Rocco DiPippo: I have the pleasure of speaking with David S Crystal, the author of Clinton Versus Israel: How the Clinton State Department Instigated Anti-Israel Bias in the Media, which makes the case that the Clinton Administration is primarily responsible for the strong anti-Israel bias that exists in the media today.
DiPippo: Mr. Crystal, you’ve written a book that makes the case that the Clinton Administration is primarily responsible for the anti-Israeli bias that exists in most of the news media today. How did you become interested in exploring this subject?
Crystal: I’d been a Zionist and Democratic activist for many years both throughout high school and during part of college. In 1998 I was in Washington participating in the Penn Semester in Washington program. I noticed that the Clinton Administration seemed to be drawing moral equivalencies between Israel and the PLO.
DiPippo: Could you give me some examples?
Crystal: Sure. For example, we all know now what I knew back then, that the PLO had committed material breaches of the Oslo Accords, which stated that the PLO must confiscate illegal weapons, must dismantle militias and terrorist groups must do everything in its powers to fight terrorism emanating both from its borders and within its borders and must do everything within its powers to protect Israeli citizens, even within their own borders. Since 1994 they had violated these contingencies numerous times in a series of suicide attacks upon Israelis and were very active in disseminating jihadist-style propaganda. Also, Arafat himself was secretly taped by the Mossad planning at least one suicide bombing with Hamas officials in 1994-95, even though the Declaration of Principles relating to the Oslo Accords was signed by Arafat in 1993. But instead of condemning the PLO’s actions as Clinton should have, as any even handed broker would have, these actions were instead attributed to so called “enemies of peace." In reality, these enemies of peace were Yasser Arafat and his PLO but Clinton would never indicate this. Instead he perpetrated a fantasy that Arafat was in fact a “man of peace” when as any objective party could clearly see; he was nothing of the sort. On the other hand, when Israel would exercise its rights of reprisal in response to the material breaches of the Oslo Accords committed by the Palestinian Authority [PA], the Clinton State Department would then criticize Israel for making moves that were not acceptable or not helpful to the peace process. So real PLO violations were rarely criticized but alleged Israeli violations and appropriate responses by Israel to real Palestinian violations were criticized as having violated the Accords. In an effort to seem impartial, the Clinton State department adopted the tactic of having to criticize Israel as much as the PA. This created a false moral equivalency between Israel and the PA. When a terrorist attack was committed upon Israel, the Clinton State Department would characterize it as having been committed by so-called “enemies of peace” when in fact they were being committed by the PA itself.
DiPippo: Your statement seems to indicate that even though the Clinton State Department knew that the PA had no intention of abiding by the peace process it nevertheless chose to pretend that Israel had broken the Accords as much as the PA. How could this have been a positive step in the process of trying to get a signed, enforceable agreement between the two parties?
Crystal: It wasn’t. It was an illogical approach and therefore doomed to failure. It also serves to illustrate core differences between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats believe in equality of outcome. Republicans believe in equality of opportunity. Here we had a situation where two parties were not equal but Clinton’s political correctness deemed them as equal: equally wrong and equally right, equally culpable and equally innocent. It’s beyond most liberal Democrats to admit that some countries are better than others and some cultures are better than others. Clinton’s White House carried this notion to the extreme in its dealings with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
DiPippo: It’s my opinion that negotiating peace with Yasser Arafat is an exercise in futility. During the peace process, do you believe that Clinton honestly believed he could broker a deal between Arafat and Israel that would last as long as Arafat remained in power? And secondly, why didn’t Clinton’s people consider circumventing him and negotiating with people outside of the PLO?
Crystal: For the same reason that Bush can’t do it now. Arafat will kill anyone who tries to jockey into such a position. One of the great ironies to the situation back in the early 90’s was that the Clintonites would explain their light-handed approach to the PLO as being due to their believing Arafat’s assertion that he was dealing from a politically weak position and therefore couldn’t rope in the terrorism emanating from his people. This was an incredible lie, since it was and still is known that Arafat runs the show and controls all monies, relief and otherwise flowing toward the Palestinians. Little happens without his approval. Bush is taking a more or less “wait and see” approach figuring on the possibility that upon Arafat’s death, a more moderate figure will move into position to inherit his power. Hopefully, whoever this is will be sensible enough to realize that in order to live peacefully, they’ll have to accept the right of Jews to live in Israel. Only if such a person replaces Arafat will peace in the region have a serious chance of being established.
DiPippo: In 2000/01 Arafat walked away from Camp David and Taba after having gotten almost everything he wanted for his people. The major sticking point was based on his refusal to never really acknowledge the right of Israel to exist. In your opinion, will he ever capitulate on this point?
