Commentary Magazine


Topic: Eliot Engel

Here’s That Bipartisan Alliance

Minority Whip Eric Cantor does the talking, but standing with him are Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), and Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.):

So will Democrats now come forward to join in Rep. Peter King’s resolution?

Minority Whip Eric Cantor does the talking, but standing with him are Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), and Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.):

So will Democrats now come forward to join in Rep. Peter King’s resolution?

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The Alternative to Obama’s Israel Stance

Michael Goodwin notes that there is an alternative to Obama’s assault on Israel:

As the White House continues to turn the screws on Israel, some in Congress finally are saying, “Stop!” Unfortunately, none is a Democrat. Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican, aims to put America squarely on the side of our beleaguered ally. That King sees the need to do it through binding legislation tells you how far President Obama has careened off course.

The America Stands with Israel Act is direct and, at five pages, refreshingly concise. Noting that Hamas is a terrorist organization that aims to destroy Israel, the bill would require the US to withdraw from the loony UN Council on Human Rights, which, predictably, condemned Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident. The bill also would prohibit the use of American funds to investigate Israel.

About 40 Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors, but not a single Democrat has. Given the stakes and clarity, it seems fair to conclude all Dems agree with Obama that Israel is the obstacle to peace, or they are guilty of putting party loyalty ahead of Israel’s survival.

King’s office has also sent out a press release:

On Monday, June 14th at 11:00am, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY), together with U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel, Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Charles Rangel and Anthony Weiner, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and a host of additional State and City public officials, will call on the U.S. State Department to investigate any and all passengers on the Mavi Marmara and other ships from Turkey’s IHH flotilla who apply for visas to enter the United States. A speaking tour has been announced for some of these passengers with a planned New York City event in the coming weeks. A petition calling for this investigation has already captured over 20,000 signatures and will be presented by JCRC-NY to Rep. Engel for delivery to the appropriate authorities in Washington, DC.

Perhaps some of those Democrats will sign on to King’s resolution, provided — of course — that the House leadership and the White House aren’t strong-arming them not to.

King, quoted by Goodwin, lays out the conceptual problem at the root of Obama’s stance toward Israel: “Barack Obama’s view of the world is that there is too much belligerency coming from the United States and Israel. … He looks at the plight of the Palestinians and blames Israel. Not Arafat, not Abbas and not the Arab countries that have let the Palestinians live in squalor for 60 years.” That is, of course, the worldview of the left — the U.S. and the West more generally are guilty of insufficient humility, Israel is an occupying force, Israel is not like any other democracy, and the “international community” composed of despots is entitled to sit in judgment of Israel (in part because nation-states have less moral standing than international bodies, many of whose members routinely brutalize their own people). No president to date has embraced this perspective.  But Obama is unlike any of his predecessors, and hence we have a foreign policy that is more Noam Chomsky than Ronald Reagan (or Bill Clinton, for that matter).

We are fortunate that King and others in Congress have figured this out. When will Democrats and American Jewry?

Michael Goodwin notes that there is an alternative to Obama’s assault on Israel:

As the White House continues to turn the screws on Israel, some in Congress finally are saying, “Stop!” Unfortunately, none is a Democrat. Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican, aims to put America squarely on the side of our beleaguered ally. That King sees the need to do it through binding legislation tells you how far President Obama has careened off course.

The America Stands with Israel Act is direct and, at five pages, refreshingly concise. Noting that Hamas is a terrorist organization that aims to destroy Israel, the bill would require the US to withdraw from the loony UN Council on Human Rights, which, predictably, condemned Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident. The bill also would prohibit the use of American funds to investigate Israel.

About 40 Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors, but not a single Democrat has. Given the stakes and clarity, it seems fair to conclude all Dems agree with Obama that Israel is the obstacle to peace, or they are guilty of putting party loyalty ahead of Israel’s survival.

King’s office has also sent out a press release:

On Monday, June 14th at 11:00am, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY), together with U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel, Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Charles Rangel and Anthony Weiner, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and a host of additional State and City public officials, will call on the U.S. State Department to investigate any and all passengers on the Mavi Marmara and other ships from Turkey’s IHH flotilla who apply for visas to enter the United States. A speaking tour has been announced for some of these passengers with a planned New York City event in the coming weeks. A petition calling for this investigation has already captured over 20,000 signatures and will be presented by JCRC-NY to Rep. Engel for delivery to the appropriate authorities in Washington, DC.

Perhaps some of those Democrats will sign on to King’s resolution, provided — of course — that the House leadership and the White House aren’t strong-arming them not to.

