The claim by Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Israel is “dehumanizing” the residents of Gaza is false and insulting. But it’s par for the course at Foggy Bottom.
It may not be much consolation to the Israelis, but U.S. secretaries of state have been leveling unfair accusations against Israel, and sometimes against the Jewish people, for more than 75 years, regardless of whether Israel’s government leaned left or right.
In 1948, Secretary of State George Marshall vigorously opposed the creation of Israel, implemented the U.S. embargo on weapons to the Jewish forces, and urged President Harry Truman not to recognize the new state. Marshall also promoted a plan to drastically reduce the size of Israel by tearing away the Negev.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, testified to a Senate committee in 1953 that Israel should stop seeking arms and start putting its trust “in the United Nations.” He also criticized the Israelis for striking at Arab terrorists in Gaza.
At another point in his testimony, Secretary Dulles claimed that Israel’s fears of being destroyed were baseless. When asked if America’s strategic plans for the Mideast were adequate to prevent Israel’s annihilation, he replied that the U.S. could not “underwrite” such a promise. Dulles reiterated that the U.S. would not sell weapons to Israel, while defending the administration’s decision to send 18 tanks to Saudi Arabia. He also justified the U.S. surrender to the Saudi leaders’ demand that no Jewish soldiers be permitted to serve on American bases in Saudi Arabia.
In a Mideast policy speech later that year, Secretary Dulles declared that Jerusalem should be ruled by “the world religious community,” instead of serving as Israel’s capital. He also challenged Israel’s identity, asserting that Israel “should become a part of the Near East community and cease to look upon itself…as alien to this community.”
President Richard M. Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, had a disturbing agenda of his own. Kissinger advised Nixon in 1973 that the persecution of Soviet Jewry was “not an American concern,” even “if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union.”
When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin hesitated to make concessions that Egypt was demanding in 1975, Kissinger accused him of “bringing the world to the edge of war.” Kissinger also claimed that Rabin was “fomenting antisemitism,” and he denounced Rabin and other Israeli officials as “fools” and “common thugs.”
According to Prof. Gil Troy’s book, Moynihan’s Moment, Kissinger once described Rabin with a vulgarity, a term similar to the obscenities that some U.S. officials reportedly have used concerning other Israeli leaders.
Another secretary of state with a fondness for curse words—at least when Israel and Jews were the subject—was James Baker, who served under George H.W. Bush. When Housing Secretary Jack Kemp noted Jewish concerns about Baker’s pressure on Israel, the secretary of state infamously replied, “F— the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.” Kemp leaked the quote to former New York City mayor Ed Koch, who publicized it in his syndicated column.
Other Baker gems reported in the press included mocking pro-Israel members of Congress as “the little Knesset,” and remarking, “Jews remember the Holocaust, but they forget insults as soon as they smell cash.”
The pattern of secretaries of state taking shots at Israel crosses party lines. Cyrus Vance, secretary of state in a Democratic administration, criticized Israel’s use of U.S. fighter planes to strike terrorists in Lebanon in 1979. Alexander Haig, secretary of state in a Republican administration, lambasted Israel for bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.
In 2003, Colin Powell, secretary of state under president George W. Bush, publicly accused Israel of inflicting “daily humiliations” on the Palestinian Arabs. His successor, Condoleeza Rice, said the Palestinian Arab war against Israel was similar to the African-American civil rights movement. She also compared the Holocaust-denying Palestinian Authority chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, was still chastising Israel long after she left office. Albright asserted on CNN in 2014 that Israel had lost all its “moral authority” because it was “overdoing it” by carrying out “disproportionate” strikes on terrorists in Gaza. (That was the same Albright who said on “Sixty Minutes” in 1996 that even if sanctions against Iraq caused the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, responded, “We think the price is worth it.”)
John Kerry, who served as secretary of state under Barack Obama, took his share of shots at Israel. In 2014, he publicly claimed that Israel was at risk of becoming “an apartheid state.” In 2016, he indulged in disturbing moral equivalence by listing “settlement expansion” alongside “violence, terrorism, [and] incitement” as the reasons for the absence of Mideast peace.
Ironically, the unfriendly remarks made about Israel by various secretaries of state do not seem to have impressed Palestinian Arab leaders. The official PA newspapers Al-Hayat Al-Jadida and Al-Ayyam have referred to Kissinger as “Henry the Jew”; derided Albright as “vulgar,” “insolent,” and “a snake”; denounced Powell as “a neo-Nazi agent”; and labeled Rice “the black widow” and “the black raven,” among other insults. One wonders what epithets they have in store for Blinken.
The lesson for Israel? Blinken’s insult about “Israel dehumanizing Gazans” is consistent with what we have come to expect from the State Department. Many secretaries of state seem to have believed that coldness to Israel is part of the job description. But Israel has outlasted them all.
Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His latest is “Whistleblowers: Four Who Fought to Expose the Holocaust to America,” a nonfiction graphic novel with artist Dean Motter, to be published by Dark Horse in February 2024