Is the US Suddenly Allergic to the Word “Palestinian”?
By: Rafael Medoff
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew were quick to condemn Thursday’s slaughter of Jewish civilians in Jerusalem. But just who was it that committed the massacre? You wouldn’t know the answer from the statements issued by these senior American officials.
“My heart goes out to the victims of this attack,” Blinken said. “We unequivocally condemn such brutal violence,” Lew tweeted.
Who carried out the attack? Who perpetrated that brutal violence? To judge from the words of the secretary of state and the ambassador, they could have been disgruntled postal workers, drivers inflamed by road rage, or any other type of non-political lunatics. There was no acknowledgment that the killers were Palestinian Arabs who were members of Hamas.
Just five months ago, Lew’s predecessor, Thomas Nides, did almost exactly the same thing. His response to the slaughter of four Israelis in a restaurant near Eli was to tweet about “the civilian deaths and injuries that have occurred in the West Bank,” without identifying the perpetrators.
When critics—including President Isaac Herzog—expressed outrage that Ambassador Nides was grouping the terrorist attack together with an Israeli counter-terror raid in Jenin, Nides issued a second tweet specifically condemning the murder of the Israelis—but he again refused to acknowledge that the killers were Palestinian Arabs. The official State Department statement about that attack likewise failed to identify the murderers.
Senior U.S. government officials are usually extremely careful in their choice of language. They know that every word they speak or tweet is being scrutinized for policy implications. It’s hard to believe that the repeated omission of the words “Palestinians” and “Hamas” in these contexts is accidental—especially considering the verbal shenanigans in which other political leaders have engaged concerning Jewish victims in recent history.
In late October 1943, the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and Great Britain, and the U.S. secretary of state, met in Moscow. It had been nearly year since the Allies had publicly confirmed that systematic annihilation of the Jews was underway. Yet in their final statement threatening postwar punishment for Nazi war crimes, they referred to the victims as “French, Dutch, Belgian or Norwegian hostages … Cretan peasants … [and] the people of Poland.” There was no mention of the Jews.
In February 1944, officials of the U.S. War Refugee Board presented President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a draft statement that they wanted him to issue, in which he would warn that the Germans were trying “to exterminate all the Jews within their grasp” and acknowledging that “more than two million men, women and children already have been put to death solely because they were Jews.”
After two weeks of stalling, presidential aides informed the Board that FDR “wanted the statement rewritten so as to be aimed less directly at the atrocities against the Jews.” The final version that the president and his staff produced deleted the reference to Jews being murdered “solely because they were Jews”; removed three of the statement’s six references to Jews; and added three opening paragraphs naming various other nationalities who had suffered during the war.
Similarly, Roosevelt’s 1944 statement commemorating the anniversary of the Jewish revolt in the Warsaw Ghetto did not mention Jews. In the same spirit, the heads of FDR’s Office of War Information instructed their staff that any article they intended to write about the Nazi mass-murders would be “confused and misleading if it appears to be simply affecting the Jewish people.”
Words spoken by political leaders have political implications. President Roosevelt and his administration were concerned that too much emphasis on the persecution of the Jews would increase pressure for action to help them, such as admitting more Jewish refugees to the United States—something the president strongly opposed.
Arthur Szyk, the famous artist and Jewish activist, remarked bitterly that Allied officials seemed to be treating the persecution of the Jews “as a pornographical subject–you cannot discuss it in polite society.”
At the very moment that Europe’s Jews most needed someone to speak up on their behalf, the theme of Roosevelt’s policy toward the Jews was to downplay and minimize their plight. Today, when Jews most need their American friends to speak loudly and clearly about Palestinian Arab terrorism, senior U.S. officials suddenly seem to be allergic to the words “Palestinian” and “Hamas.”
Are political motives at work in the Blinken and Lew statements? Are they concerned acknowledging that Palestinian Arab terrorists from Hamas perpetrated the Jerusalem slaughter might undermine the Biden administration’s pressure on Israel to make more concessions to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority?
Statements by Biden administration officials in the days ahead will merit careful scrutiny for the answers to those questions.
As published in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles – Nov.30, 2023
(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 America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, published by the Jewish Publication Society & University of Nebraska Press.)