Commentary Magazine


Topic: AIPAC

Can Jewish Groups Speak Out on Hagel?

One of the interesting subtexts about the debate over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense has been the relative silence from the organized Jewish world. Though there was widespread shock from most pro-Israel activists, even those who were loyal liberal Democrats, about the president’s decision to choose one of the least Israel-friendly members of the U.S. Senate in the last generation to run the Pentagon, none of the major groups, aside from the Zionist Organization of America, spoke up publicly about his unsuitability for the post or his out-of-the mainstream views.

The reasons for this silence were obvious to anyone who understands their missions and how they operate. The refusal of the major Jewish organizations was rooted in their natural reluctance to embroil themselves in fights they think would hamper their ability to do their jobs. But at this juncture in the Hagel saga, after the nominee flopped at his Senate confirmation hearing and demonstrated how insincere his conversion from being tough on Israel and soft on Iran to a garden-variety backer of the Jewish state, it is time for them to reconsider. Though the odds still favor his confirmation, and with some senators, including Chuck Schumer and Claire McCaskill, citing their silence for their support for the nominee, the rationale of the organized Jewish world for staying out of this contretemps has evaporated.

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One of the interesting subtexts about the debate over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense has been the relative silence from the organized Jewish world. Though there was widespread shock from most pro-Israel activists, even those who were loyal liberal Democrats, about the president’s decision to choose one of the least Israel-friendly members of the U.S. Senate in the last generation to run the Pentagon, none of the major groups, aside from the Zionist Organization of America, spoke up publicly about his unsuitability for the post or his out-of-the mainstream views.

The reasons for this silence were obvious to anyone who understands their missions and how they operate. The refusal of the major Jewish organizations was rooted in their natural reluctance to embroil themselves in fights they think would hamper their ability to do their jobs. But at this juncture in the Hagel saga, after the nominee flopped at his Senate confirmation hearing and demonstrated how insincere his conversion from being tough on Israel and soft on Iran to a garden-variety backer of the Jewish state, it is time for them to reconsider. Though the odds still favor his confirmation, and with some senators, including Chuck Schumer and Claire McCaskill, citing their silence for their support for the nominee, the rationale of the organized Jewish world for staying out of this contretemps has evaporated.

Groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee or even AIPAC are not in the business of involving themselves in partisan fights. Nor are they interested in futile gestures that embroil them in squabbles that would make it more difficult for them to gain access to decision makers. These are things that often infuriate people who rail at them for not being representative of ordinary Jews or being “self-appointed” leaders. But these are generally unfair criticisms.

All Jewish groups in this country are voluntary associations. If the heads of these groups are not elected by a broad cross-section of the community it is only because most Jews don’t take the trouble to get involved with these organizations. We can argue about whether many of the so-called “major” groups still perform any vital functions. Indeed, many of them are vestigial remnants that have long ceased having any rationale other than institutional inertia. Others are mere partisan fronts for the political parties (the Republican Jewish Coalition has actively campaigned against Hagel while the National Jewish Democratic Council has tried to downplay the appointment) or Jewish surrogates for other liberal causes. Many are merely fundraising outlets for various causes. But some do still perform vital tasks, like compiling data about anti-Semitism or advocacy on behalf of Israel, and don’t deserve all of the scorn that is thrown in their direction.

However, the Hagel nomination illustrated that groups that see themselves as above politics can’t entirely avoid some fights. The nomination of a person who has publicly bragged about his standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and opposed sanctions or even the threat of using force against Iran should have crossed the line between something that merely raised eyebrows and battle that needed to be fought.

Some of the major organizations, or at least their leading donors, are dyed-in the-wool Democrats who would never put themselves in direct opposition to the president. Yet even those who were privately upset about Hagel reasoned that the campaign to stop Hagel was doomed. After abandoning Susan Rice, his preferred candidate for the State Department, there was good reason to believe that President Obama would fight harder for his “soul mate” at Defense. A popular president whose party has a majority in the Senate is not liable to lose such a nomination fight, so they thought it made more sense to shut up about Hagel and retain their access than to fight and lose.

This was a not unreasonable conclusion, but it was also a self-fulfilling prophecy. While many Jewish leaders were hoping that Hagel could be stopped without their help, by their very silence they gave cover to pro-Israel Democrats who decided that avoiding giving offense to the president took precedent over defending their principles. On this point, Schumer, whose announcement of public support for the nominee seemed to take all the drama out of the confirmation battle, has been quite candid, as he has explained that it was impossible for him to fight Hagel while Jewish groups kept their own counsel.

But my expectation that Schumer’s move would more or less end the controversy was confounded by Hagel’s catastrophic performance at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday. At this point even those who have no problem with Hagel’s troubling positions are grappling with the fact that the president’s choice has given the appearance of incompetence and an inability to articulate the president’s stated positions on the issues.

It was assumed that Hagel’s confirmation conversion to positions that affirmed the alliance with Israel and hostility to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran would be done in such a manner as to at least quiet concerns about his transformation from foe to friend of the pro-Israel community. But at his hearing, Hagel was not just unprepared; the insincerity of his flip-flops was transparent. He refused to admit that he was wrong to refuse to vote to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group. Nor did he disavow his slanders about Israel’s conduct during the 2006 Lebanon War. And he could not give a straight answer as to his views about containment of Iran even when given three tries to do so.

At this moment, when even partisan Democrats are expressing their discomfort about Hagel, it is time for the major Jewish groups to, at the very least, express their belief that the nomination should be reconsidered. They needn’t issue an outright call for a no vote on his confirmation or directly fight the president. But they can speak out about the problematic nature of what Hagel said at his hearing and whether the president ought to think twice about insisting on shoving him down the throat of an obviously troubled Democratic caucus.

Doing so would involve some risk and cause them to be criticized by some Democratic partisans. But as they already know, the only people who are actually enthusiastic about Hagel are those, like the vicious Israel-basher MJ Rosenberg, who think the nominee is lying about changing his views about Israel and Iran.

Let’s also dispense with the notion that if Jewish groups speak out on Hagel, they will be confirming the myth that the “Israel Lobby” is an all-powerful force that, as the nominee said, “intimidates” Congress into doing “stupid things.” It is true that that is what some foes of Israel will say if Hagel loses. But the truth is they are already saying it and the vast majority of Americans—who are the backbone of the bipartisan consensus in support of Israel—reject these slanders. The question now is whether an advocate of those views, even one who has now disavowed some of that statement, albeit in a manner that lacks all credibility, will be elevated to one of the highest positions in the government.

Whatever it was that Hagel has been telling Democrats like Schumer or even the big Jewish groups who got a private meeting with the nominee, no one who watched that hearing can seriously believe his protestations of a change of heart. Though he may still be confirmed if the president goes to the mat for him, the outcome is by no means certain. That means this is a moment when the major Jewish groups must drop their reticence and speak truth courageously to power.

Though it is often wise for such groups to stay out of fights with the White House, this is not the moment for such caution. Were the major groups to call for a reconsideration of his nomination, it could be the tipping point in the debate. Should they fail to find their voices now about Hagel, many of the good people inside these organizations may have reason to look back with regret on their decisions. Hagel’s appointment raises genuine doubts about this administration’s commitment to stopping Iran’s nuclear threat and continued support of Israel at a time when its enemies (such as the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt) are gaining strength. Silence at such a moment is impossible for men and women of conscience.

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Why Hagel Is a Fight Worth Having

The stakes will be high when Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, meets with New York Senator Chuck Schumer. Along with Republican John McCain, Schumer is the key to the question of whether critics of the appointment can rally enough votes to derail Hagel’s chances. Though he is understandably reluctant to pick a fight with the Obama administration, Schumer takes a dim view of Hagel’s antagonism toward Israel and the pro-Israel community as well as his soft stands on Iran. The question is whether Hagel’s rapid backtracking from these positions is persuasive enough to convince Schumer that trying to take him down is not worth the effort.

But regardless of the outcome of that meeting, the discussion about Hagel is bound to heat up in the coming days and weeks. Hagel’s past bragging about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and his history of opposition to sanctions or the use of force against the Iranian nuclear threat places him outside of the mainstream of American opinion and also could create the dangerous impression that U.S. policy could be shifting. But there is a still a genuine reluctance on the part of many in the Jewish community to turn this nomination into an all-out battle that would pit the administration against the pro-Israel community. The dangers of such a confrontation, especially if Hagel were to survive a close vote, are real. But the argument here is that win or lose, this is a battle worth fighting.

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The stakes will be high when Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, meets with New York Senator Chuck Schumer. Along with Republican John McCain, Schumer is the key to the question of whether critics of the appointment can rally enough votes to derail Hagel’s chances. Though he is understandably reluctant to pick a fight with the Obama administration, Schumer takes a dim view of Hagel’s antagonism toward Israel and the pro-Israel community as well as his soft stands on Iran. The question is whether Hagel’s rapid backtracking from these positions is persuasive enough to convince Schumer that trying to take him down is not worth the effort.

