By Bret Stephens
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
What the actress could teach John Kerry about courage and clarity.
By Bret Stephens
By Bret Stephens
Last month the Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic blew himself up as he tried to open an old booby-trapped embassy safe.
When police arrived on the scene, they discovered a cache of unregistered weapons in violation of international law. Surprise.
Then the real shocker: After prevaricating for a couple of weeks, the Palestinian government apologized to the Czechs and promised, according to news accounts, “to take measures to prevent such incidents in the future.”
As far as I know, this is only the second time the Palestinians have officially apologized for anything, ever. The first time, in 1999, Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha, accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary Clinton was there. Palestinian officialdom mumbled its regrets.
In other words, no apology for the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. No apology for the 1973 murder of Cleo Noel, the U.S. ambassador to Sudan, and his deputy, George Moore. No apology for the 1974 massacre of 25 Israelis, including 22 schoolchildren, in Ma’alot. No apology for the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, where 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were killed.
And so on and on—straight to the present. In December 2013, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas posthumously bestowed the “Star of Honor” on Abu Jihad, the mastermind of the Coastal Road attack, as “the model of a true fighter and devoted leader.” Dalal Mughrabi, the Palestinian woman who led the attack itself, had a square named after her in 2011. In August, Mr. Abbas gave a hero’s welcome to Palestinian murderers released from Israeli jails as a goodwill gesture. And Yasser Arafat, who personally ordered the killing of Noel and Moore, is the Palestinian patron saint.
I mention all this as background to two related recent debates. Late last month Scarlett Johansson resigned her role as an Oxfam “Global Ambassador” after the antipoverty group condemned the actress for becoming a pitchwoman for the Israeli company SodaStream. Oxfam wants to boycott Israeli goods made—as SodaStream’s are—inside the West Bank; Ms. Johansson disagrees, citing “a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement.”
The second debate followed rambling comments on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from John Kerry at this month’s Munich Security Conference. Israel, he warned, faced a parade of horribles if talks failed. “For Israel there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that’s been building up,” he said. “People are very sensitive to it. There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things.”
So here is the secretary of state talking about the effort to boycott Israel not as an affront to the United States and an outrage to decency but as a tide he is powerless to stop and that anyway should get Israel to change its stiff-necked ways. A Secretary of State Johansson would have shown more courage and presence of mind than that.
But Mr. Kerry’s failure goes deeper. How is it that Mr. Abbas’s glorification of terrorists living and dead earns no rebuke from Mr. Kerry, nor apparently any doubts about the sincerity of Palestinian intentions? Why is it that only Israel faces the prospect of a boycott? When was the last time the U.S., much less the Europeans, threatened to impose penalties on Palestinians for diplomatic or moral misbehavior?
In 2011 the Palestinians defied the U.S. by making a bid for statehood at the U.N.; then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice warned there would be “adverse negative consequences” for the Palestinians. Of course there were none, and the administration fought behind the scenes to make sure there wouldn’t be any. Type the words “Kerry condemns Abbas” or “Kerry condemns Palestinians” into a Web search and you’ll get that rare: “No results found.”
No wonder one Israeli government minister after another has taken to calling the secretary “insufferable,” “messianic” and “obsessive”—and that’s just what they say in public. The State Department has reacted indignantly to these gibes, but this is coming from the administration that likes to speak of the virtues of candor between friends. Its idea of candor is all one-way and all one-sided.
This is a bad basis for peace. If one expects nothing of Palestinians then they will be forgiven for everything. If one expects everything of Israel then it will be forgiven for nothing, putting the country to a perpetual moral test it will always somehow fail and that can only energize the boycott enthusiasts. It all but goes without saying that the ultimate objective of the BDS movement isn’t to “end the occupation” but to end the Jewish state. Anyone who joins that movement, or flirts with it, is furthering the objective, wittingly or not. One useful function of an American diplomat is to warn a group like Oxfam that it is playing with moral fire.
Instead, the job was left to Ms. Johansson. How wonderfully commendable. “One gorgeous actress with courage makes a majority,” said Andrew Jackson—or something like that. We could do worse with such a person at State.