Into the Fray: With all due respect, Mr. Ambassador: A letter to Dan Shapiro

Name a single country, faced with threats comparable to those faced by Israel, with a better record in human rights and compliance with the rule of law. – Prof. Alan Dershowitz

Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, at Nevatim air force base (photo credit: US STATE DEPARTMENT)
Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, at Nevatim air force base
(photo credit: US STATE DEPARTMENT)
... we believe that Israel must develop stronger and more credible responses to questions about the rule of law in the West Bank… Too much Israeli vigilantism in the West Bank goes unchecked... at times it seems Israel has two standards of adherence to the rule of law in the West Bank – one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, January 18, 2016
67% [of Palestinians] support... use of knives in the current confrontations with Israel.
– Palestinian Public Opinion Poll No (58), Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, December 2015
To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means.
Thomas Jefferson, September 20, 1810 
Dear Ambassador Shapiro,
Your speech at this week’s Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv was decidedly undiplomatic – even, some might suggest, offensive.
‘Amazingly arrogant?’
Indeed, judging from the tenor of talkback responses to reports on the address, many Israelis took great umbrage at it. Some were flabbergasted, others infuriated.
What they found particularly grating was the insinuation of inappropriate disparity in dispensation of justice in Judea-Samaria, which is discriminatory toward the Palestinian-Arab population.
This piqued the ire of both the prime minister and the justice minister. From Benjamin Netanyahu it drew an unusually sharp rebuke, characterizing your remarks as “unacceptable and wrong,” while Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called on you to recant, prescribing: “It would be appropriate if [Shapiro] corrected himself, and I hope he does that.”
But what caught my eye was a tart comment from a Jerusalem Post talkbacker, “joe140”: “It’s amazing how arrogant it is to comment on your host country and give them advice on how to administer justice when your own country has faltered when it comes to the rights of black victims of police violence all over the US...”
In similar vein, Post reader Barry Eisenberg, in a “Letter to the Editor (Bibi vs Dan, January 20), ponders: “I wonder what the US reaction would be if the Israeli ambassador to the United States, speaking at an American conference, got up and questioned the fairness of the US justice system – say, toward African-Americans...”
Like it or not, they have point.
After all, in light of the frequent gunning down of black suspects by white police officers, imagine, if at some prestigious US think tank, the Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, were to rebuke the host country, as you did, for some alleged ethnic imbalance in American law enforcement.
"Felony charges more likely for Black Americans than Whites"
Imagine if, after professing that Israel was “America’s devoted friend and... stalwart partner,” he were to pontificate: “We believe that the US must develop stronger and more credible responses to questions about the rule of law in lack urban centers,” alleging that “too much white vigilantism in black urban areas goes unchecked.”
Unthinkable, right?
But wait. Should not Israel, as a sincere friend and loyal ally of the US, be concerned as to gravely detrimental defects in the social fabric of America? And as such does it not have a moral duty to draw attention to them – in the spirit of concerned friendship, of course – lest the US become an untenably fractured society, gravely jeopardizing its capacity to function as an important and valued ally.
For instance, like disturbing racial bias in the administration of justice set out in a recent report in The Daily Beast (January 13): “Tens of thousands of African-American men have been disproportionately prosecuted under the patently racist ‘crack disparity.’”
Patently racist?
It continues: “Today, black Americans are far more likely than whites to be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned for drug crimes.... they’re more likely to have the book thrown at them by prosecutors, juries, and judges.
So statistically: “African-Americans are incarcerated at six times the rate of their white peers... for drug offenses the disparity between black and white imprisonment rates rises to 10 to 1.”
Could it just be the pot is calling the kettle black?
Between disingenuous and cowardly?
There is something ignoble – somewhere between disingenuous and cowardly – in the way foreign envoys to Israel allow themselves to excoriate the host nation in a manner they would never dream of doing in any other country to which they were posted, no matter how far those countries might diverge from the democratic ideal.
For example, in Pakistan, where “many... cultural and religious practices pose a huge threat to women, particularly child and forced marriage, acid attacks and punishment by stoning,” could you imagine the US ambassador berating his host nation publicly, at some high profile event, over huge gender inequalities in Pakistani society: “... at times it seems Pakistan has two standards of adherence to rule of law... one for Pakistani men, one for Pakistani women”?
Or in Saudi Arabia, where any outward display of non-Muslim religious artifacts is a harshly punishable crime, could you imagine the US ambassador taking the ruling monarchy openly to task in some high profile forum, over the absolute lack of religious freedom in the country: “... at times it seems Saudi Arabia has two standards of adherence to rule of law... one for Muslims and one for non-Muslims”?
Or in Malaysia or Indonesia, where the widespread application of Shari’a law has resulted in severe harassment and persecution of the LBGT community, could you imagine the US ambassador publicly castigating the government for the discriminatory practices in those countries: “... at times it seems Malaysia/Indonesia has two standards of adherence to rule of law... one for homosexuals and one for heterosexuals”? Could you?
Soft bigotry of low expectations??
I raise these matters of gender equality, religious tolerance, and sexual preferences because they were raised by you in your INSS address.
In it you underscored: “Our vision of American leadership is... that we must lead by example...,” and extolled the virtues of US endeavor in this field: ... Our ‘soft power’ is also formidable and a critical element of this [leadership], promoting democracy, championing human rights...defending religious freedoms, safe-guarding the rights of women and girls... standing up for the rule of law.”
