Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ben Smith

Politico Swallows New White House Spin on Israel

It’s a new year and a somewhat new crew running things at the White House, what with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod gone, so it’s to be expected that we’re now getting a new spin about the Middle East from their successors. That’s the only way to interpret Ben Smith’s somewhat puzzling article in Politico today.

In the wake of the collapse of the administration’s last incompetent effort to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, there’s little question about the piece’s conclusion that the peace process is dead in the water. No one should be surprised that the president’s spin masters are attempting to absolve the president and his foreign-policy team of all blame for the Middle East failures that have marked their two years in office. But it is astonishing that Smith, who has been covering them during this period, has swallowed whole their absurd rewriting of the history of this period.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the White House is fed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Smith, after two years of trying to “give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt as a prospective peace partner,” they’ve had it with him. Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Smith writes, is chiefly responsible for the collapse of American diplomacy, though he — and his highly placed sources — concedes that the feckless Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no better. The conclusion is that Obama is giving up on the whole thing, since the chances “of a personal alliance growing between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama to be just about zero.”

This makes for a neat narrative designed to make Obama look good, but only rings true if you haven’t been paying the slightest attention to U.S.-Israel relations since January 2009.

Contrary to Smith, if there has been one consistent point about the administration’s attitude toward Israel during this period, it has been its hostility to Netanyahu. From the start, Obama, who prior to his election claimed to be all right with Israel but not with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, showed his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Israeli vote in February 2009. Rather than seek a common strategy to revive a peace process that had crashed in 2008, when Abbas refused Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state, Obama was determined to create some distance between the United States and Israel. Though the Palestinians had already conceded that most Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would stay under Israeli control even as they rejected Israel’s offer of peace, Obama drew a new line in the sand. The president demanded that Israel freeze all building, even in areas — like Jerusalem — where everyone knew that Israel would not retreat even in the event of peace. Finding themselves outflanked, the Palestinians had to similarly dig in their heels, and the last two years of failed attempts to get them back to the negotiating table were the inevitable result. Read More

It’s a new year and a somewhat new crew running things at the White House, what with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod gone, so it’s to be expected that we’re now getting a new spin about the Middle East from their successors. That’s the only way to interpret Ben Smith’s somewhat puzzling article in Politico today.

In the wake of the collapse of the administration’s last incompetent effort to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, there’s little question about the piece’s conclusion that the peace process is dead in the water. No one should be surprised that the president’s spin masters are attempting to absolve the president and his foreign-policy team of all blame for the Middle East failures that have marked their two years in office. But it is astonishing that Smith, who has been covering them during this period, has swallowed whole their absurd rewriting of the history of this period.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the White House is fed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Smith, after two years of trying to “give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt as a prospective peace partner,” they’ve had it with him. Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Smith writes, is chiefly responsible for the collapse of American diplomacy, though he — and his highly placed sources — concedes that the feckless Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no better. The conclusion is that Obama is giving up on the whole thing, since the chances “of a personal alliance growing between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama to be just about zero.”

This makes for a neat narrative designed to make Obama look good, but only rings true if you haven’t been paying the slightest attention to U.S.-Israel relations since January 2009.

Contrary to Smith, if there has been one consistent point about the administration’s attitude toward Israel during this period, it has been its hostility to Netanyahu. From the start, Obama, who prior to his election claimed to be all right with Israel but not with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, showed his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Israeli vote in February 2009. Rather than seek a common strategy to revive a peace process that had crashed in 2008, when Abbas refused Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state, Obama was determined to create some distance between the United States and Israel. Though the Palestinians had already conceded that most Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would stay under Israeli control even as they rejected Israel’s offer of peace, Obama drew a new line in the sand. The president demanded that Israel freeze all building, even in areas — like Jerusalem — where everyone knew that Israel would not retreat even in the event of peace. Finding themselves outflanked, the Palestinians had to similarly dig in their heels, and the last two years of failed attempts to get them back to the negotiating table were the inevitable result.

Obama’s first attempts to outmaneuver Netanyahu seemed to be based on a foolish hope that the prime minister would be forced into a coalition with the American favorite Tzipi Livni or out of office altogether. Rather than being weakened by this, Netanyahu gained strength. In the spring of 2010, Obama tried again when he deliberately picked a fight with Israel over the construction of new homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The White House and the State Department subjected Netanyahu to an unprecedented campaign of abuse, but the result was no different than their previous efforts. Soon Obama was forced to back down and resort to a charm offensive aimed at damping down criticism from American Jews.

Rather than take responsibility for their own mistakes and the president’s relentless hostility to Netanyahu — whose grip on his parliamentary majority is stronger than ever — all we’re getting from the White House is more negative spin about Israel. But in order to believe a word of it, you’ve got to be afflicted with the sort of short-term memory loss that is the premise of Ben Smith’s article.

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The Definition of ‘Anti-Israel’

Last week, Steve Clemons organized a contingent of foreign-policy officials and commentators to send a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

It included many prominent critics of the Israel — Peter Beinart, Chas Freeman, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just a few.

Based on their well-documented eagerness to condemn Israel whenever possible, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin referred to the group as “Israel-bashers” – prompting an angry response from Clemons and setting off a debate about the meaning of “pro-Israel,” according to Ben Smith:

The group J Street has been waging, and mostly losing, a political fight with more hawkish allies of Israel over the meaning of the term “pro-Israel,” and today another Washington skirmish erupts on the topic. …

There are two fights underway at the moment: One is defining the politically acceptable space in Washington for debating Israel policy; the other is the push by Bill Kristol and his allies to identify support for Israel explicitly with the Republican Party. That latter effort, ironically, has some of the same goals of the former, which would like to see the Democratic Party soften its hard line.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Smith’s assessment. I highly doubt that any Israel supporters on the right want to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, especially since pro-Israel views are widespread throughout both political parties. As we saw from the midterm elections, it’s politically suicidal for candidates to take anti-Israel stances — regardless of party affiliation — because those are positions that most of the public disagree with.

As for Clemons’s protestations at being called anti-Israel, I have several comments.

Being critical of settlement construction is not an inherently anti-Israel position. But the tone of the argument and the way it’s framed and presented is a good indicator of whether someone is a friend or foe of the Jewish state.

Calling on Israel to halt settlement construction within the framework of peace negotiations — like in a statement from the Quartet — is one thing. Overturning years of precedent by joining together with enemies of Israel, as they grandstand and demonize the Jewish state in an international public forum, is appalling and would be a disgraceful way to treat any ally. Read More

Last week, Steve Clemons organized a contingent of foreign-policy officials and commentators to send a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

It included many prominent critics of the Israel — Peter Beinart, Chas Freeman, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just a few.

Based on their well-documented eagerness to condemn Israel whenever possible, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin referred to the group as “Israel-bashers” – prompting an angry response from Clemons and setting off a debate about the meaning of “pro-Israel,” according to Ben Smith:

The group J Street has been waging, and mostly losing, a political fight with more hawkish allies of Israel over the meaning of the term “pro-Israel,” and today another Washington skirmish erupts on the topic. …

There are two fights underway at the moment: One is defining the politically acceptable space in Washington for debating Israel policy; the other is the push by Bill Kristol and his allies to identify support for Israel explicitly with the Republican Party. That latter effort, ironically, has some of the same goals of the former, which would like to see the Democratic Party soften its hard line.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Smith’s assessment. I highly doubt that any Israel supporters on the right want to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, especially since pro-Israel views are widespread throughout both political parties. As we saw from the midterm elections, it’s politically suicidal for candidates to take anti-Israel stances — regardless of party affiliation — because those are positions that most of the public disagree with.

As for Clemons’s protestations at being called anti-Israel, I have several comments.

Being critical of settlement construction is not an inherently anti-Israel position. But the tone of the argument and the way it’s framed and presented is a good indicator of whether someone is a friend or foe of the Jewish state.

Calling on Israel to halt settlement construction within the framework of peace negotiations — like in a statement from the Quartet — is one thing. Overturning years of precedent by joining together with enemies of Israel, as they grandstand and demonize the Jewish state in an international public forum, is appalling and would be a disgraceful way to treat any ally.