But regardless of the outcome of that meeting, the discussion about Hagel is bound to heat up in the coming days and weeks. Hagel’s past bragging about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and his history of opposition to sanctions or the use of force against the Iranian nuclear threat places him outside of the mainstream of American opinion and also could create the dangerous impression that U.S. policy could be shifting. But there is a still a genuine reluctance on the part of many in the Jewish community to turn this nomination into an all-out battle that would pit the administration against the pro-Israel community. The dangers of such a confrontation, especially if Hagel were to survive a close vote, are real. But the argument here is that win or lose, this is a battle worth fighting.

The downside of a confrontation over Hagel is that it will further antagonize President Obama, reducing the ability of pro-Israel groups to influence his decision making about another return to a policy aimed at forcing the Jewish state into foolish concessions in a vain attempt to revive the Middle East peace process. It might also make him less, rather than more, inclined to adopt policies toward Iran that would match the tough rhetoric he has used on the subject. There is also the question of who would get the job if Hagel were rejected. Would it be someone even worse?

These are serious points to consider. But though the possibility of turning Hagel into a rerun of the disastrous 1981 battle over the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia in which the Reagan administration overcame the opposition of AIPAC are not negligible, the risks are not as great as some make them out to be.

First of all, it needs to be understood that if anyone has picked a fight here it is the president and not the friends of Israel. By choosing a man who was one of the most openly hostile senators to Israel and the pro-Israel community, President Obama has invited this battle certain that a re-elected president won’t have his choice for the Pentagon thwarted over his comments about Israel, the Jews and Iran. In doing so, the White House has placed the bipartisan consensus on Israel and Iran in jeopardy and it is up to both Republicans and Democrats who care about these issues to ensure that it is not completely destroyed by the president’s bad judgment.

The process by which Hagel is being called to account for his comments about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and for his desire for engagement with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran is actually quite helpful to restoring that consensus. The plain fact is that if Hagel wishes to survive what should be a difficult confirmation process he’s going to have to keep walking back his past statements and beliefs. Cynics are right to question the sincerity of any such retractions or attempts to spin his long history of hostility to the pro-Israel community. But in doing so, Hagel will be put in the same position that the 2012 campaign put Obama. Over the course of the last year, the president was forced to first disavow any thought of containing a nuclear Iran or making a deal that would allow them to retain a nuclear program. That’s painted the administration into a very tight corner on an issue where there’s little doubt the White House would prefer to have more room to maneuver to craft an unsatisfactory compromise that might be a disaster for Israel and the West.

As for the alternatives to Hagel, the idea that the president could come up with someone worse than the former Nebraska senator seems a bit far-fetched. It’s unlikely that there is any possible candidate, no matter how liberal, that would bring the kind of baggage that Hagel carries with him. To ponder the alternatives is to make plain just how much of an outlier Hagel is.

If the president is thwarted on Hagel or even just seriously challenged, he will be upset about it. But does anyone think that will make him even less favorably inclined toward the current Israel government or those Americans who support it? The president’s temper tantrums directed at Israel over the past four years have already exposed his antagonism. Stopping Hagel won’t make him any friendlier, but it is doubtful that it could produce anything nastier than his May 2012 ambush of Netanyahu about the 1967 borders.

Most of all, the notion that friends of Israel or Jews should fear being singled out for opposing the president or that they should seek to avoid raising the hackles of the foreign policy and defense establishment is absurd. Those who don’t like Israel or the Jews need no excuse or extra motivation. Were those who care about Israel to be silent about Hagel, advocates of the pernicious Walt-Mearsheimer thesis would not stand down or seek trying to isolate the Jewish state or stigmatize its friends. The Israel-haters and the critics of AIPAC will be just as loud even if not a word is said about Hagel.

There are times when it is better for Israel’s friends to keep their own counsel rather than seeking to contest the administration on every possible point of contention. But this is not such a moment. Hagel’s nomination is a chance for Congress to reaffirm the U.S.-Israel alliance and to put Iran on notice that its expectation that a second Obama administration will be no obstacle to their nuclear ambitions. Whether or not Hagel gets the job, this is very much a fight worth having.

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AIPAC’s Hagel Dilemma

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg homed in on an interesting aspect of the fight over President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense this morning when he noted how the issue put AIPAC in a tough position. There’s little question that the pro-Israel lobby is alarmed by the prospect of having a man running the Pentagon who thinks the U.S. ought to be tough on Israel and soft on Iran rather than the other way around. But, as Goldberg rightly pointed out, AIPAC is in the business of working with Congress and the White House, not fighting them tooth and nail.

Goldberg correctly notes that it would be bad judgment for a group that applauded Obama’s promises on Iran to attempt to thwart him on his choice to head the Defense Department. While Obama’s support for positions on Iran and Israel in the past year and a half have often seemed grudging, AIPAC is eager to maintain decent relations with the White House. That would, as Goldberg seems to imply, argue for the lobby to stand aside during the upcoming donnybrook over Hagel. But the problem with this reasoning is that it ignores what is fairly obvious to both friends and foes of the nominee: his appointment signals that the administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive during which the president stopped picking fights with Israel and pledged not to contain Iran, but to stop the Islamic Republic, is very much over.

The last thing AIPAC wants to do is to fight a losing battle over Hagel in which it would get the worst of both worlds—a bad appointment and a White House that will be interested in payback for being thwarted. But the stakes are sufficiently high that it ought not be too difficult a decision. If there is any chance that the nomination can be defeated—and if reports about pro-Israel Democrats being willing to jump ship on this issue are true, he can be —then those who wish to send the administration a message that the country will not tolerate Obama breaking his promises on Iran must do whatever they can to accomplish this goal.

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The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg homed in on an interesting aspect of the fight over President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense this morning when he noted how the issue put AIPAC in a tough position. There’s little question that the pro-Israel lobby is alarmed by the prospect of having a man running the Pentagon who thinks the U.S. ought to be tough on Israel and soft on Iran rather than the other way around. But, as Goldberg rightly pointed out, AIPAC is in the business of working with Congress and the White House, not fighting them tooth and nail.

Goldberg correctly notes that it would be bad judgment for a group that applauded Obama’s promises on Iran to attempt to thwart him on his choice to head the Defense Department. While Obama’s support for positions on Iran and Israel in the past year and a half have often seemed grudging, AIPAC is eager to maintain decent relations with the White House. That would, as Goldberg seems to imply, argue for the lobby to stand aside during the upcoming donnybrook over Hagel. But the problem with this reasoning is that it ignores what is fairly obvious to both friends and foes of the nominee: his appointment signals that the administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive during which the president stopped picking fights with Israel and pledged not to contain Iran, but to stop the Islamic Republic, is very much over.

The last thing AIPAC wants to do is to fight a losing battle over Hagel in which it would get the worst of both worlds—a bad appointment and a White House that will be interested in payback for being thwarted. But the stakes are sufficiently high that it ought not be too difficult a decision. If there is any chance that the nomination can be defeated—and if reports about pro-Israel Democrats being willing to jump ship on this issue are true, he can be —then those who wish to send the administration a message that the country will not tolerate Obama breaking his promises on Iran must do whatever they can to accomplish this goal.

The White House is, as Goldberg notes, sending a loud message to AIPAC that the president will be offended if they fight him on Hagel. The presumption is that any such decision would have a negative impact on Obama’s continuation of policies that the lobby supports on security cooperation with Israel.

Yet by picking Hagel for defense, what Obama has done is to signal Israel’s friends that any expectation that he would stick to his word about containment or the use of force against Iran is probably unrealistic. That’s what the Iranians and Israelis are probably thinking right now, a state of affairs that is likely to lead to trouble for the U.S. Though it would be wrong to think that AIPAC has nothing to lose in this battle, the consequences of allowing Hagel to skate through to an easy confirmation are immense for the group and the U.S.-Israel alliance. That’s especially true if a strong push from AIPAC might be enough to nudge a critical group of pro-Israel Democratic senators to commit to vote against him.

There are times when groups like AIPAC must play it smart and avoid confrontations with the president. This isn’t one of them. By speaking out forcefully, the group can transform the Hagel issue from what is being spun in the media as GOP revenge for his opposition to the Iraq War into a bipartisan revolt against his nomination. That’s exactly what they should do.

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House Members Circulate Letter to Close PLO Office

It looks like the congressional debate over whether to close the PLO office in Washington is far from over. Arutz Sheva reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers began circulating a letter calling for a strong response to the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid, including the closure of the PLO office: 

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) are circulating a letter in response to the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid at the United Nation (sic), urging that the U.S. to utilize “every means at our disposal to ensure that this General Assembly vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums.”

“We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative,” the letter states.

Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community, the lawmakers assert that, “This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums- a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiations or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.” … 

“We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps,” the letter adds.

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It looks like the congressional debate over whether to close the PLO office in Washington is far from over. Arutz Sheva reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers began circulating a letter calling for a strong response to the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid, including the closure of the PLO office: 

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) are circulating a letter in response to the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid at the United Nation (sic), urging that the U.S. to utilize “every means at our disposal to ensure that this General Assembly vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums.”

“We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative,” the letter states.

Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community, the lawmakers assert that, “This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums- a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiations or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.” … 

“We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps,” the letter adds.

Ros-Lehtinen is the outgoing chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Royce is the incoming chair, indicating that this is likely to be taken up by the committee next year. Whether it would be considered as a standalone bill or an amendment is unclear at this point, and we probably won’t know more details until the beginning of the next session. But it’s a debate worth watching closely, in no small part because it pits left-wing lobby J Street (which opposes the initiative) against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (which has supported it):

The initiative is backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and opposed by the extreme left leaning groups of J Street and Peace Now.

