Mondoweiss / August 20, 2020
Daniel Shapiro, President Obama’s former ambassador to Israel, has been all over the Democratic Party’s discussion of Israel policy. As a member of the platform committee, he helped shut down any language about cutting or even conditioning aid to Israel over human rights violations, or about the “occupation,” and afterward Shapiro was a lead spokesperson for the Biden effort, spinning the platform as critical of both sides.
Shapiro is a regular speaker at J Street and other Zionist organizations, explaining the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship– and why it’s in the American interest. He often writes political opinion pieces. He is now actively promoting Joe Biden among American Jews and could surely have a top foreign-policy role if Biden wins in November.
Shapiro lives in Tel Aviv and is a fellow at an Israeli security think-tank at Tel Aviv University that is led by a former head of Israeli military intelligence and brims with former Israeli government officials.
Shapiro’s role as a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, where he is an expert on Israel’s relationship with the U.S. and Palestinians, appears to make him subject to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
That law requires “certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities” to disclose as much.
The INSS appears to satisfy the law’s definition of a “foreign principal.” That includes not only a government but “a partnership, association, corporation, organization, or other combination of persons organized under the laws of or having its principal place of business in a foreign country.”
An “agent” includes someone whose activities are directed “in major part” by that “foreign principal.” Political activities include “intending to influence any U.S. Government official or the American public regarding U.S. domestic or foreign policy…”
When Shapiro testified before Congress in 2018, he said he was “representing” INSS.
No doubt Dan Shapiro is a liberal-centrist Zionist who opposed Israel’s annexation plans and supports the Iran deal. But he is also a reliable defender of just about everything Israel does and a vigorous opponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Shapiro has called Israel “this miracle, this gift, this jewel” and celebrates “Israel’s legitimacy as the nation state of the Jewish people”. He is also chair of the Israel Institute, an organization that promotes Israel on college campuses and works against BDS and whose president emeritus is a former Israeli ambassador.
Shapiro seems to have gone smoothly from being a US ambassador to being one of “Israel’s lawyers” in U.S. public life (as Jareer Kassis puts it). When Israel killed 60 Palestinian protesters in one day on the Gaza border in 2018 over the embassy move, Shapiro said it was “tragic” but Hamas “terrorists” instigated the violence, using “people with violent intent and conducting violent acts.” He told NPR that “It’s a very big challenge for the Israeli military,” just as the U.S. must contend with terrorists embedded in civilian groups. As for Israel killing 2000 Palestinians in 2014, including 500 children, Shapiro said: “Israel had really made every effort to try to avoid civilian casualties.”
Shapiro has praised Trump’s embassy move and praised portions of the Trump plan saying, “I’m 100% for being honest w/ Pals that there will be no right of return or any other outcome that undermines Isr as a Jewish state.”
Imagine the controversy if a US ambassador to Russia didn’t come home when his president left office but stayed on in Moscow and then worked for a Russian security think-tank and regularly explained away Russian atrocities and argued against Muslims having full rights? It would be a front-page story in the New York Times— and an ongoing embarrassment to the president who had appointed the ambassador.
Shapiro has not responded to my questions about the Foreign Agents Registration Act, though I shared an early draft of this article with him.
Last summer Shapiro did respond when Scott Roth, our publisher, called him out on twitter:
For sure you were instrumental in helping to implement Obama’s one-sided pro-apartheid policies. But your behaviour since then, staying there as a hasbarist only makes him look stupid. You do work for a quasi-governmental Israeli think tank, right?
Shapiro said that the think-tank was independent and he was in Israel temporarily.
I hope you get a chance to ask him [Obama] if he was satisfied with my work carrying out his policies on the US-Israel relationship. I really do…
His policies, which were supportive of Israel’s security and two states for Israel and Palestinians, as he (and I) understood US interests. I’m there temporarily, working at an independent think tank, writing on US policy, the same stuff I’d write at a DC think tank.
Temporarily has meant another year, and four years since Obama left office.
P.S. Shapiro regularly praises diversity in the Democratic Party, and I asked him about diversity at his two shops, the Institute for National Security Studies and the Israel Institute. Both these organizations appear to have no Palestinians as experts. The INSS experts appear to be Israeli Jews by and large. The staff and experts at the Israel Institute, which Shapiro chairs, all look to be Israeli Jews and American Jewish Zionists, but no Palestinians. I asked Shapiro, what about the very large Israeli minority that is non-Jewish; does the Israel Institute have any staffers from those communities? No response.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006