Crystal: Absolutely not. The fact is, all you have to do is to go back to 1974 when Arafat and his henchmen formulated a long range plan designed to bring about the destruction of Israel. They knew that eventually a sizable contingency of the Israeli population would tire of seeing their loved ones maimed and killed and Israelis would likely reach a point where emotion would overrule logic. Then they’d be ready to make major concessions to the Palestinians. Phase one of the PLO plan was to reclaim as much land as possible through negotiations. Phase two was building an army and achieving statehood. Phase three was accumulating enough political power amongst other Arab states and joining them in a group effort to push Israel into the sea, so to speak. Clinton, and to their discredit many Israelis, chose to ignore the existence of this plan and negotiated as if it had never existed. I saw the Oslo Accords in part as an attempt at implementing the first phase of the PLO plan and also as an attempt by Clinton to procure a Nobel peace prize. Incredibly, Arafat was awarded one which ranks as the biggest disgrace in the Prize’s history.
DiPippo: Are you saying that the Oslo Accords were actually an attempt to dismantle Israel?
Crystal: Absolutely. Even at the time it was reported in the Arab press that the negotiations were actually part of a plan to destroy Israel. And the PLO admitted it in Arabic. I found it unbelievable that during that time no one in Clinton’s State Department could read Arabic! More likely they knew this was going on and they chose to ignore it. They were intent on presenting Israel and the PLO as moral equivalents. It is this dynamic that sowed the seeds of the diplomatic failure that has lead to the current bloodshed between the two parties.
DiPippo: According to your book, Clinton's State Department was primarily responsible for the anti-Israeli bias that exists today in the press. What is it within the US and international media that has allowed this bias to flourish and become so entrenched. What are its root causes?
Crystal: My thesis is that the Clinton State Department was responsible for instigating and facilitating a new mode and form of anti-Israel bias which is still prevalent today. Much, but not all of the media's biases are attributable to this new paradigm. Your question seems to be geared toward anti-Israel bias in general, not the specific bias that has existed as an outgrowth of the Clinton State Department’s handling of the Oslo Accords negotiations. As such, the answer to your question is extremely intricate and complex and often depends on the specific medium that one focuses on, but nonetheless I will do my best to give you an umbrella answer:
Originally, anti-Israel bias was more a product of the Right. In its first two decades, Israel, rightly or wrongly was deemed to be a socialist state with its kibbutzim and labor unions and socialized medicine. As such, anti-Communist papers along with everyday anti-Semitic papers would do their bit to paint Israel in a bad light. But these papers were, with the exception of the New York Times, not so mainstream. Anti-Israel bias did not become prominent until it primarily became a product of the Left. That shift took place gradually during the early 70's and reached its peak during the Intifada of 1987-1992. The reason this occurred is twofold: firstly, Israel had become increasingly capitalistic and technologically advanced and as such, lost the sympathy and support of her socialist friends in Europe. Secondly, the Arabs did a wonderful job of reinventing themselves as the "Palestinians" and were now viewed as the oppressed underdog as opposed to the oppressive “overdog”, which the Arab empire truly is, outnumbering Israel in guns, tanks, planes, missiles and soldiers, including those in the Palestinian Authority. Most media, especially those of the left, love the underdog and tacitly root for it irrespective of how vile, viscous and criminal that underdog may be. Even though the mass media was prone to take the pro-PLO position prior to the Oslo Accords, they still afforded Israel her respect as a state and still had tremendous sympathy for Jewish civilian victims of Arab terrorism. That all changed under Clinton.
DiPippo: Mr. Crystal, was Clinton more concerned with his legacy than the survival of Israel?
Crystal: You ask an interesting question. Some people see the title of my book and incorrectly conclude that I am promoting the belief that Clinton was an anti-Semite. He wasn’t; Clinton was not anti anything, he was simply pro-Clinton. In other words, whatever it would take for him to get a Nobel Peace Prize he would have done, regardless of how many Jewish children were to be blown up on busses and in pizza parlors. Clinton wanted the Accords signed to bolster his legacy. If his motives were honest he would have called Arafat for what he is: a life-long terrorist. Instead, he pretended that Arafat had nothing to do with the bus bombings and other terrorist acts that occurred while negotiations were being held, instead attributing them to separate entities outside of Arafat’s control, and labeling these acts as having been perpetrated by so-called “enemies of peace”. This was nonsense. Unfortunately, this game cost many Israeli lives.
DiPippo: While you’re on the subject of Israeli lives, I’d like to ask you what your thoughts are on the security fence known as “the wall”.
Crystal: Only about 5% of it is actually a wall in the literal sense, the rest is fence. There should be little controversy since it saves lives. There is however, a reasonable debate concerning whether sections of it between Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria should be altered to accommodate pedestrians from some of the Arab villages. This is a minor detail that can be worked out. But to wholesale condemn the “wall” as the UN and France have done, is a denial of Israel’s right to exist since it’s clear that this “wall” has kept Israelis from getting maimed and killed by terrorists. I’m sure you’ve noticed there’s been a drastic decrease in the number of successful suicide bombings since the “wall” was erected. And believe me; it’s not from a lack of trying on the part of the bombers. When so-called fair-minded European intellectuals call the wall racist and apartheid what they’re really saying is that Jews don’t have the same right to live as everyone else.