That’s the entire point of the resolution before the Security Council. It’s meant to single out and scapegoat Israel for the delays in the peace process. In reality, there are many obstructions to the negotiations — the biggest ones coming from the Palestinian side — and neither Clemons’s letter nor the Security Council resolution mentions any of them.

What else can that be called except bias?

If Clemons seriously wants to see the end of settlement-building, I can’t imagine a worse way to go about it than by supporting a UN resolution. Historically, more progress has been made on curbing settlement construction when the U.S. has lobbied Israel privately (e.g., the secret agreements under Sharon and Bush). And I fail to see how humiliating one of our closest and most loyal allies in front of the world will help bring about further progress on peace negotiations.

The UN resolution demonizes Israel, unfairly scapegoats Israel and undermines peace negotiations. If that’s not anti-Israel, then what is?

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The Unraveling of the New York Times‘s ‘Citizens United Scandal’ Story

Liberal advocacy group Common Cause has filed a DOJ petition against Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, claiming that the justices’ attendance at a Koch Industry event represented a conflict of interest in last year’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court case. The organization wants the justices to retroactively recuse themselves from the case and for the Court to vacate its decision.

But while the New York Times tried to portray Common Cause’s petition as a serious legal challenge this morning, the holes in the group’s allegations have continued to grow as the day has progressed.

Common Cause argues that the Koch brothers “were among the main beneficiaries of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case,” and by attending Koch-sponsored events, Scalia and Thomas could have had their votes influenced:

Common Cause said in its petition to the Justice Department that if either of the justices appeared before Mr. Koch’s group between 2008 and 2010, when the court was considering aspects of the Citizens United case, “it would certainly raise serious issues of the appearance of impropriety and bias.”

But according to Politico’s Ben Smith, Scalia and Thomas appear to have attended only one Koch event each — and both events took place long before the Supreme Court even knew about the Citizens United case:

But Eugene Meyer, the president of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society, told me today that Scalia spoke to the Palm Springs conference in January of 2007. Citizens United was only filed on December 17 of that year. Thomas spoke to the conference in January 2008, after the case had been filed in federal district court, but months before the Supreme Court took the case in August.

And legal experts I’ve spoken to have also dismissed the basis of Common Cause’s petition.

“I’ve never heard of somebody filing a motion saying we’d like you to disqualify yourself from a case you decided last year because three years before that you gave a speech on a different subject [at an event],” said Ronald Rotunda, the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Chapman University School of Law. “If it was an oral argument, it would be hard to say without snickering.”

Rotunda said that it’s common, and even encouraged, for judges to attend and speak at events, as long as they don’t discuss pending cases. “If the judges have to be disqualified because somebody within earshot talks about legal issues, it would mean judges couldn’t read the newspaper.”

Common Cause’s case seems so flimsy, in fact, that some have guessed it must be a publicity stunt. Which makes sense — the organization is currently gearing up for its anti-Koch rally with Van Jones, which the Times somehow neglected to add to its report.

Multiple attorneys I’ve spoken to have said that this case just isn’t going anywhere. Or, as Rotunda put it, “There’ll be some people laughing about it, and then it’ll disappear.”

I think that’s a safe bet. Maybe someone should let the New York Times in on the joke.

Liberal advocacy group Common Cause has filed a DOJ petition against Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, claiming that the justices’ attendance at a Koch Industry event represented a conflict of interest in last year’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court case. The organization wants the justices to retroactively recuse themselves from the case and for the Court to vacate its decision.

But while the New York Times tried to portray Common Cause’s petition as a serious legal challenge this morning, the holes in the group’s allegations have continued to grow as the day has progressed.

Common Cause argues that the Koch brothers “were among the main beneficiaries of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case,” and by attending Koch-sponsored events, Scalia and Thomas could have had their votes influenced:

Common Cause said in its petition to the Justice Department that if either of the justices appeared before Mr. Koch’s group between 2008 and 2010, when the court was considering aspects of the Citizens United case, “it would certainly raise serious issues of the appearance of impropriety and bias.”

But according to Politico’s Ben Smith, Scalia and Thomas appear to have attended only one Koch event each — and both events took place long before the Supreme Court even knew about the Citizens United case:

But Eugene Meyer, the president of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society, told me today that Scalia spoke to the Palm Springs conference in January of 2007. Citizens United was only filed on December 17 of that year. Thomas spoke to the conference in January 2008, after the case had been filed in federal district court, but months before the Supreme Court took the case in August.

And legal experts I’ve spoken to have also dismissed the basis of Common Cause’s petition.

“I’ve never heard of somebody filing a motion saying we’d like you to disqualify yourself from a case you decided last year because three years before that you gave a speech on a different subject [at an event],” said Ronald Rotunda, the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Chapman University School of Law. “If it was an oral argument, it would be hard to say without snickering.”

Rotunda said that it’s common, and even encouraged, for judges to attend and speak at events, as long as they don’t discuss pending cases. “If the judges have to be disqualified because somebody within earshot talks about legal issues, it would mean judges couldn’t read the newspaper.”

Common Cause’s case seems so flimsy, in fact, that some have guessed it must be a publicity stunt. Which makes sense — the organization is currently gearing up for its anti-Koch rally with Van Jones, which the Times somehow neglected to add to its report.

Multiple attorneys I’ve spoken to have said that this case just isn’t going anywhere. Or, as Rotunda put it, “There’ll be some people laughing about it, and then it’ll disappear.”

I think that’s a safe bet. Maybe someone should let the New York Times in on the joke.

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Morning Commentary

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

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Morning Commentary

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

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Is the IRS Investigating Pro-Israel Groups for Terrorism Ties?

Court affidavits filed by the IRS indicate that the agency has been giving extra scrutiny to Jewish organizations that provide material or financial support to Israel, out of concerns that these resources may be going to “terrorist” activities.

The court documents came to light during an ongoing legal battle between the pro-Israel group Z Street and the IRS. Z Street filed a lawsuit against the agency in August, alleging that its request for tax-exempt status was delayed because of its support for the Jewish state.

IRS officials now say that Z Street’s application was referred to a special task force that deals with groups that support countries with a “higher risk of terrorism.”

“The application indicated that Z Street could be providing resources to organizations within Israel or facilitating the provision of resources to organizations within the state of Israel,” wrote IRS official Jon Waddell in a Dec. 12 affidavit. “Israel is one of many Middle Eastern countries that have a ‘higher risk of terrorism’”

He said that referring organizations to the IRS’s investigative task force is “appropriate whenever an application mentions providing resources to organizations in a country with a higher risk of terrorism.”

But Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus denied that the group provided assistance to Israel. “We have never, ever given any money or resources to anybody, or any organization, in Israel at all,” Lowenthal Marcus told me during an interview. “We don’t give money to anything. Even if this ridiculous [IRS] policy exists, Z Street still doesn’t fall within it, so what are they doing?”

She added that the incoming Republican House leadership has expressed interest in potentially launching an investigation into the matter.

Z Street asserts that it isn’t the only pro-Israel group the IRS has targeted. At the end of November, Z Street introduced a letter in court that appeared to show an IRS agent giving unusual scrutiny to another Jewish group that had also applied for 501(c)3 status.

In the letter, the agent asked the group, “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” At the time, some tax attorneys told Politico’s Ben Smith that they found the IRS’s inquiries to be inappropriate.

Lowenthal Marcus says Z Street will keep moving ahead with its lawsuit, and of course we’ll be following the developments here at CONTENTIONS.

Court affidavits filed by the IRS indicate that the agency has been giving extra scrutiny to Jewish organizations that provide material or financial support to Israel, out of concerns that these resources may be going to “terrorist” activities.

The court documents came to light during an ongoing legal battle between the pro-Israel group Z Street and the IRS. Z Street filed a lawsuit against the agency in August, alleging that its request for tax-exempt status was delayed because of its support for the Jewish state.

IRS officials now say that Z Street’s application was referred to a special task force that deals with groups that support countries with a “higher risk of terrorism.”

“The application indicated that Z Street could be providing resources to organizations within Israel or facilitating the provision of resources to organizations within the state of Israel,” wrote IRS official Jon Waddell in a Dec. 12 affidavit. “Israel is one of many Middle Eastern countries that have a ‘higher risk of terrorism’”

He said that referring organizations to the IRS’s investigative task force is “appropriate whenever an application mentions providing resources to organizations in a country with a higher risk of terrorism.”

But Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus denied that the group provided assistance to Israel. “We have never, ever given any money or resources to anybody, or any organization, in Israel at all,” Lowenthal Marcus told me during an interview. “We don’t give money to anything. Even if this ridiculous [IRS] policy exists, Z Street still doesn’t fall within it, so what are they doing?”

She added that the incoming Republican House leadership has expressed interest in potentially launching an investigation into the matter.

Z Street asserts that it isn’t the only pro-Israel group the IRS has targeted. At the end of November, Z Street introduced a letter in court that appeared to show an IRS agent giving unusual scrutiny to another Jewish group that had also applied for 501(c)3 status.

In the letter, the agent asked the group, “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” At the time, some tax attorneys told Politico’s Ben Smith that they found the IRS’s inquiries to be inappropriate.

Lowenthal Marcus says Z Street will keep moving ahead with its lawsuit, and of course we’ll be following the developments here at CONTENTIONS.

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Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Zionist?

We know that the Obama administration has been far from friendly to Israel — but is this sentiment now influencing policy at the IRS?

The Jewish group Z Street, which claims that its request for tax-exempt status was delayed by the IRS because of its support Israel, has been engulfed in a legal battle with the government agency for months. The case heated up last week after the organization introduced a letter that appeared to show an IRS agent giving unusual scrutiny to another Jewish group that had also applied for 501(c)3 status. Among the questions asked by the agent: “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?”

Z Street said that this is further evidence that the IRS has started targeting pro-Israel groups. Ben Smith at Politico has the details of the letter:

A Pennsylvania Jewish group that has claimed the Internal Revenue Service is targeting pro-Israel groups introduced in federal court today a letter from an IRS agent to another,  unnamed organization that tax experts said was likely outside the usual or appropriate scope of an IRS inquiry.

“Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” IRS agent Tracy Dornette wrote the organization, according to this week’s court filing, as part of its consideration of the organizations application for tax exempt status. “Describe your organization’s religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

But are these inquiries simply inappropriate, or are they evidence of an official campaign against Zionist organizations? A couple of tax attorneys consulted by Smith said they found the questions to be out of line:

“The claims go far beyond what should be the IRS’s role,” said Paul Caron a University of Cincinnati law professor and the author of TaxProf Blog.

Ellen Aprill, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles said the second question was “appropriate” in the context of an application seeking a tax exemption on religious grounds.

“The first one is not the way I would want any of my agents to do it,” she said.

Some have wondered why Z Street is waging a public fight against the IRS instead of handling the tax issue privately. But Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus told me that her main worry here isn’t her own group’s tax-exempt status — it’s whether the government is holding pro-Israel groups to an unfair standard.

“My concern is that people are sort of veering off into tax world instead of Constitutional law,” said Lowenthal Marcus, a former constitutional lawyer, who added that she believes the actions of the IRS could constitute a First Amendment violation.

But apart from Z Street and the unnamed Jewish group mentioned in the letter, other organizations have yet to step up with claims that they were treated unfairly by the IRS.

Lowenthal Marcus said this doesn’t surprise her and noted that taking on the IRS can be an intimidating task. “Who’s going to challenge them?” she asked.

The current evidence is hardly enough to prove that there has been an official change in IRS policy toward pro-Israel groups, but the letter produced by Z Street shows that the case definitely deserves further inquiry. There is precedent for the IRS denying tax-exempt status to groups that clash with the government’s official policy — the Bob Jones University case is the most prominent example. But while the Obama administration has certainly taken an unfriendly stance toward Israel, this position could hardly be characterized as “official” government policy.

Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media also argues that this issue warrants a public investigation and suggests that this might be the task for a Republican-chaired House Oversight Committee: “What must now be publicly investigated — more work, perhaps, for Rep. Darrell Issa,  likely the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — is, as Z Street put it, whether or not the IRS is  ‘improperly considering the political viewpoint of applicants’ and engaging in ‘clear viewpoint discrimination.’”

We know that the Obama administration has been far from friendly to Israel — but is this sentiment now influencing policy at the IRS?

The Jewish group Z Street, which claims that its request for tax-exempt status was delayed by the IRS because of its support Israel, has been engulfed in a legal battle with the government agency for months. The case heated up last week after the organization introduced a letter that appeared to show an IRS agent giving unusual scrutiny to another Jewish group that had also applied for 501(c)3 status. Among the questions asked by the agent: “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?”

Z Street said that this is further evidence that the IRS has started targeting pro-Israel groups. Ben Smith at Politico has the details of the letter:

A Pennsylvania Jewish group that has claimed the Internal Revenue Service is targeting pro-Israel groups introduced in federal court today a letter from an IRS agent to another,  unnamed organization that tax experts said was likely outside the usual or appropriate scope of an IRS inquiry.

“Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” IRS agent Tracy Dornette wrote the organization, according to this week’s court filing, as part of its consideration of the organizations application for tax exempt status. “Describe your organization’s religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

But are these inquiries simply inappropriate, or are they evidence of an official campaign against Zionist organizations? A couple of tax attorneys consulted by Smith said they found the questions to be out of line:

“The claims go far beyond what should be the IRS’s role,” said Paul Caron a University of Cincinnati law professor and the author of TaxProf Blog.

Ellen Aprill, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles said the second question was “appropriate” in the context of an application seeking a tax exemption on religious grounds.

“The first one is not the way I would want any of my agents to do it,” she said.

Some have wondered why Z Street is waging a public fight against the IRS instead of handling the tax issue privately. But Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus told me that her main worry here isn’t her own group’s tax-exempt status — it’s whether the government is holding pro-Israel groups to an unfair standard.

“My concern is that people are sort of veering off into tax world instead of Constitutional law,” said Lowenthal Marcus, a former constitutional lawyer, who added that she believes the actions of the IRS could constitute a First Amendment violation.

But apart from Z Street and the unnamed Jewish group mentioned in the letter, other organizations have yet to step up with claims that they were treated unfairly by the IRS.

Lowenthal Marcus said this doesn’t surprise her and noted that taking on the IRS can be an intimidating task. “Who’s going to challenge them?” she asked.

The current evidence is hardly enough to prove that there has been an official change in IRS policy toward pro-Israel groups, but the letter produced by Z Street shows that the case definitely deserves further inquiry. There is precedent for the IRS denying tax-exempt status to groups that clash with the government’s official policy — the Bob Jones University case is the most prominent example. But while the Obama administration has certainly taken an unfriendly stance toward Israel, this position could hardly be characterized as “official” government policy.

Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media also argues that this issue warrants a public investigation and suggests that this might be the task for a Republican-chaired House Oversight Committee: “What must now be publicly investigated — more work, perhaps, for Rep. Darrell Issa,  likely the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — is, as Z Street put it, whether or not the IRS is  ‘improperly considering the political viewpoint of applicants’ and engaging in ‘clear viewpoint discrimination.’”

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Why Do Israeli Settlers Love Sarah Palin?

On a visit to Israel, Ben Smith makes note of an interesting trend. He reports that while most Israelis don’t seem to have any preference for which Republican they want to win the presidential nomination, Israeli settlers are huge fans of Sarah Palin. Smith surmises that this is because they relate on a personal level to the former Alaska governor and also appreciate her vocal support for settlements:

Aside from a sort of general sympathy between settlers — who see themselves as frontiersmen of sorts — and the former Alaska governor, they’ve also gotten specific — if somewhat hazy — encouragement from Palin.

She said in 2009 that “I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.”

She also wrote this month to new members of Congress that Jerusalem is “not a settlement,” which is also the Obama administration’s formal line.

Palin’s first argument about an increasing number of Jews making aliyah is slightly off-target. There hasn’t been a recent major surge in American Jews moving to Israel, and most of the Jews who do move there don’t reside in the settlements. Also, many Israelis would argue that legal ownership of the land gives them the right to expand the settlements regardless of population growth.