Voicing its opposition, J Street, which has long been accused of espousing anti-Israel beliefs, launched an effort Monday to discourage House of Representatives members from signing the letter.

“At a time when the United States should be looking for ways to encourage and deepen diplomacy, talk of ejecting one of the parties from the country defies logic,” J Street said in its action alert.

J Street already claimed victory when a proposed amendment to close the PLO office wasn’t included in the defense authorization bill recently approved by the Senate. As I reported last week, there is no sign this had anything do with J Street’s supposed lobbying prowess. According to the office of Lindsey Graham, one of the sponsors of the amendment, it wasn’t included because it wasn’t technically considered germane. Jewish community sources familiar with the issue also tell me that the Obama administration objected to the amendment, making it unlikely to pass through the unanimous consent process.

In total, around 400 amendments were reportedly proposed for the defense bill, and the majority weren’t included in the final legislation. But that still didn’t stop J Street from sending out this triumphant email headlined “Victory”:

Earlier this week, we asked you to help us stop the Senate from kicking the Palestinian Diplomatic Mission out of Washington, DC in retaliation for last week’s United Nations vote.

You responded, sending 14,500 emails and making almost 1,000 calls telling Senators the US should not take such a counterproductive step.

And, as ThinkProgress,1 JTA2 and The Forward3 have all made crystal clear: YOU DID IT. The Senate held back, and the amendment to expel the Palestinian Mission was dropped. 

Clearly J Street’s celebration was a little premature.

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J Street’s Victory Lap

J Street backed 71 candidates in last month’s election. Sixty-nine of the candidates won. In July, the group issued a statement supporting the latest round of Iran sanctions legislation. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent the next day.

To hear J Street and supporters tell it, these are signs its influence is growing.

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J Street backed 71 candidates in last month’s election. Sixty-nine of the candidates won. In July, the group issued a statement supporting the latest round of Iran sanctions legislation. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent the next day.

To hear J Street and supporters tell it, these are signs its influence is growing.

“This is an incredible victory,” wrote J Street in a November 7 press release. “One that is part of transforming the political atmosphere around Israel in the U.S. that has blocked meaningful American efforts to achieve a two-state solution for decades.”

There’s actually a less dramatic explanation for J Street’s supposed “victories.” After years of getting crushed by AIPAC in the lobbying game, J Street may have found success in the old adage, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” The group has started endorsing some sure winners, and then claiming credit when the inevitable happens.

As Steve Rosen pointed out at Foreign Policy, many of the candidates J Street endorsed were also backed and more heavily financed by AIPAC-associated PACs. The same goes for last summer’s Iran sanctions legislation. Both parties in congress overwhelmingly support tough sanctions, as does President Obama (at least publicly). 

So how can we know know if J Street’s clout on the Hill has actually grown, or if it’s just piggybacking off of already-popular candidates and bills? Well, the latest positions J Street has taken are worth keeping an eye on. It’s opposing any congressional response to the Palestinian UN declaration, and any efforts to sanction the PLO mission in Washington.

Several lawmakers have already proposed action against the Palestinian Authority. But what about the members of Congress J Street said it helped get elected? Will they object to these proposals, and support the J Street position? Or did J Street’s “incredible victory” end on election day?

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Dems Turn to Explain a Troubling Platform

Last week Democrats were running riot on the talk shows, gabbing about what they claimed was an extremist Republican platform on social issues like abortion. As I noted at the time, platforms were always meaningless and are as outdated as the political conventions that adopt them. Yet GOP stalwarts were reduced to ineffectual defenses that did little to undo the damage that the symbolic adoption of planks that provided no exceptions to abortion bans did among moderate and independent voters.

This week, the shoe is on the other foot. As soon as the Democratic platform was published, we learned they had banned all mention of God from their manifesto and watered down or eliminated pro-Israel language that had previously been present in past platforms. Their replies to questions about this have been as defensive and poorly received as those given by their GOP counterparts. These twin controversies provide an interesting window into the mindset of both parties. The Republican platform shows that the party is not interested in challenging the views of social conservatives while Democrats are not inclined to treat the sensibilities of the pro-Israel community as being worth worrying about. Even though platform language doesn’t dictate policy (as pro-life advocates know since no Republican president has ever carried out their party’s promises about abortion), what does that tell you about the current state of American politics?

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Last week Democrats were running riot on the talk shows, gabbing about what they claimed was an extremist Republican platform on social issues like abortion. As I noted at the time, platforms were always meaningless and are as outdated as the political conventions that adopt them. Yet GOP stalwarts were reduced to ineffectual defenses that did little to undo the damage that the symbolic adoption of planks that provided no exceptions to abortion bans did among moderate and independent voters.

This week, the shoe is on the other foot. As soon as the Democratic platform was published, we learned they had banned all mention of God from their manifesto and watered down or eliminated pro-Israel language that had previously been present in past platforms. Their replies to questions about this have been as defensive and poorly received as those given by their GOP counterparts. These twin controversies provide an interesting window into the mindset of both parties. The Republican platform shows that the party is not interested in challenging the views of social conservatives while Democrats are not inclined to treat the sensibilities of the pro-Israel community as being worth worrying about. Even though platform language doesn’t dictate policy (as pro-life advocates know since no Republican president has ever carried out their party’s promises about abortion), what does that tell you about the current state of American politics?

Democrats spent the day backpedaling and, taking a page from the book of party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, fibbing furiously about getting AIPAC to sanction the platform. Nobody believed these assertions, leaving pro-Israel Democrats like Alan Dershowitz saying the decision was “deeply troubling” since “I don’t think it is a good thing that the Republican platform seems to be more pro-Israel than the Democratic platform.”

The divide between the two parties on social issues is well established and it is hardly surprising that Republicans would mollify conservatives in their document while Democrats turned their convention’s first night into a celebration of abortion as well as other liberal positions on social issues.

Dershowitz’s conscience may be eased by the reported decision of the party to reinstate the more pro-Israel text that had been in the 2008 platform. But the willingness of the Democrats to deliver a symbolic slight to the pro-Israel community at the very moment when they are trying so hard to stop Jewish voters from deserting President Obama was still telling. If the dropping of language supporting Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital and the designation of the country as America’s most important ally in the region was done at the behest of the White House that gives cold comfort to those who worry about what a second Obama administration will mean for Israel. More important, at this point such a move is a blow to the credibility of the election-year Jewish charm offensive the administration has been pursuing.

It is true that no Republican president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital any more than Obama has done. But the current administration has also done more to undermine Israel’s claim to the city than any predecessor. It has made an issue about the right of Jews to live in decades-old Jewish neighborhoods and considered housing starts there as an insult to Vice President Biden. Under Obama, Jerusalem has been treated as being no different from the most remote West Bank hilltop settlement. That gives extra importance to the platform language of the president’s party.

Even if we put this down as mere symbolism or believe the Democrats backtracking will silence their critics, it will provide some serious food for thought for undecided voters as we head down the homestretch of the presidential campaign. While the stands of the parties on social issues was never in doubt, the Democrats have just given wavering pro-Israel Jews one more reason to think about not voting for President Obama.

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The Value of Congressional Trips Abroad

The well-deserved furor over Todd Akin’s boneheaded comments has been diverting attention from another tempest involving a GOP congressman going skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee while on a visit to Israel organized by an offshoot of AIPAC. The New York Times, among other MSM outlets, appears eager to turn the entire trip into a “scandal”–see for example this editorial disguised as a news article. It discusses the Israel outing in the context of “famous travel boondoggles” such as the Scotland golfing trip arranged by influence-peddler Jack Abramoff. Yet by all accounts the Israel trips organized by AIPAC are filled with substantive policy meetings. Even if the congressmen spent all their time going to tourist attracts such as the Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea, however, I would still be all in favor of such trips.

Does anyone seriously think that members of Congress in general, and members of the House in particular, are too worldly, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan? Au contraire. Many of them don’t even own a passport when elected. That’s hardly surprising since the bulk of them come from local politics–not from the Foreign Service or, for that matter, the armed forces. But lack of personal familiarity with the world beyond America’s shores leaves them ill-prepared to vote on national security matters ranging from foreign operations and defense budgets to treaty ratifications and authorizations for the use of military force. This is a major problem and allowing nonprofits to fund travel for members of Congress helps to alleviate it. Banning these trips will do nothing to elevate congressional ethics. It will do much to elevate congressional ignorance.

The well-deserved furor over Todd Akin’s boneheaded comments has been diverting attention from another tempest involving a GOP congressman going skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee while on a visit to Israel organized by an offshoot of AIPAC. The New York Times, among other MSM outlets, appears eager to turn the entire trip into a “scandal”–see for example this editorial disguised as a news article. It discusses the Israel outing in the context of “famous travel boondoggles” such as the Scotland golfing trip arranged by influence-peddler Jack Abramoff. Yet by all accounts the Israel trips organized by AIPAC are filled with substantive policy meetings. Even if the congressmen spent all their time going to tourist attracts such as the Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea, however, I would still be all in favor of such trips.

