The Clinton White House public relations “war room” mantra was never to let any charge go unanswered. Today, many people believe that being selective about which charges to respond to is a more prudent course to avoid bringing undue attention to unpleasant issues. For Israelis and pro-Israel Americans, the choice is not always so clear, especially when falsehoods and slander arrive daily.
This choice came front and center in April, when former CIA director and New York Times opinion writer John Brennan singled out Israel for not living up to his moral standards. He claimed Israel should be more “empathetic” to the Palestinians because of the Jewish legacy of “unspeakable violence perpetrated against them.”
This double standard applied only to the Jewish state and not to any other nation on earth, which got many American and Israeli Jews quite upset. David Harris, the mainstream head of the AJC, tweeted, “Using Jewish history, (the) Holocaust, as a cudgel against Israel is obscene.” Newsday deputy editor Batya Ungar-Sargon went further, saying, “There’s a word for holding Jews to a higher standard than everyone else: It’s called anti-Semitism.”
So would it be better to keep silent and not add any more fuel to the fire, bringing even more attention to Brennan? After all, he is a respected pundit on the progressive MSNBC cable network, and pointing out his offensive remarks could bring more mainstream Democrats to his defense. Should Jews remain silent, hoping that these types of incidents will pass? The real question is: When has it ever been good for Jews to keep quiet about anti-Semitism? If done respectfully, pointing these things out becomes a teaching moment and hopefully an opportunity for those who didn’t mean to cross a line to recant their words. With Israel being accused by “The Squad” in Congress, J Street endorsing legislation to limit military funding of Israel and the once venerable but now anti-Israel Human Rights Watch perversely claiming Israel is an apartheid state, it’s time to speak up to each false charge.
If Brennan’s remarks were an isolated incident, then perhaps it could be passed over with some behind-the-scenes education. But in his case, his default position is to target Israel. In December, when he accused a nation of “state-sponsored terrorism” and flagrantly violating international law, he wasn’t talking about Iran but saved those words for Israel. Unfortunately, this is a much bigger issue than Brennan, as it represents a mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.
Brennen blames Israel for the absence of a Palestinian state, ignoring what we all know, that PLO/Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas could have had a state in 2000 and 2008, as well as eastern Jerusalem as their capital. In his essay, he considered it wrong to end funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA), even though it perpetuates the conflict by advocating for their so-called “right of return.” That is the demand that all the many descendants of Arabs who left Palestine up to 72 years ago be given the right to return to the place they or their ancestors left, thereby in effect overwhelming and conquering Israel. This month, even the European Parliament called for a review of UNWRA funding because of the hate and violence it teaches for both Jews and Israelis.
You wouldn’t know it from Brennan’s remarks, but most Israelis have empathy for Palestinians living over the Green Line. Many Israelis try to work together with them in political and economic ventures. But the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other Palestinian factions forbid “People to People” initiatives, ostracize, intimidate and arrest Palestinians who work with Israelis and publicly brand them as collaborators. What the P.A. encourages is the ongoing struggle against Zionism in all its forms, including violence. It spends about 7 percent of its budget (more than $350 million a year) on salaries and stipends to reward convicted and dead terrorists, and their families.
The majority of Israelis are still in favor of a two-state for two people’s solution. However, to Israel’s enemies, “two states” means an entirely Arab state in the West Bank and a binational state with an unlimited right of return of the descendants of refugees to Israel. In other words, two Arab states. No people on earth score higher on the anti-Semitism scale than the Palestinians, thanks to their indoctrination of hatred beginning in early childhood.
In the Times essay, Brennan’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause is apparent. He begins his article by personalizing the “humiliation” of a Palestinian child and her father at an Israeli checkpoint, described in a documentary that he recommended to President Joe Biden. He then added his memories from 1975 that corroborated the brutal unfeeling Israeli and the victimized Palestinian image.
Checkpoints are not nice places for either party. However, in the last 15 years, the number of checkpoints has diminished dramatically. Almost all of them are located on the 1967 lines or around Jerusalem to control the entrance of Palestinians to Israel itself. Traffic inside the territories under P.A. control is mainly unimpeded. Unfortunately, and ignored by Brennan, checkpoints are made necessary because they are the entry point for many terror attacks within Israel, most recently the two on May 2.
Brennan chooses not to add any personal anecdotes to tug at your heartstrings of equally compelling stories of Israelis murdered by Palestinians who crossed into Israel. There was the incident of two men hiding rifles within prayer rugs and killing Jewish soldiers at point-blank range at a checkpoint near Bethlehem. An American physician tried unsuccessfully to remove the bullet from the soldier’s heart on the way to the hospital as a last-ditch effort to save the young soldier. Does Brennan have empathy for these Israeli victims?
What worries us no less is that these misconceptions were the views of the CIA director from 2013 to 2017 while in office. With such distorted views of Israel, it wasn’t surprising that the Obama administration adopted a disappointing approach towards Israel, orchestrating UNSCR 2334, which adopted most of the Palestinian positions, labeling any Israeli presence over the 1949 Armistice (1967 Line) a war crime. One would hope that future CIA directors would work hard to have a balanced, nuanced and in-depth knowledge base without prejudice when advising the president. Americans should be concerned about the politicization of intelligence.
Far-right violent attacks against Jews get headlines, but anti-Semitism in the form of anti-Zionism coming from more leftist sources that have the sympathy of the press is given a pass. Let’s be clear that criticism of Israel and pro-Palestinian views are acceptable as part of free speech. However, present and past U.S. government officials are expected to uphold a high standard. That standard is not met by citing a one-sided litany of complaints against Israel to advocate a double standard that wouldn’t be expected of any other country and demand what amounts to national suicide. Israel is a lone democracy with the rule of law for all its citizens in a sea of authoritarian regimes where anti-Semitism, religious intolerance, denial of rights to women, LGBTQ, minorities and suppression of the press are considered normal.
Perhaps Brennan can write about that in his next essay.
IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He formerly served as director general of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the research division of IDF Military Intelligence.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”