Who’s in Charge Here?

The State Department has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

In a landmark victory for President Obama, Republican members of Congress helped him overcome even Democratic opponents to giving the president “fast-track” authority to speed approval of trade deals.

The Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation the president signed into law Friday contains provisions originally introduced by Congressman Peter Roskam (IL-06), co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus. Those provisions would combat the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and so-called “Israeli-controlled” territories.

“This sends a very strong message,” Malcolm Hoenlein, vice-president and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations told Hamodia. “It is also a warning to European countries that are preparing to rush into Iran.”

Mr. Hoenlein added that the addition passed easily as “people are realizing that BDS is not a matter of Israel’s policies, but anti-Israel, if not anti-Semitism.”

The people, yes. But the State Department doesn’t represent the people. It is a government within the government. Before the president’s ink was dry on the TPA bill, State Department spokesman John Kirby made it clear that some laws are more equal than others. And the anti-BDS provisions of this law will not be enforced.

Kirby’s statement put it on the line: “By conflating Israel and ‘Israeli-controlled territories,’ a provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy towards the occupied territories, include with regard to settlement activity.”

Kirby added that this policy is nothing new. “Every U.S. administration since 1967 — Democratic and Republican alike — has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines. This administration is no different. The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them, and by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.”

If the policy is nothing new, neither is the State Department working at odds with the president. The Founding Fathers anticipated the possibility of overreaching ambition in government. To control this, the Constitution provides for checks and balances, with the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government — at least in principle — keeping each other in check. But the State Department has been known to function like a shadow government. It can govern unchecked, with its own agenda. And that agenda can be at odds with the president’s or even the nation’s agenda.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for all his power, often had to sidestep State to get things done. As he put it, “You should go through the experience of trying to get any changes in the thinking, policy, and action of the career diplomats and then you’d know what a real problem was.”

If the president had a “real problem” with the State Department, Jews hoping to be allowed into “Palestine” during World War II, had a harder time. A few entries from a chronology of the United States and the Recognition of Israel published by the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum serve as a record of the U.S. Department of State stonewalling the establishment of a Jewish State.

The famed Balfour Declaration of 1917 declared “His Majesty’s government view[s] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” But, in 1939, the British Government issued the “White Paper,” declaring, “His Majesty’s Government believes that the framers of the Mandate in which the Balfour Declaration was embodied could not have intended that Palestine should be converted into a Jewish State against the will of the Arab population of the country.” It went on to declare Britain’s opposition to Palestine becoming a Jewish State.

“May 25, 1939: Senator Harry S. Truman inserts in the Congressional Record strong criticism of the British White Paper on Palestine, saying it is a dishonorable repudiation by Britain of her obligations.”

“August 24, 1945: Loy Henderson, director of the State Department’s Near East Agency, writes to Secretary of State James Byrnes that the United States would lose its moral prestige in the Middle East if it supported Jewish aspirations in Palestine.”

On October 4, 1946, Erev Yom Kippur, President Truman issued a statement declaring United States support for the creation of a “viable Jewish State.”

On October 23, Loy Henderson warned that the immigration of Jewish Communists into Palestine will increase Soviet influence.

The end of the story is well known. Truman bucked the State Department and recognized Israel.

Can President Obama do the same? Can he buck the State Department — and so many of his own supporters — and valiantly enforce the bill he just signed into law?

President Obama has been vilified as an enemy of Israel and he has been hailed as a great friend of Israel. This could be his moment of truth.