Does anyone seriously think that members of Congress in general, and members of the House in particular, are too worldly, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan? Au contraire. Many of them don’t even own a passport when elected. That’s hardly surprising since the bulk of them come from local politics–not from the Foreign Service or, for that matter, the armed forces. But lack of personal familiarity with the world beyond America’s shores leaves them ill-prepared to vote on national security matters ranging from foreign operations and defense budgets to treaty ratifications and authorizations for the use of military force. This is a major problem and allowing nonprofits to fund travel for members of Congress helps to alleviate it. Banning these trips will do nothing to elevate congressional ethics. It will do much to elevate congressional ignorance.

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Anti-Israel Incitement Pops Up On the Left

Democrats got a reminder of just what the far left wing of their party is thinking these days when a debate among contenders for their party’s nomination in the race to replace retiring Senator Joe Lieberman was overshadowed by vicious anti-Israel rhetoric on the part of one of the candidates. Candidate Lee Whitnum called frontrunner Rep. Chris Murphy a “whore” because of his support for Israel. She also referred to another candidate as “ignorant” during the course of the debate that was televised by the local NBC affiliate.

Whitnum, the sole focus of whose campaign is hatred of Israel, is a marginal player at best in a Democratic race that centers on the competition between Murphy and former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. But her ability to get on the stage and spout bile against the Jewish state and its supporters is something of a victory for the Occupy AIPAC crowd and a warning to both Democrats and Republicans about their obligation to denounce anti-Semitic agitators who seek to worm their way into the mainstream.

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Democrats got a reminder of just what the far left wing of their party is thinking these days when a debate among contenders for their party’s nomination in the race to replace retiring Senator Joe Lieberman was overshadowed by vicious anti-Israel rhetoric on the part of one of the candidates. Candidate Lee Whitnum called frontrunner Rep. Chris Murphy a “whore” because of his support for Israel. She also referred to another candidate as “ignorant” during the course of the debate that was televised by the local NBC affiliate.

Whitnum, the sole focus of whose campaign is hatred of Israel, is a marginal player at best in a Democratic race that centers on the competition between Murphy and former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. But her ability to get on the stage and spout bile against the Jewish state and its supporters is something of a victory for the Occupy AIPAC crowd and a warning to both Democrats and Republicans about their obligation to denounce anti-Semitic agitators who seek to worm their way into the mainstream.

Whitnum’s candidacy is more or less the embodiment of the Walt-Mearsheimer conspiracy theories. She is obsessed with AIPAC and Zionism and spends a great deal of space on her campaign website trying unsuccessfully to assert that she is not an anti-Semite. But at least she comes by her bias honestly. According to her biography, her father was a British military officer who served in Palestine during the 1940s when the U.K. was preventing Jews from immigrating to their homeland and assisting Arabs in their efforts to prevent Israel’s birth.

Murphy rightly denounced Whitnum’s comments saying, “This is in our national security interest, ultimately in the interest of U.S. taxpayers to have a strong relationship with Israel and I think it is worth saying on this stage that a lot of her comments have been out of bounds and over the line.” He also said he was reconsidering his support for allowing marginal candidates access to the debates.

Support for Israel in the United States is bipartisan and encompasses a broad coalition of members of both parties including liberals and conservatives. But the virus of hate is alive and well on the margins, especially the far left where, as the Occupy Wall Street protests proved, Jew-hatred seems not far below the surface.

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Love for Iran Takes Ayatollahs Off the Hook

A peculiar phenomenon has been dominating Israeli social media. As tensions between Israel and Iran reach fever pitch, a young Israeli couple has launched a campaign showing pictures of couples kissing under the heading “Iran, we love you, we will never bomb your country.” Some Iranians have reciprocated with rosy memes of their own carrying a similar message to their Israeli courtiers. Cute. Last Saturday, the campaign hit the streets of Tel Aviv. Hundreds waved banners and shouted into megaphones their disapproval of what they perceive to be Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “needless” warmongering. Calls for Netanyahu’s resignation were heard over chants for “social justice instead of war.”

Most pundits would agree that Iran’s nuclear program has little, if anything, to do with Israel, even though a nuclear Iran would certainly make the region more unstable and dangerous for the Jewish state. The demonstrators’ claims aren’t likely to be taken seriously by Israeli decision makers who are focused more on intelligence evaluations of the Iranian challenge than social media.

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A peculiar phenomenon has been dominating Israeli social media. As tensions between Israel and Iran reach fever pitch, a young Israeli couple has launched a campaign showing pictures of couples kissing under the heading “Iran, we love you, we will never bomb your country.” Some Iranians have reciprocated with rosy memes of their own carrying a similar message to their Israeli courtiers. Cute. Last Saturday, the campaign hit the streets of Tel Aviv. Hundreds waved banners and shouted into megaphones their disapproval of what they perceive to be Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “needless” warmongering. Calls for Netanyahu’s resignation were heard over chants for “social justice instead of war.”

Most pundits would agree that Iran’s nuclear program has little, if anything, to do with Israel, even though a nuclear Iran would certainly make the region more unstable and dangerous for the Jewish state. The demonstrators’ claims aren’t likely to be taken seriously by Israeli decision makers who are focused more on intelligence evaluations of the Iranian challenge than social media.

Saturday’s demonstration is most remarkable for its curious intellectual undercurrent. The protesters seemed to have expressed a remarkable sense of inflated self-importance that stems from the fallacy that all of the Middle East’s problems are the result of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Contrary to this myth, Israel doesn’t hold the key to regional stability and peace. The blind faith that a little less bellicosity from Israel will solve everything is based on a premise that treats Iranian domestic politics, American interests in Iraq, the destabilization of Syria, the rise of Sunni neo-Ottomanism on Iran’s western front, and Iran’s paranoia over its disgruntled non-Persian minorities as if they were problems that can all be resolved by a wave of the Jewish magic wand.

Beyond the pure naiveté of assuming that taking the military option off the table will somehow turn down the political temperature of an increasingly heated Middle East, the demonstration exposed beliefs underpinning much of the discourse on the Israeli Left: beliefs in Israel’s ability to control the trajectory of current affairs.

Such assumptions are not only factually unfounded, they are also downright dangerous to peace.

To say the Jewish state pulls the levers of conflict and resolution at its own convenience is to believe the other sides involved in any of the region’s conflict have little, if any, responsibility for how events transpire. The image of Jews having absolute control over international politics (especially in the Middle East) has equally plagued much (though not all) of the criticism toward AIPAC, America’s largest and most influential pro-Israel lobby. Not surprisingly, AIPAC also came under attack on Saturday in the Tel Aviv demonstration, with one malicious sign reading “AIPAC Damn You” surrounded by pictures of skulls.

These charges usually lead to a distorted perception of regional and domestic politics, and, consequently, to unfair allegations against Israel. The tacit assumption being that if Israel (with the help of AIPAC) is in complete control of Middle Eastern peace and stability, then a lack of peace and stability can only be Israel’s fault. Why is this belief dangerous? Because these unilateral narratives, as we have seen so clearly in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, lead to nothing but the kind of romanticized victimization that excuses Palestinians and Iranians from responsibility for their own faults.

Luckily, marginalized political groups such as those chanting on Saturday on Tel Aviv’s King George Street will never have to put their money where their mouth is. Shouting irresponsible and unfounded slogans is the one advantage radical opposition groups can still enjoy.

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J Street Failure Reflected at Conference

J Street is holding their annual policy conference this weekend, and the group duly requested speakers from the White House and the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. The results are unspinnable. The Israelis let J Street cool its heels until this week before dispatching deputy chief of mission Barukh Binah. Binah recently concluded a stint in Jerusalem as a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, in which capacity he publicly castigated J Street for dishonestly manufacturing an anti-Israel publicity stunt, then building an entire media campaign around the stunt, then fabricating an Israeli apology related to the stunt. Sending him to be the embassy’s speaker was not the world’s most subtle move. The White House’s announcement of its surrogate, the vice president’s national security adviser Tony Blinken, left Ben-Ami bitterly complaining that the choice was a snub. He’s right. Blinken, for all that he is an experienced hand, is several rungs below U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who appeared at the first J Street conference and left J Street boosters musing about the group’s potential power.

J Street has gone from fantasies of being the anti-AIPAC to complaining publicly about its diminished influence. The spiral was a function of many things, but mostly of the group aggressively pushing counterproductive, failed, and toxic policies in Israel, in Congress, and in the media.

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J Street is holding their annual policy conference this weekend, and the group duly requested speakers from the White House and the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. The results are unspinnable. The Israelis let J Street cool its heels until this week before dispatching deputy chief of mission Barukh Binah. Binah recently concluded a stint in Jerusalem as a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, in which capacity he publicly castigated J Street for dishonestly manufacturing an anti-Israel publicity stunt, then building an entire media campaign around the stunt, then fabricating an Israeli apology related to the stunt. Sending him to be the embassy’s speaker was not the world’s most subtle move. The White House’s announcement of its surrogate, the vice president’s national security adviser Tony Blinken, left Ben-Ami bitterly complaining that the choice was a snub. He’s right. Blinken, for all that he is an experienced hand, is several rungs below U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who appeared at the first J Street conference and left J Street boosters musing about the group’s potential power.