While I agree with Smith’s point that Palin’s popularity is partially due to her opinions on the settlements, I think a more significant trend is that she’s viewed as a sort of antagonist to President Obama. Many of the other potential Republicans presidential nominees are strong supporters of Israel. The difference is that few have gotten as much attention as Palin for publicly challenging Obama, and none of them have run on a presidential ticket against him.

Obama’s approval rating has hovered in the single digits in Israel, and it’s certainly lower than that among settlers. The president has been criticized for demanding a freeze in settlement construction as a precondition for peace talks, and his relationship with President Benjamin Netanyahu has been notoriously icy.

Palin represents the anti-Obama — she is the loudest opposition voice that the GOP has at the moment. Given that, it makes sense that the settlers approve.

On a visit to Israel, Ben Smith makes note of an interesting trend. He reports that while most Israelis don’t seem to have any preference for which Republican they want to win the presidential nomination, Israeli settlers are huge fans of Sarah Palin. Smith surmises that this is because they relate on a personal level to the former Alaska governor and also appreciate her vocal support for settlements:

Aside from a sort of general sympathy between settlers — who see themselves as frontiersmen of sorts — and the former Alaska governor, they’ve also gotten specific — if somewhat hazy — encouragement from Palin.

She said in 2009 that “I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.”

She also wrote this month to new members of Congress that Jerusalem is “not a settlement,” which is also the Obama administration’s formal line.

Palin’s first argument about an increasing number of Jews making aliyah is slightly off-target. There hasn’t been a recent major surge in American Jews moving to Israel, and most of the Jews who do move there don’t reside in the settlements. Also, many Israelis would argue that legal ownership of the land gives them the right to expand the settlements regardless of population growth.

While I agree with Smith’s point that Palin’s popularity is partially due to her opinions on the settlements, I think a more significant trend is that she’s viewed as a sort of antagonist to President Obama. Many of the other potential Republicans presidential nominees are strong supporters of Israel. The difference is that few have gotten as much attention as Palin for publicly challenging Obama, and none of them have run on a presidential ticket against him.

Obama’s approval rating has hovered in the single digits in Israel, and it’s certainly lower than that among settlers. The president has been criticized for demanding a freeze in settlement construction as a precondition for peace talks, and his relationship with President Benjamin Netanyahu has been notoriously icy.

Palin represents the anti-Obama — she is the loudest opposition voice that the GOP has at the moment. Given that, it makes sense that the settlers approve.

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Debating the Middle East Debacle

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?

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Ben Smith Spills the Beans: Obama’s Middle East Policy Is a Disaster

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem: Read More

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem:

[T]he American president has been diminished, even in an era without active hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. His demands on the parties appear to shrink each month, with the path to a grand peace settlement narrowing to the vanishing point. The lack of Israeli faith in him and his process has them using the talks to extract more tangible security assurances – the jets. And though America remains beloved, Obama is about as popular here as he is in Oklahoma. A Jerusalem Post poll in May found 9 percent of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 48 percent say he’s “pro-Palestinian.” …

“Israelis really hate Obama’s guts,” said Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for two leading Israeli newspapers. “We used to trust Americans to act like Americans, and this guy is like a European leader.”

Many senior Israeli leaders have concluded that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were right about Obama’s naivete and inexperience.

“The naïve liberals who are at the heart of the administration really believe in all the misconceptions the Palestinians and all their friends all over the world are trying to place,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former high-ranking military intelligence officer who is now deputy director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

But in some sense, Ben Smith’s account is too generous. It is not merely that Obama has made hash out of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; it is that he has undermined American stature more broadly in the Middle East. Yes, the Israelis and the PA regard him as foolish, but what’s even more important is that so do the Syrians, Saudis, and Iranians. He has wasted time on the non-peace process and in fact exacerbated tensions as the other nations looked on. The aging Sunni leaders regard him with alarm: has he no idea what to do about Iran? The mullahs regard him with contempt: he has already told them that they need not worry about military action.

Obama is right — there is such a thing as linkage, but not in the way he imagined. The progress of the Middle East non-peace talks is irrelevant to the threat of an Iranian nuclear power. But what is highly relevant, and deeply troubling, is the perception of an American administration in over its head, disloyal to friends, and anxious to make a deal at any cost to preserve the patina of competency it is struggling to maintain. And to make matters worse, it’s fair to conclude that beyond the Middle East — in China, Russia, and North Korea — they are learning the same lesson.

One final note. The well-sourced and dead-on report comes from Ben Smith, not the nominal foreign affairs reporter for Politico. This is because the latter, a former Journo-list member, is among the worse and least-informative foreign affairs “reporters” out there. In fact, she’s no more than a scribe for the Obami and the J Street crowd. And that explains why none of the material, widely available to followers of the mainstream media, was ever reported by her. Maybe it’s time to get a full-time person on the foreign affairs beat who actually reports rather than regurgitates the left’s take on American foreign policy.

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What Can the GOP Senators Get?

Untangling fact from fiction and sneer from substance in a Maureen Dowd column is not a task for the fainthearted, especially when she wades into matters of policy. But let’s give it a shot. She writes:

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

We will start with the accurate part: Obama has no other foreign policy accomplishments aside from whatever he has gotten out of our newly styled relationship with Russia. This is called “reset” because it sounds so much better than “appeasement.” Putin has much to show for his dealings with Obama. Missile-defense facilities were yanked out of Poland and the Czech Republic. We’ve been rather mute about the Russian thugocracy’s repressive tactics, and Russia still occupies a chunk of Georgia.

But what exactly has Obama accomplished? The Swiss cheese sanctions against Iran, which are not slowing the mullahs’ rush to nuclear powerdom, are not much to write home about. In fact, the Russians helped build and load fuel into the Bushehr nuclear plant, which seems to have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program. And then there is the alleged help in Afghanistan. Jamie Fly has debunked that one:

Unfortunately, only five supply flights occurred in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.  This failure to meet expectations prompted Politico’s Ben Smith to remark that it was “hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship.”  Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Russian Affairs, recently stated that as of June 18, only 275 flights had occurred over Russian territory.  Had the administration’s bold projections proved accurate, nearly 3,500 flights should have already occurred.

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States was forced to triple its annual leasing rights payments to Bishkek after Moscow placed significant pressure on Kyrgyzstan to remove the U.S. air base at Manas.  A Russian-influenced campaign led to the ouster of President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan and placed the tenuous status of the Manas air base again in peril.  If continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan leads to a closure of Manas, Russian intransigence in Central Asia could prove to be very costly for the American war effort.

So we are down to voting for an arms-control treaty, regardless of the merits, because otherwise Obama will look worse than he already does. Does this sound familiar? It’s akin to the Middle East peace talks bribe-a-thon, which was also meant to save the president from embarrassment (but merely has convinced onlookers, as one Israel expert put it, that the Obama diplomats “have taken leave of their senses”).

And what of the timing? In the case of both the Middles East and New START agreements, the deals must happen NOW — again, because Obama needs a boost.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Kyl had it wrong in declaring there will be no treaty ratification in the lame duck session. Really, that’s not the way to manage Obama. Instead, it’s time for the GOP senators to name their price. The Israelis got planes, promises to be defended in the UN, and a guarantee that the Obama team absolutely, positively won’t ask for any more settlement freezes. What could the GOP Senate get? They have already secured a multi-billion-dollar modernization plan, but is that really “enough”? Obama, you see, is desperate to get a deal, so the Republican senators should get creative — agreement on the Bush tax cuts, a dealing on spending cuts, etc. Too much? Oh no, the Republicans can tell the White House that this is called “reset.” And the name of the game is to create an exceptionally imbalanced relationship in which the only benefit to Obama is the right to tout his dealmaking skills.

Untangling fact from fiction and sneer from substance in a Maureen Dowd column is not a task for the fainthearted, especially when she wades into matters of policy. But let’s give it a shot. She writes:

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

We will start with the accurate part: Obama has no other foreign policy accomplishments aside from whatever he has gotten out of our newly styled relationship with Russia. This is called “reset” because it sounds so much better than “appeasement.” Putin has much to show for his dealings with Obama. Missile-defense facilities were yanked out of Poland and the Czech Republic. We’ve been rather mute about the Russian thugocracy’s repressive tactics, and Russia still occupies a chunk of Georgia.

