The event: one of those off the record conversations over a meal, which senior American officials hold with those whom the ambassador deems policy makers and shapers. The time: the terror war known by the euphemism “the second intifada.” Buses exploding with passengers, 30 elderly people are killed and some 160 injured at a Passover seder in a Netanya hotel. Commuters on West Bank roads don’t know if they’ll be lucky enough to get to work, or back to their settlements and families.
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In Israel both left and right castigate the “containment policy” of prime ministers Ehud Barak and then Ariel Sharon. The American official argued the opposite case. He raged at the lack of an Israeli peace initiative (in the era of the euphoria of the Oslo Accords), and at the killing in the territories and the closures that were harming the Palestinian population as a whole. The suicide bombers are a minority, he said defiantly, demanding why the entire population was being punished. Few dared to challenge him.
Finally the late Ze'ev Schiff (Haaretz columnist and military correspondent) pulled himself together and began citing American actions in our region, in which hundreds of civilians were killed in random bombings. In our case, Schiff pointed out, the army uses precision targeting. How can you even compare? The American squirmed, but finally proclaimed with the confidence of rulers: Quod licet iovi, non licet bovi. “What is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to an ox.”
American ambassador Dan Shapiro is the media’s pet and quite a few influential journalists are his confidants. The media help him to position himself (and strengthen the United States’ influence) as one of the most popular figures in Israel. This enables him to intervene in the government’s policy to an almost absurd extent. His personal veto (Washington doesn’t have a clue that such a thing is even on the agenda) prevented the establishment of the national security college – although considerable resources had already been invested in planning and contracts – on Mount Scopus, near the Hebrew University.
In another instance, to save the unique landscape between A-Tur and Isawiyah from rampant illegal construction, the state wanted to declare the area a national park. Again, Shapiro vetoed it. A book can be written about his involvement in Israel’s diplomatic moves.
The A and B areas are under the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction. By coming out against a double legal standard in the West Bank and Israel – one for Israelis and one for Palestinians – Shapiro was referring to area C, which is under Israel’s control. Indeed, Israel is committing a grave sin by not annexing it and applying an egalitarian legal system in Area C. But the Americans, who object categorically to annexing the region, are partners to the failure. Shapiro and the administration that hastened to back up his sweeping accusations are responsible for this failure no less than is the hesitant Israel, which lacks the confidence that it is right.
When it comes to enforcing the planning and construction laws, it’s the Jews who are clearly discriminated against. Every tin hut the hilltop youth build is destroyed. In contrast, the Civil Administration overlooks entire Arab neighborhoods that are built without building permits, especially when the funding comes from the European Union. Also, the Shin Bet security service has a Jewish department (it’s not hard to imagine what would have happened in the United States if the FBI had special departments to spy against Jews, Muslims or Afro-Americans), to prevent hate crimes against Arabs. Its success is partial, but mainly due to typical Israeli incompetence, not because of a dual legal system. It’s a fact that Israel, including its Supreme Court, doesn’t excel in fighting government corruption either.
On the personal level, I also like Shapiro. But one who preaches justice – and especially equality – in another state, must first make sure he’s doing the right thing himself. What is forbidden to the ox, is forbidden to Jupiter as well.