It’s been a big week for shuttle diplomacy: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Washington, D.C., meeting with President Barack Obama, and top Israeli officials were in New York City meeting with all kinds of influential people.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrived at JFK on a red-eye Monday morning and went straight to briefings with his ambassadors and consuls. On Tuesday, he spoke to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations about Israel’s concerns that it is being de-legitimized, and to religious leaders about pending Israeli legislation on conversions, which would expand the Israeli rabbinate’s power to decide who can be called a Jew.
But Lieberman’s official schedule failed to mention what was perhaps his most important mission: Outreach to America’s Russian Jews. On Monday, Lieberman met with more than two dozen leaders of that community at the Intercontinental to discuss the flotilla and the current threats to the Jewish state. “Our mentality and our ideas and our problems can be different from the mainstream American Jewish community, and I can give you one explanation,” Michael Nemirovsky, who directs Russian outreach for New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, told Tablet Magazine. “About 83 percent of the Russian Jewish community has relatives in Israel, so if something happens in Israel, it’s my own family. It’s a physical relationship, not just a moral relationship.”
On Tuesday, Lieberman attended a gala thrown by Russian media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky, who lives in Connecticut, in celebration of the 62nd anniversary of Israel’s independence. The 300-person dinner at the Harold Pratt House, on Park Avenue, was also attended by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who came up from Washington, and by diplomats from Moldova and the Ukraine, according to Nemirovsky; the chief rabbi of Moscow was also there.
Nemirovsky, as it happens, knew Lieberman when they were both young men in Soviet Chisinau, now the capital of Moldova; one of Nemirovsky’s cousins was a classmate of the minister’s. “New York is the capital of the Russian Jewish diaspora, and what he is looking for from the Russian community, he is looking for public support,” Nemirovsky said. “Because the Russians can bring to events like rallies thousands of people. It’s not about the money.” Nemirovsky said he asked Lieberman why he hadn’t gone to Washington. “He told me, ‘I have Ambassador Oren and he will provide all our ideas to the government.’” Added Nemirovsky, “He waits for the right time.” And when is that? “When the emotions will go down, and reality comes back to the table.”