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John Bolton Compares Israel to North Korea

The annual right-wing Israeli shindig known as the Herzliya Conference has just drawn to a close.  The conference is organized by Uzi Arad, former adviser to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and has in the last years become an Israeli-American neo-con love-fest.  Of course like on any good Fox News show, there is a generous sprinkling of non-neo-con folk who lend legitimacy to the gathering.  

This year at least the conference was a little more open in wearing its politics on its sleeve—the program was officially held “in cooperation with the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, Shalem Center.”  That Institute’s chair is Natan Sharansky (President Bush’s favorite author) and it’s sponsor—Adelson—is Sheldon Adelson of Freedom Watch infamy.  Norman Podhoretz, Martin Kramer, and David Wurmser are just a sampling of the Herzliya speaker’s menu (presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani must have been short on advice this week).

But it was Ambassador John Bolton who really stole the show.  He was firing off in all directions—Israeli and American—taking aim at the Israeli Prime Minister, media and military, and the US State Department and intelligence community to name just a few. But this line is undoubtedly the highlight, or rather low-point, of the Bolton rant.  “Due to its government censorship the people of Israel can know what it feels like to be a citizen of North Korea” (he was referring to the censorship surrounding the Israeli strike on a Syrian facility last September).  

You can read it here on the official Herzliya Conference website.  Bolton went on to heap scorn on Israel’s media, military and government.  Now I am not averse to taking a few pops at this bunch myself, but Israel as North Korea—I don’t think so!  

Bolton inhabits that neo-con netherworld where philo-Israelism comes exceedingly close to being anti-Israel.  Their ideal image of Israel bears little resemblance to the actual Israel that exists or the predicament that it finds itself in.  They literally love Israel to death—being almost totally indifferent to the living, breathing Israelis who bear the consequences of the warrior policies that the neo-cons advocate.  Their version of Israel is destined to live by the sword in perpetuity, should cede no inch of territory and is thrust into the front line of their clash of civilizations.

Most Israelis and most of their recent leaders have preferred a more somber approach—peace negotiations, territorial withdrawals, ceasefires, etc…what a terrible disappointment they have been to the Boltons of this world.  It reminds me of the Zionist Christian Evangelical right whose supposed philo-Semitism bears more than a passing resemblance to anti-Semitism.  The largest “pro-Israel” Christian lobby, CUFI, is led by Pastor John Hagee—a promoter of end-times theology (Jewish fate = conversion or death).  Hagee has also written about the necessary historical role of the Nazis in encouraging the ingathering of the Jews to the Holy Land. With friends like these…

Back to Bolton, and as I mentioned, quite a few targets were getting served by the ex-Ambassador during his Israel visit.  Though his panel at the Conference was about “The Iranian Nuclear Threat,” Bolton spent most of his talk discussing North Korea.  Bolton’s point of departure was that “you look at a country (Iran) through its friends, its best buddies” [DPRK]—but his real target in doing so was to attack current US policy and to continue his campaign against the Chris Hill brokered deal with the North Koreans in the context of the Six Party talks.  Bolton’s swipe at his former State Department colleagues was characteristically blistering.  

Bolton focused on the Israeli military strike against Syria last September and the North Korea link, launching into a tirade against the censorship surrounding that strike.  This is a continuation of his campaign to mobilize Congress to force a disclosure of what is known of that action—something the Israelis have been very keen to avoid.  This line of argument, of course, also serves to reinforce the no engagement with Syria position—about which the Israeli leadership and senior military are most unenthusiastic but on which Bolton’s Washington crew continue to insist.  

Predictably on Iran, Bolton claims that the new NIE gave the Iranians “free reign” to “proceed unmolested towards a nuclear weapons capability” and he prodded his Israeli hosts to “use military force to stop Iran.”  

That was not all.  Bolton then ran to the Israeli press a week before the final report of the Winograd Committee (investigating the Lebanon war of summer 2006) to weigh-in on the domestic Israeli debate and join the campaign against Israel’s Prime Minister.  This was the opening to a headline story in the Haaretz paper during the week.

“John Bolton, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Second Lebanon War, rejects Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s version of why he launched a failed ground offensive during the war’s final days.”  

Shalem Institute guiding patron Bibi Netanyahu, Conference organizer Uzi Arad, and Conference co-sponsor (and fanatical Bibi supporter) Sheldon Adelson all want Olmert out of office.  John Bolton was doing their bidding.  

Things went so far as to generate a rebuttal to the Bolton interview the following day in Israel’s longest circulation daily, Yediot Aharonot, written by none other than Israel’s foremost columnist, Nahum Barnea. Barnea produces minutes of reports from Israel’s UN mission back to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem contradicting Bolton’s claim and in fact showing that Bolton had briefed the Israelis that the UN Resolution did not address Israeli concerns—understood by the Israeli side as encouragement to launch the misguided ground invasion of the last weekend of the war in order to give the US some leverage to improve the terms of the resolution.  In a display of Bolton’s professionalism as UN Ambassador and loyalty to his Secretary of State (not that we ever questioned those), Barnea recounts the following episode:  

Gillerman [Israeli Ambassador to the UN] passed on verbally to the Israeli Foreign Ministry Director—General Aharon Abramovitch those parts of the message that he preferred not to put down in writing in the telegram: Bolton had told him that “Rice was selling Israel to the Europeans.” (Translated from Yediot Aharonot, Jan 24th, DL)

John Bolton did indeed damage Israel’s Prime Minister and Israel’s security—not to mention American interests—but not in his kiss and tell interviews with the Israeli press or his bitter speech in Herzliya—the damage was done when Bolton had power as Ambassador, and used it to help prolong a disastrous war.  


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Comments (2)

Paradigm Shift:

About part 2 of the question. I believe the somber approach is one which Sharon had wanted to implement - although he was a hawk for most of his life.

There is a point when he decided to do what is right for Israel and negotiate a peace deal involving some sort of a land for peace.

If you will recall, this move prompted Pat Robertson to declare that Sharon's heart attack was a retribution from God for wanting to divide up God's Land.

And I hear Hagee often talking about how Israel will never have peace till the Massiah comes.

This view wasn't invented by Hagee or Robertson. They merely adopted the teachings of John Nelson Darby - who lived in the 1800's.

Kailash Srinivasan:

This article was interesting and I definitely agree with the criticism of the neocons, the North Korea analogy etc. etc. but I did have a few questions:

1) Does Israel really have a good reason to be so quiet about the Syrian strike?

2) you say "Most Israelis and most of their recent leaders have preferred a more somber approach—peace negotiations, territorial withdrawals, ceasefires, etc." Most Israels, fine. but in light of the raids in Gaza, the continued economic policies in general, settlement expansions and well... just the continuation of the Occupation in general despite the negotiations, in what sense are the recent leaders in substance and not just in rhetoric "somber"?

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Daniel Levy


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