But what exactly has Obama accomplished? The Swiss cheese sanctions against Iran, which are not slowing the mullahs’ rush to nuclear powerdom, are not much to write home about. In fact, the Russians helped build and load fuel into the Bushehr nuclear plant, which seems to have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program. And then there is the alleged help in Afghanistan. Jamie Fly has debunked that one:

Unfortunately, only five supply flights occurred in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.  This failure to meet expectations prompted Politico’s Ben Smith to remark that it was “hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship.”  Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Russian Affairs, recently stated that as of June 18, only 275 flights had occurred over Russian territory.  Had the administration’s bold projections proved accurate, nearly 3,500 flights should have already occurred.

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States was forced to triple its annual leasing rights payments to Bishkek after Moscow placed significant pressure on Kyrgyzstan to remove the U.S. air base at Manas.  A Russian-influenced campaign led to the ouster of President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan and placed the tenuous status of the Manas air base again in peril.  If continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan leads to a closure of Manas, Russian intransigence in Central Asia could prove to be very costly for the American war effort.

So we are down to voting for an arms-control treaty, regardless of the merits, because otherwise Obama will look worse than he already does. Does this sound familiar? It’s akin to the Middle East peace talks bribe-a-thon, which was also meant to save the president from embarrassment (but merely has convinced onlookers, as one Israel expert put it, that the Obama diplomats “have taken leave of their senses”).

And what of the timing? In the case of both the Middles East and New START agreements, the deals must happen NOW — again, because Obama needs a boost.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Kyl had it wrong in declaring there will be no treaty ratification in the lame duck session. Really, that’s not the way to manage Obama. Instead, it’s time for the GOP senators to name their price. The Israelis got planes, promises to be defended in the UN, and a guarantee that the Obama team absolutely, positively won’t ask for any more settlement freezes. What could the GOP Senate get? They have already secured a multi-billion-dollar modernization plan, but is that really “enough”? Obama, you see, is desperate to get a deal, so the Republican senators should get creative — agreement on the Bush tax cuts, a dealing on spending cuts, etc. Too much? Oh no, the Republicans can tell the White House that this is called “reset.” And the name of the game is to create an exceptionally imbalanced relationship in which the only benefit to Obama is the right to tout his dealmaking skills.

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The Chronically Unserious Dana Milbank

Fox News has an unparalleled capacity to cause liberal journalists to say really stupid things. Take the case of the chronically unserious Dana Milbank. (Who can forget this moment?) In his Washington Post column, Milbank opens things this way:

John Boehner, Haley Barbour and other Republican leaders held a “results watch” at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington. For a true victory party, you had to go to Fox News.

At Rupert Murdoch’s cable network, the entity that birthed and nurtured the Tea Party movement, Election Day was the culmination of two years of hard work to bring down Barack Obama – and it was time for an on-air celebration of a job well done.

“That’s an earthquake,” exulted Fox’s own Sarah Palin, upon learning the not-unexpected news that Republicans would gain control of the House. “It’s a big darn deal.”

“It’s a comeuppance,” Fox News contributor (and Post columnist) Charles Krauthammer contributed.

“I have one word,” said Sean Hannity. “Historic.”

And Chris Wallace struggled for words. “A gigantic – not a wave election but a tidal wave election,” he envisioned.

This cheerleading on the final day of the 2010 election cycle was to be expected.

It was to be expected, and for a simple reason: what the commentators and reporters on Fox said is indisputable. Even President Obama, himself, referred to the results of the 2010 midterm election as a “shellacking.” And also Milbank’s former Washington Post colleague Howard Kurtz and Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin of Politico used the word “bloodbath” to describe the election. So were Obama, Kurtz, Smith, and Martin “cheerleading” as well? So long as they don’t appear on Fox, the answer seems to be no.

Milbank decided to compound his tendentiousness by willfully misleading readers. Mr. Milbank writes:

The victory party would have to focus on the 60-seat gain Fox projected for Republicans in the House – an enormous win, though not at the upper end of the forecasts. Fox commentator Karl Rove, pleading for “perspective,” said it still qualified as a “blowout evening.” To be fair and balanced, Fox brought in a nominal Democrat, pollster Doug Schoen. “This is a complete repudiation of the Democratic Party,” he proclaimed.

So which Democrats does Milbank leave off this list? How about Bob Beckel, Juan Williams, Kirsten Powers, Geraldo Ferraro, Joe Trippi, and Pat Caddell? Why would Milbank neglect to name any of these individuals? Because it would run counter to the narrative he’s trying to advance. Thomas Huxley referred to such things as “the slaying of a beautiful deduction by an ugly fact.”

The Washington Post publishes some of the finest columnists who have ever graced the pages of an American newspaper. But it also, alas, publishes Dana Milbank.

Fox News has an unparalleled capacity to cause liberal journalists to say really stupid things. Take the case of the chronically unserious Dana Milbank. (Who can forget this moment?) In his Washington Post column, Milbank opens things this way:

John Boehner, Haley Barbour and other Republican leaders held a “results watch” at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington. For a true victory party, you had to go to Fox News.

At Rupert Murdoch’s cable network, the entity that birthed and nurtured the Tea Party movement, Election Day was the culmination of two years of hard work to bring down Barack Obama – and it was time for an on-air celebration of a job well done.

“That’s an earthquake,” exulted Fox’s own Sarah Palin, upon learning the not-unexpected news that Republicans would gain control of the House. “It’s a big darn deal.”

“It’s a comeuppance,” Fox News contributor (and Post columnist) Charles Krauthammer contributed.

“I have one word,” said Sean Hannity. “Historic.”

And Chris Wallace struggled for words. “A gigantic – not a wave election but a tidal wave election,” he envisioned.

This cheerleading on the final day of the 2010 election cycle was to be expected.

It was to be expected, and for a simple reason: what the commentators and reporters on Fox said is indisputable. Even President Obama, himself, referred to the results of the 2010 midterm election as a “shellacking.” And also Milbank’s former Washington Post colleague Howard Kurtz and Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin of Politico used the word “bloodbath” to describe the election. So were Obama, Kurtz, Smith, and Martin “cheerleading” as well? So long as they don’t appear on Fox, the answer seems to be no.

Milbank decided to compound his tendentiousness by willfully misleading readers. Mr. Milbank writes:

The victory party would have to focus on the 60-seat gain Fox projected for Republicans in the House – an enormous win, though not at the upper end of the forecasts. Fox commentator Karl Rove, pleading for “perspective,” said it still qualified as a “blowout evening.” To be fair and balanced, Fox brought in a nominal Democrat, pollster Doug Schoen. “This is a complete repudiation of the Democratic Party,” he proclaimed.

So which Democrats does Milbank leave off this list? How about Bob Beckel, Juan Williams, Kirsten Powers, Geraldo Ferraro, Joe Trippi, and Pat Caddell? Why would Milbank neglect to name any of these individuals? Because it would run counter to the narrative he’s trying to advance. Thomas Huxley referred to such things as “the slaying of a beautiful deduction by an ugly fact.”

The Washington Post publishes some of the finest columnists who have ever graced the pages of an American newspaper. But it also, alas, publishes Dana Milbank.

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Israel, Iran, and Senate Races

To his credit, Ron Kampeas reverses course and supports Mark Kirk’s push-back against the assertions made by Democratic surrogates that Kirk had nothing to do with the sanctions bill. It seems as though other reports had the goods:

Let me revise my assessment Monday of the smackdown between Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat, is not a win for Kirk on points — it’s a knockout, for Kirk.

Folks intimately involved in preparing Kirk’s  bill sanctioning Iran’s energy sector have contacted me (and not Republicans) — and they say it indeed provided the template for Berman’s original sanctions bill. Berman says Kirk’s claims that he framed the bill are wrong, and that Kirk had nothing to do with the bill.

He continues that “I gather some of the same folks reached out to Foreign Policy The Cable’s Josh Rogin, and he had the more thorough version up first” — which actually cited JTA’s own reporting. Kudos for reversing field, but perhaps next time Kampeas can reach out to the out-reachers to confirm the facts before he writes his column.

