(September 14, 2022 / JNS) In June, I wrote an article, “What if Israel treated America as America treats Israel?” It seems particularly relevant now that the U.S. Secretary of State told Israel it should review the Israel Defense Forces’ rules of engagement following the tragic killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in May.
Antony Blinken apparently didn’t think it was sufficient to advise Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on how to run the IDF in a phone call, the contents of which were leaked to the press (a favorite tactic of this administration to express displeasure with Israel). He also instructed his deputy spokesperson to tell reporters: “We’re going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risks of civilian harm, protect journalists and prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
A few weeks earlier, lousy publicity and congressional anger forced the Pentagon to announce a new “Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan” to reduce the number of people killed in U.S. military operations. This came after years of taking no responsibility for “collateral damage,” as in a 2019 drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians, including seven children. Ben-Dror Yemini noted in Ynet that a study by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University found that 71% of casualties in counterterrorism operations conducted by the United States during the war on terror were civilians. Nevertheless, the Pentagon plan does not involve investigating past cases or holding anyone accountable for the death of innocents.
In announcing the result of the IDF’s investigation that found a high probability that Abu Akleh was accidentally killed by Israeli gunfire, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price acknowledged the Defense Department’s recognition of “the need to improve its own assessments and practices to ensure civilian harm mitigation.” This did not stop him from pointing out the importance of Israel’s accountability and taking measures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, as if it was so common for Israelis to shoot journalists that new policies were needed.
Responding to the original accusation that Israel had intentionally killed the journalist, then Foreign Minister Yair Lapid wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Abu Akleh worked in the region for more than 20 years without being harmed. The same is true, he said, for the other foreign journalists in Israel. He also noted her employer, “Al Jazeera, a network run by an Islamist state that is openly hostile to Israel, has permanent staff in Israel who are protected by the state the network slanders on a regular basis.”
Israel has one of the highest numbers of foreign journalists per capita in the world. Many are critical, some outwardly hostile towards Israel; nevertheless, they are not banned from covering the news in Israel or the disputed territories. If Israel wanted to kill reporters who write negative things about the country, dozens would be dead. The idea that the government would intentionally target journalists is preposterous.
Imagine Israel’s Foreign Ministry releasing statements calling for the theUnited States to review its rules of engagement considering the casualties caused by its armed forces. It would never happen.
It was good to see Prime Minister Yair Lapid stand up for his nation’s sovereignty by stating: “No one will dictate our open-fire policies to us when we are fighting for our lives. Our soldiers have the full backing of the government of Israel and the people of Israel.” He added, “I will not allow an IDF soldier that was protecting himself from terrorist fire to be prosecuted just to receive applause from abroad.”
Similarly, Gantz rightly said, “The chief of staff, and he alone determines and will continue to determine the open-fire policies, in accordance with the operational need and the values of the IDF, including the purity of arms. … There was and will be no political involvement in the matter.”
Notably, in 2014, after the war in Gaza, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked about how “Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties.” The Pentagon, he said, sent a team of officers to Israel to learn lessons from the fighting, including “the measures they took to prevent civilian casualties.”
The United States is Israel’s most important ally. Still, America’s leaders sometimes need to be reminded that Israel is a sovereign nation, as Menachem Begin did after the Reagan administration took a series of measures to punish Israel for annexing the Golan Heights. “Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic?” he asked the U.S. ambassador to Israel. “We have enough strength,” Begin declared, “to defend our independence and to defend our rights.”
Would the United States ever deign to tell Britain, Germany or France how its military should perform its duties?
No, which makes the approach towards Israel a double standard, one of the examples of anti-Semitism in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition used by the State Department.
Before Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt takes another trip abroad, she should clean up her own house.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.
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