King, quoted by Goodwin, lays out the conceptual problem at the root of Obama’s stance toward Israel: “Barack Obama’s view of the world is that there is too much belligerency coming from the United States and Israel. … He looks at the plight of the Palestinians and blames Israel. Not Arafat, not Abbas and not the Arab countries that have let the Palestinians live in squalor for 60 years.” That is, of course, the worldview of the left — the U.S. and the West more generally are guilty of insufficient humility, Israel is an occupying force, Israel is not like any other democracy, and the “international community” composed of despots is entitled to sit in judgment of Israel (in part because nation-states have less moral standing than international bodies, many of whose members routinely brutalize their own people). No president to date has embraced this perspective.  But Obama is unlike any of his predecessors, and hence we have a foreign policy that is more Noam Chomsky than Ronald Reagan (or Bill Clinton, for that matter).

We are fortunate that King and others in Congress have figured this out. When will Democrats and American Jewry?

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What Say You, Democrats?

If we take them at their word, then there is no apparent reason why many Democrats shouldn’t sign on to Peter King’s resolution.

For example, Rep. John Adler’s statement on the flotilla  includes this:

The bond between the United States and Israel remains unshakable. For sixty-two years, our two nations have shared a deep commitment to democracy and lasting peace in the Mid-East. In a part of the world recognized for its conflict, Israel should retain its right to protect itself. The threats of a nuclear Iran and terrorism should remain a main focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts.

Shelley Berkley’s statement is even stronger, and indeed sounds a bit like the King resolution in this section:

I join Israel in rejecting calls for an international investigation of the recent events related to Gaza. Israel, a strong democracy and America’s close ally, is perfectly capable of conducting a fair, credible investigation that meets international standards. The last time the UN investigated the conflict between Israel and Hamas, it produced the biased, anti-Israel Goldstone Report. This one-sided document accused Israel of war crimes, when its actions were in defense of innocent families facing a constant barrage of deadly Hamas missile attacks.  Given this history, we have no reason to believe the UN would produce anything more balanced this time around. …

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal under international law. This policy is in place to ensure that weaponry and rockets do not reach Hamas, a risk to Israeli families that our democratic ally cannot — and will not — allow.

Rep. Brad Ellsworth echoes several paragraphs of the resolution:

We must allow Israel, not the United Nations, who produced the biased Goldstone report, to conduct a formal investigation into the flotilla incident that is prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent. During these times of crisis, the relationship between the United States and Israel must remain strong. Let there be no doubt, Israelis have the right to defend themselves and their homeland against the threat of violence.

Rep. Eliot Engel, who is as strong a defender of Israel as the Democrats have, includes this, which also mirrors much of King’s resolution:

The U.S.-Israel relationship is a special relationship, and it’s a relationship that needs to be strengthened. The United States is Israel’s only true friend. In fact, when you look at the United Nations or the so-called Human Rights Council in the United Nations, it’s really a kangaroo court stacked up against Israel. No wonder Israel doesn’t accept what the so-called “international body” says about them, because they can never do anything right. They’re always condemned no matter what they try, no matter what they do.

My colleagues have pointed out that Israel, like every other sovereign nation, has the right to defend itself, that Israel has at least twice seized large caches of arms aboard Iranian ships bound for Hamas and Hezbollah, and a blockade is an appropriate security measure when employed in the face of hostility such as that directed by Hamas against Israel.

Well, you get the point. There is nothing in the King resolution — including the demand to leave the UN Human Rights Council — that many House Democrats have not voiced themselves. So it’s curious that, so far, they have balked at signing the resolution — every one of them. You don’t suppose the House leadership and/or White House is ordering them not to sign until they can come up with a weak-tea alternative, do you?

UPDATE: Rep. Mark Kirk, who has signed on to the King resolution, issues a statement. You can also read the full resolution here.

If we take them at their word, then there is no apparent reason why many Democrats shouldn’t sign on to Peter King’s resolution.

For example, Rep. John Adler’s statement on the flotilla  includes this:

The bond between the United States and Israel remains unshakable. For sixty-two years, our two nations have shared a deep commitment to democracy and lasting peace in the Mid-East. In a part of the world recognized for its conflict, Israel should retain its right to protect itself. The threats of a nuclear Iran and terrorism should remain a main focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts.

Shelley Berkley’s statement is even stronger, and indeed sounds a bit like the King resolution in this section:

I join Israel in rejecting calls for an international investigation of the recent events related to Gaza. Israel, a strong democracy and America’s close ally, is perfectly capable of conducting a fair, credible investigation that meets international standards. The last time the UN investigated the conflict between Israel and Hamas, it produced the biased, anti-Israel Goldstone Report. This one-sided document accused Israel of war crimes, when its actions were in defense of innocent families facing a constant barrage of deadly Hamas missile attacks.  Given this history, we have no reason to believe the UN would produce anything more balanced this time around. …

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal under international law. This policy is in place to ensure that weaponry and rockets do not reach Hamas, a risk to Israeli families that our democratic ally cannot — and will not — allow.

