Ari Fleischer on Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians



In what amounted to a silent endorsement of Richard Armey’s support for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank, the White House was evasive when questioned on remarks made by the House Majority Leader on MSNBC’s HardBall. As we predicted when this story first broke, The New York Times and The Washington Post have ignored the very explicit ethnic cleansing statements made by Armey to Chris Matthews. But so has the White House. Judge for yourself.  The following is from the official White House transcript of the daily press briefing given by Ari Fleischer on May 2, 2002. The questioner was Terry Moran of ABC.

Terry Moran: One more on a different subject. The House Majority Leader, Mr. Armey, suggested on an appearance on Hardball that it would be preferable for Israel to keep the West Bank and for the Palestinian people there to be transferred, ethnically cleansed. What does the President think of this — he didn’t use those words, but —

Ari Fleischer: Terry — yes — did the Majority Leader use those words?

Terry Moran: No. He said that they should leave.

Ari Fleischer: No, he did not.  (Editors note: Fleischer was wrong. Armey had used those very words stating that “I happen to believe that the Palestinians should leave”).

Terry Moran: That’s the way Milosevic said it; he never said ethnic cleansing, either. (Laughter.) And I wondered what the President felt about this high official of the United States government calling for the forcible transfer of a civilian population.

Ari Fleischer: Terry, given your characterization of it, I think it’s only fair to go back and read the words with precision before I would give you a comment on something based on the way you’ve asked the question.

Terry Moran: And if you would take a look at the transcript, I would appreciate the President’s thoughts.

Do not doubt for a moment that Fleischer uses his position to hammer out a very personal political agenda. It was Fleischer who actually expressed his adulation of Ariel Sharon by calling him a ‘A man of Peace’.  Ari is an outspoken Israel Firster and probably shares the ugly racist sentiments of Richard Armey. So his evasive response and the fact that Sulzberger of the New York Times is trying to kill this story demonstrates that Armey should not be singled out for criticism on this subject matter.

This clamor for an apology from Armey by Arab-American groups misses the point.  They should re-read the transcript, as should Ari Fleischer.  Chris Matthews gave Armey a dozen chances to retract his views and Armey said that he had been thinking in those terms for years. For years. I believe Armey and I also believe that he has been talking about it for years with like minded members in a corner of the House. If no one has noticed, the House has only one corner, the Amen corner.  This issue cannot be reduced to Armey’s disrespect or defamation of Arab-Americans. Armey has a constitutional right to be a bigot and a religious zealot. But if he wants to publicly endorse mass deportations and other acts of ethnic cleansing, maybe he should be given the cold shoulder at the White House for the remainder of his last term in office. Maybe other House members should see the wisdom of publicly differentiating themselves from this ethnic cleanser before they further sully the reputation of our Congress. I don’t want want Armey’s apology. He would do a greater service to himself and the country by explaining how he arrived at his bizarre conclusions and why such repulsive views are no longer considered demented in a House gone mad under the influence of the Israeli Lobby. I want Armey quarantined from other members of the House.  Where are the responsible American journalists, who are willing to probe for similar signs of ethnic hatred that would allow the public endorsement of ethnic cleansing? Sulzberger’s crew had a lot of ink to spill on Le Pen’s xenophobia. So, why the silence on politicians closer to home and closer to power.

This story is about a major American political personality, the House Majority Leader, willing to publicly encourage the same ‘ethnic cleansing’ strategy that Milosevic attempted in Kosovo.  During the interview, Armey was quite smug in publicly stating that “I happen to believe that the Palestinians should leave.” He was very specific about the need to transport these Palestinians to what he called another ‘arena’ where they could create a country carved out of the real estate of other nations in the region. He explicitly excluded any land areas in the West Bank.   His attempts to wiggle out of what he said after the interview by suggesting that he had meant to talk of deporting only “terrorists” just does not stand to reason. Is Armey suggesting that his new ‘more precise’ position is for the creation of a separate state where Israel could deport “Palestinian terrorists.”  Is Armey proposing the creation of an all terrorist state?  Now that still leaves Armey with all two million Palestinians living in the West Bank which he wants Israel to annex. Is he proposing a BI-national State? Nice try, but no takers. At least none who actually saw and recorded his interview with Chris Matthews.

Spin this all you want, The transcript of what was said is an available public record. Dick Armey was indeed calling for ethnic cleansing. The White House should be clear on whether they are for ethnic cleaning or against it.  The Republican party should also make itself clear on this matter. We have already seen the White House repeatedly pressure the United Nations to equivocate on even investigating Israeli war crimes. We have seen the Congress bow in unison at the feet of Ariel Sharon, a serial war criminal.  It is time for a little moral clarity on the notion that the native people of the Holy Land deserve to be exposed to a second mass expulsion.  Dick Armey is not some deranged lonely fool from Texas.  This guy commands the attention of the president of the United States.  When Chris Mathews asked him if the President was aware of his expulsionist ideology, Armey said “I am telling him now.” Now, maybe the President should publicly respond to Armey’s very specific recommendations for the mass deportation of the Palestinian people. Like Terry Morran, many people around the country would appreciate the President’s thoughts.

Mr. Ahmed Amr is Editor of in Seattle and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).