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Obama’s Divide-and-Conquer Strategy on Iran Sanctions

The icy relationship between the Obama administration and Israel’s government has created a familiar pattern of events: President Obama says or does something insulting to Israel, Republicans pounce on it and criticize the president, and Democrats respond by accusing Republicans of politicizing Israel for partisan gain. The accusation has proved bothersome to Republicans, but they seem to have grasped the underlying point: it means they’ve struck a nerve. If the accusation can’t be refuted, Democrats will try to rule the accusation itself out of bounds.

But the recent tussle over Iran sanctions has revealed not only that leading Democrats are in denial about this, but that their accusations of Republicans politicizing Israel are actually rather desperate examples of projection. As Jonathan noted on Friday, the White House is, as usual, opposed to the latest Iran sanctions. Some Jewish groups are supportive of the sanctions, which have now reportedly achieved veto-proof congressional majorities. Obama’s defenders at the National Jewish Democratic Council, led by Rabbi Jack Moline, then did something remarkable: they accused other, more respected Jewish groups of bullying Congress into submission. That is: the Democrats opposed bipartisan Iran sanctions supported by pro-Israel groups, and sent out liberal Jewish groups to smear other American Jewish groups for partisan political gain.

The administration’s strategy to divide and conquer domestic Jewish groups is, JTA had explained, to get those Jewish groups to “back a Democratic president while not expressly opposing intensified sanctions.” In other words, they may actually agree on the merits with the Jewish groups whose reputations they’re attempting to drag through the mud. But they are acting in service to President Obama, and so must treat their fellow Jewish groups as enemies to be destroyed so the president can shield the Iranian government from them.

All of this is quite shameful, but it might not matter: now that the White House is aware that the people’s representatives would overwhelmingly support the sanctions, their will must be thwarted before democracy has a chance to work its magic. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), a close White House ally, has no plans to soon bring the bill to the floor for a vote, people familiar with the process said. But, given the legislation’s strong bipartisan support, it was unclear how long Mr. Reid can buck pressure to hold a vote, making the Obama administration’s lobbying of individual senators even more critical. The lawmakers said they have a veto-proof number of 67 supporters in the Senate.

To be sure, the divisive strategy of enlisting Jewish groups to attack other Jewish groups is not new for this administration. In 2009, the New York Times Magazine profiled J Street. In the article, Jeremy Ben-Ami described his organization’s role as “the president’s blocking back”–a football metaphor referring to a blocker who helps the running back progress upfield. Tablet’s Marc Tracy explained what this meant:

The implication of the metaphor is that J Street sees itself, rather humbly (I mean that as a compliment), as merely one cog in a much larger process, which can’t do the job by itself but can help the job get done. And, of course, the glory goes not to him but to the runner—to Obama.

Indeed, J Street saw itself as an organization dedicated not to advancing ideas but the agenda–and the “glory”–of the Democratic president. J Street also engaged in attacking the reputations of friends of Israel on Obama’s behalf. So did the NJDC’s former director, Ira Forman, who Obama hired to lead his Jewish outreach. Forman’s NJDC got itself in hot water during the 2004 presidential election by producing a shockingly anti-Christian ad against the Bush-Cheney ticket, which also played on Jewish neoconservative stereotypes. The anti-Christian bigotry was a recurring theme during Forman’s time at NJDC before Obama rewarded him with a reelection post.

Here’s a refresher on that ad, from JTA:

Rove is seen delivering orders to the faithful from a pulpit marked with a crucifix. All the Republicans are clad in red cassocks except for President Bush, who is wearing boxer shorts and a T-shirt and reading “My Pet Goat.”

Two Jewish Republicans, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and top neo-conservative Richard Perle, tell Bubbie, “Hey we’re one of you” and break into what resembles a hora.

“I’m so ashamed,” Bubbie replies in a strong Yiddish accent, before pounding them with the handbag.

Ken Goldstein, an academic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who monitors the Jewish vote, said the ad shocked him.

“This ad is disgusting — and you will never ever see me say that about a campaign,” Goldstein said. Especially offensive, he said, is Cheney’s decapitated head rolling into a bucket marked “Miami-Dade votes” and pleading, “I want a deferment.”

Forman was proud of his work, explaining that the ad was aimed at the “under-30 crowd.” The youth of America are particularly receptive to smoldering religious hatred, Forman seemed to think, adding: “This is a communication that works for them.”

That behavior is apparently what Obama wanted in his Jewish outreach director, and with Moline’s contribution we can see why. You can’t get much more politicized than turning the American Jewish community against itself in order to sink an Iran-sanctions bill on behalf of the president. Though I suppose we can expect the White House to try and top that too, if the opportunity arises.


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