State Dept. backs its anti-Semitism envoy

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. State Department expressed its “complete support” for its anti-Semitism envoy and encouraged “broad dialogue” toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.

A statement Monday from the State Department said it would not add comment to a controversy that erupted in the last weeks of December when Hannah Rosenthal criticized Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador, for snubbing the dovish lobbying group J Street.

However, the statement went on, “Special Envoy Rosenthal has the complete support of the department. As a matter of longstanding policy the United States has supported a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To that end the U.S. government encourages broad dialogue among responsible partners for peace.”

The controversy started last month when Oren told a group of Conservative synagogue leaders that J Street was “fooling around with the lives of 7 million people.” Other dovish groups and then Rosenthal criticized Oren. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Rosenthal described Oren’s comments as “most unfortunate.”

Some Jewish groups then slammed Rosenthal for criticizing an Israeli ambassador — and doing so on a topic that they considered to be unrelated to her portfolio. And Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state who runs Middle East policy, issued a statement defending Oren’s overall performance.

In an interview last week with JTA, Rosenthal, who had served on J Street’s advisory panel before her appointment, refused to retract her criticism of Oren and said she had done nothing wrong.

Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren.

“Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate,” said Rickman, who served in the Bush adminsitration, in an opinion piece on The Cutting Edge News Web site. “She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”