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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Recycling His Roots

    Recycling His Roots

    JNS.org – Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    JNS.org – Sara Davidson’s The December Project is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish History Why the Holocaust Occurred in Germany, and Why So Few Resisted (REVIEW)

    Why the Holocaust Occurred in Germany, and Why So Few Resisted (REVIEW)

    It’s hard to make a new contribution to the field of Holocaust studies,  but German historian Götz Aly accomplishes just that in Why the Germans, Why the Jews? His premise is that the origins of the Holocaust were rooted in the specific anti-Semitism found in Germany in the decades and centuries before World War II. Aly (who is not Jewish) seeks to prove his theory by studying only pre-Holocaust history, and tracing how the German people’s envy and hatred of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Looking at Anti-Israel Celebrities and Their Brands

    Looking at Anti-Israel Celebrities and Their Brands

    JNS.org – During the current conflict in Gaza a number of celebrities have voiced their opinions in support of either the Israeli or Palestinian positions. But others—be it during Operation Protective Edge or at other times—have gone further than simply supporting the Palestinians by actively supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, making false accusations about the Jewish state, ignoring Israel’s position on the conflict, or justifying the actions of the terrorist group Hamas. Many of these [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Israeli UFC Fighter Returns to Jewish State to Rejoin IDF

    Israeli UFC Fighter Returns to Jewish State to Rejoin IDF

    JNS.org – Days after winning his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight bout against Steven Siler on July 26, Israeli-born mixed martial arts competitor Noad Lahat boarded a plane for his native country, choosing to temporarily exit UFC’s octagonal cage to rejoin the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a paratrooper for its operation against Hamas in Gaza. Except he didn’t actually consider it a choice. “When [our] home is in danger, there is no other way for us [but to serve [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.