J Street has gone from fantasies of being the anti-AIPAC to complaining publicly about its diminished influence. The spiral was a function of many things, but mostly of the group aggressively pushing counterproductive, failed, and toxic policies in Israel, in Congress, and in the media.

Israelis were always skeptical of J Street, even as the group was embraced by the Obama White House as the President’s anti-Israel enabler. Israeli embassy officials declared that J Street was damaging Israel, was “a unique problem,” and was “fooling around” with Israeli lives. When J Street’s founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami publicly insisted upon Ambassador Oren’s presence at the group’s first conference he was rebuffed, leading Ben-Ami’s White House allies to attack Israel over the snub in Israeli media outlets (reports from the conference justified Israeli skepticism). Last year Israel’s minister for public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs flatly called J Street anti-Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t take meetings with the group’s delegations.

In the meantime J Street’s public campaigns – many implemented with tone-deafness and some with frankly shocking incompetence – eroded its Congressional support.

Its embrace of Richard Goldstone was followed by a fumbled cover-up. Its support of anti-Israel U.N. campaigns triggered a fistfight with Congressional allies. Its defense of anti-Semitic rhetoric is seeping in this weekend’s conference. Its coordination with pro-Iran lobbies has been unreal. Its stance on Cast Lead angered Israeli victims’ organizations..

J Street officials got caught misleading reporters on overseas Arab and Muslim funding and then launched a clumsy spin campaign. Then they got caught misleading other reporters about Soros funding and launched another clumsy spin campaign. When the group did its fundraising in public it was for yet another effort to pressure Obama into pressuring Israel.

On a smaller scale J Street launched campaigns to defend anti-Israel media campaigns and anti-Israel art and anti-Israel artists. Its PR flak defended Mary Robinson. It brought into the fold an apologist for the Muslim students who went after Ambassador Oren at UC Irvine. A J Street delegation held meetings with Palestinian diplomats in Ramallah on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day over Israeli objections and then Ben-Ami bragged about the trip in the Jerusalem Post. One of their board members met with Hamas.

Unsurprisingly the group has become toxic in Congress. Associating with J Street costs votes and chills relationships.

As a small example: last year some House Republicans threatened to defund the Palestinian Authority. The move was opposed with various degrees of publicity by Democrats, the White House, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. J Street ostentatiously launched a three-month public campaign to push back, which culminated in 44 Democratic signatures on a letter. 44 is 10 fewer Democrats than J Street secured for far more controversial 2010 letter calling on Obama to pressure Israel on the Gaza siege, which J Street had to lobby for by proxy.

This time J Street was too weak to directly push on an open door in Congress. The White House and its political liaisons undoubtedly noted as much.

J Street and other anti-Israel Jewish groups will never totally collapse. They will always have a constituency, and that constituency will always pretend that they’re on the cusp of influencing the policy discussion. But everyone else seems to be tired of pretending that J Street is anything but a particularly elegant case study of how fringe progressive collapses under its own weight.

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Jews Divided on Iran? Not Really

Worry over the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is one issue that has long united the pro-Israel community. The strength of this consensus, which is shared by the majority of Americans, is such that the only real division is over whether it is advisable for Israel or the West to strike Iran relatively soon or to wait a while for crippling sanctions to force a diplomatic solution before force is used. Some on the left continue to weakly argue that Iran doesn’t want to build such a weapon or, alternatively, that a nuclear Iran can be contained. But President Obama’s recent speech to the AIPAC conference in which he reiterated his determination to stop Iran and disavowed a containment strategy, demonstrated that such voices are very much on the margins of public debate, let alone the Jewish community.

However that didn’t stop the New York Times from running an article today on the front page that claimed in the headline in the version published online on Sunday afternoon “Pro-Israel Groups Differ on Iran” (by Monday, the headline had been changed to read “Hawks Steer Debate on How to Take on Iran”). But those readers eager to discover which mainstream Jewish groups were taking a contrary position on Iran were disappointed. The only organizations that the Times could find to back up that headline were J Street and Tikkun. While the former claims to be “pro-Israel” even the latter’s adherents do not attempt to play that game. But however you wish to label them, the idea that disagreement from these two left-wing outliers constitutes any sort of a Jewish debate is comical. Perhaps only in the pages of the New York Times or that of Tikkun itself, could a situation where the opposition of groups as marginal as these be considered a serious news story.

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Worry over the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is one issue that has long united the pro-Israel community. The strength of this consensus, which is shared by the majority of Americans, is such that the only real division is over whether it is advisable for Israel or the West to strike Iran relatively soon or to wait a while for crippling sanctions to force a diplomatic solution before force is used. Some on the left continue to weakly argue that Iran doesn’t want to build such a weapon or, alternatively, that a nuclear Iran can be contained. But President Obama’s recent speech to the AIPAC conference in which he reiterated his determination to stop Iran and disavowed a containment strategy, demonstrated that such voices are very much on the margins of public debate, let alone the Jewish community.

However that didn’t stop the New York Times from running an article today on the front page that claimed in the headline in the version published online on Sunday afternoon “Pro-Israel Groups Differ on Iran” (by Monday, the headline had been changed to read “Hawks Steer Debate on How to Take on Iran”). But those readers eager to discover which mainstream Jewish groups were taking a contrary position on Iran were disappointed. The only organizations that the Times could find to back up that headline were J Street and Tikkun. While the former claims to be “pro-Israel” even the latter’s adherents do not attempt to play that game. But however you wish to label them, the idea that disagreement from these two left-wing outliers constitutes any sort of a Jewish debate is comical. Perhaps only in the pages of the New York Times or that of Tikkun itself, could a situation where the opposition of groups as marginal as these be considered a serious news story.

The article attempts to frame the debate as one between evangelical Christians and “neocons” on the right and the peace faction on the left represented by J Street and Tikkun. But there is, in fact, no great division on the issue. It is true that conservatives are deeply skeptical of President Obama’s promises on the issue and point out that his actions have never matched the fierce rhetoric on the subject that he has been spouting since even before he was elected president. But the argument about whether Obama has done much on the issue or if he will ultimately do anything at all is a very different question than the one posed by the Times.

As even the Times noted, the only opposition to tough sanctions that mandate an oil embargo on Iran came from the far left or the isolationist far right. But to represent the views put forward by Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul as having anything but a miniscule following in the country in general, let alone in the Jewish community is an astonishing distortion.

As for J Street, while it once hoped to replace AIPAC as the voice of American Jewry on Israel, that is an assertion that is not treated seriously anywhere but in the pages of the Times. J Street’s positions opposing Israeli measures of self-defense and refusal to join the consensus on Iran has prevented it from achieving the success it thought it would achieve. Congress pays little attention to its attempt to bite AIPAC’s ankles on the issues and even President Obama, whose cause it was set up to support against attacks from the left, has deserted it. Obama’s speech to AIPAC made it clear that, at least while he was running for re-election, he has ditched the group’s agenda of pressure on Israel for the sake of a dead-in-the-water peace process.

As for Tikkun, it is so far out of the mainstream that it makes J Street look moderate. Tikkun isn’t merely a supporter of Israel’s discredited Peace Now faction as is the case with J Street. It is a home for those on the far left who oppose the state’s existence altogether and back measures of economic warfare to bring it to its knees.

The Times article framed J Street and Tikkun as representing a sizable Jewish faction simply because the editorial slant of the piece demanded it. To claim they represent anything but the far left is absurd. Indeed, the piece’s conclusion contradicted both the lead and the headline when it noted:

The harder line that Mr. Obama articulated also happens to be good domestic politics, according to experts. The president’s statements, they said, calmed the jitters of some Jewish voters about his support for Israel and defused the effort of Republican presidential candidates to use Iran as a wedge issue against him.

That is true. While the left hopes to buttress what it believes is Obama’s true wish to stay out of a conflict on Iran, his tilt on the issue shows that he knows there are very few votes, Jewish or non-Jewish, to be won by sounding as soft on Iran as J Street and Tikkun would like. The only real Jewish debate on the issue is strictly in the imaginations of these extremists and their cheering section at the Times.

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How Do We Define “Pro-Israel?”

One of the standard arguments currently being employed against supporters of the State of Israel is that the true friends of the Jewish state are those who are doing their best to undermine its democratically-elected government and force it to submit to foreign pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. It is an old and somewhat disingenuous ploy that is, at best, an effort by supporters of the losing side in Israeli elections to win back what their friends have lost in the ballot box. There are times when those who like the right-of-center parties in Israel have played this game.  However, since the evisceration of the Israeli left by the refusal of the Palestinians to make peace, it is the sole consolation of those who despise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies. But the anger and frustration of the Jewish left is such these days that some have expanded this tactic and taken to using anti-Semitic tropes about “Israel-firsters” which are straight out of the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel lobby thesis. To listen to people like Media Matters scribbler M.J. Rosenberg these days, it is hard to distinguish the bile he spews at AIPAC and liberal supporters of Israel (forget about what he says about conservatives) from that of out-and-out anti-Zionists.

