time capsule

What Tony Blinken wrote about Israel at The Harvard Crimson

In the midst of the First Lebanon War, Blinken weighed in on a range of foreign policy issues as a columnist for the university's paper

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Then-Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken speaks at the White House in 2014.

Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of state, is a longtime diplomat, occasional soccer player and sometime guitarist.

And for several years while an undergraduate at Harvard University in the early 1980s, Blinken was also a newspaper columnist, opining in The Harvard Crimson on a wide range of foreign policy issues from the Philippines to Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Soviet Union — and Israel. 

In a column published close to four decades ago titled “Israel’s Saving Grace,” Blinken wrote about the challenges facing Israel after the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Writing in September 1982, just a week after the event, Blinken proclaimed that “Israel is not, has never been, nor will ever be the irreproachable, perfectly moral state some of its supporters would like to see. Israelis are, after all, only human. Still, one pedestal the Jewish state can stand on — and stand on alone in the Middle East — is that of a democracy.” Blinken warned that a time may come for Israel in which “neglecting popularity becomes unsafe; support abroad dwindles, backing at home follows suit.” 

Several months later, in a column titled “The Danger Within,” Blinken wrote again about the fallout of Sabra and Shatila. For years, he wrote, “Israelis were steadfast in their conviction that their country was on the proper course and had only done what was necessary to insure survival. Now, no one is really sure.”

Blinken wrote that Israel’s founding fathers believed “Israel had to remain on a moral pedestal, almost above reproach, in a constant search for perfection. It was an impossible dream, but one that has lasted until today. Now though, Israel with its political scandals, militarism and petty bickering, is showing signs of being no more of an ideal nation than any other democracy. Realistically, such an evolution was to be expected.”

Months earlier, during the initial outbreak of the First Lebanon War, Blinken wrote a column titled “Lebanon and the Facts,” in which he criticized some U.S. media for times when “anti-Israeli rhetoric becomes venomous, hateful.” He excoriated The Village Voice for comparing Israel’s invasion of Lebanon to the Nazis: “Such analogies are dead wrong and repugnant. The terrible waste of life and destruction notwithstanding, justification for the fight undertaken by Israel can be easily found.”

In a column published in December 1982, called “Where It Hurts,” Blinken argued against attempts by the Reagan administration to prevent Congress from increasing aid to Israel in the aftermath of the First Lebanon War. 

“It is pathetic that the Administration would gladly pressure Israel by withholding aid, but backs off implementing a similar policy in so many other countries,” Blinken wrote. “Maybe the so-called ‘Jewish Lobby’ on Capitol Hill isn’t as powerful as some would have us believe,” he added. “Next time, though, Reagan and Co. might use what intelligence they have to pick on some bad guys instead.”

In September 1982, Blinken weighed in on the terrorist attack that occurred a month earlier at a Jewish restaurant in Paris which killed six people. One alleged attacker was recently arrested in Norway and extradited to France earlier this month to stand trial.  

In the column, titled “Mitterrand’s Struggle for Peace,” Blinken noted that then-French President François Mitterrand was a “devoted friend of Israel,” who “also believes a Palestinian homeland is both right and necessary.” Blinken quoted an advisor to Mitterrand as arguing in favor of maintaining “the PLO as a strictly political force.” Such a stance, Blinken wrote, is “a debatable position, but it’s certainly borne of good faith and realism, not anti-Semitism.”

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