Politico’s Paper Thin Attack on the U.S. Ambassador to Israel

A June 16, 2018 Politico article, “Trump Ambassador blocks scrutiny of Israel,” is littered with omissions. The dispatch, by reporter Nahal Toosi, leaves out key details and context in an attempt to attack the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

Citing unnamed U.S. State Department officials, Politico claimed that in an October 2017 email, Amb. Friedman “dismissed the possibility” that the U.S. Embassy in Israel should scrutinize American military assistance to the Jewish state.

Friedman, Politico noted, stated: “Israel is a democracy whose army does not engaged in gross violations of human rights.” Further, the country “has a robust system of investigation and prosecution where real misconduct occurs.” The Ambassador’s comments—leaked to Politico—were in response to a State Department initiative to “carefully examine military assistance to governments” in the Middle East, making sure that “the department wasn’t violating a law barring U.S. security aid to foreign military units that commit serious human rights abuses.”

Of course, Israel is a democracy and, unlike every other country in the region, the rare violations of human rights that do occur often are investigated and, if need be, prosecuted—as recent high profile cases attest. But it soon becomes clear that this isn’t the narrative that Toosi wants.

Instead, Politico implies that the Israeli military is guilty of human rights violations. At the beginning of their report, the outlet asserts that, “several months” after Friedman’s email response “Israeli forces are under harsh international scrutiny for killing scores of Palestinians during border protests in the Gaza Strip. Friedman has rejected charges that Israel used excessive force; Israeli officials insist they acted with restraint against violent provocations.” Only towards the very bottom of her article—nearly 2,000-words later—does Toosi acknowledge, “Hamas has also said that many of those killed were its members.”

In fact, as CAMERA has noted, the “protests” were led and organized by the U.S.-designated terrorist group, which—in an attempt to incur casualties—purposefully hid its armed operatives among unarmed civilians attempting to storm Israel’s sovereign border. The U.S., including its State Department, condemned Hamas’s cynical use of human shields—a war crime. Further, the overwhelming majority of those killed during the so-called “Great Return March” were terrorists—as many as 80% according to a study by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center, which examined each fatality.

Instead of citing these figures, or noting Hamas’s own documented admissions that it sought to create civilian casualties and ordered terrorists to don civilian garb, Toosi uncritically repeats claims by Human Rights Watch that Israel committed “war crimes.” Yet, as CAMERA has pointed out, HRW has fundraised in Middle Eastern autocracies like Saudi Arabia, by promising to attack the Jewish state. The organization employs individuals that support efforts to delegitimize and destroy Israel and its one-sided attacks against the country even prompted human rights activist Robert Bernstein, who founded HRW, to repudiate the very organization he helped create.

Nor are these omissions the only distortions in Politico’s report.

The outlet also claimed that Israeli troops “rarely face discipline” for human rights infractions, citing claims made by Yesh Din, a far-left NGO. As NGO Monitor has documented, Yesh Din has used “fuzzy math” to skew statistics, and its field researchers have allegedly “tweeted praise for the terrorists Sameer Kuntar, Yihye Ayash, and Hassan Nasrallah.” One researcher, Murad Jadallah, has even posed for pictures with Salah Hamouri, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), a U.S.-designated terror group.

Politico also attempted to paint Friedman as both biased against Palestinians and ignorant. The paper alleged:

“According to the former State Department official familiar with the issue, at one point in the briefing Friedman said: ‘I don’t understand. The people in Gaza – they’re basically Egyptians. Why doesn’t Egypt take them back?’ A briefer informed him that most of Gaza’s residents were refugees or descended from refugees who had lived in what is now Israel.”

Yet, as Politico subsequently noted, Friedman denied the comment and “a State Department spokesperson told POLITICO the anecdote is false.” The decision to mention a comment that both the Ambassador and the State Department denied occurred is odd—conceivably the only reason for doing so is to portray Friedman as ill informed and biased. But in this too, Politico showcases its own superficial understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the region.

The paper fails to mention that some Palestinians have claimed Egyptian heritage, and that Palestinian nationalism is a new construct.

An Aug. 7, 2017 research paper by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (“Who are the Palestinians?”) noted that in a March 23, 2012 speech, Hamas’s then-Minister of the Interior and National Security, Fathi Hammad, linked the Palestinians’ origins to Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, claiming:

“Who are the Palestinians? We have many families called al-Masri, whose roots are Egyptian! They may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta, from the north, from Aswan, from Upper Egypt. We are Egyptians; we are Arabs. We are Muslims. We are part of you. Egyptians! Personally, half my family is Egyptian – and the other half are Saudis.”

JCPA analyst Pinhas Inbari pointed out: “Arab tribes that settled in the Land of Israel were also varied and of different lineages, and during the Ottoman Empire, the Arabs in the country did not identify themselves as Palestinians. The term Palestine was Western and was regularly used by Jews who immigrated to the country; the Zionists called themselves Palestinians while the Arabs simply identified themselves as Arabs.”

If Toosi wanted to lampoon someone for propagating false stories about the origins of Arab Palestinians, she could’ve used Saeb Erekat, a high-ranking member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Fatah movement, who has falsely claimed that Palestinians are descended from the Canaanites. Instead, she treats Erekat as a credible source; reprinting his claims that neither Israel nor Friedman are interested in peace. This, however, is projection on Erekat’s part.

In a March 2009 interview with Al-Jazzera, Erekat hailed the 2008 decision by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to reject an Israeli proposal that would’ve given the Palestinians a state in exchange for peace with, and recognition of, the Jewish state (“In 2008, Abbas Rejected Israel’s Offer of 93.7% of the West Bank. Why Wasn’t it Reported?” Tablet Magazine). Indeed, as CAMERA noted in a Jan. 4, 2017 Baltimore Sun letter to the editor, Erekat said in October 2016 “we bow our heads in admiration and honor” for the acts of “heroism” committed by imprisoned Palestinian terrorists.

In December 2015, Erekat even met with the family of Mazen Aribe, a Palestinian Authority Security Forces employee who was killed while he was carrying out a terrorist attack. As The Times of Israel and others reported, it was later revealed that Erekat was related to Aribe (“PA’s top peace negotiator related to terrorist, sources say,” Dec. 7, 2015). Palestinian Security Forces receive extensive U.S. military assistance and training. In other words: This is precisely the sort of thing that Toosi and the State Department profess to be concerned about; a Middle Eastern government receiving U.S. aid and perpetrating human rights crimes. But despite quoting Erekat, it doesn’t merit a mention by Politico.

What is more, two days before Toosi’s report, Amnesty International’s Phillip Luther accused “Palestinian security officers” of assaulting “dozens of demonstrators and bystanders” protesting PA-imposed sanctions against the Gaza Strip. Luther said that Amnesty International employee Laith Abu Zayed “spent several hours in police custody where he was severely beaten.” Luther said that Zayed’s beating was “just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the mass show of excessive force and torture unleashed by the Palestinian security forces…” Although these alleged abuses by U.S.-funded PA security forces occurred shortly before Politico’s report was filed, they weren’t mentioned in the dispatch.

But Politico isn’t interested in that story. Instead, the paper would rather propagate the claims of anonymous officials, anti-Israel NGOs, and Palestinian leaders who reject peace and praise terror—all in an article that is ostensibly about human rights abuses.