UPDATE: Richard Stengel deleted the tweet with the #UnitedForGaza hashtag early Sunday morning and tweeted that it had been “a mistake.”
Richard Stengel, under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs at the U.S. Department of State, took to Twitter on Saturday night and appeared to take sides in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Stegel, appointed to his post at the State Department by President Obama last year and confirmed by a 90-8 vote in the senate in April, used his personal Twitter account to call for an investigation into Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The former managing editor of Time prefaced the tweet with the State Department’s Twitter handle and ended it with the hashtag #UnitedForGaza, indicating his solidarity with the Palestinians.
Not surprisingly, many Twitter uses were offended by the hashtag:
— Marcia Kay (@meklove) July 20, 2014
— Michelle (@kmgriner) July 20, 2014
— Mr. Aye Dee (@MrAyeDee) July 20, 2014
Several people offered excuses for Stegel’s tweet:
— (((Barbara Mazor))) (@StopBDS_PSFC) July 20, 2014
— David Schwartz (@DavidSchwartz48) July 20, 2014
These excuses might possibly be credible if Stegel didn’t have a history of anti-Israel statements and sympathy for Hamas and the Palestinians. In 2010, when he was still with Time, Stengel penned an incendiary article titled “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” Discussing the article in a segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he blamed the West Bank security fence for what he considered to be Israel’s complacency in the peace process:
They haven’t had a car bombing in two and a half years. And the sad truth really is that the wall with the West Bank has actually worked. I mean, most Israelis in the course of their lives don’t come into contact with any Palestinians at all. The wall is functioning. And the Gaza strip is so small and so isolated they feel that those folks, the Hamas folks are not that big of a threat…
I mean, the Israelis feel like, you know what? The status quo isn’t so bad and we don’t mind is there is no peace at all.
The fence, of course, was built after Israel offered 98 percent of the West Bank and the Palestinians responded with an intifada that killed more than 2,000 Israelis with bombs and exploding buses.
Stengel went on to say that most Israelis have decided that the Palestinians are not a threat — that the real threat is Iran: “‘We’re having a good life, we don’t really care.’ That’s it, and in fact, what we’re seeing with Netanyahu—I mean Netanyahu is a little bit out ahead of a lot of his constituents, which I think is true, but in fact most Israelis just don’t even care about peace any more. Don’t even think it’s possible.”
During Stengel’s swearing-in ceremony in April, Secretary of State John Kerry said in his remarks, “[T]his is a moment of transition in the world of diplomacy. And having somebody here who is ready to think out of the box, knows how to think out of the box, and knows how to communicate in this modern age is really important.”
Is #UnitedForGaza the “out of the box” thinking Kerry had in mind?
Kerry went on to describe why he believed Stengel was uniquely qualified to communicate our nation’s message to the rest of the world:
Nobody knows better than the editor of the – the former editor of one of our nation’s leading magazines that the modes of communicating are changing at a lightning pace, from broadsheets to broadcasts to tweets, and that means that public diplomacy has to change with it – it hasn’t yet, enough, so that we can say we are providing really groundbreaking public diplomacy for a groundbreaking era. And there is no one, in my judgment, more equipped, more prepared, and more ready for this challenge than Rick Stengel.
No doubt about it, we are indeed seeing some “groundbreaking public diplomacy” out of the Obama State Department.