The U.S. State Department is rumbling and grumbling.
Josh Paul of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs resigned on Oct. 20. He was concerned about and disagreed with the amount of “lethal assistance” being provided to Israel. His letter lashed the administration’s response to the Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip as “an impulsive reaction built on confirmation bias, political convenience, intellectual bankruptcy and bureaucratic inertia.”
He added that “blind support for [Israel] is destructive in the long term to the interests of the people on both sides.”
A fortnight later, on Nov. 6, additional State Department staffers sent an internal memo, which was immediately leaked to the media, that the United States should be willing to publicly criticize Israeli military tactics and treatment of Palestinians. It read: “We must publicly criticize Israel’s violations of international norms such as failure to limit offensive operations to legitimate military targets.” It also wedged in: “When Israel supports settler violence and illegal land seizures … this goes against our American values.”
As reported on Nov. 9, senior State Department officials have held listening sessions for diplomats serving in Middle East and North Africa embassies. In addition, the department’s Dissent Channel is in use, virtual town-hall meetings have been conducted, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Acting Deputy Secretary Victoria Nuland have met multiple times with employees, as well with affinity groups, at the department, including Jewish Americans in diplomacy, American Muslims and friends at State, and Arab-Americans in foreign-affairs agencies.
Let’s recall that this is the State Department of suspected espionage employees Robert Malley and Iranian agent of influence Ariane Tabatabai (who has moved on to the Pentagon, according to news reports).
The new focus of anti-Israel Arabists in U.S. government employ is the catchphrase “settler violence,” which, of course, comes straight out of the Israeli NGOs serving the Palestinian cause, such as Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights and B’Tselem.
B’Tselem, for example, declared there is a “state-backed wave of settler violence which has led, and is leading to, the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities in the West Bank … the Israeli government is supportive of these attacks.” The statement added: “Stop this forcible transfer in the West Bank.” It was signed by another 31 NGOs.
Last week, The Washington Post’s Louisa Loveluck wrote that “settler violence is erasing Palestinian communities in the West Bank.” Seven Democratic senators have sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden urging him to further intensify Washington’s efforts to combat “the uptick of settler violence.” Zack Beauchamp at Vox published: “In the West Bank, Israeli settlers are on an anti-Palestinian rampage … uprooting entire communities and threatening a wider war.”
At a State Department press briefing, Al-Quds Said Arikat asked: “On the issue of the West Bank and the guns that are going to Israel, the new M-16s and so on, are you confident that these will not be handed to the settlers?” Vedant Patel responded: “We have been incredibly clear … steps need to be taken to address the extremist violence that we have seen in the West Bank.”
The crescendo of this diplomatic crusade—intended to force Israel to kowtow—was the statement of Robert Kris, a 13-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at U.S. Department of State, currently Adviser to the U.S. United Nations Delegation. It was delivered on Nov. 9 during the UNGA Fourth Committee Action on Agenda Item 50. According to Kris, the United States firmly believes “violent extremist settlers in the West Bank terrorized Palestinians” and that that situation is “untenable and it is unacceptable for the future.”
This anti-Zionist grumbling is not new; in fact, it has a long history. There is Robert Lansing’s attempt to prevent President Woodrow Wilson supporting the Balfour Declaration and U.N. Ambassador Warren Austin, whose 1948 trusteeship plan caught President Harry Truman by surprise. The department’s Director of Policy Planning George Kennan said a Jewish state in Palestine could undermine U.S. national interests in the Middle East, and State Department Legal Advisor Herbert Hansell’s 1978 letter questioned the legality of Jewish settlement activity in Judea and Samaria, Gaza and certain neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
Many historians reviewing the State Department’s policy and behavior towards Jewish aspirations in pre-1948 Palestine conclude, despite diplomatic complexities, that it was one of unrelenting anti-Zionism. In 1949, Frank E. Manuel characterized permanent officials of the Department as “resent[ing] what they considered the unwarranted intervention of American Zionists in the conduct of foreign policy. This feeling was expressed with a vehemence of language hardly defensible … State Department officials were writing with extravagant hostility.”
In a 2021 scholarly article, Jeffrey Herf asserts that “in reality, the United States did less, and the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc did far more, to support the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine than public discussions of the issue in recent decades suggest.”
Taking all that into consideration, it would seem that Israel should be engaged in a bit of a grumbling itself. And it should be public in one of the prime minister’s press conferences or television interviews. And if need be, leaked.
To the issue that the U.S. administration is being pressured and even threatened by employees of its own foreign service to withhold from Israel a supply of personal weapons—fearing they may go to “extremist settlers”—is Israel significantly pressuring that same administration to do more to halt funds that the Palestinian Authority provides as family stipends going directly to the “pay-for-slay” payments?
As Yossi Kuperwasser of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has documented, these funds (and it is presumed that American aid monies make their way into the sources for them) are “incentivizing terrorism.” His report found that $300 million annually end up rewarding imprisoned and released terrorists, in addition to the families of “martyrs,” and concludes: “This financial reward clearly demonstrates the P.A.’s institutional commitment to sponsoring terror against Israel.”
On Oct. 15 this year, Itamar Marcus of the Palestinian Media Watch noted that the P.A. will pay $2,789,430 to families of 1,500 dead Hamas terrorist murderers this month. In addition, the P.A. will pay $17,590 in salaries to 50 new Hamas prisoners, bringing the total P.A. monthly payment to $2,807,021. What is the State Department doing about this? What is it doing to halt P.A.-sponsored incitement?
Israel officialdom could also point to the Biden administration’s failure to come out and publicly acknowledge Iran’s role in the Oct. 7 invasion of southern Israel by Hamas, one of its proxies, not to mention Biden/Blinken’s entire Iran policy.
The citizens of Israel directly affected by this American weakness deserve to be better represented within the staff of the State Department. Blinken and others should do less dialoguing and more administrative laying down the directives.
Moreover, a bit more complaining—or even kvetching—from Israel would be in order.