Rep. Brad Ellsworth echoes several paragraphs of the resolution:

We must allow Israel, not the United Nations, who produced the biased Goldstone report, to conduct a formal investigation into the flotilla incident that is prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent. During these times of crisis, the relationship between the United States and Israel must remain strong. Let there be no doubt, Israelis have the right to defend themselves and their homeland against the threat of violence.

Rep. Eliot Engel, who is as strong a defender of Israel as the Democrats have, includes this, which also mirrors much of King’s resolution:

The U.S.-Israel relationship is a special relationship, and it’s a relationship that needs to be strengthened. The United States is Israel’s only true friend. In fact, when you look at the United Nations or the so-called Human Rights Council in the United Nations, it’s really a kangaroo court stacked up against Israel. No wonder Israel doesn’t accept what the so-called “international body” says about them, because they can never do anything right. They’re always condemned no matter what they try, no matter what they do.

My colleagues have pointed out that Israel, like every other sovereign nation, has the right to defend itself, that Israel has at least twice seized large caches of arms aboard Iranian ships bound for Hamas and Hezbollah, and a blockade is an appropriate security measure when employed in the face of hostility such as that directed by Hamas against Israel.

Well, you get the point. There is nothing in the King resolution — including the demand to leave the UN Human Rights Council — that many House Democrats have not voiced themselves. So it’s curious that, so far, they have balked at signing the resolution — every one of them. You don’t suppose the House leadership and/or White House is ordering them not to sign until they can come up with a weak-tea alternative, do you?

UPDATE: Rep. Mark Kirk, who has signed on to the King resolution, issues a statement. You can also read the full resolution here.

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Sestak and Gaza

As Jonathan points out, the latest bit of Palestinian propaganda comes in the form of the Gaza-bound flotilla — an attempt (as with the original rockets fired into Gaza) to place Israel in the predicament of allowing threats to its citizens or engaging in a messy defensive operation that will bring howls from the American left, the Palestinian propaganda machine, and perhaps the Obama administration. (As to the latter, you can hear it now: “We deplore the excessive use of force.”)

Gaza remains a defining issue, separating the true Israel-bashers from the simply misguided and the pro-Israel. If Jew, gentile, or Muslim can’t bring himself to deplore the use of civilian targets by Hamas and to acknowledge the right of Israeli self-defense, then you know whatever “pro-Israel” or “pro-peace” credentials they are flashing are fake. If you’re with Richard Goldstone, you’re not in favor of a robust Israel with the right to defend itself from terrorist attacks.

Indeed, Joe Sestak is a prime example. He was of course one of the 54 signatories of the Gaza letter, calling for Israel to sacrifice its own security to allow materials into Gaza that could easily be converted to weaponry and could provide cover for smuggled weapons. As this report notes, the letter was instigated by some of the most Israel-hostile legislators (e.g., Jim McDermott and Keith Ellison), as well as this cast of characters:

J Street, The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), The American Near East Refugee Association (ANERA), The Methodist Church, The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), and Rabbis for Human Rights.

As is typical among Israel-bashers, Sestak’s sympathies primarily extend to the Palestinians and diminish the role of Hamas. An interview with the Jewish Exponent in February is telling:

Sestak acknowledged that signing on to the letter was politically risky, and that it could be used “against me.” But he said that it was more important to him to stand up for his convictions.

He said that while Israel’s security is a vital U.S. interest, the welfare of Gazans is a humanitarian concern: “I think we should be looking at this because I think it’s part of what we stand for as a nation.”

Liberal Democrat Eliot Engel denounced the letter in an interview in which he declared:

The Gaza 54 Democrats are just “misinformed” legislators. Democrats have problems with “extreme fringe elements” when it comes to supporting Israel, but “the mainstream of the party” will keep supporting Israel unlike the “vocal minority”.

In the “vocal minority,” Sestak has continued to defend his vote. In another interview, he flashed his military credentials as a naval admiral and asserted he really knew best what would be harmful to Israeli security, and that in this case, our humanitarian interests (which apparently don’t extend to the Israelis who would be attacked by smuggled weapons) should take precedence: “I truly believe the United States can meet our humanitarian interests without impacting the vital interest of our own, and Israel’s, security.”

Is it arrogance – I know better than Israel what is good for it – or is it animus toward Israel? Hard to say with Sestak, but the result is the same. He surely will encourage the worst tendencies in the administration and not let Israeli security get in the way of his “humanitarianism.” As with so many other self-proclaimed “tough love” proponents, there is toughness but no love of the Jewish state here.