DiPippo: Where does the peace process go from here? There have been numerous failed attempts to bring peace to the region for 50 years. What would it take to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians?
Crystal: There will never be peace in the conventional sense between Israel and the Palestinians. The best I could expect would be a “cold peace” such as the one that exists between Egypt and Israel. But I doubt that this could be accomplished in this generation, since Palestinian Arabs are indoctrinated from a young age to hate Jews, to hate Israel, and to hate the West. The only thing that could shut off this wellspring of self-defeating hatred would be an opposing indoctrination, which in the best scenario would take at least a few generations to effect. Then of course you have the logistical challenge of designing and successfully implementing such an effort.
DiPippo: Given the intensity of anti-Israel, anti-West indoctrination and the level of hatred in the region, do you think that this would work? The reality is that Israel is dealing with an enemy that straps bombs on its children and celebrates their deaths and those of the innocents they kill. Is it a reasonable expectation that lasting peace can be attained in any form?
Crystal: Over the course of let’s say 100 years, yes it’s possible. As much as the [PA] revels in the suffering of its people and even though the Palestinians have been taught to celebrate their suffering as an honor, ultimately there’s a limit to how much they can continue to heap on themselves before they realize that Israel will exist regardless of their actions, since Israel will prevail in any military conflict. I think a stronger Israeli response to Palestinian transgressions would likely drive this point home quicker. And the quicker that Palestinian Arabs realize that they’ll never destroy Israel, the quicker a “cold peace” could be achieved, which brings me to a point: the primary reason that Israelis are terrified of Palestinian terrorists is due to the random nature of the attacks. On the other hand, Israel responds to attacks methodically and locally. In other words, there’s nothing random about their responses, so the majority of Palestinians don’t fear them. For the most part, Palestinian Arabs know they’ll be attacked only in direct response to bombings and other terrorist acts they perpetrate. Israeli Jews know fear all of the time, since the Palestinian terrorists attack randomly and deliberately target innocents. As an aside, consider the restraint that Israel exercises in its responses, targeting only perpetrators and direct supporters of terrorist acts. Regrettably, it’s true that occasionally innocents get caught in the crossfire, since the terrorists have long made it practice to hide amongst the general population.
It’s safe to say that if the US military caught wind of an Al Qaeda rally or a Taliban rally in Afghanistan, they’d attack the entire event. Yet Israel stands down when the Palestinians gather in the streets to rally with Hamas instead of attacking the entire event and killing all the participants.
DiPippo: There are many differences between how the Bush and Clinton administrations have grappled with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What’s the greatest difference?
Crystal: Moral clarity. Bush has it, Clinton didn’t. Bush understands that there’s no difference between a Hamas suicide bomber and an Al Qaeda suicide bomber. He recognizes that Israel’s struggle against its enemies is but another front of the same “war on terror”. Clinton, through the actions of his State Department appeared to fail to grasp this. Instead, he helped create the leftist myth that the self-defensive actions of Israel and the terrorism of Palestinian Arabs are morally equivalent. To this day, much of the mainstream international press echoes this sentiment. Bush has no such illusions. Clinton cared about Clinton. As I said earlier, legacy was his primary concern, so in essence the actual quality of the peace he attempted to facilitate through the Oslo Accords was immaterial. Since in my opinion he was essentially chasing a trophy, peace at any cost was to him, acceptable.
DiPippo: Sounds a bit “Carteresque”.
Crystal: (laughter). Carter was, at least in terms of Egypt somewhat successful!
Bush’s primary intent appears to be spreading liberty and values of tolerance and cooperation amongst men regardless of political cost to him. He has not wavered in this approach. Clinton was a political opportunist, a pure political animal and narcissist. The most telling difference between the Bush and Clinton approaches to Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be illustrated by the way each man treated Arafat. Clinton called him a statesman, a “man of peace”. Bush appropriately refers to him as a terrorist and refuses to shake his hand. Bush clearly believes in the concept of moral absolutes while Clinton is a relativist. In the late 90’s, Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown in which he said in effect that truth is relative. This pretty much encapsulates how he ran the Oslo peace process and for that matter his entire administration.
DiPippo: So what we have here is a classic comparison between the actions of a relativist and the actions of a moral absolutist?
DiPippo: ( laughter) Unfortunately, we’re out of time. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you, Mr. Crystal. I look forward to discussing other topics with you in the future. I’d love to talk about why Jewish Americans still vote for Democrats!
Crystal: The pleasure would be mine. I enjoyed the interview and look forward to speaking with you again.
David Shalom Crystal is a cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania where he received honors in philosophy, politics and economics. Mr. Crystal has a long history of political involvement including presiding over the Young Leadership District of the Zionist Organization of America. He has been the subject of articles in the Jerusalem Post, The Forward and the Jewish Exponent. His book, Clinton Versus Israel: How the Clinton State Department Instigated Anti-Israel Bias in the Media can be purchased at the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.
Rocco DiPippo is a free-lance political writer. He publishes the Antiprotester blog (www.antiprotester.blogspot.com) and the Antiprotester website (www.antiprotester.com)