Home > Israel > Daniel Shapiro To Be Named Next Ambassador to Israel – Why This is a Very Hopeful Appointment

Daniel Shapiro To Be Named Next Ambassador to Israel – Why This is a Very Hopeful Appointment

February 24, 2011

I first encountered Daniel Shapiro, rumered to be the next Ambassador to Israel, along with Dennis Ross and Tony Cordesman, in the summer of 2008 when he was Candidate Obama’s Jewish outreach liaison.  The scene was at an Obama event held at Rosy’s (Lee Rosenberg, current President of AIPAC) hamishe outdoor Sukkah.  This was, of course, at a time when not only were the election results uncertain, but Obama’s Israel bona fides were very much in question by many of the heads of mainstream American Jewish organizations.  The featured speaker was Dennis Ross, the current White House Middle East advisor and upcoming speaker at the J Street Conference in Washington.  Ross spoke of Obama’s commitment to Israel – but also, if elected, to the importance Obama would give to prioritizing the Israeli-Palestinian issue and finding a two-state solution to the problem, while still maintaining the United States’ long-term alliance and special relationship to Israel.  [Of course, this is precisely the course President Obama took after he was elected.]  Shapiro also spoke briefly and echoed these sentiments. 

I was able to speak with Mr. Shapiro briefly and  express my concerns about the neo-cons’ drumbeat for military action against Iran vis-a-vis both Israel and the US.  Specifically, I emphasized the importance  of two factors that were ignored in the run up to the Iraq War.  First, evaluating the other sides’ behavior not only through the lens of its current government – but also with full consideration of its cultural and historical background.  In Iran’s case, this means from the Persian empire through the assassination coup d’etat against Mosaddegh in 1953 to the 1979 revolution.  Second, the importance of analyzing the opponent’s military options.  Iran is not Iraq, and by all accounts it has been preparing for an Israeli and/or American attack for many years.  As far as domestic US politics goes, it is much easier to get support for bombing than for diplomacy – but in Iran’s case, totally reckless without evaluating its likely military response and what effect that might have, not only on the region, but on the entire world – and communicating these evaluations to the general public.  His response was that he understood fully the issues I had raised and agreed with the importance of considering them when evaluating US policy.  My first impression was that he was extremely intelligent, knowledgable, and fair-minded.

My next encounters with Mr. Shapiro were when he addressed J Street leadership on at least two occasions.  This was very early on in J Street’s history and its status as an important voice in the American Jewish community had yet to be established.  I believe that the choice to use him to address J Street was not just because of his position in the Administration (i.e., a rung or two down from the top) – but because of who he is as a person.  Granted my experience is very limited, but he always seemed very thoughtful, serious and direct.  I also felt that he was very warm and comfortable being in a room with J Streeters and appreciated the fact that he was speaking to an audience that was deeply knowledgable about the issues and could understand the nuances of the global politics of the region.  That is, he did not appear either defensive about or threatened by J Street’s progressive positions.  In that regard, perhaps he just has a pretty good poker face (though in a personable kind of way), but that should serve him well in dealing with Israeli politicians.

One extremely positive aspect of this appointment is that I believe Mr. Shapiro is a person who will be acceptable to the entire American Jewish community.  Yet, my hope is that he will not have to be an apologist to the American Jewish right, but instead, will be able to communicate the Administration’s policies firmly and directly even when they may diverge from the “Israel – Right or Wrong” line of thinking.  Let’s hope that this is good for those of us who believe that NOW is the time for the US to use its leverage to get both sides to make an agreement happen.

Categories: Israel
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