Rosenberg’s old friend J.J. Goldberg writes in the Forward this week to defend his buddy. It is an unconvincing piece marred not so much by the frame of reference of friendship as it is by a refusal to come to grips with the way Rosenberg’s anger at his former employers at AIPAC and everyone who doesn’t share his opinion has distorted this debate. According to J.J., M.J. is still pro-Israel at heart but just doesn’t like the policies of its government and those Americans who back it. But Rosenberg’s willingness to adopt the rhetoric of Israel-haters undermines his defenders. That this apologia for Rosenberg ran in the same issue of the paper that also contained a flattering profile of Ali Abunimah, one of the leading advocates of the campaign to boycott Israel in the United States, only reinforces the impression that some on the Jewish left are so deeply invested in the effort to undermine backers of the pro-Israel consensus that they are seeking to erase any boundary between mere criticism of the government in Jerusalem and activity whose aims are clearly more sinister.

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One of the standard arguments currently being employed against supporters of the State of Israel is that the true friends of the Jewish state are those who are doing their best to undermine its democratically-elected government and force it to submit to foreign pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. It is an old and somewhat disingenuous ploy that is, at best, an effort by supporters of the losing side in Israeli elections to win back what their friends have lost in the ballot box. There are times when those who like the right-of-center parties in Israel have played this game.  However, since the evisceration of the Israeli left by the refusal of the Palestinians to make peace, it is the sole consolation of those who despise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies. But the anger and frustration of the Jewish left is such these days that some have expanded this tactic and taken to using anti-Semitic tropes about “Israel-firsters” which are straight out of the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel lobby thesis. To listen to people like Media Matters scribbler M.J. Rosenberg these days, it is hard to distinguish the bile he spews at AIPAC and liberal supporters of Israel (forget about what he says about conservatives) from that of out-and-out anti-Zionists.

Rosenberg’s old friend J.J. Goldberg writes in the Forward this week to defend his buddy. It is an unconvincing piece marred not so much by the frame of reference of friendship as it is by a refusal to come to grips with the way Rosenberg’s anger at his former employers at AIPAC and everyone who doesn’t share his opinion has distorted this debate. According to J.J., M.J. is still pro-Israel at heart but just doesn’t like the policies of its government and those Americans who back it. But Rosenberg’s willingness to adopt the rhetoric of Israel-haters undermines his defenders. That this apologia for Rosenberg ran in the same issue of the paper that also contained a flattering profile of Ali Abunimah, one of the leading advocates of the campaign to boycott Israel in the United States, only reinforces the impression that some on the Jewish left are so deeply invested in the effort to undermine backers of the pro-Israel consensus that they are seeking to erase any boundary between mere criticism of the government in Jerusalem and activity whose aims are clearly more sinister.

Given the viciousness of his rhetoric, it is not surprising that Rosenberg has become a lightening rod. Liberal icon Alan Dershowitz has called on the White House to disassociate itself from his current employer, the prominent liberal group Media Matters, due to Rosenberg’s conduct. That is a matter for the left to hash out. I am more interested in the attempts by people like Goldberg to defend Rosenberg on the grounds that he is just a garden-variety critic of Netanyahu. Indeed, Goldberg claims the whole dustup is the fault of Netanyahu and his anti-peace policies. This is an absurd distortion of Netanyahu’s record, but its main fault is that he ignores the fact that it is the Palestinians who have conclusively rejected peace. Goldberg and Rosenberg’s positions on the peace process have been rendered not so much incorrect but irrelevant by the ruthless dynamics of Palestinian politics that has made peace unlikely for the foreseeable future. But rather than acknowledge this reality, they prefer to keep up their fight against the Jewish right. In the case of Rosenberg, his position is now so extreme that he is not only unable to put forward his opinions in a reasonable manner unmarred by hate speech, he also seems unwilling to recognize any distinction between attacks on supporters of Israel’s current government and the right of its people to have their democratic verdict respected abroad and the violent rhetoric employed by those who literally wish to see the state destroyed.

Many on the left these days lack the humility that ought to always be part of American Jewish attempts to diagnose Israel’s problems. Even worse, some like Rosenberg are so frustrated by the way their assumptions about how to make peace have been overtaken by events that they have come to see any attack on Israel’s leaders or the vast majority of Americans who have stepped forward to support that government as being fair comment. In doing so, he has resorted to the lowest sort of smear that had heretofore been the province of Israel-haters. Though Goldberg assures us M.J. is the same lover of Israel he was in his youth, that only goes to show how politics can distort a man’s vision and his moral compass so as to allow him to try to destroy that which he once held dear in the name of preserving that same thing.

As the decision by the Forward’s editors to publish a puff piece on Abunimah shows, Rosenberg is not alone in having stepped over the line from honest Zionist criticism to that shadowy no man’s land in which those who are neutral about Israel’s existence live. Abunimah’s Electronic Intifada website is the source of a non-stop flow of hatred at the Jewish state and Zionism. For a Jewish newspaper that considers itself to uphold the liberal end of the pro-Zionist spectrum to have made such a decision calls into question not only the judgment of the editors but also whether they believe there is any line across which Jews may not stray before their conduct can be properly termed “anti-Israel.”

There is no one definition of the term pro-Israel. It does not require anyone to be a cheerleader for Netanyahu or any other Israeli leader or party. One need not be pro-settlements or anti-settlements or espouse any particular position on Iran or any other issue that divides Israelis and American Jews. But there are some things one cannot do and still claim to be within the pro-Israel camp. One of them is to adopt rhetoric that apes the efforts of Israel-haters to delegitimize supporters of Israel and which adopts the classic themes of anti-Semitism. The other is to espouse neutrality about attempts to wage economic warfare on Israel via the BDS movement that calls for Americans to boycott, divest and sanction the Jewish state.

What is needed now is not so much ideological conformity within the pro-Israel camp as some soul-searching by a Jewish left that appears to have lost its way. Let us pray they come to their senses and recognize that however frustrated they may be by the current state of Israeli and Palestinian politics, there are some things they may not do and still be included under the rubric of “pro-Israel.”

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The Communal Conversation on Israel

Bret Stephens’ burner of a column published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal is sure to make the rounds. He is also right to largely dismiss the political importance of American-Jewish attitudes toward Israel. Still, it’s worth considering why the perpetually boiling Jewish communal conversation on Israel never seems to have much practical political import.

The central fallacy and problem with the discussion is the idea that American Jewish attitudes are the primary influence on American policy toward Israel. If you look at the thing without much nuance, it’s easy to see why. The recently closed AIPAC policy conference attracted no less than 13,000 delegates, the largest in its history, a healthy jump from 10,000 a year ago, and probably a doubling in five years. AIPAC also claims 100,000 members and has an annual budget of around $70 million, making it the biggest American Jewish advocacy organization (although it’s worth noting it was only relatively recently that it passed the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League in this regard).

In short, the central Jewish and pro-Israel lobbying address is no cupcake, and it is getting dramatically stronger every year. It deserves extraordinary credit for its successes and growth.

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Bret Stephens’ burner of a column published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal is sure to make the rounds. He is also right to largely dismiss the political importance of American-Jewish attitudes toward Israel. Still, it’s worth considering why the perpetually boiling Jewish communal conversation on Israel never seems to have much practical political import.

The central fallacy and problem with the discussion is the idea that American Jewish attitudes are the primary influence on American policy toward Israel. If you look at the thing without much nuance, it’s easy to see why. The recently closed AIPAC policy conference attracted no less than 13,000 delegates, the largest in its history, a healthy jump from 10,000 a year ago, and probably a doubling in five years. AIPAC also claims 100,000 members and has an annual budget of around $70 million, making it the biggest American Jewish advocacy organization (although it’s worth noting it was only relatively recently that it passed the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League in this regard).

In short, the central Jewish and pro-Israel lobbying address is no cupcake, and it is getting dramatically stronger every year. It deserves extraordinary credit for its successes and growth.

But AIPAC and the Jews are not the reason America supports Israel. Like any successful lobby, AIPAC can ensure and push the margins on specific Israel-related legislation enacted by Congress. In the same way the NRA can make gun-control legislation very tough to pass, other successful grassroots lobbies are successful because they speak for policies that have the general backing of the American people.

The most influential Jewish organizations weren’t always with them. In 1922, the United States Congress may have unanimously endorsed the Balfour Declaration, but there was no organized pro-Israel lobby of any significance that made it so. The biggest and most important Jewish advocacy organizations of the day, as well as many of their leaders (as exemplified by the life of Cyrus Adler, who served as a head and founder of both the Jewish Theological Seminary and the American Jewish Committee, among many other important leadership roles) were non-Zionist, and far more concerned with unsuccessful attempts to loosen eventual restrictions to Jewish immigration to the United States than to restrictions placed on entry to Palestine.

Zionist organizations and leaders eventually became more prominent, both because they reflected the feelings of the Jewish street and because the Jewish state was a far more effective opener of the doors of power than other concerns.

It’s an argument that has been made often and much better than I can by Walter Russell Mead. It nevertheless seems to need perpetual repeating in light of the strange views that seem to dominate so much of the public debate about American Jews and Israel.

There is much that would be spiritually and culturally disconcerting about an American Jewry that really had decided it had no special affection for the Jews of Israel. But even if that happens, nobody should be surprised if a large contingent of those Jews who remained supportive of the Jewish state still continued to show up in D.C. and effectively lobby their political leaders.

In short, even if American Jews in their majority turn against the Jewish state, the United States likely will not.