Kampeas might consider a walk-back on his assessment of Joe Sestak as well. Kampeas thinks the newest ECI ad is too tough, asserting: “Sestak is a consistent yes vote on pro-Israel legislation so ‘record of hostility’ would seem to overstate it, even for a partisan release.” It’s really not. In fact, when Sestak asserted that he had a 100 percent pro-AIPAC voting record, Jewish officials struck back hard. A Jewish official reached out to Ben Smith on that one:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

Are the ECI and RJC ads tough? Yes. Do they accurately depict Sestak and reflect deep concern regarding his record by pro-Israel activists, including many Democrats? Absolutely.

To his credit, Ron Kampeas reverses course and supports Mark Kirk’s push-back against the assertions made by Democratic surrogates that Kirk had nothing to do with the sanctions bill. It seems as though other reports had the goods:

Let me revise my assessment Monday of the smackdown between Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat, is not a win for Kirk on points — it’s a knockout, for Kirk.

Folks intimately involved in preparing Kirk’s  bill sanctioning Iran’s energy sector have contacted me (and not Republicans) — and they say it indeed provided the template for Berman’s original sanctions bill. Berman says Kirk’s claims that he framed the bill are wrong, and that Kirk had nothing to do with the bill.

He continues that “I gather some of the same folks reached out to Foreign Policy The Cable’s Josh Rogin, and he had the more thorough version up first” — which actually cited JTA’s own reporting. Kudos for reversing field, but perhaps next time Kampeas can reach out to the out-reachers to confirm the facts before he writes his column.

Kampeas might consider a walk-back on his assessment of Joe Sestak as well. Kampeas thinks the newest ECI ad is too tough, asserting: “Sestak is a consistent yes vote on pro-Israel legislation so ‘record of hostility’ would seem to overstate it, even for a partisan release.” It’s really not. In fact, when Sestak asserted that he had a 100 percent pro-AIPAC voting record, Jewish officials struck back hard. A Jewish official reached out to Ben Smith on that one:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

Are the ECI and RJC ads tough? Yes. Do they accurately depict Sestak and reflect deep concern regarding his record by pro-Israel activists, including many Democrats? Absolutely.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Stu Rothenberg doesn’t think much of the Dems’ Chamber of Commerce gambit: “This is what we call the political version of ‘jumping the shark’ — a desperate-looking charge that a campaign or a party hopes could be a game-changer. It’s pretty early for Democrats to jump the shark, and you have to wonder whether this is really the best shot they have in their arsenal. Yes, it might get some folks agitated, but not many. And it reeks of desperation.”

Voters don’t think much of it either: “Election Day is just two weeks away, and Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 17, 2010. … Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 55% to 36% lead.”

CNN voters don’t think much of the Parker-Spitzer show, and Vic Matus thinks even less of Spitzer’s likening himself to Icarus: “Putz. He doesn’t even know the quotation. …It ends, ‘… they first make mad.’ As in insane. Which is precisely the case with Spitzer. … Sorry. I knew Icarus—Icarus was a friend of mine. Eliot Spitzer is no Icarus.”

Charles Lane doesn’t think much of Democrats’ excessive dependence on public-employee unions. “But in an era of increasing discontent over taxes, government spending and the perks of government employees, these are not necessarily the allies you want to have. A party that depends on the public employees to get elected will have trouble reaching out to the wider electorate — i.e., the people who pay the taxes that support public employee salaries and pensions. In politics, you never want to find yourself beholden to a minority whose core interests often clash with the interests of voters.”

Josh Rogin doesn’t think much of Jon Stewart’s claim that Sen. Tom Coburn is holding up aid to Haiti. “The problem is that Coburn’s hold is not responsible for delaying the $1.15 billion Congress already appropriated in late July to help Haiti. … Even the State Department acknowledges that Coburn is not responsible for the delay in this tranche of funds for Haiti.”

ABC doesn’t think much of Dems’ chances of holding the House majority: “In the House, many key House races have seen some tightening, but it’s not enough to make Democrats feel all that much better. Democrats have 63 seats in serious danger compared to just four for Republicans.”

Anyone who lives in the VA-11 (like me!) doesn’t think much of Marc Ambinder’s spin that Rep. Gerry Connolly “knows this district inside and out.” If he did, he would have maintained a moderate voting record like his predecessor Tom Davis, instead of rubber-stamping the Obama agenda and putting his seat at risk.

The liberal JTA doesn’t think much of Howard Berman’s claim that Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill: “Kirk gets this one, I think, on points — as the Sun Times notes, Berman thanked [co-sponsor Rep. Rob] Andrews for his work, a hint that the bill he and Kirk shaped played a role in the final bill. So did AIPAC when the bill passed. And, the sanctions are pretty much identical.”

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee doesn’t think much of its party’s chances in at least five races. A fundraising appeal, Ben Smith explains, “seems to concede what many on both sides now see as nearly done: Five open GOP-held seats, in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, and Kansas, have slipped pretty near out of reach.”

Stu Rothenberg doesn’t think much of the Dems’ Chamber of Commerce gambit: “This is what we call the political version of ‘jumping the shark’ — a desperate-looking charge that a campaign or a party hopes could be a game-changer. It’s pretty early for Democrats to jump the shark, and you have to wonder whether this is really the best shot they have in their arsenal. Yes, it might get some folks agitated, but not many. And it reeks of desperation.”

Voters don’t think much of it either: “Election Day is just two weeks away, and Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 17, 2010. … Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 55% to 36% lead.”

CNN voters don’t think much of the Parker-Spitzer show, and Vic Matus thinks even less of Spitzer’s likening himself to Icarus: “Putz. He doesn’t even know the quotation. …It ends, ‘… they first make mad.’ As in insane. Which is precisely the case with Spitzer. … Sorry. I knew Icarus—Icarus was a friend of mine. Eliot Spitzer is no Icarus.”

Charles Lane doesn’t think much of Democrats’ excessive dependence on public-employee unions. “But in an era of increasing discontent over taxes, government spending and the perks of government employees, these are not necessarily the allies you want to have. A party that depends on the public employees to get elected will have trouble reaching out to the wider electorate — i.e., the people who pay the taxes that support public employee salaries and pensions. In politics, you never want to find yourself beholden to a minority whose core interests often clash with the interests of voters.”

Josh Rogin doesn’t think much of Jon Stewart’s claim that Sen. Tom Coburn is holding up aid to Haiti. “The problem is that Coburn’s hold is not responsible for delaying the $1.15 billion Congress already appropriated in late July to help Haiti. … Even the State Department acknowledges that Coburn is not responsible for the delay in this tranche of funds for Haiti.”

ABC doesn’t think much of Dems’ chances of holding the House majority: “In the House, many key House races have seen some tightening, but it’s not enough to make Democrats feel all that much better. Democrats have 63 seats in serious danger compared to just four for Republicans.”

Anyone who lives in the VA-11 (like me!) doesn’t think much of Marc Ambinder’s spin that Rep. Gerry Connolly “knows this district inside and out.” If he did, he would have maintained a moderate voting record like his predecessor Tom Davis, instead of rubber-stamping the Obama agenda and putting his seat at risk.

The liberal JTA doesn’t think much of Howard Berman’s claim that Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill: “Kirk gets this one, I think, on points — as the Sun Times notes, Berman thanked [co-sponsor Rep. Rob] Andrews for his work, a hint that the bill he and Kirk shaped played a role in the final bill. So did AIPAC when the bill passed. And, the sanctions are pretty much identical.”

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee doesn’t think much of its party’s chances in at least five races. A fundraising appeal, Ben Smith explains, “seems to concede what many on both sides now see as nearly done: Five open GOP-held seats, in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, and Kansas, have slipped pretty near out of reach.”

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ECI 1 – Soros Street 0

The leftist Tablet looks at the Senate race. The most interesting is Pennsylvania (h/t Ben Smith):

PENNSYLVANIA
Jewish candidate guy: Senator Arlen Specter (D).
People who are actually running: Joe Sestak (J Street) and Pat Toomey (Emergency Committee for Israel).
Who’s going to win? In general, a Gentile. In particular, Pat Toomey. In a way, Bill Kristol.
Why this is still a Jewish story: This race is kind of weird. Arlen Specter switched parties, robbing Republicans of their only Jewish senator, and then lost the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak. Then, with no Jewish candidates in the race, this became the surrogate electoral battleground for Israeli-American politics: Bill Kristol’s newly formed Pro-Israel, Pro-Committee Emergency Committee for Israel cut an ad attacking Sestak, and then the Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Iffy-Soros J Street made their own defending him.
Fun fact: Toomey’s press secretary, Nachama Soloveichik, is “an heir to America’s leading Orthodox rabbinic dynasty.”

