The Biden administration on Wednesday stirred controversy on day one by temporarily changing the Twitter account for the U.S. Ambassador to Israel before reversing the change after a report from the Washington Free Beacon called attention to it.
The Twitter account, which was most recently operated by former Ambassador David Friedman, was changed to read, “U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza,” after Friedman vacated his office. The modified account drew heavy criticism from Republican lawmakers and others who thought that the change suggested the United States would not recognize Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza amid the ongoing dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) was among the first lawmakers to speak out about the change, accusing Democrats of “hostility to Israel.”
The Biden Admin title change for the @USAmbIsrael shows the Democrats’ hostility to Israel. There is no country of West Bank or Gaza, only territories that Israel has been willing for decades to negotiate sovereignty over but has been met with only hostility and terrorism. https://t.co/8TIjQQrxJO
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) January 20, 2021
“The Biden Admin title change for the @USAmbIsrael shows the Democrats’ hostility to Israel,” Scott tweeted. “There is no country of West Bank or Gaza, only territories that Israel has been willing for decades to negotiate sovereignty over but has been met with only hostility and terrorism.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the change was “provocative.”
“It’s incredibly troubling the administration made this controversial move on Day One, [without] consulting [with] Congress. It also seems to fly in the face of comments made by Antony Blinken yesterday. I strongly urge the president to clarify this provocative move quickly,” McCaul said.
LR @RepMcCaul "It's incredibly troubling the administration made this controversial move on Day One, w/o consulting w/Congress. It also seems to fly in the face of comments made by Antony Blinken yesterday. I strongly urge the president to clarify this provocative move quickly." https://t.co/7fGdDli18i
— House Foreign Affairs GOP (@HouseForeignGOP) January 20, 2021
Blinken, President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, said during his confirmation hearing that the Biden administration would keep President Trump’s policy of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that there were no plans to move the U.S. Embassy from the holy city.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Israel told the Jerusalem Post that the change, which was quietly reversed, “was an inadvertent edit.”
“This is not a policy change or indication of future policy change,” she said.
The Trump administration’s Middle East policy placed a strong emphasis on strengthening ties with Israel. In 2017, Trump became the first U.S. president to keep his campaign promise of moving the embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing the city as Israel’s capital, a move that infuriated Palestinians who have long claimed the city as their own.
In 2019, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights, overturning 52 years of U.S. foreign policy on the issue.
Going forward, Blinken’s confirmation testimony suggested the Biden administration will not take immediate action to reverse Trump’s policies, but did signal there will be some attempt to return to pre-Trump diplomatic normalcy.
“The only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution,” Blinken said.
“Realistically it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.”