CAMERA Op-Ed: The U.S. State Department and Antisemitism

On April 12, 2022, the State Department published its 2021 “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Israel, West Bank and Gaza.” As the Jewish Insider, among others, noted, the document relied extensively on Amnesty International, an NGO that has accused Israel of “apartheid.” But as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has highlighted, Amnesty’s accusations are steeped in shoddy research, double standards, and baseless claims.

The head of Amnesty’s US office, Paul O’Brien, has said that the organization is opposed to the existence of the world’s sole Jewish state. And, as NGO Monitor and CAMERA have documented, several Amnesty employees have made antisemitic comments and openly supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which singles out Israel for opprobrium and seeks its destruction.

In February 2022, the US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, even called Amnesty’s libel “absurd.”

Yet, none of this stopped the State Department from citing Amnesty. Indeed, in some quarters, it may have recommended it.

The American foreign service, it must be said, is filled with hardworking and talented professionals who, no doubt, reject hate in all its forms. There is no evidence to suggest that the majority hold views that are anti-Israel or even antisemitic. One must not paint with a broad brush. But there is evidence to suggest that anti-Israel bias, and even antisemitism, isn’t foreign to the US diplomatic corps. There was replete evidence of antisemitism during much of the 20th century, but it certainly still exists today.

One State Department official even has ties to an organization that propagates antisemitism. As the Washington Free Beacon reported in February 2021, the then-nominee for the post of Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya, had previously worked for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA). As a WRMEA staffer, Zeya had helped compile research for a book that argues that “the Israel lobby has subverted the American political process to take control of US Middle East policy.”

Accusations of undue and pernicious Jewish power meet the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by numerous governments and entities—including the US State Department. She was later confirmed to her position.

As CAMERA highlighted, WRMEA has, among other things, implied that Israel was connected to the JFK assassination and the Sept. 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, and has published books with chapters that warn about “Jewish Power in the Formulation of US Middle East Policy.”

WRMEA has also accused Israel of profiting from the sale of human organs — a modern-day incarnation of the antisemitic blood libel.

As the historian and Israeli official Michael Oren chronicled in his 2007 book “Power, Faith, and Fantasy,” there is a long history of State Department officials holding anti-Zionist and even antisemitic views. For example, Paul Knabenshue, the consul general in Jerusalem in the 1920s, blamed Jews for the violence perpetrated against them.

After the 1929 pogroms that left hundreds of Jews dead and many more wounded, Knabenshue said that “the Jews are always responsible, for they generally bring their troubles upon themselves.” Knabenshue dismissed attempts by the US Congress to protect Jews as the product of “Jewish financial influence.” The foreign service official, Oren writes, was “archetypal of those State Department officials later known collectively — and often derisively — as Arabists, a diplomat who had spent many years in the Middle East, knew Arabic, and despised the Zionist movement.”

This phenomenon was ably documented by Robert Kaplan in his book “The Arabists,” with one former State Department official telling the author that the “powerful, vested interest of a certain group of people, concentrated in the big cities in big states, determines our Middle East policy.”

One of the more infamous American diplomats was Charles Crane, whose appointment as envoy to China was rescinded by then-President William Howard Taft over Crane’s open hatred of “Japs and Jews.” Crane would later be sent by President Woodrow Wilson to the fragmenting Ottoman Empire as part of the King-Crane Commission which purported to investigate the possibilities of self-determination for the people of the Middle East.

Warning that Arabs were concerned about the “menace” of the “modern, pushy Jew,” Crane opposed Zionism. Later in life, Crane sought audiences with both Adolf Hitler and Amin al-Husseini, a Nazi collaborator and Palestinian Arab leader. “Crane’s last letter about world affairs before he died,” Kaplan notes, “was to Hitler, blaming the Jews for the problems in the Middle East.”

Perhaps the most tragic example of antisemitism and the American foreign service can be found in the efforts by leading State Department officials to block and limit entry of Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long, who considered Jews to be “exponents of Communism and chaos,” worked tirelessly to deny visas, seeking to, in his own words, “put every obstacle in the way” of those seeking entry.

Several top State Department officials would also oppose, albeit for various reasons, the Truman administration’s support for the establishment of Israel. In this respect, the State Department differed little from the majority of Truman’s advisers, who were concerned that Israel’s creation would complicate relations with potential Arab allies and access to oil. Yet, as Kaplan notes, “none held so tenaciously to this view” as Loy Henderson “and his diplomatic colleagues at the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau.” One official, Philip Ireland, openly equated Zionism with “Nazi Lebensraum.” And in his memoirs, Truman himself observed of State’s Middle East experts: “Some among them were also inclined to be anti-Semitic.”

There is, it must be said, an abundance of evidence for Truman’s charge. However, the State Department of today is not the State Department of Breckenridge Long. For example, for the last several decades, Jewish-American foreign service officers have been posted to Israel — a posting that was for many years prohibited in practice out of concern of “bias” as one former State employee told me.

Yet, bureaucracies seldom change overnight, and institutional practices are often long-lasting. But when it comes to the Jews and the State Department, the more sordid moments of Foggy Bottom’s history shouldn’t be forgotten.

(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared as an Op-Ed in the Algemeiner on May 4, 2022)

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