The Return of 'High Commissioner' Indyk
The Return of 'High Commissioner' Indyk

Co-authored by Moshe Phillips

During an old controversy involving Martin Indyk, then the U.S. ambassador to Israel, one Israeli political official invoked a particularly nasty historical analogy. Indyk reportedly had been contacting individual Israel cabinet ministers to demand they support making more concessions to the Arabs. "Ambassador Indyk needs to be reminded that he is not the British High Commissioner," said the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Not many Israelis today remember when a foreign power ruled Eretz Yisrael through the proclamations of an absolute dictator, nor how oppressive it was to live under his rule. But prior to Israel’s independence in1948, Jews living in the Holy Land could not shape their own fate. Outside powers--in this case, the British ruling authorities--called the shots with their High Commissioner deciding what was best for the Jews.

Martin Indyk also acts as if he knows what's best for the Jews. As President Obama’s special envoy, he declared in an August 2010 op-ed in the New York Times that Israel should "withdraw from at least 95 percent of the West Bank and accept a Palestinian capital in Arab East Jerusalem."

In one job or another, Indyk has spent the last two decades trying to bring this about. First as part of the State Department's Mideast team under Bill Clinton, then as ambassador to Israel (twice), and more recently as President Obama's envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Indyk has always pursued his goal of forcing Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Indyk's passion for his imposed solution is so strong that he has at times even come close to justifying Palestinian violence against Israel. On May 2 of this year, an unnamed "senior U.S. official" told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot: “The Palestinians are tired of the status quo. They will get their state in the end – whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.” Three days later, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Indyk was the official who said it. 

That remark recalled a statement made by “a senior U.S. official” to the Jerusalem Post on June 22, 1997, that recent Palestinian rioting against Jews was “a plausible safety valve” which “lets the Palestinians vent their anger.” At the time, Indyk was the U.S. ambassador in Israel.

Indyk has also earned a reputation for not relating kindly to those who don't embrace his solution. Speaking at the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington, D.C. this past Yom Kippur, Indyk accused Israel of showing "total disrespect" for the Obama administration. He invoked the same theme at the Brookings Institution in Washington on December 6, at which he told Israeli cabinet minister (and Jewish Home party leader) Naftali Bennett that Israelis have been "disrespectful" towards the administration.

At the Brookings Institution event, in between constantly interrupting and hectoring Minister Bennett, Indyk repeated the same old myths about Palestinian moderation and Israeli intransigence.
It's ironic to hear Indyk complaining about "disrespect," in view of the grossly disrespectful and demeaning language he routinely uses against Israel. In that Adas Israel speech, he said he discovered in the most recent round of failed negotiations "that we would crack the whip, but no one was responding to our whip cracks." Indyk used the same odious analogy when describing his role, in an interview with the Washington Post back on February 24, 1997:  "The image that comes to mind is a circus master. All these players in the ring. We crack the whip and get them to move around in an orderly fashion."  

The characterization of Israelis as circus animals who need to have some sense whipped into them brings us back to the High Commissioner mind-set. The Israeli official who made that comparison specifically referred to the first High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel. 

Samuel arrived in British Mandatory Palestine in 1920. Jewish leaders were pleased by his appointment, since Samuel himself was Jewish and had expressed sympathy for Zionism (much like Martin Indyk, one notes).

But when Arab rioting against Jews erupted the following year, Samuel changed his tune. Blaming the victim and appeasing the aggressor became his policy. First, he suspended Jewish immigration. Then his administration sent London a report accusing the Jews of "provoking" their attackers; the fact that Jewish pioneer women wore shorts while harvesting crops was cited as the kind of  "immoral" behavior that understandably angered the Muslims.

Finally, Samuel pardoned Arab terrorists who had taken part in the previous year's anti-Jewish riots, and elevated one of their leaders, Haj Amin el-Husseini, to the post of Grand Mufti, or supreme Muslim religious leader of the country. Samuel insisted that Husseini would be reasonable and moderate once he had to deal with the responsibilities of office. Indyk and the State Department tried to convince Israel of the same thing regarding Yasser Arafat. 

Quite the opposite transpired in both instances. Husseini organized pogroms against the Jews, instigated attacks on British forces, and then fled to Nazi Germany, where he collaborated with Hitler and personally helped block the rescue of Jewish children during the Holocaust. Arafat, after signing the Oslo Accords, continued fomenting terrorism against Israel, and was finally exposed when the Israelis captured a ship containing 50 tons of weapons that he was trying to smuggle into Gaza in 2002.

These lessons of history are utterly lost on Martin Indyk, however. At the Brookings Institution event, in between constantly interrupting and hectoring Minister Bennett, Indyk repeated the same old myths about Palestinian moderation and Israeli intransigence. Very much in the style of the high commissioner, Indyk arrived in the Mideast with a per-determined agenda to impose on the Jews, ignoring the lessons from actual events, clinging to old cliches and discredited theories, and haughtily dismissing as "disrespectful", and “circus animals” anyone who thinks otherwise.

[Moshe Phillips is president and  Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia.]