Commentary Magazine


Topic: AIPAC

The Communal Conversation on Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Obama Snubs Mark Kirk at AIPAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Iran Heed Netanyahu’s Warning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Netanyahu Leans Toward Action at AIPAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pelosi Hits Wrong Notes at AIPAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Senate Will Force Obama’s Hand on Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AIPAC Head to Obama: Do More on Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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White House Launches Hamfisted Campaign to Silence Iran Critics

President Obama tried to water down congressional sanctions last year and then declined to implement them last week, part of a long-term policy that leaves pressuring Iran to “leaders in Congress and Europe.” And because the administration has a political interest in convincing voters that it’s taking a hardline stance on Iran, it has a rhetorical and argumentative interest in silencing the critics who (a) point out how the opposite is true and (b) urge the president to do more.

Because intimidation comes naturally to this White House – witness last week’s demagoguery of the Koch Brothers and on birth control – their pushbacks have been marked by vague warnings delivered in tones of great significance. In his AIPAC speech this morning, Obama literally blamed high gas prices on Iran critics. Because why not?

I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues, the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program. For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.

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President Obama tried to water down congressional sanctions last year and then declined to implement them last week, part of a long-term policy that leaves pressuring Iran to “leaders in Congress and Europe.” And because the administration has a political interest in convincing voters that it’s taking a hardline stance on Iran, it has a rhetorical and argumentative interest in silencing the critics who (a) point out how the opposite is true and (b) urge the president to do more.

Because intimidation comes naturally to this White House – witness last week’s demagoguery of the Koch Brothers and on birth control – their pushbacks have been marked by vague warnings delivered in tones of great significance. In his AIPAC speech this morning, Obama literally blamed high gas prices on Iran critics. Because why not?

I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues, the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program. For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.

Lest you think this warning was anything but a calculated brushback, here’s Anthony Blinken, National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden and Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, telling pro-Israel advocates last week that the Israelis may want to consider that Obama’s going to be reelected… if they know what’s good for them:

And he was unusually blunt about the partisan political attacks on the president’s Middle East record: he said what could really harm U.S.-Israeli relations and Israel’s national security is “subjecting either to the vagaries of partisan politics or election year talking points….” He also noted, without explicitly directing his comments at anyone in particular, that “there is a decent chance that the Obama-Biden administration will be around next November, so folks who are looking how to address these issues should probably factor that in as a reasonable possibility.”

Nice country you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it. How thoroughly charming.

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Does Obama Want to Contain a Nuclear-Capable Iran?

President Obama clarified today that he’s looking to prevent, not contain, a nuclear-armed Iran, during his speech to AIPAC. While this was a welcome acknowledgement, it’s not particularly meaningful. Containment policy toward Iran has become so unpalatable that even American apologists for the Iranian regime rarely openly advocate it in mainstream discourse.

Instead, these regime allies promote a different kind of containment policy: containment of a nuclear-capable Iran. In other words, the bomb is the redline – but everything that Iran does leading up to the bomb, including high-level enrichment, is acceptable.

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President Obama clarified today that he’s looking to prevent, not contain, a nuclear-armed Iran, during his speech to AIPAC. While this was a welcome acknowledgement, it’s not particularly meaningful. Containment policy toward Iran has become so unpalatable that even American apologists for the Iranian regime rarely openly advocate it in mainstream discourse.

Instead, these regime allies promote a different kind of containment policy: containment of a nuclear-capable Iran. In other words, the bomb is the redline – but everything that Iran does leading up to the bomb, including high-level enrichment, is acceptable.

This strategy brings Iran within arms-length of obtaining a nuclear weapon (which is also well after Israel would have the ability to take military action). And it gives regime apologists more time to argue that a nuclear-armed Iran is less of a threat to the world than commonly believed.

The National Iranian-American Council, an American group that advocates for pro-regime policies, has been one of the most vocal supporters of this policy of containing a “nuclear-capable” Iran. The organization has pushed back against a Senate resolution that would specify Iran’s capability to build a weapon as a redline:

“This measure contradicts and confuses the existing United States ‘redline’ that Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Instead of reinforcing existing standards, the measure lowers the bar to assert that even the capability to pursue a nuclear weapon would be grounds for war.  This is dangerous policy to be toying with.

“Acquisition is very different from capability.  Nuclear weapons capability is a nebulous term that could theoretically be applied to every state from Canada to the Netherlands that possesses civilian nuclear capabilities.  We should not be staking questions of war on such a shaky foundation.”

So while Obama was right to reject containment of a nuclear-armed Iran today, it’s noteworthy (and concerning) that he declined to rule out containment of a nuclear-capable Iran:

Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

Trita Parsi, the president of NIAC, praised Obama for keeping the door open to containment. He wrote in the Huffington Post today:

The Obama administration puts the red line not at enrichment — which is permitted under international law — but at nuclear weapons. This is a clearer, more enforceable red line that also has the force of international law behind it.

While expressing his sympathy and friendship with Israel, Obama did not yield his red line at AIPAC. With the backing of the U.S. military, he has stood firm behind weaponization rather than weapons capability as the red line.