As Jonathan points out, the latest bit of Palestinian propaganda comes in the form of the Gaza-bound flotilla — an attempt (as with the original rockets fired into Gaza) to place Israel in the predicament of allowing threats to its citizens or engaging in a messy defensive operation that will bring howls from the American left, the Palestinian propaganda machine, and perhaps the Obama administration. (As to the latter, you can hear it now: “We deplore the excessive use of force.”)

Gaza remains a defining issue, separating the true Israel-bashers from the simply misguided and the pro-Israel. If Jew, gentile, or Muslim can’t bring himself to deplore the use of civilian targets by Hamas and to acknowledge the right of Israeli self-defense, then you know whatever “pro-Israel” or “pro-peace” credentials they are flashing are fake. If you’re with Richard Goldstone, you’re not in favor of a robust Israel with the right to defend itself from terrorist attacks.

Indeed, Joe Sestak is a prime example. He was of course one of the 54 signatories of the Gaza letter, calling for Israel to sacrifice its own security to allow materials into Gaza that could easily be converted to weaponry and could provide cover for smuggled weapons. As this report notes, the letter was instigated by some of the most Israel-hostile legislators (e.g., Jim McDermott and Keith Ellison), as well as this cast of characters:

J Street, The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), The American Near East Refugee Association (ANERA), The Methodist Church, The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), and Rabbis for Human Rights.

As is typical among Israel-bashers, Sestak’s sympathies primarily extend to the Palestinians and diminish the role of Hamas. An interview with the Jewish Exponent in February is telling:

Sestak acknowledged that signing on to the letter was politically risky, and that it could be used “against me.” But he said that it was more important to him to stand up for his convictions.

He said that while Israel’s security is a vital U.S. interest, the welfare of Gazans is a humanitarian concern: “I think we should be looking at this because I think it’s part of what we stand for as a nation.”

Liberal Democrat Eliot Engel denounced the letter in an interview in which he declared:

The Gaza 54 Democrats are just “misinformed” legislators. Democrats have problems with “extreme fringe elements” when it comes to supporting Israel, but “the mainstream of the party” will keep supporting Israel unlike the “vocal minority”.

In the “vocal minority,” Sestak has continued to defend his vote. In another interview, he flashed his military credentials as a naval admiral and asserted he really knew best what would be harmful to Israeli security, and that in this case, our humanitarian interests (which apparently don’t extend to the Israelis who would be attacked by smuggled weapons) should take precedence: “I truly believe the United States can meet our humanitarian interests without impacting the vital interest of our own, and Israel’s, security.”

Is it arrogance – I know better than Israel what is good for it – or is it animus toward Israel? Hard to say with Sestak, but the result is the same. He surely will encourage the worst tendencies in the administration and not let Israeli security get in the way of his “humanitarianism.” As with so many other self-proclaimed “tough love” proponents, there is toughness but no love of the Jewish state here.

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Obama Isolated

More and more Democrats are stepping forward to slap down the Obami. Among the more terse was from Rep. Anthony Weiner: “The appropriate response was a shake of the head — not a temper tantrum. Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already.” Among the more eloquent was Rep. Eliot Engel from the House floor:

We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.

The relationship remains rock solid. The Obama administration and the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu have been cooperating on a number of things: containing Iran, the Goldstone Report, and making sure that Israel retains its qualitative military edge in the region. And there has been good cooperation between our two administrations, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration. But to seem to question the very nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to put it in personal terms in a very public way will not contribute to peace in the Middle East. Rather, it’s the contrary. It will cause the Palestinians to dig in their heels, thinking that the Americans can just deliver the Israelis.

Last year, when there was public pressure being put on Israel not to expand settlements, there was no simultaneous public pressure being put on the Palestinians, and we saw that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just sat back, didn’t make any concessions, didn’t say that he would do anything positively to further peace talks, and just thought that the United States would wring concessions out of Israel.

The fact of the matter is that the Israelis have been welcoming peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israelis have said they would sit down and have face-to-face talks for peace with the Palestinians. That’s what you do when you have peace. Instead, the Palestinians have refused to sit with the Israelis, and Senator Mitchell is proposing to shuttle back and forth between the Palestinian side and the Israeli side to have negotiations, but not direct negotiations.

We need to be careful. If we criticize Israel for doing what we think was wrong, then we need to also criticize the Palestinians when they do things wrong. Just recently, the Palestinians named a square in Ramallah for a terrorist who killed 30-some-odd Israelis. I didn’t hear any criticism of the Palestinian side. When the Palestinians dig in their heels and say they won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, I didn’t hear any criticism of Palestinians.

