United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro probably had no idea that his remarks last week on Israel practicing a double standard in Yehudah and Shomron would set off such a political firestorm. But as a veteran diplomat, who has been posted to Israel for more than four years and is fluent in Hebrew, he should have known that he was touching a raw nerve.
To begin with, his accusation, taken at face value, is patently absurd. It may be true that the security forces took longer to arrest suspects in the Duma killings, in which Jews are believed to have killed Arabs, than it has in cases of Arabs killing Jews, but that is because the Shin Bet does not have the tools to apprehend them. Fortunately, there are far fewer Jews engaged in such activities, they tend to be kids who belong to tiny tight-knit groups that are difficult to penetrate with informants, and they take care not to communicate over “eavesdroppable” channels.
In the case of the Arabs, the numbers are incomparably higher, the Shin Bet has informants, and the terror cells are operated by Hamas in Gaza and elsewhere that use communication that can be tapped via electronic means.
Israel does not need any urging from foreign governments, especially its best friend, to apprehend killers, whether they are Jews or Arabs. To imply that it does, or that it is biased against Arabs in Yehudah and Shomron — when, in fact, it bends over backwards to ensure their human rights despite the risk to Jewish lives — is insulting, degrading and, to quote Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, “unacceptable and incorrect.”
Ambassador Shapiro himself admitted as much when he failed to name a single instance of Israel employing a double standard despite being repeatedly asked to do so in an interview with Army Radio Monday morning.
Second, his comment came at the worst possible time, on the day that Israel was burying Dafna Meir, Hy”d, the mother of six, including two adopted children, who was stabbed to death in her home in Otniel in front of one of her children. It was also the day in which a young, expectant mother in Tekoa was stabbed.
Instead of blasting the PA incitement against Israel, which everyone knows is fueling the violence that has claimed 29 lives, he found fault with Israel, accusing it of a double standard. (Morad Badar Abdallah Adias, the 16-year-old who killed Mrs. Meir, told interrogators that he had been “heavily influenced” by anti-Semitic incitement in the Arab media. A Shin Bet agent said Adias viewed anti-Israel propaganda for several hours before leaving home to murder Mrs. Meir.)
You cannot blame Israelis for being “sensitive” about such criticism at a time when the murder of Mrs. Meir — whose life was an inspirational human interest story of the highest order — merits little if any mention in leading media outlets around the world, including The Wall Street Journal, CNN and the Times of London. (Reuters gave it a brief mention in its “latest incident” roundup of the day’s events from Israel.)
You cannot blame Israelis for being “sensitive” when it is subjected to preposterous accusations from the foreign minister of Sweden that it commits “extrajudicial” killings when its security forces and citizens gun down murderers in the act.
Finally, there is the context. That President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu do not get along is no secret. The president has practically from his first day in office tried to show that he was shifting gears on U.S. policy in the Middle East, starting with his infamous Cairo speech and concluding with his even more infamous, and dangerous, Iran nuclear agreement.
The unprecedentedly harsh accusation mouthed by Shapiro was seen by many as yet another sign of Washington distancing itself from Israel, tearing at the fabric of a truly “special relationship” that has been important to Israel’s survival.
Shimon Shiffer, the well-known commentator from Yediot Aharonot, expressed the concern as follows: “Shapiro’s criticism is the possibility that the White House is actually joining the European Union and is liable to take similar steps that differentiate between Israeli territories inside the Green Line and those that were conquered in 1967. It’s no exaggeration to assume that Israel will no longer be able to rely on the U.S.’s veto at the U.N. or to enjoy the automatic support that we have been used to.”
Nonetheless, while the fierce response to Shapiro’s comments was understandable, it was not wise. In his four and a half years in Israel, the ambassador has shown himself to be very close to Israel and its people. He has displayed enormous friendship and sympathy: visiting families of terror victims, traveling to Sderot at times of war to visit children in bomb shelters, and more. These were not mere photo opportunities, but genuine expressions of concern, of connection.
Though as an ambassador his job is to be a mouthpiece for the White House and the State Department, he is known to have pushed back on more than one occasion when he felt Israel was not getting a fair shake.
A day after the diplomatic blow-up, Netanyahu met one-on-one with Shapiro for half an hour and sorted things out. In the circumstances, considering the record of this ambassador and the importance of Israel’s relationship with the United States, it would have been prudent for the prime minister to publicly downplay the controversial remarks and handle the matter privately.