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State Department Walks Back Criticism of Israel

It is 'critical for Israel' not to 'exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace,' said spokeswoman Jalina Porter

Jalina Porter / Twitter
• May 10, 2021 12:30 pm

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The State Department walked back comments from controversy-prone deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter, who last week singled out Israel for criticism and blamed the Jewish State for inflaming tensions with the Palestinians.

The State Department distanced itself Friday from Porter's remarks, noting that "we have consistently called on both Israel and the Palestinians to avoid unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and make it more difficult to preserve the viability of a two-state solution."

The dust-up comes after Porter was asked at a press briefing about unverified and later discredited reports claiming Israeli settlers set fire to Palestinian farmlands. Porter said Wednesday that it is "critical for Israel to refrain from any unilateral steps that certainly would exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace"—a statement that seemed to break with longstanding U.S. policy calling on all sides in the conflict to move toward peace.

Asked whether the State Department believes the Palestinians should refrain from actions that hinder peace, Porter dug in. "My response [to the question] is correct as it stands," she said.

Porter's public misstep and the State Department's ensuing clarification are the latest controversy to hit the spokeswoman, who came under intense criticism earlier this year for a slate of social media postings attacking American police officers. Critics said her anti-cop views are at odds with the State Department's traditional mission of advancing America's image and countering global extremism.

It is unclear if Israelis played any role in last week's violence.

Just a day after Porter criticized the Israelis for setting the fires, Israeli groups raised questions about the authenticity of the original reports. The anti-Israel advocacy group B'Tselem initially claimed Israeli settlers set fire to Palestinian lands and threw rocks at Palestinians. The group quickly walked back these accusations in a social media posting and is now facing a lawsuit from an Israeli group alleging B'Tselem slandered the region's inhabitants by publishing inflammatory claims about them.

Since that incident, tensions have been running high in Israel, as Palestinian rioters in Jerusalem clash with police and attack Jews in the city as part of an escalating anti-Israel protest movement.

Porter has been the subject of controversy since she was first hired for the State Department's number two communications job. Days after her appointment in January, the Washington Free Beacon reported on a 2016 Facebook post in which Porter wrote, "The largest threat to U.S. national security are U.S. cops. Not ISIS, not Russian hackers, not anyone or anything else." Her comments appear to be in reference to video footage released that day of an unarmed black man being shot by police officers in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In response to questions from multiple media outlets, Porter claimed the comments were a one-off mistake that didn't reflect her views.

"Comments I made five years ago on my personal Facebook account as a private citizen were in response to the uncomfortable—and deeply painful—truth of race-based violence in America that has continued ever since," she said in a statement. "The pain I expressed was real. Nevertheless, I should've chosen words that were less passionate and spur of the moment, as well as more constructive."

Shortly after Porter issued that statement, the Free Beacon exposed several more social media postings that criticized the police.

"I'm so tired of terrorist cops," she wrote in an Aug. 24 post.

Last May, Porter retweeted a message that likened police brutality in the United States to gross human rights abuses overseas—and condemned the foreign policy community for its failure to speak out. "Crickets," she wrote in response to a tweet claiming that white Americans involved in U.S. diplomacy "are miiiiiighty quiet while our own country burns and our police commit the same atrocities we condemn overseas."