According to a report in The Wall Street Journal on Monday, when U.S. President Barack Obama learned that his National Security Agency had been tapping the phones of 35 world leaders, including that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the White House ordered a stop to it.
At a summit of European leaders in Brussels last week, during which allegations of American surveillance of tens of thousands of French phones were raised as well, Merkel referred to Obama's alleged apology for the incident.
"Obviously, words will not be sufficient," she said. "True change is necessary."
Merkel is right, though she should be aware that information-gathering, even among friends, is and always has been accepted procedure in the intelligence community. It is only the advance in technology that has made this practice so easy for and accessible to spies and whistle-blowers, like fugitive CIA employee Edward Snowden.
As a result, she and her counterparts would have done well to take certain precautions that come with the job. As British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher tweeted last week, "I work on assumption that 6+ countries tap my phone. Increasingly rare that diplomats say anything sensitive on calls."
Then, last Friday, another classified document leaked by Snowden emerged. This one dealt with an attempt in May 2012 to hack into the communications network of the Élysée Palace, during the final weeks of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency. What it revealed is that France had suspected the United States of being behind the cyberattack. More strikingly, it showed that the National Security Agency had denied any involvement in the incident by hinting that the Israeli Mossad was the likely culprit. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is probably pleased as punch with this particular leak, as it comes on the heels of a Washington Post article claiming that Turkey supplied Iran with the names of several Iranians cooperating with the Mossad. It is likely that these were the same "Israeli spies" whose executions were reported last April by Iran's state media.
That Turkey is no longer Israel's ally is a given. Providing damning information to Iran, then, is in keeping with its hostility to the Jewish state in particular and the West in general.
But, for the United States to cast aspersions on Israel's covert operations is not only a travesty; it brings to mind another case of the U.S. and France ironing out their political differences by using Israel as a scapegoat. Interestingly, it was also made public due to technological gadgets.
Two years ago, almost to the date, during the Group of 20 summit in Cannes, Obama and Sarkozy engaged in a tête-à-tête. Three minutes of what was supposed to be a private chat was caught by the simultaneous translation device provided to reporters located in a different room. The exchange was enlightening, and not only because it showed how stupid politicians can be, even with microphones attached to the lapels of their jackets.
Sarkozy told Obama that he could no longer stand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was a "liar." Obama more than sympathized. "You are fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you do."
The context of this mutual Bibi-bashing was Obama's displeasure with Sarkozy for not having warned him that France was going to vote in favor of Palestinian membership in UNESCO. Sarkozy had promised Obama to help in the effort to achieve Palestinian statehood through negotiations with Israel -- not by gaining U.N. status beforehand. By calling Netanyahu a liar, then, Sarkozy was deflecting his own deceit. A tiff with Obama was successfully avoided.
This is in stark contrast to what it takes Israel to appease the White House. No matter what abominations it endures from its Muslim enemies, it is told to exercise restraint. Nor is it given credit for any of its goodwill gestures towards these enemies. Instead, it is reprimanded every time a whiff of construction on existing settlements is in the air.
Netanyahu's apology to Erdogan for the deaths of pro-Hamas Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara in 2010 was rebuffed by Ankara with no consequence from Washington. His entering into "peace talks" with the Palestinians for a two-state solution has been met with contempt on the part of the Palestinians, who continue to insist on impossible conditions, while inciting to violence against Jews. His current release of Palestinian terrorists is also being taken for granted. He can't even get Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard received a life sentence in 1987 for passing on classified intelligence to Israel. It is rumored that this information is what led to Israel's 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Though it was illegal for Pollard to have betrayed his country -- and shortsighted on Israel's part to use a Jew for this purpose -- Pollard was spying on behalf of a U.S. ally. In addition, he pleaded guilty, something which usually buys a defendant a degree of leniency. Furthermore, he has spent much of the 26 years he has served so far in solitary confinement, in spite of suffering serious illnesses.
Pollard is eligible for parole in November 2015 -- 30 years into his sentence. It was foolish for anyone to imagine that he would be released before then. Vice President Joe Biden has been adamant about it. In September 2011, he told a group of rabbis that though Obama was considering clemency for Pollard, "I told him, 'Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time. If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life.'"
This attitude towards Israel gives hypocrisy a bad name.
The reason that Obama is now embroiled in an espionage scandal is that his security services have been spying on everybody, at home and abroad, and that this practice was leaked by insiders. Snowden, a former CIA employee, is one such figure. Chelsea (previously known as Bradley) Manning is another.
Snowden is hiding in Russia, yet to be apprehended by U.S. authorities.
Manning, however, was caught and convicted. The transsexual U.S. Army intelligence analyst had leaked the greatest number of classified documents in American history. In August, she was sentenced to 35 years in jail, with the possibility (and likelihood) of parole in eight. Meanwhile, her sexual identity disorder is being taken into account in prison, where she is likely to be granted hormone therapy to help her become more physically female.
Such a blatant imbalance of justice epitomizes the phrase "double standard."
Israel is used to being held to a higher standard, even by the U.S. What it has not yet adjusted to is a world in which the moral compass at the White House is broken.
Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"