 

 

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Obama Snubs Mark Kirk at AIPAC

Even though Sen. Mark Kirk is still home recovering from his recent stroke, his presence loomed large at AIPAC this week. Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a nod to Kirk during his speech at the gala, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued this sincere request during his keynote:

I want to send a special message to a great friend of Israel who is not here tonight: Senator Mark Kirk, the co-author of the Kirk-Menendez Iran Sanctions Act. Senator Kirk, I know you’re watching this tonight. Please get well soon. America needs you;  Israel needs you. I send you wishes for a speedy recovery. So get well and get back to work.

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Even though Sen. Mark Kirk is still home recovering from his recent stroke, his presence loomed large at AIPAC this week. Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a nod to Kirk during his speech at the gala, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued this sincere request during his keynote:

I want to send a special message to a great friend of Israel who is not here tonight: Senator Mark Kirk, the co-author of the Kirk-Menendez Iran Sanctions Act. Senator Kirk, I know you’re watching this tonight. Please get well soon. America needs you;  Israel needs you. I send you wishes for a speedy recovery. So get well and get back to work.

Kirk has been one of the strongest friends of Israel in the Senate, and co-authored the latest, and toughest, Iran sanctions legislation with Sen. Robert Menendez. After months of foot-dragging and pushback, President Obama finally signed the sanctions into law in February.

Despite his initial opposition to the legislation, Obama was perfectly happy to take credit for these sanctions during his AIPAC speech on Sunday, which included no mention of Kirk or his ongoing recovery:

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: a political effort aimed at isolating Iran, a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored, an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

This is the third time Obama had an opportunity to mention Kirk in an address and declined to do so. At the last State of the Union, Obama gave a warm hug to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, but made no acknowledgement of Kirk, who had the stroke just days earlier. This is despite the fact that Kirk holds the same Illinois Senate seat that Obama held before he became president.

Obama also neglected to mention Kirk in a statement he sent to Congress after signing the Executive Order on the latest Iran sanctions. In the note, the president took full credit for the policy.

It’s not that Obama should have to give Kirk a nod every time he mentions the sanctions. But a brief acknowledgment for the man who had the foresight to fight for them – even when the president was reluctant to support them – would be the classy thing to do.

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Will Iran Heed Netanyahu’s Warning?

Much of the attention devoted to U.S.-Israel diplomacy in recent months has been on whether the United States will seek to prevent the Jewish state from acting on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon. The differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the utility of sanctions or diplomacy and how much more time these measures should be allowed before force can be used have not been resolved. Nevertheless, it is more likely than not that the Israelis are going to give the president a bit more time before launching their own strike.

But despite the near obsessive focus on the fractious Obama-Netanyahu relationship, the most important messages being sent from the speeches at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington were not those exchanged between those two leaders. Instead, it was the clear warning to Iran by Netanyahu that the Jewish people will not live under the shadow of annihilation. For all of the justified concern about what Obama will or will not do to try to impede the Israelis as he hangs on to the forlorn hope of a diplomatic solution to the problem, the fate of the Middle East hangs on whether Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comprehended Netanyahu’s clarion call to action during his Monday night speech to the conference. Tehran must either stand down on its nuclear ambition or face an Israeli attack at some point in the not too distant future.

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Much of the attention devoted to U.S.-Israel diplomacy in recent months has been on whether the United States will seek to prevent the Jewish state from acting on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon. The differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the utility of sanctions or diplomacy and how much more time these measures should be allowed before force can be used have not been resolved. Nevertheless, it is more likely than not that the Israelis are going to give the president a bit more time before launching their own strike.

But despite the near obsessive focus on the fractious Obama-Netanyahu relationship, the most important messages being sent from the speeches at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington were not those exchanged between those two leaders. Instead, it was the clear warning to Iran by Netanyahu that the Jewish people will not live under the shadow of annihilation. For all of the justified concern about what Obama will or will not do to try to impede the Israelis as he hangs on to the forlorn hope of a diplomatic solution to the problem, the fate of the Middle East hangs on whether Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comprehended Netanyahu’s clarion call to action during his Monday night speech to the conference. Tehran must either stand down on its nuclear ambition or face an Israeli attack at some point in the not too distant future.

By stating unequivocally that Israel will always be master of its own fate when it comes to its security, Netanyahu was making it crystal clear that Obama’s misgivings about force will not preclude an Israeli assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities before the program is rendered invulnerable. However much time Netanyahu may give Obama, it is also easily understood that this is not an open-ended commitment. He is rightly convinced that neither renewed diplomatic activity nor even the stepped-up sanctions Obama now contemplates will convince the Iranians they must give in.

As Netanyahu said, Israel has waited patiently for years as Western diplomatic initiatives intended to cajole or buy off the Iranians have flopped. It has also looked on as the half-hearted sanctions against Iran were tried and has seen they will not answer the problem. And the Israeli leader is well aware that even the oil embargo mooted by some Western European nations and reluctantly seconded by Obama will also certainly fail due to lack of cooperation from China and Russia.

All of this renders much of the speculation about Obama’s intentions moot. He may argue that Israel must give diplomacy another chance to work, but few even in the administration believe any such initiative will succeed. It has already been amply demonstrated that the Iranians interpret any opening for talks as an invitation for delaying tactics that only serve to get them closer to their nuclear goal. As it is unlikely the president will let go of his illusions about diplomacy or engagement with Iran working until it is too late to do anything about their nuclear program, that puts the ball squarely in Israel’s court.

That is why the most important message delivered this week was not the exchange between Obama and Netanyahu so much as it was the one delivered to Iran. The Iranians may be laboring under their own set of delusions in which they cling to the notion that the United States can exercise a veto over Israeli self-defense. But Netanyahu’s speech, which drew a direct parallel between the current impasse over Iran and the refusal by the Allies to attack the rail lines to Auschwitz in 1944, is a signal that Obama is ultimately powerless to prevent the Jewish state from acting to prevent another Holocaust.

Iran has conducted itself in the last several years as if it believed it had impunity from retribution should it acquire a genocidal weapon to be used against the Jewish state it has sworn to destroy. It has also acted as if it believed, not unreasonably, that President Obama wasn’t serious about stopping them. But if Iran wishes to avoid having its nuclear facilities attacked, it needs to understand that Netanyahu was speaking in deadly earnest when he warned them of the consequences of their actions.

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Netanyahu Leans Toward Action at AIPAC

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish and exceptional speech at AIPAC tonight will no doubt set off days of speculation about whether or not he’s moving toward a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. There’s plenty of fodder to support either side of the argument. But these two quotes seem to indicate that Netanyahu is at least strongly leaning toward going it alone on an Iran strike:

“Unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward…We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”

No diplomacy and no sanctions leave just one other option on the table. And the line at the end shows that Netanyahu hasn’t made Obama any promises against taking unilateral action.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish and exceptional speech at AIPAC tonight will no doubt set off days of speculation about whether or not he’s moving toward a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. There’s plenty of fodder to support either side of the argument. But these two quotes seem to indicate that Netanyahu is at least strongly leaning toward going it alone on an Iran strike:

“Unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward…We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”

No diplomacy and no sanctions leave just one other option on the table. And the line at the end shows that Netanyahu hasn’t made Obama any promises against taking unilateral action.

Later in the speech, Netanyahu spoke about how America declined to bomb Auschwitz in 1944, out of concern that “such an effort might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.”

“The American government today is different,” continued Netanyahu. “You heard that from President Obama’s speech yesterday. But here’s my point. The Jewish people are also different. Today we have a state of our own. And the purpose of a Jewish state is to secure Jewish lives and a Jewish future. Never again…We deeply appreciate the great alliance between our two countries. But when it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate.”

Being a “master of its own fate” seems to suggest that Israel cannot let its window of opportunity run out without taking action. Netanyahu doesn’t appear willing to cede this power to the U.S. If that’s the case, an Israeli strike on Iran may not be far off.

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Pelosi Hits Wrong Notes at AIPAC

Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s speech at AIPAC tonight was as tough as it gets coming from her: she rejected containment of Iran’s nuclear program, reiterated that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the world, and praised the latest round of “crippling sanctions” on Iran. But her comments about Iran “returning to the negotiating table” because of these sanctions seemed Pollyannaish, and coming on the heels of Senator McConnell’s barnburner, the speech seemed like a snooze.

“We’re seeing results.  The Iranian economy and energy industry are suffering. Iran’s partners are cutting off ties of trade and commerce,” said Pelosi. “We are undermining the funding of Iran’s nuclear activities. In short, Iran is feeling the bite of our sanctions. Our actions reaffirm our message–it is time for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, return to the negotiating table, and abandon its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s speech at AIPAC tonight was as tough as it gets coming from her: she rejected containment of Iran’s nuclear program, reiterated that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the world, and praised the latest round of “crippling sanctions” on Iran. But her comments about Iran “returning to the negotiating table” because of these sanctions seemed Pollyannaish, and coming on the heels of Senator McConnell’s barnburner, the speech seemed like a snooze.

“We’re seeing results.  The Iranian economy and energy industry are suffering. Iran’s partners are cutting off ties of trade and commerce,” said Pelosi. “We are undermining the funding of Iran’s nuclear activities. In short, Iran is feeling the bite of our sanctions. Our actions reaffirm our message–it is time for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, return to the negotiating table, and abandon its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

While she said the bare minimum that she could on Iran, the rest of her speech was filled with typical, generic AIPAC applause lines.

