The Obama administration once again caused outrage in Israel this week when several White House officials made statements that blamed Israel for violating the status quo on the Temple Mount, and blamed the current wave of Arab violence on ‘massive increase’ in settlement building.
A spokesmen for the Obama administration also claimed that Israel was using excessive force in combating the wave of Palestinian terror. On Thursday, the State Department deleted a previous statement that condemned the violence against Israeli citizens and replaced the statement with a neutral one.
It started on Tuesday when Secretary of State John Kerry linked the wave of violence to Israeli settlement construction.
Kerry said, “There’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years, and now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing.”
Kerry’s statement was untrue, as recent housing statistics indicate that settlement growth has ebbed to historic lows in the last few years. Even if the premise weren’t strained, the claim would still be untenable: the narrative that is actually driving the terrorism is that Israel is damaging Muslim holy places, specifically the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is unrelated to the settlements.
This was followed on Wednesday by a remark by State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who indicated that the reason for this wave of violence was due to Israel changing the status quo on the Temple Mount.
“Certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence,” Kirby said.
Israeli leaders were particularly repulsed by this statement because this is the same lie that has been used by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to incite the Arab masses against Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders across the Israeli political spectrum have debunked the claim.
Israeli blogger Yisrael Medad delivered perhaps the most powerful rebuttal of Kirby’s false claim, calling his remark a “bald-faced lie.”
“If he was referring to the Muslims, then he is correct. They have built at least three new mosques within the compound since 1967. They have instituted many new administrative procedures. They have dumped hundreds of tons of dirt outside the site containing archaeological artifacts. They have defaced, destroyed or covered up Jewish historical remains. They have instituted the introduction of gangs of ruffians to harass and attack Jewish visitors,” Medad wrote on his blog ‘My Right Word’.
A few hours after the briefing, Kirby revised his statement about the status quo on the Temple Mount. He tweeted the following:
Clarification from today’s briefing: I did not intend to suggest that status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif has been broken.
— John Kirby (@statedeptspox) October 15, 2015
We welcome both Israel’s & Jordan’s commitment to continued maintenance of status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif.
— John Kirby (@statedeptspox) October 15, 2015
One statement Kirby made in particular caused extreme outrage over the administration’s criticism of Israel’s handling of the situation. Kirby suggested that Israel had used ‘excessive force’ to quell the Arab violence and terror attacks against its citizens.
Kirby said: “We’ve certainly seen some reports of what many would consider excessive use of force…we’ve certainly seen some reports of security activity that could indicate the potential excessive use of force.”
The claim led to furious reactions by two Israeli ministers.
“The statement is so distorted and groundless that I expect President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to renounce it and clarify the United States’ position,” Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Thursday morning.
“Every sane person knows how the police in the U.S. would react if terrorists armed with axes and knives tried to murder civilians in New York or Washington. I say this before even beginning to mention the U.S. bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan during their justified fight against terrorism. Hypocrisy must know some limits,” Erdan told reporters.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon fumed: “We are using excessive force? If someone takes out a knife and gets killed, is that called excessive force? That is an expression of a distorted conception of the conflict. Whoever says something like that is ridiculous.”
A few hours later Kirby back tracked on this statement too. During the daily press briefing he said, “We have never accused Israeli security forces with excessive force with respect to these terrorist attacks.”
On Thursday evening, alert Israeli observers discovered new evidence of the administration’s lack of moral clarity in the current wave of Arab terror against Israeli citizens.
The State Department tweeted that Kerry would address “the tragic, outrageous attacks on civilians in Israel and West Bank.” But the tweet was quickly deleted and was replaced by a different tweet that simply described the attacks as “recent”.
Today, Kerry finally began to show signs that he either understands, or has felt the pressure for the United States’ needs to take a firm stance against Palestinian incitement and terror. He told NPR News that “there’s no excuse for the violence.”
“President Abbas has been committed to non-violence. He needs to be condemning this, loudly and clearly,” Kerry said. “And he needs to not engage in some of the incitement that his voice has sometimes been heard to encourage. So that has to stop,” Kerry said.
Omni Ceren contributed to this report