John Brennan, “Drone Warrior,” Laments that the Jews Use Checkpoints

While serving as National Security Advisor from 2009 through 2013, John Brennan oversaw America’s unmanned aerial vehicle program. Dubbed the Obama administration’s “drone warrior” by CNN, Brennan wasn’t just the chief architect of the country’s deadly campaign of strikes overseas, but also its most visible champion. While others sounded alarms about hundreds of civilians believed to have been killed under his watch, Brennan defended the strikes as legal, ethical, just, and wise. And as the Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf noted, he had also “been willing to lie about those drone strikes to hide ugly realities.”

It might seem surprising, then, or even improbable, that this same Brennan was so galvanized by the depiction of Palestinian actors passing through an Israeli checkpoint — “twice in a single day,” Brennan lamented — that he rushed to write an Op-Ed in the New York Times to promote the film in which the scenes appeared, and to expound on the Arab-Israeli conflict. After all, the dispatcher of Predator drones and their Hellfire missiles should surely understand that checkpoints are a non-violent even if unpleasant security measure.

But if he does recognize a security need for these checkpoints, he didn’t let on as much in his essay, titled “Why Biden Must Watch This Palestinian Movie.” While acknowledging that legitimate Israeli security concerns existed back in 1975, when he saw “several” people in a long line of Arabs face “discourtesy and aggressive searches by Israeli soldiers” as they crossed into the West Bank from the Kingdom of Jordan (then still in a formal state of war with Israel), Brennan insists that times have “profoundly changed.”

Since 1975, he correctly noted, there have been peace treaties between Israel and two of its neighbors, Jordan and Egypt. But incredibly, in an essay focused on Israeli checkpoints, and in which the author plugs a film focused on Israel’s security barrier, Brennan made no mention of devastating waves of violence from the West Bank that Israeli civilians continued to face in the years after the signing of those treaties. Nothing about the scores killed in suicide bombings in the late 1990s; nothing about hundreds of innocent Jews slaughtered in a wave of Palestinian violence in the early 2000s; nothing about the deadly Palestinian “stabbing intifada” in 2015 and 2016.

These inconvenient facts are all missing from Brennan’s history. He tells readers only that, with the exception of some Hamas rockets from Gaza, there has been “significant progress in reducing violence carried out by Palestinians.” And if he can’t acknowledge the brutal Palestinian suicide bombing campaign of the 2000s, how could he possibly acknowledge that the barrier and checkpoints he finds so disturbing were raised as a result of that campaign? How could he acknowledge, too, that the same passive security measures he decries contributed to the “significant progress” against Palestinian violence he describes? 

Likewise, Brennan’s essay is guilty of the Big Omission that characterizes so many anti-Israel polemics. While protesting that Palestinians “have seen no appreciable progress in their quest to live in their own sovereign state,” he says nothing about the repeated rejection by Palestinian leaders of peace plans that would have given them an independent state. 

At first glance, it might seem that Brennan’s essay did acknowledge this Palestinian failure. After all, it states that “political fissures and the ineffective political leadership of the Palestinian Authority have contributed to stymying ambitions for Palestinian nationhood.” But when clicking on the author’s link, it becomes apparent that his concern isn’t that Palestinians have turned away from compromise at the negotiating table, but that they have worked with Israel in any productive capacity. The piece Brennan links to, a screed by propagandist Diana Buttu, in fact criticizes the Palestinian leadership for working with Israel to prevent Palestinian attacks — the very security cooperation that Brennan praises in his essay. It protests that Palestinian governing bodies don’t sufficiently include the perspective of Hamas — the very terror organization that, as Brennan notes, fires rockets at Israel. And it even calls for rejecting the two-state solution — the very thing Brennan’s essay blames the Israeli side of doing. 

What motivated such a confounding essay, which slams Israel’s checkpoints and security barrier but ignores the Palestinian violence that prompted them; that, conversely, celebrates a reduction in Palestinian violence but ignores that the barriers play a role in that reduction; that protests the lack of a Palestinian state but avoids acknowledging that Israel has offered such a state; and that criticizes the Israeli government for its increased ambivalence about a two-state solution, but suggests that the Palestinian government is ineffective because it doesn’t reject a two-state solution? Was the man who drew up “kill lists” for the most powerful army on earth really so shaken by the fictional portrayal of two trips through a checkpoint? 

If so, it would be a credit to the filmmaker’s successful “exploitation of emotions” and her depiction of Palestinians and Israeli soldiers as representing, respectively, “good and evil,” as one Israeli film critic described it. But judging by some comments by Brennan on Twitter, which he posted yesterday on the occasion of the publication of his essay, there was another motivation, too. 

He wrote:

Brennan, it seems, is disappointed — he has “always” been disappointed — in the Jewish people for having failed to learn the proper lessons from historical anti-Jewish violence. The Holocaust’s real lesson for Jews, he seems to think, is that they should not worry so much about their physical security, and not take so seriously genocidal calls by Palestinian leaders. 

It’s a strange interpretation of history. But above all that, there’s more than a waft of bigotry in Brennan’s comment. If one had to summarize the tweet in four words, the condensed version might read: “Jews are not empathetic.” Not only does Brennan hold Jews to a higher standard than everyone else, Newsweek’s deputy opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon argues, but worse, does so “due to the very persecution and genocide that was inflicted on us throughout history.”

Howard Jacobson’s words from 2011, aptly recalled by CAMERA UK, could have been written in response to Brennan’s tweet a decade later. Writing in the Independent, Jacobson slammed the view that “Israel is the proof that Jews did not adequately learn the lesson of the Holocaust.” As he put it, 

Forget Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is old hat. The new strategy … is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged (“You, of all people”) with failing to live up to it. By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn’t. … Thus are Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanizing redemption in its horrors.

Brennan can accept a lot for the sake of American security. But the perceived failure of the collective Jewish conscience, as represented by Israel’s checkpoints, is apparently too much for “the drone warrior” to stomach.