It’s not so weird at all. As we’ve seen in recent polling, Israel enjoys broad bipartisan support. J Street does not. When ECI focused on this race, illuminating Sestak’s record, it illustrated both. Frankly, it’s weird that a Jewish magazine finds it peculiar that a race without a Jewish candidate could center on Israel. Perhaps it should take a look at the polls we’ve been examining. It seems the entire electorate of Pennsylvania has revealed itself to be part of the “Israel Lobby.” Only those who equate support for Israel solely with American Jewish political activity would fine this strange.

The leftist Tablet looks at the Senate race. The most interesting is Pennsylvania (h/t Ben Smith):

PENNSYLVANIA
Jewish candidate guy: Senator Arlen Specter (D).
People who are actually running: Joe Sestak (J Street) and Pat Toomey (Emergency Committee for Israel).
Who’s going to win? In general, a Gentile. In particular, Pat Toomey. In a way, Bill Kristol.
Why this is still a Jewish story: This race is kind of weird. Arlen Specter switched parties, robbing Republicans of their only Jewish senator, and then lost the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak. Then, with no Jewish candidates in the race, this became the surrogate electoral battleground for Israeli-American politics: Bill Kristol’s newly formed Pro-Israel, Pro-Committee Emergency Committee for Israel cut an ad attacking Sestak, and then the Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Iffy-Soros J Street made their own defending him.
Fun fact: Toomey’s press secretary, Nachama Soloveichik, is “an heir to America’s leading Orthodox rabbinic dynasty.”

It’s not so weird at all. As we’ve seen in recent polling, Israel enjoys broad bipartisan support. J Street does not. When ECI focused on this race, illuminating Sestak’s record, it illustrated both. Frankly, it’s weird that a Jewish magazine finds it peculiar that a race without a Jewish candidate could center on Israel. Perhaps it should take a look at the polls we’ve been examining. It seems the entire electorate of Pennsylvania has revealed itself to be part of the “Israel Lobby.” Only those who equate support for Israel solely with American Jewish political activity would fine this strange.

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Why Hasn’t He Been Fired Yet?

We’ve written quite a bit about defining anti-Semitism downward on the list of public sins — that is, establishing a much different standard for bigotry against Jews than against other groups. Ben Smith relates the latest Jew-hating incident from CNN’s Rick Sanchez.

Will he be fired? If not, why not?

We’ve written quite a bit about defining anti-Semitism downward on the list of public sins — that is, establishing a much different standard for bigotry against Jews than against other groups. Ben Smith relates the latest Jew-hating incident from CNN’s Rick Sanchez.

Will he be fired? If not, why not?

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A Really Big Whopper

Joe Sestak’s campaign is going down the tubes. The Senate Democratic Campaign Committee may decide to stop pouring money down the drain. So what does he do? He panics and tries to regain Jewish voters turned off by his anti-Israel positions. He makes a big error though: he drags AIPAC into it. Ben Smith writes:

The pro-Israel group AIPAC says a campaign ad from Rep. Joe Sestak that claims that, “According to AIPAC, Joe Sestak has a 100% pro-Israel voting record” is inaccurate. … “Joe Sestak does not have a 100% voting record on Israel issues according to AIPAC. I couldn’t be true, we don’t rate or endorse candidates,” said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block of the ad, which ran in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

Sestak has faced repeated attacks over his stand on Israel since signing a January letter aimed at easing Israel’s blockade of Gaza, though critics point more to letters and to sponsorship than to any votes that break with Congressional Democrats’ generally pro-Israel party line. (There haven’t been many actual difficult votes on the issue, one way or the other). And Sestak has sought in the past to associate himself with AIPAC.

No, AIPAC generally doesn’t appreciate candidates who keynote for CAIR or sign Soros Street’s Gaza 54 letter. And they really aren’t fond of those who tout the UN Human Rights Council. But they don’t do electioneering. Still, there is no doubt what the mainstream Jewish community thinks of him:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

And by the way, is he going to give Soros’s money back?

Joe Sestak’s campaign is going down the tubes. The Senate Democratic Campaign Committee may decide to stop pouring money down the drain. So what does he do? He panics and tries to regain Jewish voters turned off by his anti-Israel positions. He makes a big error though: he drags AIPAC into it. Ben Smith writes:

The pro-Israel group AIPAC says a campaign ad from Rep. Joe Sestak that claims that, “According to AIPAC, Joe Sestak has a 100% pro-Israel voting record” is inaccurate. … “Joe Sestak does not have a 100% voting record on Israel issues according to AIPAC. I couldn’t be true, we don’t rate or endorse candidates,” said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block of the ad, which ran in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

Sestak has faced repeated attacks over his stand on Israel since signing a January letter aimed at easing Israel’s blockade of Gaza, though critics point more to letters and to sponsorship than to any votes that break with Congressional Democrats’ generally pro-Israel party line. (There haven’t been many actual difficult votes on the issue, one way or the other). And Sestak has sought in the past to associate himself with AIPAC.

No, AIPAC generally doesn’t appreciate candidates who keynote for CAIR or sign Soros Street’s Gaza 54 letter. And they really aren’t fond of those who tout the UN Human Rights Council. But they don’t do electioneering. Still, there is no doubt what the mainstream Jewish community thinks of him:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

And by the way, is he going to give Soros’s money back?

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Has Liberal Washington Figured Out the Palestinians?

During the course of his first year and a half in office, President Barack Obama demonstrated time and again that he was not shy about placing pressure on Israel. Having picked fights with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank soon after both men assumed their posts in 2009, and then again in 2010, over a housing start in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama’s antipathy for the Israeli government is well established. But in spite of this, something interesting is happening in Washington as the peace talks promoted by Obama have foundered on the question of whether Israel will agree to renew a freeze on settlements as a precondition for the Palestinians’ continued presence at the table: Israel isn’t being blamed for the mess.

Some in the administration and even the established media have stumbled upon the fact that, as Ben Smith wrote yesterday in Politico, the problem is “the Palestinian insistence that one issue — settlements — be resolved before talks can begin.” This means that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now feeling some of the heat reserved last year for Netanyahu, and facing the prospect that if he fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse.” Smith even quotes Palestinian propagandist Hussein Ibish as admitting that the “onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away.”

Previous negotiations have always foundered on the Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer, since in 2000 and again in 2008 their leaders refused Israeli offers of a state and territory that included most of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Given the importance that Obama has put on this latest round of talks, which he has promoted, it was crucial for Abbas to see to it that the talks’ eventual failure (since fail they must, as Abbas knows he cannot sell even the most generous peace accord to his followers or his Hamas rivals) would be credited to Netanyahu, who was already disliked by the administration. But Abbas’s attempt to scuttle Obama’s show by not engaging in talks until the last weeks before the settlement freeze was ready to expire has apparently backfired. Though Abbas was probably confident that he could outmaneuver Netanyahu, he has failed, and as Smith says, the “arrow” indicating blame is now pointing to Abbas. As disliked as Netanyahu may be by both the Washington media and the White House, it is now more than obvious even in those quarters that whether or not the PA president walks out of the talks, Abbas has little interest in good-faith negotiations.

Just as important is that the tilt in the blame game illustrates the utter bankruptcy of the attempts by the left-wing J Street lobby to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government and undermine its base of support in Congress and among American Jews.

There are many reasons for the Soros-funded group’s failure, such as its lack of a viable constituency and the deft maneuvering of Netanyahu, which enabled him to weather a period of insult and pressure from Obama while maintaining a solid base of support at home. But most of all, J Street’s failure must be credited to the Palestinians, whose insincerity and fundamental inability to make peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn, renders the leftist group’s agenda of pressure on Israel pointless.

