The Crisis Provocateurs: Israel’s sabotaging of U.S. Negotiations with "Evil" North Korea

“You confront evil, you do not negotiate with it.”

— Natan Sharansky

While it may be a long way from Tel Aviv to Pyongyang, Israel bears considerable responsibility for North Korea’s increasingly fraught relations with the world. Indeed, through its small but influential support network in the United States, the self-styled Jewish state has played a rarely acknowledged but arguably decisive role in undermining progress towards a peaceful resolution of America’s longest running conflict. Though totally oblivious to this unwarranted intervention by a seemingly distant and irrelevant power, hundreds of millions of Koreans, Chinese and Japanese could have paid, and may yet pay, a terrible price for Israel’s covert meddling in East Asian politics.

In his State of the Union Address delivered on 29 January, 2002, George W. Bush called Iraq, Iran and North Korea an “Axis of Evil” that was allegedly supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction. It later emerged that the provocative phrase which arbitrarily linked Pyongyang to Israel’s two greatest regional rivals had been written by David Frum, Bush’s Canadian speechwriter. An ardent Zionist, Frum recently said that the occupied West Bank belongs to Israel but that Palestinians living there shouldn’t have the vote. He is also the co-author with Richard Perle of An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, inwhich the Likudnik neo-conservatives advocated a confrontational approach to North Korea.

Even more threatening from a North Korean perspective than being officially designated “evil” was the National Security Strategy of the United States announced by Bush in September 2002. Charles Krauthammer, a neo-conservative columnist for the Washington Post, coined the phrase “Bush doctrine” to describe the policy of preemptive strikes, which specifically targeted Iraq, Iran and North Korea. However, Philip Shenon, a New York Times reporter, claims in his book The Commission that it was Philip Zelikow, a neo-conservative member of Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board later appointed executive director of the 9/11 Commission, who wrote the policy that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq on the pretext that its supposed “weapons of mass destruction” posed a threat to the United States.

Yet, on the eve of the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia, “I’ll tell you what I think the real threat is, and actually has been since 1990. It’s the threat against Israel.” No doubt because this would not be, as Zelikow admitted, a “popular sell” to the American people, the grandiose words given Bush to read were somewhat less candid: “Our responsibility to history is clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”

The “Zelikow doctrine” had an immediate, and probably foreseeable, catalysing effect on an already fearful North Korean regime. As Bruce Cumings, a specialist in modern Korean history, wrote, “From October 2002 onward they acted as if their only deterrent to this irresponsible administration was a nuclear one, a decision that any general sitting in Pyongyang (or Tehran) would have made.” Writing in 2004, Cumings predicted that if North Korea were to develop a nuclear deterrent, it would be known as “Bush’s bomb.” But since it was the Israel-centred neo-conservatives in the Bush administration that scuttled the 1994 Agreed Framework which had frozen Pyongyang’s nuclear developments for eight years, perhaps it might be more accurate to call it “the neo-con bomb.”

If the North Koreans really had the capacity to hit America with a missile — and if Kim Jong-Il were sufficiently “crazy” (as the pro-Israeli media portrays him) to start a war with a global superpower that has up to 5,000 nuclear warheads in its arsenal — they may have considered their own preemptive strike against one particular target in Washington D.C. For the building at 1150 17th Street, home to such neo-con strongholds as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the now defunct Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and The Weekly Standard, is the source of much of Washington’s apparent animus toward Pyongyang.

It was there on November 22, 2004, for example, that William Kristol, the editor of the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard, wrote a PNAC memo to “opinion leaders” entitled “Toward Regime Change in North Korea.” In the memo, Kristol praised an article in The Weekly Standard by Nicholas Eberstadt, “one of AEI’s in-house hawks on North Korea.” In “Tear Down This Tyranny,” Eberstadt had called for the ouster of Kim Jong-Il, to be achieved in part by “working around the pro-appeasement crowd in the South Korean government.”

For neo-cons like Kristol and Eberstadt, it is seemingly preferable to risk provoking war with North Korea than to “appease” an “evil tyrant” like Kim Jong-Il — as if Kim were another genocidal Hitler and the then South Korean leader Roh another naive Chamberlain. Such “moral clarity” presumably comes easier to those who live at a comfortably safe distance from the firing zone.

Eberstadt is also the author of The End of North Korea, whose title summed up the Bush administration’s policy toward Pyongyang, as a New York Times reporter was once told by Eberstadt’s AEI colleague John Bolton, Bush’s Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, whose hawkishness did much to wreck arms control. Bolton, described by the Zionist Organization of America as “one of Israel’s truest friends in the world,” sabotaged Secretary of State Colin Powell’s attempts to start nuclear disarmament negotiations with North Korea.