Let me say that harsh words are never a replacement for working together, but I think that harsh words can sometimes make us understand that only by working together can we confront the things that we both know need to be confronted–the scourge of terrorism, the thing that all nations understand emanates in the Middle East from radical forces, and those are the kinds of fights that Israel has every single day fighting terrorism. We learned about terrorism on this soil on 9/11. Israel has to deal with it every day.

So all I am saying, Madam Speaker, is that we need to not only reaffirm the strength of our ties between our two countries, but we also need to understand that in a relationship between friends, as in family, there will be some disagreements. We need to be careful about how we voice those disagreements in public.

Let’s put it another way: not a single Republican or Democratic official has come forward to defend the administration. J Street cheers them on, as one can imagine from the never-enough-venom-directed-to-Israel lobby. The National Jewish Democratic Council is hiding under the bed. But actual elected leaders? Not one of them. On this the administration is totally isolated.

More and more Democrats are stepping forward to slap down the Obami. Among the more terse was from Rep. Anthony Weiner: “The appropriate response was a shake of the head — not a temper tantrum. Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already.” Among the more eloquent was Rep. Eliot Engel from the House floor:

We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.

The relationship remains rock solid. The Obama administration and the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu have been cooperating on a number of things: containing Iran, the Goldstone Report, and making sure that Israel retains its qualitative military edge in the region. And there has been good cooperation between our two administrations, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration. But to seem to question the very nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to put it in personal terms in a very public way will not contribute to peace in the Middle East. Rather, it’s the contrary. It will cause the Palestinians to dig in their heels, thinking that the Americans can just deliver the Israelis.

Last year, when there was public pressure being put on Israel not to expand settlements, there was no simultaneous public pressure being put on the Palestinians, and we saw that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just sat back, didn’t make any concessions, didn’t say that he would do anything positively to further peace talks, and just thought that the United States would wring concessions out of Israel.

The fact of the matter is that the Israelis have been welcoming peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israelis have said they would sit down and have face-to-face talks for peace with the Palestinians. That’s what you do when you have peace. Instead, the Palestinians have refused to sit with the Israelis, and Senator Mitchell is proposing to shuttle back and forth between the Palestinian side and the Israeli side to have negotiations, but not direct negotiations.

We need to be careful. If we criticize Israel for doing what we think was wrong, then we need to also criticize the Palestinians when they do things wrong. Just recently, the Palestinians named a square in Ramallah for a terrorist who killed 30-some-odd Israelis. I didn’t hear any criticism of the Palestinian side. When the Palestinians dig in their heels and say they won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, I didn’t hear any criticism of Palestinians.

Let me say that harsh words are never a replacement for working together, but I think that harsh words can sometimes make us understand that only by working together can we confront the things that we both know need to be confronted–the scourge of terrorism, the thing that all nations understand emanates in the Middle East from radical forces, and those are the kinds of fights that Israel has every single day fighting terrorism. We learned about terrorism on this soil on 9/11. Israel has to deal with it every day.

So all I am saying, Madam Speaker, is that we need to not only reaffirm the strength of our ties between our two countries, but we also need to understand that in a relationship between friends, as in family, there will be some disagreements. We need to be careful about how we voice those disagreements in public.

Let’s put it another way: not a single Republican or Democratic official has come forward to defend the administration. J Street cheers them on, as one can imagine from the never-enough-venom-directed-to-Israel lobby. The National Jewish Democratic Council is hiding under the bed. But actual elected leaders? Not one of them. On this the administration is totally isolated.

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RE: Opposition to Obama’s Tactics Builds

The Obami’s decision to go after Israel in harsh terms, so unbecoming toward an ally, is bringing in a storm of criticism. As I and others are reporting, the criticism is proving to be bipartisan. Pennsylvania Rep. Christopher Carney, a Democrat, and Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk are sending a joint letter to Obama telling him to recommit to a number of principles, including “the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, [under which] official United States policy recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.” Rep. Eliot Engel added his voice to those pro-Israel Democrats. (“We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.”) And Minority Whip Eric Cantor called Rahm Emanuel. Politico reports:

While he declined to quote Emanuel’s response, Cantor said he now believes the administration is capitalizing on a relatively minor diplomatic affront to redefine U.S. policy and force Israel to make new concessions about where it will build.
U.S. officials lambasted Israel for announcing the new construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem — without any warning — while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel last week.

Israel apologized for the break in protocol but not for building. The White House has asked Israel to stop building in disputed East Jerusalem — a request that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected on Tuesday.

Cantor called the White House reaction a “disproportionate response” and said its call for a halt to the construction in East Jerusalem appears to be an “opportunistic move by an administration that wants to impose its view … onto our ally.”

