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Kerry falls for the Big Lie

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the London Conference on Afghanistan in December 2014. Credit: DFID-UK Department for International Development via Wikimedia Commons.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the London Conference on Afghanistan in December 2014. Credit: DFID-UK Department for International Development via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s no stoppin’ the cretins from hoppin’,” sang the legendary Ramones, in one of their two-minute barnstormers that enters my head every time I see U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry getting on a plane. And never more than when his destination is Israel.

If Kerry receives a frosty welcome in the Jewish state, it shouldn’t come as a shock, at least not to someone capable of empathizing with the ugly situation Israelis are currently facing. Part of the anger lies in the moral equivalence that Kerry’s State Department has molded to explain a deadly explosion of Palestinian violence that is motivated by pure hatred of Jews.

Sometimes that’s been done in ways that are both insulting and incompetent, as when, on Oct. 15, Kerry’s State Department tweeted that the secretary had addressed “the tragic, outrageous attacks on civilians in Israel and the West Bank.” Nothing wrong with that, you might say, except that two minutes later, the tweet was deleted, and then rewritten with the words “tragic” and “outrageous” removed.

Then there was the frankly pathetic echoing of the false Palestinian claim that, as Kerry put it in a Harvard University speech (in remarks that were later awkwardly walked back), “There’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years and there’s an increase in the violence because there’s this frustration that’s growing.”

The actual data confirms that the reverse is true: From 2009-14, an average of 1,554 housing units were constructed in the West Bank each year, a marked decline on the previous several years, and connected in the main to natural population growth.

But what bugs me most of all is Kerry’s failure to recognize that his criticism of Israel, along with his sympathetic arm around the shoulder of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas—an aging autocrat respected by the secretary as an embattled moderate to whom Israel can, and should, make concessions—is built upon an insidious lie. A lie worthy of the term “Big Lie:” a strategy beloved of totalitarian regimes, which involves concocting the most toxic falsehoods, and then repeating them with increasing volume and venom.

The present Big Lie is the endless stream of propaganda from the Palestinians, and Abbas in particular, that there was never a Jewish Temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, and that Israel is changing the status quo at the site to the extent that the very survival of the Al-Aqsa mosque is at stake. Asking for Israeli reassurances that this is not the case, as the U.S. administration has done, is like asking Jews to prove that the Holocaust is not a myth, or that Passover matzah doesn’t contain the blood of non-Jewish children. It legitimizes an allegation that is patently false, and it legitimizes as well the belief behind it, which is that Jews have no claim upon the city that, for centuries, they have faced during prayer. (I wonder, incidentally, if anyone who mocked that last sentence would mock similar emotions about Jerusalem, or Mecca for that matter, from a Muslim.)

The immediate impact of this latest in a series of Big Lies from Abbas has been a campaign of murder and terror founded upon anti-Semitic loathing. As the savage Hamas cleric Sheikh Muhammed Sallah declared from Gaza, “Stab! My brother in the West Bank: Stab the myths about the temple in their hearts!” Eight Israelis now lie dead and dozens more have been wounded because of a culture of incitement that rejoices in and celebrates brutality.

Some readers will have heard of the notorious radio station in Rwanda, Radio Mille Collines, whose hourly incitement against that country’s Tutsi population led to a 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of 800,000 human beings over a period of 100 days. In one broadcast, the announcer growled, “They will be struck by misfortune, they will be struck by misfortune…those living in Mburabuturo, in the woods of Mburabuturo, look carefully see whether there are no Inyenzis (“cockroaches,” a dehumanizing word for Tutsis) inside.”

I have little doubt that were the Jews of Israel as vulnerable and exposed as were the Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda two decades ago, they would be “struck by misfortune” on a similar scale. Because the vile rhetoric of Palestinian leaders, clerics, and even regular people venting on social media, echoes that broadcast by the Hutu genocidaires.

But if Rwanda seems too distant, and too gargantuan in scale, let’s put this in American terms. A similar outbreak of violence here in the U.S. would have brutalized more than 3,000 people. Its purpose would be an exact reflection of the words of Chris Harper Mercer, the shooter in the recent murder spree at a community college in Oregon, who told his victims, “Because you’re a Christian you’re going to see God in just about one second.” That’s how Abbas—whose most recent outrage was claiming that a 13-year-old Palestinian terrorist was “executed” by Israeli security forces just hours before photos revealed the boy recovering in, of all places, Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital—wants Palestinians to see the Jews.

Even though many of these same Palestinians who attack Jews loathe Abbas, because he has achieved nothing in nearly a decade of power, Abbas continues with the incitement—an especially chilling example of “leading from behind.” That is why a responsible secretary of state would, upon meeting Abbas, ask him, “Do you really believe the things you say about the Jews and their tie to Jerusalem, Mr. President? If so, please look at where such words have led in the past. And look at where they are leading now.”

When Israel emerges successfully from this latest spate of murder and terror, as it inevitably will, it will have only the resilience of its people and its security forces to thank. On one level, that’s a source of pride, for Israelis and for those of us who care about Israel. But it also underlines a more significant misfortune: the bilateral relationship between Israel and the Obama-led U.S. just took another dive.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014). 

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