You asserted that in all these issues, “American leadership is... central to promoting norms and improving human security...”
Somehow I feel that scores of decapitated corpses that the Saudi “rule of law” produces each year, the multitude of child brides coerced into marriage, or hapless homosexuals publicly flogged or hanged across the Muslim world, hardly bear persuasive testimony to the stunning “success” of your leadership in “promoting these norms or improving human security.”
At this point, I would implore you not to resort to – or rather, descend to – the soft bigotry of low expectations from the Islamic countries – so egregiously displayed just over a year ago, by the another diplomatic envoy to this country, the Danish ambassador, Jesper Vahr, when he alleged that demands for higher standards from Israel were appropriate. According to Vahr, this was because Israel was “one of us” – thus insinuating that far less should be expected from the lowly “Muhammadans.”
Hypocritical bigotry of higher expectations
For it is not, as my esteemed colleague, Caroline Glick, pithily pointed out in her tiff with Vahr at the 2014 Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, that Israel is being judged by a double standard – but by a singular standard, reserved for the Jewish state alone.
Indeed, it is not that Israel is being judged by criteria different to those applied to the region’s gory tyrannies, but that it is being judged by standards different to those by which Western democracies judge themselves. And when Jews – and their nation-state – are judged by criteria not set for any other race/ethnicity/political affiliation, would not suspicion of Judeophobia (a.k.a. anti-Semitism) be a plausible concern? In this regard I should like to invoke Prof. Alan Dershowitz, a self-declared repeat supporter of Obama, and (as yet) a strong advocate of the two-state approach, which you endorsed in your address.
Dershowitz, as a stalwart defender of Israel’s legitimacy, had this to say about the conduct of the Jewish state and its record of upholding human rights/compliance with the rule of law: “I always throw out the following challenge to my students all over the world: ‘Name a single country in the history of the world faced with internal and external threats comparable to those faced by Israel that has ever had a better record in human rights; a better record with compliance of the rule of law; a better record of concern for civilians?’” He asserted categorically: “I have been asking that question now for 20 years probably to a million people... I’ve never gotten a single person ever to... name a country, because you can’t do it.”
Can you Mr. Ambassador? And if not, why your derogatory jibe?
Decoupling legal niceties from political context
I believe that you, like other US diplomats, such as Dennis Ross, have a genuine empathy for Israel and do, in fact, wish for its survival and its success. But sadly, the dictates of political correctness and the exigencies of your official position compel you to endorse policy paradigms that will accomplish neither. Indeed, probably the very opposite.
Accordingly, it is difficult to take your admonition of Israel’s law enforcement practices at face value, as well-intentioned “tough love.”
For it totally ignores the political context, in which the judgment of legal niceties are made.
In this regard, Ambassador Alan Baker, a prominent authority in international law, who served, among other things, as legal counsel to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, published a robust riposte to your recriminations, “Are There Double Standards in Israel’s Application of the Rule of Law in the Territories?” (January 21) In it, he explains the legal rationale, given the prevailing political situation, for the two legal systems in operation for the two population groups and why “[b]oth these legal systems, require strict adherence to the rule of law...”
He states firmly that “Sweeping generalizations, such as those uttered by the US ambassador, are out of place,” and concludes with a stinging rebuke: “Therefore, the insinuations by Ambassador Shapiro regarding ‘unchecked vigilantism and double standards’ should be rejected outright as an unjustified intrusion into Israel’s legal and investigative procedures.”
Indeed they should! But while I urge readers to peruse Baker’s response, I should like to take a more rudimentary approach – and adopt the spirit expressed in the opening excerpt by Jefferson: “To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself... thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means.”
Mere political ploy
For at base, once all the obfuscating sophistry has been stripped away, the prevailing situation in the Mideast Jewish- Arab conflict is one of an existential clash between two collectives, the Jewish and the Arab – and the latter wishes to remove the former from the region – in two stages, if need be, via the two-state mechanism.
Indeed, as poll after depressing poll of Palestinian public opinion shows: They want to kill us. Which part of that, Mr. Ambassador, are you having difficulty in grasping? This is a situation very different from that of blacks in Baltimore, gays in Tehran, or Christians in Riyadh – which makes the disparities there far less easy to justify.
The vast majority of Israelis know, as no doubt so do you, that if Israel were to adopt a seamless egalitarian legal system for its own citizens and their sworn enemies, the Jewish collective could not distinguish between friend and foe, and hence could not survive. And so the Jews, by scrupulously adhering to legal niceties, would lose their land, “thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means.”
Accordingly, raising the issue as you did can – indeed, must – be considered no more than a devious political ploy to pressure Israel toward the two-state idea, or at least the preservation of its viability, which – in the wake of the Iran nuclear agreement – remains the flagship endeavor of the Obama administration.
With all due respect
But of course, the insistence on the two-state principle severely undermines the credibility of your professed commitment to “defending religious freedoms, safe-guarding the rights of women... standing up for the rule of law.”
After all, there is little chance that any Palestinian state that arises from the implementation of that principle will be anything but yet another homophobic, misogynistic, Muslim-majority tyranny, the antithesis of all the noble values you allegedly wish to “defend, safeguard and stand up for.” Go figure.
So, Mr. Ambassador, with all due respect...
Martin Sherman ( is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (