Commentary Magazine


Topic: National Jewish Democratic Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time for Honesty from Obama on Iran

How far are Democrats willing to go to squelch efforts to put a chill on the administration’s headlong rush to embrace Iran? We got a taste of just how important the effort to prevent the enactment of tougher sanctions on Iran is to the president this week when he assigned his Jewish surrogates the job of smearing mainstream Jewish groups that have been lobbying for the bill.

As JTA reports, Rabbi Jack Moline, the head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, slammed both AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee for engaging in what he called “strong-arm tactics, essentially threatening people that if they don’t vote a particular way, that somehow that makes them anti-Israel or means the abandonment of the Jewish community.” That was enough to prompt David Harris, the head of the liberal-leaning AJC to wonder what exactly Moline was up to by engaging in that kind of invective on the issue:

“We support the Iran sanctions bill, as do a bipartisan majority of U.S. senators,” he said. “Can a group differ with him on a critically important issue like Iran, where potentially existential issues are at stake, without being maligned or misrepresented, or is that the price we’re supposed to pay for honest disagreement?”

Yes, that is exactly the price. Especially when the stakes involve anything that would potentially upset the administration’s effort to create a new détente with Iran. Though it is highly unlikely that proponents of the measure have enough votes to override a threatened presidential veto, the administration is not only doing its utmost to spike the effort, it is calling out the dogs in yet another attempt to intimidate those determined to speak out in favor of stricter sanctions.

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How far are Democrats willing to go to squelch efforts to put a chill on the administration’s headlong rush to embrace Iran? We got a taste of just how important the effort to prevent the enactment of tougher sanctions on Iran is to the president this week when he assigned his Jewish surrogates the job of smearing mainstream Jewish groups that have been lobbying for the bill.

As JTA reports, Rabbi Jack Moline, the head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, slammed both AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee for engaging in what he called “strong-arm tactics, essentially threatening people that if they don’t vote a particular way, that somehow that makes them anti-Israel or means the abandonment of the Jewish community.” That was enough to prompt David Harris, the head of the liberal-leaning AJC to wonder what exactly Moline was up to by engaging in that kind of invective on the issue:

“We support the Iran sanctions bill, as do a bipartisan majority of U.S. senators,” he said. “Can a group differ with him on a critically important issue like Iran, where potentially existential issues are at stake, without being maligned or misrepresented, or is that the price we’re supposed to pay for honest disagreement?”

Yes, that is exactly the price. Especially when the stakes involve anything that would potentially upset the administration’s effort to create a new détente with Iran. Though it is highly unlikely that proponents of the measure have enough votes to override a threatened presidential veto, the administration is not only doing its utmost to spike the effort, it is calling out the dogs in yet another attempt to intimidate those determined to speak out in favor of stricter sanctions.

The NJDC’s stand is particularly discreditable since the group is trying to have it both ways on the issue. As JTA notes:

The National Jewish Democratic Council, in an effort to back a Democratic president while not expressly opposing intensified sanctions, issued a mixed verdict on the bill, saying it does not support its passage at present though the option of intensified sanctions should remain open down the road if the president seeks it.

This is utterly disingenuous since the sanctions bill wouldn’t go into effect until the interim nuclear deal signed in November runs its full course, during which the Iranians will have six months to negotiate another agreement with the West and during which they will be able to continue refining uranium. Passage of the legislation will only strengthen President Obama’s hand in his dealings with Tehran and will underscore the point that he and Secretary of State John Kerry have continually made about the Geneva accord not fundamentally weakening the economic restrictions that brought the Islamist regime to the table in the first place.

However, the context of this dispute isn’t merely a spat among Jewish groups. The administration’s position on Iran has fundamentally shifted in the last several months during which secret talks with representatives of the ayatollahs were conducted. As articles in publications like the New York Times have made clear, Washington now regards Iran as a useful partner in Syria (where Tehran has ensured the survival of its ally Bashar Assad) and in Iraq. The move to step back from confrontation with Iran over its nuclear quest predated the election of faux moderate Hassan Rouhani last summer, but it has now reached the point where the White House considers any move to put more pressure on the regime as a threat to the hopes for better relations with the ayatollahs.

Just as chief White House flack Jay Carney has falsely implied that support for more sanctions is tantamount to a desire for war with Iran, Moline seems to be reading from the same playbook when he claims Jewish groups that won’t keep quiet are misbehaving. Far from stepping out of line, AIPAC and the AJC are reminding members of Congress that they can’t have it both ways. If they are sincere about their campaign pledges to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons they can’t also refuse to back more sanctions. The same point applies to the president since the position that the sanctions are not only unnecessary but a hindrance to diplomacy is illogical.

It should be remembered that this administration opposed the current sanctions regime they claim is sufficient for their purposes. But while those who back the new bill hope diplomacy succeeds, they rightly understand that nothing short of a complete shutdown of all business with Tehran, including the embargo of Iranian oil, will be enough to convince the regime that it must abandon its nuclear dream. Having already sanctioned Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium, there seems little chance that the current diplomatic track will succeed in shutting down the centrifuges or the dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure.

Contrary to the White House spin, Iran is already showing signs that it is shaking off the problems created by the existing sanctions. As Mark Dubowitz and Rachel Ziemba wrote in a piece published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the improvement in the Iranian economy—a trend that may be rooted in a belief that the sanctions will soon be lifted—is weakening the West’s leverage over Tehran at the very moment when the president needs it the most in order to get a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran.

As such, the enactment of new tougher sanctions could help convince Tehran that its efforts to stall the West on the nuclear issue will fail. But the president seems more afraid of “breaking faith” with a terror-supporting, anti-Semitic regime that remains a potent strategic threat to America’s Middle East allies than he is of appearing too solicitous of the feelings of the ayatollahs.

But the administration is still nervous about appearing to have openly abandoned efforts to isolate Iran. That’s why the White House is hoping the president’s veto threats as well as the attacks on sanctions supporters by attack dogs like Moline will prevent him from having to veto a measure that bolsters his stated policy aims.

Supporters of sanctions shouldn’t be intimidated by innuendo from either Carney or Moline. It is time for the administration to be honest with the American people about its Iran policy. If it is serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear threat, it should stop opposing the new bill. If not, the administration should end its prevarications and make a straightforward, public case for détente with the tyrants of Tehran—if they dare.

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What it Means to Be a Pro-Israel Democrat

A lot of the drama was taken out of the battle to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense today when New York Senator Chuck Schumer endorsed the nomination. Schumer said he had made the decision after a long conversation with his former Senate colleague in which he was, he said, reassured that the new Pentagon chief had changed his mind about the relationship between Israel and the United States as well as his previous views about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Schumer directly addressed the concerns that members of the pro-Israel community have expressed about Hagel’s sudden change of heart by saying this:

“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”

Such faith in Hagel’s conversion from a politician who bragged about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and an opponent of sanctions against Iran as well as an advocate of engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah is remarkable. How is it possible that in the space of only a few months that Hagel could have had such a dramatic change of heart? Given Hagel’s disdain for the current government of Israel and the fact that only last fall he was signing letters expressing opposition to any mention of the use of force against Iran, only the most cynical of partisans could believe for a minute that the Nebraskan’s new positions are a sincere expression of his actual opinions. While Schumer, a powerful senator who has no fear about possible challenges to his seat, may think his seal of approval of Hagel will have no consequences, it is the sort of thing that, at the least, ought to raise the question of what it actually means to be a pro-Israel Democrat these days.

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A lot of the drama was taken out of the battle to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense today when New York Senator Chuck Schumer endorsed the nomination. Schumer said he had made the decision after a long conversation with his former Senate colleague in which he was, he said, reassured that the new Pentagon chief had changed his mind about the relationship between Israel and the United States as well as his previous views about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Schumer directly addressed the concerns that members of the pro-Israel community have expressed about Hagel’s sudden change of heart by saying this:

“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”

Such faith in Hagel’s conversion from a politician who bragged about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and an opponent of sanctions against Iran as well as an advocate of engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah is remarkable. How is it possible that in the space of only a few months that Hagel could have had such a dramatic change of heart? Given Hagel’s disdain for the current government of Israel and the fact that only last fall he was signing letters expressing opposition to any mention of the use of force against Iran, only the most cynical of partisans could believe for a minute that the Nebraskan’s new positions are a sincere expression of his actual opinions. While Schumer, a powerful senator who has no fear about possible challenges to his seat, may think his seal of approval of Hagel will have no consequences, it is the sort of thing that, at the least, ought to raise the question of what it actually means to be a pro-Israel Democrat these days.

Let’s specify that many Democrats are sincere and ardent backers of Israel. They are a vital element in the across-the-board bipartisan coalition that has made the U.S.-Israel alliance an integral part of American foreign and defense policy. That is why the tepid response from so many Democrats to the president’s choice of Hagel is so disappointing.

It’s time for a little honesty about Hagel. Were someone with his record and history of incendiary comments about fighting the influence of the “Jewish lobby” and tender-hearted concern for radical Islamists put forward by a Republican president there’s little doubt that Democrats would be fighting each other to get face time in front of network cameras denouncing the nomination, with a publicity hound like Schumer at the front of the line.

After all, this is the same Chuck Hagel that even the National Jewish Democratic Council—a group that is generally blind to the shortcomings of anyone in their party no matter how egregious their transgressions—denounced as unsuitable for high office in 2009 when his name was put forward for a place on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Democrats who have spent the last four years rationalizing Barack Obama’s inclination to pick fights with Israel and attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians enjoyed the election-year Jewish charm offensive in which the administration dropped its previous antagonism toward the Jewish state. But the decision to choose Hagel calls into question whether a second term will mean that the president plans to abandon his pledges on Iran or whether the 2012 cease-and-desist order about U.S. pressure on Israel will expire.

Hagel’s nomination gave politicians like Schumer a chance to show that they had no intention of allowing the president to make fools of them by policy reversals that would contradict his campaign promises on which they had staked their own good names.

But instead of showing some independence as well as common sense about the likelihood that Hagel could be trusted to do the right thing at the Pentagon, Schumer has shown that they will not stick their necks out if it means opposing the president.

As I stated earlier today, Hagel’s 180 does show that he had to disavow the views that made him the darling of the Israel-bashers if he wanted to be confirmed. Like the president’s campaign pledges, that will make it difficult, although not impossible, for the administration to abandon its stands on opposing containment of Iran or recognition of Hamas.

But the willingness of heretofore pro-Israel Democratic stalwarts to be willing accomplices to Hagel’s charade also tarnishes the reputation of their party on this issue. Whatever else this nomination has accomplished, it has made it more difficult for Democrats to assert that they are every bit as solid on Israel as their GOP foes.

That may not trouble Barack Obama or even Chuck Schumer, but it should worry rank-and-file Democrats who wonder what has happened to their party.

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NJDC Evolves on Hagel

The National Jewish Democratic Council has been notably quiet on the defense secretary nomination debate so far. Now that it’s clear Chuck Hagel’s the choice, the group finally issued this quasi-endorsement today:

“President Barack Obama’s unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the President. While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President’s lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel—on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran’s nuclear program.” 

The NJDC is in an awkward position, considering Hagel’s anti-Israel history, which was adeptly summarized in an opposition research document published by one Democratic group in 2007: 

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The National Jewish Democratic Council has been notably quiet on the defense secretary nomination debate so far. Now that it’s clear Chuck Hagel’s the choice, the group finally issued this quasi-endorsement today:

“President Barack Obama’s unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the President. While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President’s lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel—on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran’s nuclear program.” 

The NJDC is in an awkward position, considering Hagel’s anti-Israel history, which was adeptly summarized in an opposition research document published by one Democratic group in 2007: 

As Senator Hagel sits around for six more months and tries to decide whether to launch a futile bid for the White House, he has a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.  Consider this:

- In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 Senators who refused to write the EU asking them to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

- In October 2000, Hagel was one of only 4 Senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.

- In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 Senators who refsued to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yassir Arafat until his forces ended the violence against Israel.

- In December 2005, Hagel  was one of only 27 who refused to sign a letter to President Bush to pressure the Palestinian Authroity to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections. 

- In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit.

That Democratic group was, of course, the NJDC.

While the organization said Hagel had “a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel” in 2007, it was markedly less inquisitive two years later when he was appointed to President Obama’s intelligence advisory board. According to the NJDC, the appointment was fine, as long as Hagel wasn’t helping shape policy.

“If [Hagel] was taking a policy role, we’d have real concerns,” said former NJDC head Ira Forman.

Based on the group’s half-hearted endorsement of Hagel’s defense secretary nomination, apparently not. Which proves once again that allegiance to Obama overrides any principles the NJDC claims to have. Is there any better example of why not to listen to this group the next time it tries to argue Obama is the most pro-Israel president in the history of mankind? 

This–not organizations like the Emergency Committee for Israel that criticize anti-Israel Democrats–is why support for the Jewish state may tragically become a partisan issue. With one simple decision, Obama has demolished any pro-Israel credibility the NJDC may have had left. Pro-Israel Democrats who stuck their necks out for him during his reelection should take note: This is the grief you get in return.

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Dem Chair Compares Paul Ryan to Goebbels

The disproportionate character assault aimed at Paul Ryan after his RNC speech (which, incidentally, bore a striking resemblance to the backlash against Niall Ferguson’s anti-Obama Newsweek essay) is driven by one thing: sheer terror from the Democrats that Ryan is going to break through to independent voters.

But the attacks just got a lot uglier this morning. The SF Gate blog reports that California’s Democratic Party Chair John Burton likened Ryan to Joseph Goebbels at a breakfast for the Democratic National convention (h/t Burns & Haberman):

“They lie and they don’t care if people think they lie… Joseph Goebbels — it’s the big lie, you keep repeating it,” Burton said Monday before the Blake Hotel breakfast. He said Ryan told “a bold-faced lie and he doesn’t care that it was a lie. That was Goebbels, the big lie.”

Reminded that Brown drew heat for comparing the messaging of Meg Whitman’s 2010 GOP gubernatorial campaign to Goebbels, he said sarcastically, “[Bleep] that’s right, she won the election!

Burton shrugged at Brown getting in trouble. “He won it big. Goddam he was in trouble.”

Not only did Burton compare Ryan to the Nazi leader, he shrugged it off and refused to back down when confronted about his language — quipping that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown won an election after comparing his opponent, Meg Whitman, to Goebbels in 2010.

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The disproportionate character assault aimed at Paul Ryan after his RNC speech (which, incidentally, bore a striking resemblance to the backlash against Niall Ferguson’s anti-Obama Newsweek essay) is driven by one thing: sheer terror from the Democrats that Ryan is going to break through to independent voters.

But the attacks just got a lot uglier this morning. The SF Gate blog reports that California’s Democratic Party Chair John Burton likened Ryan to Joseph Goebbels at a breakfast for the Democratic National convention (h/t Burns & Haberman):

“They lie and they don’t care if people think they lie… Joseph Goebbels — it’s the big lie, you keep repeating it,” Burton said Monday before the Blake Hotel breakfast. He said Ryan told “a bold-faced lie and he doesn’t care that it was a lie. That was Goebbels, the big lie.”

Reminded that Brown drew heat for comparing the messaging of Meg Whitman’s 2010 GOP gubernatorial campaign to Goebbels, he said sarcastically, “[Bleep] that’s right, she won the election!

Burton shrugged at Brown getting in trouble. “He won it big. Goddam he was in trouble.”

Not only did Burton compare Ryan to the Nazi leader, he shrugged it off and refused to back down when confronted about his language — quipping that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown won an election after comparing his opponent, Meg Whitman, to Goebbels in 2010.

What was Ryan’s “Big Lie,” according to Burton? His comment about a Janesville plant closing down was, as I wrote last week, perfectly accurate. Burton may think Ryan remark was unfair to Obama, but that still doesn’t reach the threshold of a “lie.” And to compare it to Goebbels’ Big Lie — the Nazi attempt to justify the Holocaust — is just disgraceful and should be condemned by both parties.

The National Jewish Democratic Council has been one of the first groups to criticize inappropriate Nazi references when they come from GOP politicians. We’ll see what the group has to say about this incident (and whether the ADL and AJC weigh in as well).

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Jewish Dems Had No Religious Duty to Smear Adelson

The National Jewish Democratic Council may have bit off more than it could chew with its allegations about Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has apologized for making similar charges that the casino mogul profited from prostitution in his Macau property in China. But the NJDC has yet to back off on its attack, and the result is that Adelson has filed a $60 million libel lawsuit against the group.

Optimistic Jewish Democrats may hope the group will be able to raise some money from liberals who hate the billionaire who has contributed record amounts to Republican candidates as well as many Jewish philanthropic causes. But the problem with the NJDC posing as a martyr being harassed by the deep-pocketed conservative is that their behavior has been indefensible. Disagree with Adelson’s stands on the issues and his taste in candidates if you like, but calling someone a pimp without a shred of proof is not the stuff of First Amendment poster children. Proving libel is difficult, but on the face of it, the NJDC is going to be hard-pressed to prove its mudslinging wasn’t knowingly false as well as malicious.

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The National Jewish Democratic Council may have bit off more than it could chew with its allegations about Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has apologized for making similar charges that the casino mogul profited from prostitution in his Macau property in China. But the NJDC has yet to back off on its attack, and the result is that Adelson has filed a $60 million libel lawsuit against the group.

Optimistic Jewish Democrats may hope the group will be able to raise some money from liberals who hate the billionaire who has contributed record amounts to Republican candidates as well as many Jewish philanthropic causes. But the problem with the NJDC posing as a martyr being harassed by the deep-pocketed conservative is that their behavior has been indefensible. Disagree with Adelson’s stands on the issues and his taste in candidates if you like, but calling someone a pimp without a shred of proof is not the stuff of First Amendment poster children. Proving libel is difficult, but on the face of it, the NJDC is going to be hard-pressed to prove its mudslinging wasn’t knowingly false as well as malicious.

The NJDC put a brave face on the mess they talked themselves into with the following statement:

We will not be bullied into submission, and we will not be silenced by power. This is not Putin’s Russia, and in America, political speech regarding one of the most well-known public figures in our country is a fundamental right. One would think the person making greatest use of the Citizens United ruling would understand this. To be sure, referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures—as we did—is wholly appropriate. Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors.

We know that we were well within our rights, and we will defend ourselves against this SLAPP suit as far and as long as necessary. We simply will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced.

They are right that political speech is protected, a point that the group — like other opponents of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling — often forgets. But there is a not so fine line between criticizing a public figure and spreading allegations that he is involved in prostitution. There was plenty of room for them to take shots at Adelson without using a palpably false smear. Even billionaires have a right to protect themselves against that sort of libel, and it will now be up to the NJDC to wise up and make an apology or face some serious economic consequences.

Even more to the point, the NJDC shouldn’t be dragging Judaism into this sordid fight they’ve started. Far from it being a specifically Jewish obligation to raise such issues, there is actually a specific religious prohibition against this sort of libel. Indeed, if there is anything that defines the concept of lashon hara or “evil tongue” — the provision in Jewish religious law against defamatory speech — it is calling a political opponent a pimp. For them to claim there was any such duty to smear him in this manner makes a mockery of Judaism.

