Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Leon Panetta Blames the Victim

December 5, 2011 5:28 pm 0 comments

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta during a visit to Israel. Photo: U.S. Embassy.

The notion that Israel is primarily responsible for deteriorating relations with Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinians, as claimed by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in his speech to the 2011 Saban Forum, is more than simply inaccurate. It is disturbing and potentially dangerous.

While bad at any time, his finding fault with Israel at a time of great instability and uncertainty in the region is particularly distressing. More than ever, Israel stands out as an island of stability and friendship with the United States.

The defense secretary’s comments need a clear repudiation from the White House. Letting the secretary’s views stand as is could serve to bolster those in the region who seek to return to days when Israel truly was isolated. Rather than scoring points for this administration in the Muslim world, it will reinforce their perception of American weakness for not sticking with a friend and will embolden enemies of Israel to increase their hostility toward the Jewish state.

Mr. Panetta’s analysis of developments in the region is quite strange. That Israel is facing difficulties with Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinians is, of course, a fact. Why that is so bears no resemblance to what the defense secretary said.

In the case of the Palestinians, it is Israel that has called for negotiations time and again, only to be rejected by the Palestinians.

Particularly surprising was Mr. Panetta’s answer to a question about what Israel should do: “Just come to the damn table.” Yet, only two months ago, the Middle East Quartet, in which the U.S. is a key participant, took the position that the parties should return to the table without preconditions — a position that coincided with Israel’s and that Israel accepted while the other side dawdled at best.

Regarding Turkey, while the dispute over the 2010 Gaza flotilla tragedy continues and some in Israel think their government should go further in apologizing, any objective analysis as to why the rupture in relations has occurred must point to a strategic decision by Turkey to distance itself from Israel long before the flotilla affair.

All one has to do is go back to 2009, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan so rudely abused Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos conference. It was already clear then that Turkey was moving rapidly away from the strategic alliance that had developed over the years between the two countries. A Turkish repositioning internationally corresponded with its domestic change. Israel’s behavior and policies had little or nothing to do with it.

As to Egypt, it is the revolution and the course that it is taking, not anything Israel has done, that has created tensions.

Hope still exists that Egypt will maintain its relations with Israel and, most importantly, the peace treaty that serves the interests of both parties.

Here, too, it is most surprising that Mr. Panetta would express himself this way, only days after Islamists won about 60 percent of the votes in the first round of Egyptian elections. Even those who are labeled “moderate” within the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrate fierce hostility to Israel and to Jews.

Mr. Panetta had other things to say for which he should be commended. He reiterated the importance of the unprecedented security cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.

He focused on Iran as the greatest threat to American interests. He made clear that any Iranian steps to block the free flow of oil in the region would be met with a strong American response. And he indicated that America’s policy to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear capability would require an emphasis on sanctions and diplomacy, while keeping a military option on the table.

All in all, however, the totality of the defense secretary’s comments seems to be a significant step backward. Much good work had been put in by the White House in recent months to remedy the missteps that characterized its Middle East approach during the first two years. The administration has tried to set things right — in the president’s admirable address at the U.N. in September, in its public and behind-the-scenes effort to forestall the Palestinian U.N. initiative, and in leading the effort within the Quartet calling on the parties to negotiate without preconditions.

Now, if the secretary’s remarks are allowed to stand, they will likely set in motion events that will exacerbate existing problems.

If Turkey is going to consider any improvement of relations with Israel, it is U.S. persuasion that could help bring it about. Indeed, the president has been working at that. Now the defense secretary seems to have let Turkey off the hook.

If those in Egypt who appear to be winning the day are contemplating more aggressive steps against Israel (short of breaking the treaty), the secretary’s comments may have made it easier for them to believe they might do so without suffering major consequences from the U.S.

And if the Palestinians were feeling pressure to return to the table after their misstep at the U.N. and the rebuff by the Quartet, they could see Mr. Panetta’s statements as an easing of any pressure.

These perceptions can add fuel to the fire of an already raging region. It is urgent that the White House make clear that the secretary’s remarks do not represent the views and position of the administration.

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and author, most recently, of “Jews & Money: The Story of A Stereotype.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    JNS.org – Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer—author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and […]

    Read more →