitment to human rights" even while criticizing her selection, speculated that the administration either "didn't really check her out" ~ufficiently, or did know she would be controversial but didn't mind because Jews have been such strong back- ers of Obama. Abraham Foxman. the ADL's national director. doubted that this was a case of anything more than"sloppy research." "I don't think this is con- i sciously" an act "against the Jewish community or Israel," he said. "Somebody didn't do their due diligence." One Obama supporter sug- gested that the controversy was a distraction from more important matters. "With a major battle to ensure every American has access to health care. delicate negotiations to further the. peace process in the Middle East and the battle to deny Iran a nuclear capacity, don't we as a community have more critical issues to focus on?" said Ira Forman. the CEO of the National Jewish Demo- cratic Council. The primary criticism of Robinson. the first female president of Ireland. comes over her 1997-2002 tenure as U.N. high commissioner of human rights, during which she was the convener ofa U.N. conference ostensibly against racism that was filled with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hostility. "She allowed the process to be hijacked to promote the delegitimizing of Israel and. pronouncements of hateful anti-Jewish canards, such as 'Zionism is racism,' "" Fox- man said. In an article detailing the reasons for the failure of the conference, the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) wrote in 2002 that "much of the resPonsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders" of Robinson. who "in her role tions, which has always been obscenely biased, and in Eu- rope. with its long history of anti-Semitism, but on these shores as Well--and even among a small but growing number of American Jews whose sensibilities are shaped by the media and lack of first- hand knowledge of Israeli history and culture. Coutdn't Israel, with its powerful army and arsenal of weapons, protect its citi- zens without such a deadly assault on civilians in Gaza, as witnessed last winter, they ask. Wouldn't it help lead to peace if Israel ended the occupation and evacuated the settlements, .they want to know. One of the Sharpest divides between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox segments of American Jewry is in their attitudes toward the settle- ments. For the Orthodox, who often visit friends, for- mer neighbors and family members living in places like Efrat. Ma'aleh Adumim and the Old City of Jerusalem, all over the Green Line, these are lovely Jewish communities inhabited by responsible citi- zens devoted to their families, their work. and society. Butas a Reform leader told me the other day, "our people have little sympathy for those living in the settlements," acknowledging that their perception is more of young fanatics in isolated outposts clashing with Arabs and the IDF than of families many of them secular--going about their daily lives; as in most suburbs. Part of the problem is a lack of awareness of the geographical, social and cultural dynamics of Israeli life, first-hand. And part is the discomfort many American Jews feel in Israel being seen as the problem rather than the solution to the Mideast crisis. I don't have the answi~r to the settlement issue. Neither do my Israeli friends or. as far as I can see. the key players of the Obamaadministration. Yes. it's unfair to put the onus of Israeli-Palestinian problems on the settlements. But it's also unrealistic to think that allowing the status quo to continue is good for Israel. as hostility grows and the demographics shift in the Palestinians' favor. In the meantime] I ad- mire the fortitude and faith of my Israeli friends in the shtachim, or settlements, even as I worry about their future. Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, from which this column is Reprinted with permission. Read the Jewish Week ortline at www. HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 14, 2009 as secretary general of the conference failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track." In discussions during the conference, Lantos wrote in the Fletcher Forum on World Affairs, Robinson "refused to reject the twisted notion that the wrong done to the Jews in the Holocaust was equivalent to the pain suffered by the Palestinians in the Middle East. Instead, she discussed 'the historical wounds of anti-Semitism and of the Ho- locaust on the one hand and... the accumulated wounds of displacement and military occupation on the other.' "' Supporters of the Robinson selection have pointed to an article from The Jerusalem Post to argue that Robinson did make efforts to fight anti-Semitism at the confer- ence. The article reports that "waving abookofanti-Semitic cartoons distributed at the anti-racism conference in Durban. U.N. High Commis- sioner Mary Robinson in a dramatic act of identification with the Jews vilified in the pamphlet--declared 'I am a Jew' af an NGO dinner there Wednesday night." And one official of a Jewish organization who did not wish to be identified noted that much of the most offensive language eventually was scrubbed from the final document of the 2001 conference, although the fact that the Palestinian issue Was ultimately singled out was still a major problem because it marked Israel's treatmentofthe Palestinians as an issue of race. But Robinson s actions were still too little, too Late. said the Jewish organizational official. Robinson reportedly has described the final document as "remarkably good, includ- ing on the issues of the Middle East." Yet the fact that the Palestinian issue was cited at all was considered so troubling by the Obama administration that it helped convince the Americans to skip the follow- up to the conference, which was held earlier this year in Geneva. Foxman also argued that Robinson unfairly blamed Israel for the outbreak of Palestinian violence that started the second intifada. and said her targeting of Israel resumed last year. In an interview after a visit with The Elders to Israel and Gaza last November, she said, "I cannot believe that Israeli ordinary people understand what is being done in their name; they couldn't possibly support it if they did." And after Israel's invasion of Gaza, she said the Jewish state con- trave/aed "international legal norms relating in particular to proportionality and collective punishment." while also call- ing on Hamas to stop-firing missiles into Israel. "She is not an agent of change," said Foxman. refer- ring to the White House's defense of Robinson. The ADL leader called Tutu an "Israel basher," but said his record of fighting apartheid meant he also could be described as an "agent of change." Among the 16 honorees is the late Jack Kemp, a former Republican congressman, Cabinet member and vice presidential candidate who was one of the GOP's leading pro-Israel voices. PR From page 5A by the vast majority of Jewish voters, it turns out there was more to this line of argument than mere partisanship.As his decision this week to honor former Irish President Mary Robinson, best remembered for presiding over the orgy of anti-Semitism that character- ized the 2001 U.N. Durban conference, the presidential Medal of Freedom again shows, Obama is not a man who either understands or respects mainstream Jewish sensibilities. Obama's eloquence is a formidable diplomatic tool but the idea that it can be used to, as the president has said, to convince Israelis to "reflect" on their policies and change their tune is not only astoundingly arrogant, it's wrong. Israelis already want peace and have shown time and again they are ready to make sacrifices to achieve it. What is lacking is a similar commitment from the Pales- tinians. No amount of presi- dential eloquence orAmerican PR ought to convince Israelis that further concessions on their part will bring peace un- til Palestinian leaders match Obama's words with deeds. Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editorofCommentanjmagazine and a contributor to its blog Contentions at Read Commentary at http://www. i