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U.S. Jewish Leaders Applaud New Israeli Envoy to Washington

June 3, 2002
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U.S. Jewish leaders are applauding the naming of Danny Ayalon as the next Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Reacting to his appointment, several Jewish leaders called Ayalon a consummate professional who has a good working relationship with the American Jewish community.

After months of uncertainty over who would fill Israel’s top diplomatic post, Ayalon, who is currently Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior foreign policy adviser, was named to the post last Friday.

The appointment of Ayalon, 47, ends months of speculation over who would replace David Ivry, who left the post in mid-April several months after he announced his intention to leave.

The appointment was held up because of sparring between Sharon and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, who under the terms of their coalition agreement had to agree on who Ivry’s successor would be.

Because he is a career diplomat, Ayalon is considered a “professional” appointment, not a “political” one.

U.S. Jewish officials say Ayalon will bring a different set of experiences to the table than Ivry, a career military official, and other ambassadors who have had political aspirations.

“Danny Ayalon’s background, history and experience is diplomacy,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “I think the fact that he’s not a politico means a lot.”

Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said Ayalon garnered positive responses from conference calls he has held with JCPA leaders.

Ayalon will be helpful in the “battle of the airwaves” as Israel continues to vie for public support during the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.

U.S. Jewish leaders point to Ayalon’s ability and interest in speaking to the media, something Ivry rarely did during his tenure in Washington.

“We’re looking for someone to be an effective communicator in the public arena, and I think he meets that criterion,” Raffel said of Ayalon.

Ayalon’s appointment comes as the White House grapples with Middle East policy and an American audience seeks Israeli voices to counter Palestinian rhetoric.

An Israeli official in Washington said Ayalon will be a known entity to the Bush administration and Congress because he has accompanied Sharon in his U.S. travels.

In his current capacity as Sharon’s adviser, Ayalon has worked closely with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Ayalon is considered a compromise candidate. For weeks, Sharon and Peres had rejected candidates proposed by the other.

Among those who had been considered for the post were former U.N. ambassador Dore Gold and the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Sallai Meridor.

Ayalon’s name came up during a meeting last week between Sharon and Peres, when Peres presented a list of senior Foreign Ministry officials to be considered for the post.

Ayalon’s appointment reportedly drew mixed reaction in the ministry, where he was catapulted over more senior and experienced officials.

A married father of two, Ayalon holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Tel Aviv University and a master’s degree in business administration from Bowling Green University in Ohio.

He worked in the private sector before joining the Foreign Ministry in 1989. His previous diplomatic assignments included a stint at Israel’s mission to the United Nations.

Four years ago, Ayalon was “loaned” from the Foreign Ministry to work as assistant foreign policy adviser to then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud.

He continued in this position after Ehud Barak became prime minister.

Sharon named Ayalon his chief foreign policy adviser soon after taking office last year.

In that capacity, Ayalon has been involved in preparing Sharon’s contacts with foreign officials and planning trips abroad.

Many Israeli commentators considered Ayalon a good compromise candidate.

As an adviser to the prime minister, he has Sharon’s trust. Coming from the Foreign Ministry’s ranks, the choice of Ayalon was a face-saving measure for Peres.

Ayalon’s ultimate performance in Washington will depend on how he is utilized from Jerusalem, observers noted.

If the Prime Minister’s Office and the Oval Office continue to stay in direct contact for their most important communications — which would sideline Ayalon from such contacts, as was the case during Ivry’s tenure — then Ayalon’s main responsibility will be to present Israel’s view to the media.

Sharon said he wanted Ayalon to depart for Washington as soon as possible.

The appointment is still pending formal approval from the Foreign Ministry’s committee on diplomatic appointments.

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