“We were reminded that Israel and the Jewish people remain a symbol of democracy–that we must continue to fight for the day when Israel’s existence is a fact recognized by every nation on Earth,” said Pelosi.  “And, founded on our shared values and shared vision, we pledge to work to usher in an era when Israel can realize, in the spirit of its national anthem, the hope to be a free people, living in peace and security in the Jewish homeland.”

It was nice, and the audience was polite throughout. But AIPAC attendees were clearly looking for a bolder message, and Pelosi did not deliver.

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Senate Will Force Obama’s Hand on Iran

In a clear contrast to President Obama’s speech yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a hard-hitting speech to AIPAC tonight, promising to use the tools at his disposal to pressure the administration to take military action against Iran if it passes specific “red lines” that he outlined.

While Obama has also made it clear he’s open to using force against Iran, he has declined to explicitly state what Iranian actions would trigger a U.S. military response. But McConnell did not have the same reluctance.

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In a clear contrast to President Obama’s speech yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a hard-hitting speech to AIPAC tonight, promising to use the tools at his disposal to pressure the administration to take military action against Iran if it passes specific “red lines” that he outlined.

While Obama has also made it clear he’s open to using force against Iran, he has declined to explicitly state what Iranian actions would trigger a U.S. military response. But McConnell did not have the same reluctance.

“If Iran, at any time, begins to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or decides to go forward with a weapons program, then the United States will use overwhelming force to end that program,” said McConnell.

The minority leader criticized Obama’s vagueness on Iran, and suggested that the president watered-down his threats of action by failing to use force in Libya and Syria. He also claimed the administration was relying too heavily on sanctions.

“The administration has used this same language about preserving all options in developing its policy toward Libya, Iran, and, now, Syria,” McConnell said. “Clearly, the threat has lost its intended purpose.”

McConnell said he would force the administration’s hand on Iran by introducing an authorization for military force in the Senate if intelligence shows Iran is enriching weapons-grade uranium.

“If at any time the intelligence community presents the Congress with an assessment that Iran has begun to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or has taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon — consistent with protecting classified sources and methods — I will consult with the president and joint congressional leadership and introduce before the Senate an authorization for the use of military force,” said McConnell.

The numerous standing ovations from the audience showed that AIPAC attendees are anxious for clearly outlined proposals from elected officials, after yesterday’s vague assurances.

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Who Is Responsible for the “Loose Talk of War” with Iran?

You can say this about President Obama’s fans in the media: They can be a humorless bunch, but that doesn’t stop them from providing moments of unintentional comedy. A very enjoyable example today comes from the Atlantic’s James Fallows. Fallows heard something he liked in Obama’s speech yesterday to the annual AIPAC conference: “There is too much loose talk of war,” the president said about the Iranian threat.

“Good for President Obama for saying this,” Fallows writes today in a post titled–I kid you not–“Iran Drumbeat Watch: AIPAC Edition.” Yes, there does seem to be a lot of loose talk about war with Iran, much of it, it turns out, coming from publications like the one James Fallows writes for. Heading into the weekend, he filed a post chock-full of links to other stories about war with Iran. His fellow Atlantic blogger Robert Wright has filed four posts on the subject in the last week. But the two, it must be said, are not the pioneers of this mania. They were probably set off by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Haaretz, and other such newspapers that bloggers for the Atlantic might read carefully. And here’s what they likely found.

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You can say this about President Obama’s fans in the media: They can be a humorless bunch, but that doesn’t stop them from providing moments of unintentional comedy. A very enjoyable example today comes from the Atlantic’s James Fallows. Fallows heard something he liked in Obama’s speech yesterday to the annual AIPAC conference: “There is too much loose talk of war,” the president said about the Iranian threat.

“Good for President Obama for saying this,” Fallows writes today in a post titled–I kid you not–“Iran Drumbeat Watch: AIPAC Edition.” Yes, there does seem to be a lot of loose talk about war with Iran, much of it, it turns out, coming from publications like the one James Fallows writes for. Heading into the weekend, he filed a post chock-full of links to other stories about war with Iran. His fellow Atlantic blogger Robert Wright has filed four posts on the subject in the last week. But the two, it must be said, are not the pioneers of this mania. They were probably set off by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Haaretz, and other such newspapers that bloggers for the Atlantic might read carefully. And here’s what they likely found.

In the last week, a brief glance at the New York Times website shows an average of at least one story a day on the subject. The Washington Post has perhaps even more material as many of its Iran dispatches are Associated Press briefs and the paper has a much more active and varied blog and opinion section than does the New York Times.

A visit to Haaretz’s website shows the liberal Israeli daily has helpfully set up a section called “Israel’s Eye on Iran”–a one-stop shop for all your Iran news. The first eight headlines we see are:

  • “Israel would be wise to listen to Obama’s advice on Iran”
  • “Obama and Netanyahu’s White House masquerade ball”
  • “Would God want Israel to attack Iran?”
  • “Tangled web of policy, politics and personality mark Obama-Netanyahu summit”
  • “The hallucinations of the Israeli government”
  • “Jerusalem, Washington, and the Iranian bomb”
  • “The American public’s support for an attack on Iran will be widespread but short-lived”
  • “Barak will have to pass an attack on Iran through a reluctant U.S.”

If you feel overwhelmed by this, head on back to Haaretz’s home page. There you’ll find a link to an opinion piece from Saturday’s paper titled “Netanyahu’s conspiracy to drag the U.S. to war.”

So the president is right. So is James Fallows. There is too much loose talk of war. And Fallows and co. would be delighted to know there is something they can do. Physician, heal thyself.

There is one more interesting nugget in Fallows’s post today. He was struck by the part of the president’s speech “in which Obama explained that he was really, truly Israel’s friend.” Fallows says he “can’t think of another situation where an American president, speaking to an American audience on American soil, would find it necessary or dignified to plead his bona fides in a similar way.”

Nor I. I am young, perhaps, but I too cannot think of another situation in which the American president acted with such visible disdain toward an ostensible ally that he felt he must lecture those concerned about his behavior that they were merely being brainwashed by the president’s unnamed enemies. I also cannot recall a time when a president–let alone a president who received close to 80 percent of the Jewish vote–felt compelled to tell a room of Jewish donors that he was the best they were going to get so they should just quit complaining and write him a check. Who are these Jewish voters going to believe, the president would like to know–Obama or their lying eyes?

You also have got to love Fallows’s choice of words for that complaint: “an American president, speaking to an American audience on American soil….” It’s almost as if he thinks the behavior of that crowd is un- oh, never mind. I’m sure it’s just a poor choice of words. He’s upset–those aggressive Israelis are about to pull us into a war with Iran. He read all about it in the Atlantic.

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AIPAC Head to Obama: Do More on Iran

In a fiery speech at the AIPAC conference this morning, executive director Howard Kohr praised the Obama administration for its efforts to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but warned that the progress so far “has not been enough.”

President Obama and his administration are to be commended. They have – more than any other administration — more than any other country – brought unprecedented pressure to bear on Tehran through the use of biting economic sanctions. …

The problem is–progress is not enough.  … The reality today is that the Iranian regime is not frightened enough. We must increase the pressures on the mullahs to the point where they fear failure to comply will lead to their downfall.

That is why we must bring even more pressure to bear. Four tracks are critical: tough, principled diplomacy, truly crippling sanctions, disruptive measures and establishing a credible threat to use force. All four are necessary. All four are essential, to underscore, beyond any doubt, that the United States and the west are serious – serious about stopping Iran. And all four, taken together, offer the best chance to avoid a war that no one – not the United States, not Israel — seeks.

That is why all U.S. officials must speak with one voice – so Tehran clearly hears that America is unified in its determination to prevent a nuclear capable Iran.

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In a fiery speech at the AIPAC conference this morning, executive director Howard Kohr praised the Obama administration for its efforts to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but warned that the progress so far “has not been enough.”

President Obama and his administration are to be commended. They have – more than any other administration — more than any other country – brought unprecedented pressure to bear on Tehran through the use of biting economic sanctions. …

The problem is–progress is not enough.  … The reality today is that the Iranian regime is not frightened enough. We must increase the pressures on the mullahs to the point where they fear failure to comply will lead to their downfall.

That is why we must bring even more pressure to bear. Four tracks are critical: tough, principled diplomacy, truly crippling sanctions, disruptive measures and establishing a credible threat to use force. All four are necessary. All four are essential, to underscore, beyond any doubt, that the United States and the west are serious – serious about stopping Iran. And all four, taken together, offer the best chance to avoid a war that no one – not the United States, not Israel — seeks.

That is why all U.S. officials must speak with one voice – so Tehran clearly hears that America is unified in its determination to prevent a nuclear capable Iran.

Kohr’s speech, which focused solely on the Iranian nuclear threat, highlighted how AIPAC’s priorities have shifted since just last spring. The Palestinian conflict has faded into the background, and preventing a nuclear Iran has been the main concern since the conference began yesterday.

Specifically, Kohr called on the administration to support even tougher sanctions and demand that Iran freeze its program before any potential diplomacy can begin. His requests are backed up by immediate political muscle: tomorrow AIPAC heads to Capitol Hill for its annual public lobbying day, and these issues will be its top focus.

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