Given the egregious nature of the NJDC’s offense, Adelson is well within his rights in pursuing a libel suit. Contrary to the NJDC’s whiny defense, this is not a SLAPP suit intended to silence legitimate or even outlandish political speech. Associating someone with prostitution is simply beyond the pale, even in the nasty world of politics.

That’s a lesson the group is about to learn to its sorrow. Though they may sound tough now, there’s little doubt they will soon be on their knees either begging Adelson to accept an apology or asking a court to let them off only because they didn’t know how false their wild accusations actually were.

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Groups Blast Carter’s Role at Convention

As Jonathan wrote earlier today, former President Jimmy Carter has been granted a prime-time speaking role at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, despite his history of anti-Israel activism and objections from liberal Jewish groups. Both the National Jewish Democratic Council and Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman criticized Carter’s convention role in comments to “Contentions” today.

“He is flawed, he’s got an obsession with Israel, a biased obsession that borders on anti-Semitism,” said Foxman. “So that’s not somebody I think should grace the podium of a national convention.”

Foxman added that Carter probably lobbied organizers for the speaking role, putting the DNC in an awkward position. “I don’t think he deserves to be there, except it’s hard to refuse a platform to a former living president especially when he asks for it,” said Foxman.

NJDC President and CEO David Harris also unloaded on Carter in an emailed statement.

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As Jonathan wrote earlier today, former President Jimmy Carter has been granted a prime-time speaking role at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, despite his history of anti-Israel activism and objections from liberal Jewish groups. Both the National Jewish Democratic Council and Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman criticized Carter’s convention role in comments to “Contentions” today.

“He is flawed, he’s got an obsession with Israel, a biased obsession that borders on anti-Semitism,” said Foxman. “So that’s not somebody I think should grace the podium of a national convention.”

Foxman added that Carter probably lobbied organizers for the speaking role, putting the DNC in an awkward position. “I don’t think he deserves to be there, except it’s hard to refuse a platform to a former living president especially when he asks for it,” said Foxman.

NJDC President and CEO David Harris also unloaded on Carter in an emailed statement.

“When it comes to Israel and the Middle East, President Carter has unfortunately embarrassed himself — as his analysis and commentary has been stubbornly wrong, harmful to the peace process, and getting worse all the time,” said Harris. “I’m confident that he won’t be speaking to the Party about Middle East policy.”

Harris added: “I’d like to know if Senator Rand Paul will be spreading his views of the Middle East and foreign aid in Tampa.”

While Harris and Foxman expect Carter to stay away from Middle East issues in his speech, it sounds like the former president will be weighing in on foreign policy. The DNC said in a statement today that Carter will address “unique insights about President Obama as a global leader.” The DNC also called the former president, who has supported conspiratorial theories about the Israel lobby, “one of the greatest humanitarian leaders of our time and a champion of democracy around the globe.” Carter will give his speech via satellite during a “prime-time” slot, according to the DNC.

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NJDC Backs Down on Adelson Attacks

I wrote yesterday about the National Jewish Democratic Council’s self-destructive attack on Sheldon Adelson’s “dirty money.” Since then, it appears that some responsible figures have sat down with the NJDC and gently explained why this campaign was a terrible move. The Jewish Democratic group posted a quasi-mea culpa on its website late yesterday, effectively ending its anti-Adelson campaign (h/t JTA):

Regarding our recent campaign surrounding Sheldon Adelson, we don’t believe we engaged in character assassination; we stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts. Accusations against Mr. Adelson were made not by us, but by others, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Nonetheless, we regret the concern that this campaign has caused. And in the interest of shalom bayit (peace in our home/community), we are going to take down our petition today. Moving forward, we’ll continue to work hard to fight against the unique threat posed by the outsized influence of certain individual megadonors, which rightly concerns most Americans and most American Jews.

