by Mitchell Bard
(JNS) — One of the most misguided Arabist ideas that the Biden State Department has resurrected is also one of the most insidious: “evenhandedness.”
This is the belief that the Palestinian and Israeli sides of the conflict are more or less the same, that a democratic state is no different from an autocratic one, that terrorism is indistinguishable from counterterrorism and that the Palestinians’ malign behavior must have its mirror image in Israel’s behavior.
For example, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern in his speech to J Street about violence in Judea and Samaria “perpetrated by both Palestinians and Israeli settlers.” Settlers do sometimes engage in violence, but comparing their activities to the daily terrorism committed by the Palestinians is abhorrent. In 2022, the IDF said it had foiled 500 terror attacks in Judea and Samaria. The number of violent acts committed by Palestinians, such as riots or stone-throwing, increased nearly 20 percent.
Blinken said, “Perpetrators must face equal justice under the law.” But he knows that Israel does not condone violence, whereas the Palestinian Authority glorifies rather than punishes terrorists.
A favorite mantra of State Department officials is to call on “all sides to exercise restraint.” Typically, this is a warning that indicates to Israel that it must not respond to Palestinian provocations. It is also a prominent example of the Arabist tendency to equate terror and counterterror actions. This is like equating firefighters to arsonists.
Instead of condemning P.A. chieftain Mahmoud Abbas for repeatedly using the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” libel to foment violence, the State Department only speaks out after Palestinian Muslims riot on the Temple Mount.
For example, on April 15, 2022, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said clashes began when Palestinians threw stones, firecrackers and other objects at Israeli police officers. Nevertheless, State said, “We call on all sides to exercise restraint, avoid provocative actions and rhetoric and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.”
Even the reference to the area is designed to appear evenhanded, but it is important to note that, while the State Department uses the Arabic name for the Mount, it does not use the Hebrew Har Habayit.
“We urge Palestinian and Israeli officials to work cooperatively to lower tensions and ensure the safety of everyone,” the Department added, ignoring that it was the Palestinians who were using violence. Similar language is used whenever Palestinians turn to violence in response to Jews exercising their right to visit their holiest site.
In his J Street address, Blinken said nothing about the rights of the Palestinian LGBT community or the P.A.’s human rights abuses. But in a clear warning to incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he stated that the U.S. expects Israel to abide by democratic principles, “including respect for the rights of the LGBT community and the equal administration of justice for all citizens of Israel.” This is an allusion to the anti-LGBT views of one likely cabinet member, Avi Maoz, which assumes he will be allowed to change Israel’s reputation as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world.
Given America’s own frequent failure to uphold its principles, Blinken should not be lecturing a fellow democracy. If he cares about LGBT rights, let him speak out against the abhorrent policies of Muslim countries.
Indeed, when Blinken went to Qatar for the World Cup, he said nothing about the emirate’s myriad human rights abuses, including using slave labor to build the World Cup arenas. Instead, he lauded America’s “long-standing friendship and strong partnership with Qatar.”
Imagine Blinken’s reaction if Israelis denigrated American democracy for allowing antisemites like Ilhan Omar and Marjorie Taylor Greene to serve in our government.
While the secretary of state oversees foreign policy, underlings often sustain Arabist thinking. The Forward has reported that one of the top diplomats responsible for Israel policy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert, “probably got her first impressions of the Middle East through the eyes of her mother, Lesley Lempert, a civil rights activist who had done extensive work on the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.” As a diplomat, Lempert has a typical Arabist background, serving in Libya, Egypt and the Jerusalem consulate — the de facto U.S. embassy to the Palestinians.
The State Department sometimes bends over backwards to emphasize its contempt for Israeli policies. Blinken, for example, told J Street that the U.S. opposes “settlement expansion; moves toward annexation of the West Bank; disruption to the historic status quo at holy sites; demolitions and evictions.” All of these were criticisms of Israel. Only at the end did Blinken tack on a denunciation of “incitement to violence” aimed at both sides.
Despite the Palestinians’ violence and incitement, the State Department continues to provide assistance to them in defiance of the Taylor Force Act. Similarly, aid to UNRWA continues even as the agency fails to meet the conditions set for it. Recently, a terror tunnel was discovered under one of UNRWA’s Gaza schools, illustrating yet again its complicity in allowing Hamas to use children as human shields.
Echoing the Palestinian narrative, the State Department’s annual report on human rights inaccurately referred to the West Bank, Gaza, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as “occupied territories.” Judea, Samaria and Gaza are disputed, not occupied. If the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, why does the State Department refer to eastern Jerusalem as a separate entity? Moreover, Biden has not rescinded U.S. recognition of the Golan as part of Israel, so how can it be “occupied”?
The Biden administration is also myopically obsessed with the two-state solution. In the ultimate statement of “evenhandedness,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Palestinians are “entitled” to a state.
“Entitled”? Why? Because the Jews have a state? Aren’t 21 Arab states sufficient, including one (Jordan) that has historically been considered part of “Palestine”?
“Entitlement,” moreover, implies that the Palestinians have no obligations, such as recognizing the other party to the two-state solution.
Thomas-Greenfield went so far as to absurdly “acknowledge President Abbas’s stated commitment to non-violence and reaffirmation of his support for a two-state solution.” This week, Abbas praised Nasser Abu Hmeid, the murderer of seven Israelis, including two American citizens, as a “heroic martyr.”
Could there be any better evidence that certain State Department officials are simply stupid?
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.