During the course of his first year and a half in office, President Barack Obama demonstrated time and again that he was not shy about placing pressure on Israel. Having picked fights with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank soon after both men assumed their posts in 2009, and then again in 2010, over a housing start in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama’s antipathy for the Israeli government is well established. But in spite of this, something interesting is happening in Washington as the peace talks promoted by Obama have foundered on the question of whether Israel will agree to renew a freeze on settlements as a precondition for the Palestinians’ continued presence at the table: Israel isn’t being blamed for the mess.

Some in the administration and even the established media have stumbled upon the fact that, as Ben Smith wrote yesterday in Politico, the problem is “the Palestinian insistence that one issue — settlements — be resolved before talks can begin.” This means that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now feeling some of the heat reserved last year for Netanyahu, and facing the prospect that if he fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse.” Smith even quotes Palestinian propagandist Hussein Ibish as admitting that the “onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away.”

Previous negotiations have always foundered on the Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer, since in 2000 and again in 2008 their leaders refused Israeli offers of a state and territory that included most of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Given the importance that Obama has put on this latest round of talks, which he has promoted, it was crucial for Abbas to see to it that the talks’ eventual failure (since fail they must, as Abbas knows he cannot sell even the most generous peace accord to his followers or his Hamas rivals) would be credited to Netanyahu, who was already disliked by the administration. But Abbas’s attempt to scuttle Obama’s show by not engaging in talks until the last weeks before the settlement freeze was ready to expire has apparently backfired. Though Abbas was probably confident that he could outmaneuver Netanyahu, he has failed, and as Smith says, the “arrow” indicating blame is now pointing to Abbas. As disliked as Netanyahu may be by both the Washington media and the White House, it is now more than obvious even in those quarters that whether or not the PA president walks out of the talks, Abbas has little interest in good-faith negotiations.

Just as important is that the tilt in the blame game illustrates the utter bankruptcy of the attempts by the left-wing J Street lobby to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government and undermine its base of support in Congress and among American Jews.

There are many reasons for the Soros-funded group’s failure, such as its lack of a viable constituency and the deft maneuvering of Netanyahu, which enabled him to weather a period of insult and pressure from Obama while maintaining a solid base of support at home. But most of all, J Street’s failure must be credited to the Palestinians, whose insincerity and fundamental inability to make peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn, renders the leftist group’s agenda of pressure on Israel pointless.

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A Whole Lot Harder

I share Karl Rove’s pessimism that the prospects for a GOP takeover of the Delaware Senate seat are now remote. He reels off a long list of Christine O’Donnell’s personal failings and credibility issues that are certain to come up in the general election She is, to put it mildly, a terribly flawed candidate. Rove correctly points out, “It does conservatives little good to support candidates who at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for.” He adds, “There is a lot of nutty things she has been saying. … This is not a race we’ll be able to win.”

If a couple of Senate seats are lost — and especially if the GOP falls just a seat or two short of the majority in the Senate — there will and should be some soul-searching in the Tea Party movement. There will also, I suspect, be valid concerns about those who encouraged and endorsed unelectable candidates. If you want to be a party leader, and not simply a prominent conservative, the expectation is that you will use your influence judiciously.

The Tea Party has injected enthusiasm and provided a unifying conservative economic message, but a movement and a political party are not the same. The latter must concern itself with elections and building a governing majority. And the former, if unchecked by judgment and maturity, can unintentionally do great damage to its own cause.

One final note: outsiderness in and of itself is not a decisive factor in electability. What matters is whether the candidate is plausible and can articulate an anti-Beltway message that taps into both conservatives and independents’ disgust with the governing class. It is highly questionable whether O’Donnell can do that. On the other hand, as Ben Smith points out, conservatives dumped a dreadful establishment candidate in the New York gubernatorial primary and pushed back on a state party that has shown zero adeptness of late:

The results in New York tonight cut at Cuomo in two ways, though he wasn’t on the ballot. The first and most obvious is an energized conservative base, which chose a real outsider — Buffalo developer Carl Paladino — as a more plausible, if extremely longshot, vessel for a “mad as hell” anti-Establishment campaign against the “status Cuomo” than would have been the Establishment Republican, a former bank lobbyist.

“This is the candidate that the base of the party wanted,” conceded State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, putting a good face on a terrible night that also included a third-place finish for his son in a congressional race on Long Island.

In sum: the lesson is to choose wisely. This is the big leagues.

I share Karl Rove’s pessimism that the prospects for a GOP takeover of the Delaware Senate seat are now remote. He reels off a long list of Christine O’Donnell’s personal failings and credibility issues that are certain to come up in the general election She is, to put it mildly, a terribly flawed candidate. Rove correctly points out, “It does conservatives little good to support candidates who at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for.” He adds, “There is a lot of nutty things she has been saying. … This is not a race we’ll be able to win.”

If a couple of Senate seats are lost — and especially if the GOP falls just a seat or two short of the majority in the Senate — there will and should be some soul-searching in the Tea Party movement. There will also, I suspect, be valid concerns about those who encouraged and endorsed unelectable candidates. If you want to be a party leader, and not simply a prominent conservative, the expectation is that you will use your influence judiciously.

The Tea Party has injected enthusiasm and provided a unifying conservative economic message, but a movement and a political party are not the same. The latter must concern itself with elections and building a governing majority. And the former, if unchecked by judgment and maturity, can unintentionally do great damage to its own cause.

One final note: outsiderness in and of itself is not a decisive factor in electability. What matters is whether the candidate is plausible and can articulate an anti-Beltway message that taps into both conservatives and independents’ disgust with the governing class. It is highly questionable whether O’Donnell can do that. On the other hand, as Ben Smith points out, conservatives dumped a dreadful establishment candidate in the New York gubernatorial primary and pushed back on a state party that has shown zero adeptness of late:

The results in New York tonight cut at Cuomo in two ways, though he wasn’t on the ballot. The first and most obvious is an energized conservative base, which chose a real outsider — Buffalo developer Carl Paladino — as a more plausible, if extremely longshot, vessel for a “mad as hell” anti-Establishment campaign against the “status Cuomo” than would have been the Establishment Republican, a former bank lobbyist.

“This is the candidate that the base of the party wanted,” conceded State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, putting a good face on a terrible night that also included a third-place finish for his son in a congressional race on Long Island.

In sum: the lesson is to choose wisely. This is the big leagues.

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From the Frying Pan into the Fire

Those who keep advising Obama to fire people miss a key point: the replacements could be worse than the current crew. No, it really is possible. Mayor Daley of Chicago won’t run for another term, and Washington is abuzz with speculation that Rahm Emanuel will leave (flee?) the administration to run for the job. Ben Smith reports: “Emanuel has told Chicago associates, a source tells me, who he believes will likely succeed him: senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.”

Obama will be trading one Chicago pol (who at least understood how to elect Democrats from places that weren’t deep Blue) for a liberal Chicago pol whose instincts seem to mirror David Axelrod’s: when in doubt, go left. This was the gal who thought Obama’s defense of the Ground Zero mosque was a swell idea. She also remains a potential witness in the Blago retrial. She also led the vendetta against Fox News.  And of course, 9/11 truther Van Jones was her hire.

In short, if the Obami are looking for a far-left chief of staff with bad political instincts and a Chicago-machine outlook, they couldn’t do “better” than Valerie Jarrett.

Those who keep advising Obama to fire people miss a key point: the replacements could be worse than the current crew. No, it really is possible. Mayor Daley of Chicago won’t run for another term, and Washington is abuzz with speculation that Rahm Emanuel will leave (flee?) the administration to run for the job. Ben Smith reports: “Emanuel has told Chicago associates, a source tells me, who he believes will likely succeed him: senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.”

Obama will be trading one Chicago pol (who at least understood how to elect Democrats from places that weren’t deep Blue) for a liberal Chicago pol whose instincts seem to mirror David Axelrod’s: when in doubt, go left. This was the gal who thought Obama’s defense of the Ground Zero mosque was a swell idea. She also remains a potential witness in the Blago retrial. She also led the vendetta against Fox News.  And of course, 9/11 truther Van Jones was her hire.

In short, if the Obami are looking for a far-left chief of staff with bad political instincts and a Chicago-machine outlook, they couldn’t do “better” than Valerie Jarrett.

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