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I wrote yesterday about the National Jewish Democratic Council’s self-destructive attack on Sheldon Adelson’s “dirty money.” Since then, it appears that some responsible figures have sat down with the NJDC and gently explained why this campaign was a terrible move. The Jewish Democratic group posted a quasi-mea culpa on its website late yesterday, effectively ending its anti-Adelson campaign (h/t JTA):

Regarding our recent campaign surrounding Sheldon Adelson, we don’t believe we engaged in character assassination; we stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts. Accusations against Mr. Adelson were made not by us, but by others, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Nonetheless, we regret the concern that this campaign has caused. And in the interest of shalom bayit (peace in our home/community), we are going to take down our petition today. Moving forward, we’ll continue to work hard to fight against the unique threat posed by the outsized influence of certain individual megadonors, which rightly concerns most Americans and most American Jews.

As embarrassing as it is for the NJDC to walk the campaign back, it’s better for them than letting it drag on. Remember, this was the same group that claimed any criticism of Obama’s Israel record amounted to using Israel as a “partisan wedge issue.” Unless the NJDC was willing to publicly call on Alan Dershowitz, the Anti-Defamation League, the Birthright Israel program, AIPAC, and Yad Vashem to cut ties with Adelson, they had no standing to demand Mitt Romney and Republicans to stop taking his donations.

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NJDC’s False Claims About Eric Cantor

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a statement this afternoon commending House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for “admit[ting] to anti-Semitism within the House Republican caucus” during an interview with Mike Allen today. The problem? Cantor never did that. In fact, when Allen asked him whether he’s detected anti-Semitism from members of Congress, Cantor replied with an unequivocal “no.”

Either the NJDC didn’t actually listen to Cantor’s comments (which you can find here), or just thought the political attack was too good to pass up. The group issued the following:

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The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a statement this afternoon commending House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for “admit[ting] to anti-Semitism within the House Republican caucus” during an interview with Mike Allen today. The problem? Cantor never did that. In fact, when Allen asked him whether he’s detected anti-Semitism from members of Congress, Cantor replied with an unequivocal “no.”

Either the NJDC didn’t actually listen to Cantor’s comments (which you can find here), or just thought the political attack was too good to pass up. The group issued the following:

In an astonishing but brutally honest admission to Politico today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—the only Jewish Republican in Congress—openly discussed the challenges of anti-Semitism and racism confronted within the House Republican caucus, adopting his questioner’s labeling of it as the “darker side” of the caucus. National Jewish Democratic Council President and CEO David A. Harris commented:

It’s both admirable and disturbing in the extreme to hear Majority Leader Cantor’s candid remarks regarding the dual challenges of racism and anti-Semitism that he has detected in the House GOP caucus. From the widespread use of abusive Holocaust rhetoric among House GOP members and candidates to behind-the-scenes skirmishes like Cantor’s own well-documented decision to oppose the reelection of Rep. Don Manzullo (R-IL) over his statement to Cantor that Cantor would not be ‘saved,’ there are clearly deep-seated problems within the GOP. The time has come for more GOP leaders to have Cantor’s courage to step forward, and for the GOP to start addressing the problem directly—with actions, not just words.

The NJDC’s claim is based on a Think Progress story from earlier today headlined “Cantor Suggests Anti-Semitism is a Problem Within the House GOP Caucus,” which blatantly misrepresented (even by TP’s usual standards of accuracy) the congressman’s comments this morning. At NRO, Patrick Brennan knocks down the story:

TP reported, “Calling it the ‘darker side,’ Cantor responded to Politico’s Mike Allen’s question of whether there is anti-Semitism in Congress by trying to avoid commenting.” While TP is understandably eager to portray the House GOP caucus as “the darker side,” they’re not just spinning his words, they’re lying: Cantor answered the question directly, and didn’t attempt to avoid comment. The fact that he eventually grew tired of Allen’s games and didn’t respond to the final needling can’t be taken as evidence that he actually believes the precise opposite of his initial, straightforward response — which is exactly what TP tries to do.

