Jews now flocking to foreign-service careers in U.S.

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WASHINGTON — When Gil Kulick passed the Hebrew proficiency test after joining the U.S. foreign service in 1966, the examiner told him, "It's a shame you'll never use it."

At that time, the State Department didn't send Jews to the Middle East — especially to Israel.

So Kulick received the requisite pay raise for foreign-language skills, and, like scores of other Jewish foreign-service officers, prepared for a career elsewhere.

But the examiner was dead wrong.

Kulick landed on the team that prepared Samuel Lewis for his confirmation hearings to serve as U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Impressed with the young foreign-service officer, Lewis, who served in Tel Aviv from 1977 to 1983, made Kulick the first Jewish political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Israel.

Since then, there has been a long line of Jews in top State Department positions.

Many current and former Jewish diplomats credit former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger — though not deeply identified as a Jew — for paving the way for Jews in the foreign service.

"Kissinger ended the isolation of Jews in the foreign service," said Arthur Berger, who, like Kulick, was told he would never go to Israel.

In fact, Berger, too, was posted in Israel — as a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in 1982.

Presently, the opportunities available to Jews entering the foreign service are at an all-time high.

The State Department would not release figures on the religious makeup of its staff, but one official said American Jews — including observant and committed Jews — are flocking to diplomatic careers.

Today, Kulick, who serves as director of communications at the New Israel Fund, and Berger, director of communications at the American Jewish Committee, are watching from afar as President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — who discovered her own Jewish roots earlier this year — complete the process of opening all doors to Jews.

History was made recently when Martin Indyk was sworn in as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

Indyk's appointment comes on the heels of Stuart Eizenstat's swearing-in as undersecretary of state for economics.

Indyk, a former official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the first Jew to serve as ambassador to Israel, is also the first Jew to serve in the top Middle East policy post.

Not since Kissinger has an American Jew had such a strong say in U.S. Middle East policy.

Taken alone, Indyk's meteoric rise from academia to the State Department's seventh floor is quite a feat. But Indyk now is just one of more than a dozen American Jews in top State Department positions that were once off-limits to Jews. Among the others are:

*Dennis Ross, who heads the U.S. peace process team as special Middle East coordinator and counselor to Albright.

*Aaron Miller, deputy special Middle East coordinator.

*Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Egypt.

Other Jews currently serving in senior foreign-policy posts include:

*Marc Grossman, assistant secretary for European and Canadian affairs.

*Princeton Lyman, assistant secretary of state for international organizations.

*Stanley Roth, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

*Jeffrey Davidow, assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs.

*James Rubin, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, spokesman.

In addition, Jewish career foreign-service officers and political appointees hold the post of current or immediate past ambassadors to Switzerland, Brazil, Nepal, Romania, Spain, Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, Morocco and Malaysia.

Gone are the days when so-called Arabists determined U.S. policy in the Middle East.

A new term, "Jewish Arabists," has cropped up in right-wing circles to describe their view of the Jews who lead the Middle East peace process team.

Many credit the Indyk-Ross peace team with silencing charges that Jews cannot serve U.S. interests when conflicts arise with Israel.

Ironically, Arabs are now complaining of a Jewish bias. After a rough patch in the peace process, the Palestinian justice minister accused the United States of a "Zionist conspiracy."

Eizenstat vehemently refutes the charge.

"The peace process is not being made by Jews; it's being made by Americans," Eizenstat said in a recent interview. "Any suggestion of bias is totally inappropriate and inaccurate."