These voices are welcome to those who wish to repair the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the problem is not simply the tone or the public nature of the criticism launched by the Obami. Former New York City Mayor and devout friend of Israel Ed Koch e-mails me: “It is very serious.  I hope all Jews understand the unforgivable pressures being brought on Israel.” And let’s hope all Americans do as well. The problem here is not simply the uncivil tone and bullying techniques but also the entire mindset and policy that seek to extract the most concessions possible from the Israeli government — or even topple it — as a negotiaiting gambit. It is of course a 180-degree reversal from the rather successful policy under George W. Bush, who correctly appreciated the fact that a close and fulsome U.S.-Israel relationship was essential to the “peace process.” And of course it is in keeping with our own national-security interests and our historic ties to the Jewish state.

If the Obami are surprised by the push back, that is only one more indication as to how out of touch they are — with the American people, with the realities of the Middle East, and with the impact that all of this will have on relations with other nations. In an administration with plenty of them, this ranks among the worst foreign-policy debacles.

The Obami’s decision to go after Israel in harsh terms, so unbecoming toward an ally, is bringing in a storm of criticism. As I and others are reporting, the criticism is proving to be bipartisan. Pennsylvania Rep. Christopher Carney, a Democrat, and Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk are sending a joint letter to Obama telling him to recommit to a number of principles, including “the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, [under which] official United States policy recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.” Rep. Eliot Engel added his voice to those pro-Israel Democrats. (“We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.”) And Minority Whip Eric Cantor called Rahm Emanuel. Politico reports:

While he declined to quote Emanuel’s response, Cantor said he now believes the administration is capitalizing on a relatively minor diplomatic affront to redefine U.S. policy and force Israel to make new concessions about where it will build.
U.S. officials lambasted Israel for announcing the new construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem — without any warning — while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel last week.

Israel apologized for the break in protocol but not for building. The White House has asked Israel to stop building in disputed East Jerusalem — a request that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected on Tuesday.

Cantor called the White House reaction a “disproportionate response” and said its call for a halt to the construction in East Jerusalem appears to be an “opportunistic move by an administration that wants to impose its view … onto our ally.”

These voices are welcome to those who wish to repair the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the problem is not simply the tone or the public nature of the criticism launched by the Obami. Former New York City Mayor and devout friend of Israel Ed Koch e-mails me: “It is very serious.  I hope all Jews understand the unforgivable pressures being brought on Israel.” And let’s hope all Americans do as well. The problem here is not simply the uncivil tone and bullying techniques but also the entire mindset and policy that seek to extract the most concessions possible from the Israeli government — or even topple it — as a negotiaiting gambit. It is of course a 180-degree reversal from the rather successful policy under George W. Bush, who correctly appreciated the fact that a close and fulsome U.S.-Israel relationship was essential to the “peace process.” And of course it is in keeping with our own national-security interests and our historic ties to the Jewish state.

If the Obami are surprised by the push back, that is only one more indication as to how out of touch they are — with the American people, with the realities of the Middle East, and with the impact that all of this will have on relations with other nations. In an administration with plenty of them, this ranks among the worst foreign-policy debacles.

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Defending the Gaza 54

J Street and Peace Now rush to the pages of the Jerusalem Post to defend the letter sent by 54 Democratic congressmen (one subsequently fell off the Israel-bashing bandwagon) calling on the lifting of the Gaza blockade. It’s what we have come to expect from those who find Israel’s reasoned self-defense measures to be gross violations of human rights. It is also deeply misleading. As others have noted:

Note that for the Jerusalem Post, J Street and APN argue that first they were concerned for “Israel’s security,” but the text of the letter indicates that Israel’s security is of little concern. More than 90 percent of the letter deals with the “collective punishment of the Palestinian residents” of Gaza and easing their plight. This accusation of Israel’s “collection punishment” helps explain why J Street failed to condemn the Goldstone Report. This is not a letter from “pro-Israel” sources, but from “pro-Gaza” sources. And in the case of Hamas-occupied Gaza, the two are mutually exclusive.

There always seem to be those — the Gaza-letter brigade and their boosters at J Street, most prominently — who offer themselves as true friends of Israel, knowing better than the Israelis what sacrifices are to be taken. Lift the blockade, they say from the cozy confines of New York, waving off the notion that more Israeli children will die from the bombs smuggled among the “construction supplies” they seek to allow into Gaza.

As if to hammer this home, the Jerusalem Post also offers up the remarks of an actual pro-Israel congressman, Rep. Eliot Engel. He comments on the Israeli government’s decision not to meet with the J Street delegation:

“It’s up to Israeli officials to decide who they will meet with, and who not to meet with,” he said.

He pointed out that a number of the congressmen that J Street brought over vote against Israel on resolutions that generally carry massive support on the House floor.

