Tuesday, June 03, 2008

US State Department creates Fulbright Fiasco

I use to dismiss out of hand the charges of ‘anti-Semitism’ against the US State department but now I really think there maybe be substance to the claims. On May 30, I read a NY Times article which suggested the Fulbright scholarships were being withdrawn for several applicants from the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli government’s policy of isolating the Hamas run Strip. Here’s an excerpt of the original article:
The American State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted them permission to leave.

Israel has isolated this coastal strip, which is run by the militant group Hamas. Given that policy, the United States Consulate in Jerusalem said the grant money had been “redirected” to students elsewhere out of concern that it would go to waste if the Palestinian students were forced to remain in Gaza.

A letter was sent by e-mail to the students on Thursday telling them of the cancellation. Abdulrahman Abdullah, 30, who had been hoping to study for an M.B.A. at one of several American universities on his Fulbright, was in shock when he read it.
It wasn’t until I got more than half-way into the actual article that a possible rationale emerged why the applicants were denied exit visas.

Israel’s policy appears to be in flux. At the parliamentary hearing on Wednesday, a Defense Ministry official recalled that the cabinet had declared Gaza “hostile territory” and decided that the safety of Israeli soldiers and civilians at or near the border should be risked only to facilitate the movement out of Gaza for humanitarian concerns, like medical treatment. Higher education, he said, was not a humanitarian concern.

But when a query about the canceled Fulbrights was made to the prime minister’s office on Thursday, senior officials expressed surprise. They said they did, in fact, consider study abroad to be a humanitarian necessity and that when cases were appealed to them, they would facilitate them.

They suggested that American officials never brought the Fulbright cases to their attention. The State Department and American officials in Israel refused to discuss the matter. But the failure to persuade the Israelis may have stemmed from longstanding tensions between the consulate in Jerusalem, which handles Palestinian affairs, and the embassy in Tel Aviv, which manages relations with the Israeli government.
It wasn’t until I read the same article at Ynet News that another interesting tidbit emerged.
In all, seven Gaza students lost their grants. The decision was made because they would not be able to get exit visas from Israel, according to State Department Spokesman Tom Casey.

The scholarships meant for the Gazans will be offered instead to Palestinian students from the West Bank, Casey said, "rather than lose them for this year." The eight Gazans will be eligible next year, he said.
So the applicants from the Gaza Strip would not be attending but their spots would be offered to West Bank applicants instead. This tidbit was deliberately omitted in the NY Times piece which had a distinct blame the Israeli government tone. And I understand why this fact was omitted as it would have taken some of the bite out of the blame the evil Israelis tone.

So imagine my surprise when I read this at Ynet News today.
The United States said on Monday it had erred by not approaching the Israeli government earlier to help seven Palestinians from the Gaza Strip obtain Israeli exit visas to take up US Fulbright fellowships.

The State Department said it approached the Israeli government on Friday, after The New York Times published a story about their case, to assist the seven, who had been selected for the prestigious US government scholarship.

Israel tightened its cordon of the Gaza Strip after Hamas took over the the coastal territory nearly a year ago and it gives few Palestinians, besides some who are gravely ill, permission to leave.

The US State Department last week told the seven their Fulbright grants had been withdrawn and it took steps to be able to direct the money to other Palestinians in the West Bank because of the trouble getting the exit visas from Gaza.

After the newspaper story was published, William Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, approached the Israeli government to seek its help in obtaining exit permits for the seven. "Was there a faulty decision-making process internal to the State Department in this particular case? Yes, there was," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

I find it simply astounding for US State department officials currently residing in Israel not to consider applying to the Israeli government for exit visas for the Gaza Strip Fulbright applicants in the first place. But what takes real chutzpah is to blame the Israeli government for your own incompetence and blatant stupidity.

Well, well. I guess the US State department finds it far easier to blame the Joos too.

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