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Jewish Leaders Express Dismay at ‘unfortunate’ Rebuke of Envoy

February 19, 1991
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Jewish leaders have criticized the Bush administration for what they see an “unfortunate” and “unnecessary” public rebuke of Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval for his criticisms of the administration.

There is also suspicion the administration’s pique over Israeli foreign aid requests may be the real reason for the flap over shoval’s remarks.

Shoval has apologized for criticizing the Bush administration, in an interview with the Reuters news agency, for its delay in providing $400 million in promised guarantees for loans Israel would use to build housing for Soviet Jewish immigrants.

“I did say some things which diplomats are supposed not to say, and I am sorry for that,” Shoval told reporters in Miami, after addressing the 1991 plenum of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.

Comparing the relationship between Israel and the United States to a family, he said that “certain squabbles and mistakes on my part can be overcome.”

The apology came after President Bush, in a rare public rebuke of an ambassador, called Shoval’s criticism “outrageous.”

“Public statements made yesterday by Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval are outrageous and outside the bounds of acceptable behavior by the ambassador of any friendly country” the White House said in a statement issued late Friday.

“The secretary of state made this clear to the ambassador yesterday, and the president protested to Prime Minister (Yitzhak) Shamir by cable this morning,” the statement said, adding, “We deserve better from Israel’s ambassador”


The statement, issued after Bush had left for a weekend at his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, was even more surprising since it had appeared the flap had ended when Shoval met with Secretary of State James Baker last Thursday, after his interview with Reuters appeared.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Monday that it was “unfortunate” that the White House issued the public rebuke after Shoval had met with Baker.

“I hope that this chapter is over, and I hope that there are no broader implications in terms of policy,” he said.

Seymour Reich, immediate past chairman of the Conference of Presidents, called the White House rebuke of Shoval “outrageous.” The current chairman of the conference, Shoshana Cardin, was in Israel and could not immediately be reached.

“The administration came down unnecessarily hard on Shoval,” Reich said, “It was as if they were trying to put Israel in its place for having achieved sympathy and understanding from the American people and Congress.”

Shoval’s complaint about the slow pace of the promised U.S. aid, approved by Congress last spring, was a reflection of Israeli frustration at continuing requests from the Bush administration for technical documents on how the loan money will be spent.

“We sometimes feel we are being giving the runaround, although, to the best of my under- standing, Israel has fully complied with the requests that were raised in this connection by the United States government,” Shoval told Reuters.


The Israeli Embassy said in a statement Friday that while Shoval’s words were partially taken out of context, they “reflect a sense of bewilderment in Israel regarding the repeated delays in receiving the guarantees.”

U.S. officials have recently told Israel that “all we needed to release were one or two other pieces of clarification” on how the money would be spent, an embassy official said. “Strangely enough, every time we clarified, there was another chain of requests” that left “some sour taste in our mouths.”

The embassy was upset, when after submitting information on plans for new roads and a “few budgetary aspects of the settlement activity” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, additional questions were submitted, the official said.

Reich said there is concern in the American Jewish community that “the housing guarantees have not been implemented after one year of enactment by the Congress.”

He charged that the administration is trying to get “more details than has ever been requested by a prior administration.”

The latest U.S request for information was made after two Israeli opposition Knesset members, Dedi Zucker of the Citizens Rights Movement and Haim Oron of Mapam, released a report showing that the Israeli Housing Ministry was continuing to channel funds into settlements in the administered territories.

Baker reportedly was infuriated by the report and asked Dennis Ross, director of the State Department’s policy planning staff, to seek clarifications from Shoval.

William Burns, principal deputy director of the policy planning staff, said in an address to the NJCRAC gathering Sunday that it was “unfortunate” there had been a delay in releasing the loan funds.

But he said Israel would get the money in one lump sum, rather than in three installments, as has been previously reported.

On Monday, the 500 NJCRAC delegates adopted a statement calling on the administration to “implement expeditiously” the promised loan guarantees.


Shoval also complained to Reuters that Israel “had not received one cent in aid” to compensate Israel for losses due to Iraqi Scud missile attacks on the Jewish state.

When Arens visited Washington on Feb. 11, he told Baker that Israel will have spent $910 million in military costs by April 1 directly as a result of the Persian Gulf crisis, according to a pro-Israeli lobbyist.

An Israeli Embassy official confirmed that Arens provided Baker with the Israeli military’s “service-by-service” and “transaction-by-trans action” operational costs, “to prove that we are only talking about those activities that are Desert Storm-related.”

Israel has also mentioned a figure of $2.2 billion in indirect war costs, such as damages to homes hit by the Scud missiles and reduced trade and tourism.

Some administration sources have complained that Israel is asking for more money even though the United States is essentially fighting Israel’s war for it by destroying Iraq’s military power.

This view was echoed by Zbiegniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. “Geopolitically, Israel is a major beneficiary of the war.” Brzezinski said Sunday on the NBC News television program “Meet the Press.”

The war ” destroys the principal Arab military power in the region, it weakens the Arabs, it discredits the PLO because of the position it took,” he said.

But White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater indicated last Thursday that the administration may still ask Congress for supplemental foreign aid for countries such a bill would only cover items directly related to the war.

A Capitol Hill source said it is Israel will likely hold off making a formal request for emergency aid until it is clear whether there will be a supplemental aid bill.

Israeli sources said Israel is not expected to ask for the $2.2 billion in indirect costs, since that would count against other contenders for a slice of the $20 billion U.S. foreign aid budget pie for 1991, of which Israel already receives the largest portion.

“We are not dummies.” an Israeli Embassy official said. “We know exactly the state of the U.S. budget.”

But the $1 billion in direct aid for war losses and the $400 million in loan guarantees skim the surface of Israel’s hoped-for special foreign aid allotments over the next years.

Israel wants $10 billion more in loan guarantees to assist the absorption of Soviet immigrants, to be provided in $2 billion-a-year installments over five years, Israeli officials said.

(Contributing to this report were JTA staff writer Debra Nussbaum Cohen in Miami and JTA correspondent Gil Sedan in Jerusalem.)

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