Relying on Occam’s Razor, Caroline B. Glick (“The State Department’s strange obsession,” Our World, September 12) asserts that decision-makers have “‘issues’ with Jews and with Israel” (a thinly veiled allegation of institutional antisemitism).
During my nearly quarter of a century at State, I concluded that American diplomats were neither more nor less antisemitic than the American population as a whole. They tended to make decisions – even those that seemed irrational – for reasons other than the world’s oldest prejudice. In response to Glick’s rhetorical “Perhaps there is another explanation for this consistent pattern of behavior...” here are a few possibilities:
Diplomats who decide to focus on the Middle East have many Arab countries in which to serve, and only one Jewish state. When choosing a language to study, they tend to opt for Arabic rather than Hebrew because it offers a much wider range of overseas assignments. They then spend years in foreign posts imbibing the Arab party line. This perspective will be absorbed by even the most critical officer and could express itself subconsciously later on. This “clientitis” must be distinguished from conscious antisemitism.
Israel has failed to offer a consistent and convincing alternative to the Arab position. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most recent term began over eight years ago, yet his vision for the region is still unclear. The Arab Peace Initiative remains on the table, and Palestinian leaders speak incessantly about their dream of an independent state with specific borders. In response, Netanyahu offers only nebulous assurances that he wants peace and is willing to negotiate without preconditions.
Even when Netanyahu does make a substantive statement, he is often contradicted by members of his government and he might well backtrack in order to maintain his coalition. State Department officials reasonably wonder: What are Netanyahu’s fundamental principles? His red lines? His ultimate goal? How far do Jewish rights to their own land extend?
Contrary to our parochial view, the world does not revolve around Israel. State Department decision-makers operate according to their view of what is best for the US. Their decisions – right or wrong – may be based on realpolitik in which the Arab countries, taken as a group, are seen as much more critical to US security than a single Jewish state. Realpolitik, by definition unprincipled, is not necessarily antisemitic.
State Department officials may honestly believe they are acting in Israel’s best interests. In this paternalistic view, it’s reasonable to force the Israeli “child” to swallow bitter medicine so that the illness that threatens its ultimate survival may be cured before it is too late.
There are several other possible explanations for the many State Department policies with which we disagree, not the least of which is sheer incompetence leavened with a total misunderstanding of the cultural and religious divisions in this part of the world. The facile conclusion that these decisions are based on malice toward the Jewish people and their state is unwarranted and unhelpful. EFRAIM A. COHEN Zichron Ya’acov The writer is a retired American diplomat.
Caroline B. Glick suggests an anti-Israel bias at the US State Department based on two issues. The first is the fate of Iraqi Jewish artifacts that the United States insists on returning to Iraq. The second concerns the department’s pressure on President Donald Trump to have Israel return $75 million promised by Congress as supplementary aid.
For me, the first issue is most distressing.
As it happens, approximately three years ago, the American Jewish History Museum of New York displayed a traveling exhibit of a small sampling of Iraqi Jewish artifacts that had been cleaned and restored by the National Archives in Washington. These were items rescued from a waterlogged basement of the Iraqi secret service, just as described in the article.
Among the items were family photographs, letters, mementos, diplomas and many such personal items having no intrinsic value other than sentimental. Iraqi Jews now living in New York came by to view the exhibit and I still remember the excitement of one gentleman who recognized his fifth-grade report card. He was dismayed that it would not be returned to him and took copious photographs.
I asked one Iraqi Jewish woman why there was no protest demanding the return of these items. She said Iraqi Jews were still very frightened. They appreciated the haven they had found in the US but did not understand that in a democracy, voicing objections did not mean ingratitude, nor that there were no penalties, such as expulsion from the country, for such acts.
There is no doubt that the return of these Jewish items to what is now a Jew-free Iraq, where they had been looted, is outrageous. If anyone doubts the absurdity, read Iraq’s Last Jews: Stories of Daily Life, Upheaval and Escape from Modern Babylon by T. Morad and D. Shasha. This book is a collection of vignettes shared by Iraqi Jews describing how horrific their existence became once Israel was declared an independent state and how they ultimately had to flee for their lives, leaving everything behind, including photographs, letters and report cards.
In the name of justice and decency, these items ought to be donated to the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Museum in Or Yehuda. The museum could then embark on an ambitious program to return these items, wherever possible, to their rightful owners.
We Jews pride ourselves on practicing hashevat avaida, the return of lost objects. Our government, as a representative of world Jewry, should pressure the State Department to do no less. SARAH PEARL Jerusalem