Cantor’s office said the unambiguous “no” the congressman gave in response to Allen’s question speaks for itself.

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Dems Turn Passover Into Obama Worship

One of the most disturbing aspects of modern American Jewish life is the almost obsessive desire of many Jews to universalize every aspect of Jewish belief while downplaying the original meanings of customs and ritual. Leftist Rabbi Arthur Waskow help set this in motion decades ago with his “Freedom Seder” in which he hijacked the Haggadah recited by Jews on Passover to promote other causes. Since then, transposing the seder in order to morph the Jewish holiday that celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people into something that has nothing to do with the Jews and Judaism has become so commonplace it is something of a cliché.

This year, there are more egregious examples of this trend. The National Jewish Democratic Council has published a new version of the “Four Questions” from the Haggadah that is a paean, not to the liberation of the Jews from Egypt, but to the wonders of Barack Obama, to whom the NJDC directs Americans to express thanks rather than their Creator. One need only read the NJDC’s questions to understand their desperation to make up for three years of Israel-bashing by President Obama as well as to get a feel for the attitude of the group toward the president that can only be characterized as worshipful.

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One of the most disturbing aspects of modern American Jewish life is the almost obsessive desire of many Jews to universalize every aspect of Jewish belief while downplaying the original meanings of customs and ritual. Leftist Rabbi Arthur Waskow help set this in motion decades ago with his “Freedom Seder” in which he hijacked the Haggadah recited by Jews on Passover to promote other causes. Since then, transposing the seder in order to morph the Jewish holiday that celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people into something that has nothing to do with the Jews and Judaism has become so commonplace it is something of a cliché.

This year, there are more egregious examples of this trend. The National Jewish Democratic Council has published a new version of the “Four Questions” from the Haggadah that is a paean, not to the liberation of the Jews from Egypt, but to the wonders of Barack Obama, to whom the NJDC directs Americans to express thanks rather than their Creator. One need only read the NJDC’s questions to understand their desperation to make up for three years of Israel-bashing by President Obama as well as to get a feel for the attitude of the group toward the president that can only be characterized as worshipful.

The president’s shaky record on Israel — which was made all too clear by the constant fights and sniping against the Jewish state that only abated once his re-election campaign began — has made it imperative for Democrats to pretend as if the administration’s stands on Jerusalem, the 1967 borders and years of failed engagement with Iran never happened. They can rightly claim he has not trashed the alliance with Israel and has even done the right thing at the United Nations and continued to fund programs begun under his predecessor like the Iron Dome missile defense system (which Obama falsely claims credit for initiating). He has also said all the right things about stopping Iran’s nuclear threat though his actions (and a series of insidious leaks from his staffers) have demonstrated that he is more concerned about stopping Israel from defending itself than actually doing something about Iran.

The NJDC’s questions also attempt to use Passover to promote their party’s stands on ObamaCare and the defense of entitlement spending that is bankrupting the nation. There is nothing wrong with Democrats taking those positions if that’s what they believe, but the attempt to link these partisan stands on divisive issues — about which Jews as well as non-Jews can disagree — with Judaism is absurd.

An old joke about Reform Judaism had it that the movement’s concept of the faith was merely the Democratic Party Platform with holidays thrown in. As unfair as such a characterization was, it appears the NJDC wants to go it one better by attempting to transform Jewish holidays into partisan talking points. Such things show no respect for Judaism by trivializing the Exodus as merely an excuse for political rhetoric.

Passover is the occasion for Jews to remember their liberation from Egypt and to embrace not only the gift of freedom but also the ability to worship God and His laws as a people. While seders are appropriate moments to remember those in need as well as other Jewish communities — such as that in Israel — which are assailed by foes, it is not the time to be delivering obsequious paeans to American politicians, no matter which party they belong to. That sort of absurd distortion of the festival of freedom bears a closer resemblance to idol worship than it does to Judaism.

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