For instance, two of those congressman – California Democrats Lois Capps and Bob Filner – voted against House Resolution 867 that slammed the Goldstone Report and re-affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense.

Another member of the delegation, Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), voted “present,” while Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) did not vote. The only member of the delegation to back the resolution, deemed in Jerusalem an important pro-Israel resolution, was Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio).

The resolution passed 344-36, with another 22 voting “present,” and 20 not voting.

Engel is also not buying J Street’s “pro-Israel” moniker (well, neither does the J Street gang, as its college group prefers not to use that label):

Engel, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a staunch supporter of Israel in the House, said J Street takes “positions in Washington I have difficulty with.”

Engel said J Street’s statements “over-emphasize” what the organization feels Israel is not doing, “rather than putting the blame squarely where I think it belongs – the Palestinian attitude of denying Israel the right to exist as a Jewish state.”

He continued, “If you look at some of the votes we had in the US Congress pertaining to Israel and the Middle East, there are some people on that [J Street] trip who the government would be unhappy with regarding their votes – and that would be understandable. They probably feel that if people are going to criticize them, they don’t have to facilitate the criticism.”

Yes, what an odd thing indeed for a government to decide for itself how best to defend its population and to decide for itself whether those claiming to have its best interests at heart really do. In the meantime, those who profess to place Israel’s security first might forgo, for starters, the embrace of the Hamas position on Gaza and the aversion to crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime, which would like to eradicate the Jewish state rather than to nibble away at its edges.

J Street and Peace Now rush to the pages of the Jerusalem Post to defend the letter sent by 54 Democratic congressmen (one subsequently fell off the Israel-bashing bandwagon) calling on the lifting of the Gaza blockade. It’s what we have come to expect from those who find Israel’s reasoned self-defense measures to be gross violations of human rights. It is also deeply misleading. As others have noted:

Note that for the Jerusalem Post, J Street and APN argue that first they were concerned for “Israel’s security,” but the text of the letter indicates that Israel’s security is of little concern. More than 90 percent of the letter deals with the “collective punishment of the Palestinian residents” of Gaza and easing their plight. This accusation of Israel’s “collection punishment” helps explain why J Street failed to condemn the Goldstone Report. This is not a letter from “pro-Israel” sources, but from “pro-Gaza” sources. And in the case of Hamas-occupied Gaza, the two are mutually exclusive.

There always seem to be those — the Gaza-letter brigade and their boosters at J Street, most prominently — who offer themselves as true friends of Israel, knowing better than the Israelis what sacrifices are to be taken. Lift the blockade, they say from the cozy confines of New York, waving off the notion that more Israeli children will die from the bombs smuggled among the “construction supplies” they seek to allow into Gaza.

As if to hammer this home, the Jerusalem Post also offers up the remarks of an actual pro-Israel congressman, Rep. Eliot Engel. He comments on the Israeli government’s decision not to meet with the J Street delegation:

“It’s up to Israeli officials to decide who they will meet with, and who not to meet with,” he said.

He pointed out that a number of the congressmen that J Street brought over vote against Israel on resolutions that generally carry massive support on the House floor.

For instance, two of those congressman – California Democrats Lois Capps and Bob Filner – voted against House Resolution 867 that slammed the Goldstone Report and re-affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense.

Another member of the delegation, Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), voted “present,” while Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) did not vote. The only member of the delegation to back the resolution, deemed in Jerusalem an important pro-Israel resolution, was Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio).

The resolution passed 344-36, with another 22 voting “present,” and 20 not voting.

Engel is also not buying J Street’s “pro-Israel” moniker (well, neither does the J Street gang, as its college group prefers not to use that label):

Engel, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a staunch supporter of Israel in the House, said J Street takes “positions in Washington I have difficulty with.”

Engel said J Street’s statements “over-emphasize” what the organization feels Israel is not doing, “rather than putting the blame squarely where I think it belongs – the Palestinian attitude of denying Israel the right to exist as a Jewish state.”

He continued, “If you look at some of the votes we had in the US Congress pertaining to Israel and the Middle East, there are some people on that [J Street] trip who the government would be unhappy with regarding their votes – and that would be understandable. They probably feel that if people are going to criticize them, they don’t have to facilitate the criticism.”

Yes, what an odd thing indeed for a government to decide for itself how best to defend its population and to decide for itself whether those claiming to have its best interests at heart really do. In the meantime, those who profess to place Israel’s security first might forgo, for starters, the embrace of the Hamas position on Gaza and the aversion to crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime, which would like to eradicate the Jewish state rather than to nibble away at its edges.

