WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 (JTA) — Jewish lawmakers are accusing the Bush administration of hypocrisy for condemning Israel’s policy of targeted killings — and the State Department is coming under growing pressure to review its position.
While Israeli advocates hoped the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington would increase empathy for the Jewish state’s plight and loosen the reins in Israel’s fight against terror, the State Department has continued to criticize Israel’s policy of killing Palestinian terrorist leaders.
After the assassination of Israel’s tourism minister, Rehavam Ze’evi, on Wednesday, pressure is likely to mount on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to take more proactive steps against Palestinian terrorism.
Sharon has demanded that the Palestinian Authority turn over Ze’evi’s killers or be deemed a supporter of terrorism — with all that implies in the changed international environment since Sept. 11.
The question remains whether the United States will continue chastising Israel for its counterterrorism actions even as the Bush administration works from a similar playbook.
Several members of the House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee said Wednesday they could not understand the difference between U.S. tactics in its war on suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida network — tactics that have broad popular and political support — and Israeli tactics that the State Department criticizes.
“It seems to me that if an American pilot with a very smart weapon would succeed, through targeted assassination, to kill Osama bin Laden, he would get the Congressional Medal of Honor and a tickertape parade down Fifth Avenue,” said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member of the International Relations Committee.
“And I’m just wondering what degree of hypocrisy prompts a State Department spokesman to criticize an Israeli sharpshooter for successfully putting an end to the life of a man who planned, organized, and directed the assassination of 22 Israeli teen-agers.”
The United States has decried the Israeli policy of targeting leaders of militant Palestinian movements for assassination as perpetuating the cycle of violence.
Israel says the killings are necessary to counter the constant threat of terror and head off attacks in the planning stages. Israeli officials also note that they focus exclusively on militants, and do not target Palestinian political leaders.
After the United States became the target of terrorism on Sept. 11, the State Department seemed to change its position on retaliatory tactics.
“I think when you are attacked by a terrorist and you know who the terrorist is and you can fingerprint back to the cause of the terror, you should respond,” Powell said a news conference on Sept. 12, one day after attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon killed an estimated 5,000 people. “If you are able to stop terrorist attacks, you should stop terrorist attacks.”
This week, however, as Israel resumed its targeted killings, the State Department resumed its criticism. The Bush administration in recent weeks has made several statements in support of the Palestinian Authority, which it deems a crucial player in American attempts to build Arab and Muslim support for its war in Afghanistan.
Assistant Secretary of State William Burns did not elaborate on the differences between the U.S. and Israeli situations, but said he felt Israel and the Palestinian Authority should look for a “political solution” instead of meeting violence with violence.
“It’s not a question of handcuffing anyone,” Burns told the committee Wednesday. “It’s not a question of standing” in the way “of anyone’s legitimate right of self-defense.”
Burns’ comments enraged Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who asked why the United States wasn’t seeking a political solution to the threat from bin Laden.
“Why is it wrong or, in State Department terms, counterproductive, for Israel to target the terrorists who bombed the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem and the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv, but right for us to target the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia?” Ackerman asked. “Is it hypocrisy, or is it just inconsistency?”
Burns said he understands lawmakers’ concerns about inconsistencies, and denied accusations that the State Department’s rhetoric is calculated to build support for the U.S. war against bin Laden and Al Qaida.
“We continue to approach the situation between Israelis and Palestinians, first and foremost, in an effort to do everything that we can to bring about an end to violence,” Burns said. “And that’s the context in which we’ve made the statements that we’ve consistently tried to make — for no other purpose than that.”