Inevitably, whenever Israel takes any steps to protect its citizens, the State Department will ignore the precipitating action, typically an act of violence, and either condemn Israel unequivocally or try to be evenhanded by calling on both sides to exercise restraint. I’d be curious to see the U.S. reaction if Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs adopted a similar approach.
Consider the attack carried out by U.S. forces at a Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan. At his daily press conference, the Israeli spokesperson could have repeated virtually verbatim what the State Department spokesman said on August 13, 2014, after Israel targeted terrorists who were operating near a school:
Israel is appalled by today’s disgraceful attack on a hospital in Kunduz, in which at least 22 civilians were tragically killed, including 12 medical staff members and 10 patients, three of them children. We once again stress that the United States must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties…The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians. We call for a full and prompt investigation of this incident.
The White House response might also sound familiar: “There is no country in the world and no military in the world that goes to greater lengths and places a higher premium on avoiding civilian casualties than the United States Department of Defense.”
After the shooting in Ferguson, Israel could express its shock and horror at the killing of an innocent black man, call on the police to exercise greater restraint and to take measures to ensure the protection of
African-Americans lest the country be labeled a racist nation.
Following one of the horrific shootings on college campuses, Israel could point out that massacres do not happen in Israeli schools and that the U.S. should adopt more responsible gun policies.
Israel could criticize the equivocal policy of the administration in Syria that is permitting ISIS to grow stronger, allows Bashar Assad to slaughter his people and has precipitated a refugee crisis.
The MFA spokesperson could have condemned Obama’s failure to enforce the red line he drew against Syria’s use of chemical weapons and now point out how that irreparably damaged U.S. credibility in the region and allowed Syria to secretly maintain part of its chemical arsenal.
Israel could also continue to criticize Obama’s Iran policy on a daily basis, pointing out the opposition of Israel and the Sunni Arab states, Iran’s ongoing belligerence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, its continued support for international terrorists and groups such as Hezbollah. The spokesperson might question why the U.S. permits the IAEA to allow Iran to investigate its own nuclear sites and how Obama could continue to insist that Iran is changing even as its people continue to chant “Death to America” and its leaders threaten to destroy Israel.
It is true that Israelis often criticize the United States, and sometimes officials do so in the media, but this is nothing like the regular public attacks directed at Israel from the podiums of the White House press secretary and the State Department’s spokesperson.
The U.S. gets away with hypocrisy because it is a superpower, but that is still no excuse for its public belligerence toward Israel, the only ally that it treats so shabbily. You never hear government spokespeople criticize England, France or Germany, and it is not because their behavior is perfect.
What Bill Clinton understood, and Obama does not, is that public criticism of Israel does not change Israeli policy. Rather it often hardens it; worse, these harangues reinforce Israeli fears that they cannot trust the United States. This is counterproductive to Obama’s own interest in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians because Israelis will only take the extreme risks necessary for peace if they are confident the United States has their back.
The President and Secretary of State should think about that before sending their spokespeople out to condemn Israel.