Through the State Department Looking Glass

Leave it to the State Department to soft-pedal religious extremism in the Middle East. Oh not in, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia. In the most recent edition of the department’s annual Report on International Religious Freedom, both are designated “Countries of Particular Concern,” members of a select group chastised for their extreme intolerance. Which is as it should be.

But where is State’s acknowledgement of the happenings – from the absurd to the inhumane – in another, nearby country, where religious chauvinism has reached depths equaling those among any of its neighbors? I’m talking, of course, about the State of Israel – a place unfit, it seems, for any “particular concern” from Hillary & Co.

Certainly, the Report reports on Israel. But to avoid grouping the Jewish State with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and similarly intolerant countries, its authors resort to language one can only describe as Carrollian, leading readers through a looking glass in which words, as Humpty Dumpty would have it, mean anything theychoose them to mean, nothing more and nothing less.

So while a reality-based Israeli reporter, writing in Ha’aretz, can say that “Israel dismally fails the requirements of a tolerant pluralistic society,” the State Department authors mean for us to believe something else entirely. Forget “dismal.” According to them, the behavior of Israeli Jews towards the Palestinians – Christian and Muslim – has merely “strained” the relationship between the two.

It’s an interesting locution, given that, just three years ago, then-Prime Minister Olmert told a beaming Congress that his “people” had an “eternal and historic right” to all of Palestine. Given, too, that in past months, alert readers of the foreign press have seen the following items:

Israeli groups, both public and private, have launched efforts to prevent Jewish women from dating and marrying Arab men – this, after an opinion poll found that more than 50% of Jewish Israelis equate intermarriage with “national treason.” Journalist Jonathan Cook reported on a religious organization, Yad L’Achim, dedicated to “saving” – through military-style “rescues” – Jewish women from their significant Arab others. “The Jewish soul is a precious, all-too-rare resource, and we are not prepared to give up on even a single one,” says the group’s website.


Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz announced plans to “Hebraicize” all road signs in Israel, removing historic Arabic place-names and forcing Palestinians to recognize Jerusalem, for instance, as “Yerushalaim,” and not “Al-Quds,” as they have for centuries. An Arab member of the Knesset described this as an attempt to “erase the existence of the Arab people.” Meron Benvenisti, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, said: “It’s completely chauvinistic and an insult.”

A group of right-wing legislators sought to officially commemorate, in the Knesset, the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane, who advocated forcibly expelling all Palestinians from Palestine, saw Arabs, in the words of Israeli journalist Teddy Preuss, as “nothing more than disease-spreading rats, lice or other loathsome creatures.” One of the legislators, Michael Ben-Ari, is a self-described “student and follower” of Kahane. He is now “offering” to expel Israel’s Arab population to Turkey or Venezuela.


An influential West Bank rabbi, Yitzhak Shapira, published a book that Israeli daily Ma’ariv described as “the complete guide to killing non-Jews.” Drawing on the Bible and religious law, the 230 page King’s Torah “opens,” according to journalist Roi Sharon, “with a prohibition against killing non-Jews” but “very quickly” moves “to [granting] permission” for their murder, under certain conditions. Among the gentiles one is permitted to kill, according to the rabbi, are adult civilians and children. Shapira writes: “One must consider killing even babies … because of the future danger that will be caused if they are allowed to grow up to be as wicked as their parents.”

This, then, is “strain”?

As even Humpty Dumpty admits, one, ultimately, has to “pay extra” for making words do work like that. And pay we do. Since 1949, the United States has given nearly $114 billion in aid, military and economic, to the self-styled “Light unto Nations.” But to what end? Are we really “promot[ing] dialogue,” as Secretary Clinton said in introducing the Report, “on how best to accommodate religious communities”? Or protecting, as she continued, “each individual’s right to believe or not believe”? In response, we need only consult one final item, published on that side of the looking glass absent the strenuous doublespeak at State.

In late November, Ha’aretz followed up on Yitzhak Shapira. Funding for the “Baby Killing Rabbi” had come straight – to the tune of  $305,000 since 2006 – from the Israeli government till.

KEVIN MINK is a freelancer in Athens, GA. His writing on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict has appeared in CounterPunch and The Arab American News. Contact him at