Project for the New Israeli Humanitarianism

While the infamous militarist policies of the pro-Israel neo-conservatives undoubtedly intimidated Pyongyang, the Israel lobby’s lesser known “humanitarian” activism played a complementary role in provoking the North Korean nuclear crisis.

The appointment of Bill Kristol’s friend and fellow neo-con Jay Lefkowitz as special envoy for human rights was one of the Bush administration’s more provocative acts toward North Korea.Lefkowitz, who considers legitimate criticism of Israel to be “anti-Semitism,” was not slow to criticize Pyongyang’s abuses, however. In January 2008, speaking at the AEI, he said, “The way the North Korean government treats its own people is inhumane and therefore deeply offensive to us. It should also offend free people around the world.” Leaving aside the hypocrisy of Lefkowitz’s selective condemnation, his undiplomatic language was hardly calculated to promote a smooth dialogue with the North Koreans.

Drawing on a study entitled “The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps,” Lefkowitz advocated linking humanitarian aid to human rights issues, a counterproductive strategy opposed by career diplomats in the State Department. As chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill put it, “We have no interest in weaponizing human rights.” The same, however, could not be said for Lefkowitz. As Suzy Kim and John Feffer wrote in Foreign Policy in Focus, “Lefkowitz deliberately overstepped his bounds to undermine the nuclear talks by linking them to human rights.”

“The Hidden Gulag” report had been published by the U.S. Committee on Human Rights in North Korea, an NGO which has among its officers and directors more than a fair share of pro-Israelis. It should, of course, strike people as a little odd to see the likes of Nicholas Eberstadt, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Congressmen Stephen Solarz and Gary Ackerman, and Carl Gershman, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy, championing North Koreans’ human rights while at the same time condoning Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians.

Lefkowitz’s appointment as human rights envoy came about as a result of the U.S. Congress passing the North Korea Human Rights Act in 2004, legislation which his cousin, Michael Horowitz, played a key role in instigating. Horowitz, a senior fellow at the hawkishly pro-Israel Hudson Institute, hailed the passing of the bill as a “miracle” in an interview with Christianity Today. As director of Hudson’s Project for International Religious Liberty, he had mobilized Christian evangelicals to support the legislation based on the religious persecution of North Korea’s approximately 10,000 Christians.

Meanwhile, the plight of the rapidly dwindling Christian population in Israel and occupied Palestine, down from 350,000 in 1948 to about 175,000 today, goes unheeded by Horowitz’s evangelicals, many of whom are misled by Christian Zionist leaders like John Hagee to believe that the Bible endorses the modern state of Israel’s appropriation of Palestinian land.

But the prize for chutzpah in Israel’s human rights advocacy for North Koreans must surely go to Natan Sharansky. In 2005, the “acclaimed human rights activist” told a Freedom House sponsored symposium advocating regime change in North Korea, “The people of North Korea must be free!” That same year Sharansky resigned from the Israeli cabinet in protest over then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s removal of Jewish settlers from Gaza. As Housing Minister, Sharansky had, according to Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, “systematically enlarged the settlements on expropriated Arab land in the West Bank, trampling on the human and national rights of the Palestinians.”

Nevertheless, Sharansky was such a major influence on George W. Bush’s foreign policy that he has been dubbed “Bush’s guru.” The thought that someone more extreme than Sharon helped shape the worldview of the world’s once most powerful leader is, as Avnery put it, “rather frightening.”

“You confront evil,” Sharansky told the Freedom House symposium, “you do not negotiate with it.” And that in a nutshell is the policy prescription pushed by Frum, Perle, Zelikow, Kristol, Eberstadt, Bolton (proof that you don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist), Lefkowitz, Horowitz, et al. on the Bush administration in its dealings with “evil” North Korea. The result of heeding that dangerously simplistic advice — a nuclear North Korea — has been an unmitigated failure for American diplomacy in East Asia.

But does Israel’s American lobby see its efforts to undermine negotiations with Pyongyang as a failure? Or to put it another way, does Israel actually benefit from the North Korean nuclear crisis?

With the U.S. having been induced by neo-con lies about weapons of mass destruction to eliminate the Iraqi threat to Israel, the focus of Israeli security concerns has shifted to the alleged Iranian threat. And the threat that an “unpredictable” nuclear-armed North Korea now supposedly poses to the United States is invariably cited by pro-Israelis in their efforts to push Washington toward war with Iran before its “mad Mullahs” too acquire nuclear weapons.

The real threat to Israel, however, is not that Iran is going to “wipe it off the map” (a mistranslation endlessly repeated by the media), but that its monopoly on nuclear weapons in the Middle East might end. For without that monopoly on the ultimate weapons of mass destruction, not only would Israel’s regional hegemonic ambitions be forestalled, but the apartheid Jewish state might be forced to pay a little more attention to the egregious human rights abuses closer to home.