Read Less

Axis of Uranium Meets Middle East Peace Process


It’s a busy month for Brazil. The Latin American giant hosted Shimon Peres last week, sustained a visit from Mahmoud Abbas this week, and will receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week. Not exactly a random series of visitors — and at least some Americans are paying attention: the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com have both picked up on the vociferous objections of Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to Ahmadinejad’s visit. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cites a Brazilian press account of Engel’s call on the ambassador in Washington [emphasis added]:

The Representative … met with the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington, Antonio Patriota, and conveyed his concern regarding Ahmadinejad’s visit on November 23.  Patriota, according to a source present at the meeting, reacted brusquely, surprising Engel. … [Engel said]: “I expressed my deep displeasure with Ahmadinejad’s visit, since I always speak openly in my meetings with ambassadors, and he (Patriota) defended his position.”

Engel is right to be concerned, but the cows got out of this barn a while back. U.S. media opinion looks almost poignantly out of touch on this: when editorialists speculate that Brazil could be jeopardizing its standing as a potential mediator with Iran, the salient question is, jeopardizing it with whom?

There has, after all, been no meaningful reaction from the U.S. to Brazil’s prior outreach to Iran, to the country’s own uranium-enrichment program, or to the late-2008 nuclear accord between Russia and Brazil. America has largely ignored Iran’s (and Russia’s) growing ties to nearby Venezuela and has evinced little if any reaction to a series of signals in 2009 that Brazil could help the mullahs evade sanctions by setting up a line of credit for Iran’s Export and Development Bank. Iranian sources now refer to this credit line as a fait accompli, an impression Ahmadinejad’s state visit will certainly not revise.

It’s no wonder, then, that Abbas today is asking Brazil to intervene with Iran and get its leaders to cease their support to Hamas. Nor is it surprising that Israel, in 2009, has already sent both its foreign minister and its president to Brazil, on the nation’s first Latin American charm offensives in more than two decades.

As Congressman Engel could tell us, Brazil’s policies are trending, disquietingly, toward specific and material support for Iran and a political solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs. But the U.S. should also wake up to the fact of this revolving-door courtship and what it says about the leadership vacuum up north.

Consider that while  Brazil mulled over a line of credit for Iran, this summer the U.S. made a government-backed loan to the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, as if Brazil were not a major economic power busy undermining our policy on Iran but still an importunate Third World backwater. Congressman Engel is right: this needs adjusting — as much in Washington as in Brasilia, if not more.


It’s a busy month for Brazil. The Latin American giant hosted Shimon Peres last week, sustained a visit from Mahmoud Abbas this week, and will receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week. Not exactly a random series of visitors — and at least some Americans are paying attention: the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com have both picked up on the vociferous objections of Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to Ahmadinejad’s visit. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cites a Brazilian press account of Engel’s call on the ambassador in Washington [emphasis added]:

The Representative … met with the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington, Antonio Patriota, and conveyed his concern regarding Ahmadinejad’s visit on November 23.  Patriota, according to a source present at the meeting, reacted brusquely, surprising Engel. … [Engel said]: “I expressed my deep displeasure with Ahmadinejad’s visit, since I always speak openly in my meetings with ambassadors, and he (Patriota) defended his position.”

Engel is right to be concerned, but the cows got out of this barn a while back. U.S. media opinion looks almost poignantly out of touch on this: when editorialists speculate that Brazil could be jeopardizing its standing as a potential mediator with Iran, the salient question is, jeopardizing it with whom?

There has, after all, been no meaningful reaction from the U.S. to Brazil’s prior outreach to Iran, to the country’s own uranium-enrichment program, or to the late-2008 nuclear accord between Russia and Brazil. America has largely ignored Iran’s (and Russia’s) growing ties to nearby Venezuela and has evinced little if any reaction to a series of signals in 2009 that Brazil could help the mullahs evade sanctions by setting up a line of credit for Iran’s Export and Development Bank. Iranian sources now refer to this credit line as a fait accompli, an impression Ahmadinejad’s state visit will certainly not revise.

It’s no wonder, then, that Abbas today is asking Brazil to intervene with Iran and get its leaders to cease their support to Hamas. Nor is it surprising that Israel, in 2009, has already sent both its foreign minister and its president to Brazil, on the nation’s first Latin American charm offensives in more than two decades.

As Congressman Engel could tell us, Brazil’s policies are trending, disquietingly, toward specific and material support for Iran and a political solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs. But the U.S. should also wake up to the fact of this revolving-door courtship and what it says about the leadership vacuum up north.

Consider that while  Brazil mulled over a line of credit for Iran, this summer the U.S. made a government-backed loan to the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, as if Brazil were not a major economic power busy undermining our policy on Iran but still an importunate Third World backwater. Congressman Engel is right: this needs adjusting — as much in Washington as in Brasilia, if not more.

Read Less




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