The fact that the head of NIAC drew this conclusion from the president’s AIPAC speech is something that should deeply worry supporters of Israel.

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What’s Missing From Obama’s AIPAC Speech? Red Lines on Iran and Palestinians

President Obama’s charm offensive with Jewish voters was again in evidence today during his speech to the AIPAC conference. The president’s bragging of his “deeds” left little doubt that his desire to be seen as Israel’s best friend ever in the White House is due to fears of a decline in support from Jewish voters this year. Obama’s doubling down on his tough rhetoric on Iran — he specifically disavowed any thought of “containing” Tehran — and the complete absence in the speech of any of any interest in pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians– (a hallmark of his administration’s policies during his first three years in office) was a signal defeat for Jewish leftists like the J Street lobby that once hoped to wean the Democrats from AIPAC.

But even more significant was the fact that despite his repeated vows to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, there was little indication that Obama is prepared to make the leap from talking about the danger to actually doing something. His call for continued efforts towards negotiations on the issue undermined all the hard line rhetoric intended to appease wavering Jewish Democrats. Though his campaign will spin this speech as more proof that Obama has “Israel’s back,” Iran’s leaders may read it very differently and assume they are free to go on building their weapon with little fear the U.S. really is contemplating the use of force.

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President Obama’s charm offensive with Jewish voters was again in evidence today during his speech to the AIPAC conference. The president’s bragging of his “deeds” left little doubt that his desire to be seen as Israel’s best friend ever in the White House is due to fears of a decline in support from Jewish voters this year. Obama’s doubling down on his tough rhetoric on Iran — he specifically disavowed any thought of “containing” Tehran — and the complete absence in the speech of any of any interest in pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians– (a hallmark of his administration’s policies during his first three years in office) was a signal defeat for Jewish leftists like the J Street lobby that once hoped to wean the Democrats from AIPAC.

But even more significant was the fact that despite his repeated vows to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, there was little indication that Obama is prepared to make the leap from talking about the danger to actually doing something. His call for continued efforts towards negotiations on the issue undermined all the hard line rhetoric intended to appease wavering Jewish Democrats. Though his campaign will spin this speech as more proof that Obama has “Israel’s back,” Iran’s leaders may read it very differently and assume they are free to go on building their weapon with little fear the U.S. really is contemplating the use of force.

The first conclusion to be drawn from the speech is that Obama’s all-out effort to create more distance between the U.S. and Israel and to hound the Israelis to make concessions on borders, Jerusalem and settlements is dead for the moment. A re-elected Obama may take up this dead-end argument with Israel again this year, but for now, all that is forgotten. This is a crushing blow to J Street, who wrongly interpreted the 2008 election as signaling the end of the pro-Israel consensus in this country. Obama’s focus on Iran shows not only is he aware of the potential for a significant loss in his percentage of the Jewish vote this year, but that he must ignore those left-wingers calling for a less tough stand on Iran if he is to maintain the Democrats’ Jewish advantage.

But this renewed charm offensive should not be mistaken for a coherent strategy on Iran. The ayatollahs have been listening to Obama’s tough talk about them for years. But unlike those who may take the president’s claims about all his administration has done on the issue at face value, they have not forgotten years of Obama’s effort to “engage” them as well as a feckless diplomatic campaign that has not scared them much. The president’s Jewish admirers may believe his assertion that Russia and China have joined his coalition to isolate Iran, but the ayatollahs know that both countries are opposed to any further sanctions and that China stands ready to buy the oil the U.S. and Europe might boycott later this year.

Moreover, their ears must have lit up when in the course of a speech aimed at proving how little daylight exists between the administration and Israel, they heard the president continuing to argue in favor of further diplomacy. The Iranians regard any further negotiations as merely another opportunity to run out the diplomatic clock as they get closer to realizing their nuclear ambitions. The assumption that reliance on sanctions or more talking can get the Iranians to back down is without substance.

They also noticed what Obama’s Democratic cheerleaders will diligently try to ignore: the absence in the speech of any indication that the United States is willing to lay down “red lines” that mark the limit of how far Iran may go without obligating Washington to take action. Though the president deprecated the “loose talk” about war that has been heard lately, the only way to avoid such a conflict is to demonstrate to Iran that if it continues, as it has, to increase its efforts toward nuclear capability, it will bring down upon itself the wrath of the West.

Obama rightly restated the proposition that an Iranian nuclear weapon posed a threat to the United States and the West as much as it does to Israel. The logic of Obama’s rhetoric about the folly of containment — a point many in his administration don’t seem to accept — ought to point him toward abandoning his faith in a diplomatic effort that was doomed even before he began repeating the mistakes of the Bush administration on Iran.

Despite all the happy talk about Obama emanating from Israeli sources at AIPAC, Prime Minister Netanyahu understands that a policy of waiting for the U.S. to take action on Iran is tantamount to a decision to sit back and wait for Tehran to announce it has a bomb. Though there is no telling yet what Netanyahu’s decision on striking Iran may turn out to be, Israel’s friends can take little comfort from the president’s speech.

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Will Obama Clarify His Shorthand Answers on Iran at AIPAC on Sunday?

At Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “clarify” her statement the day before to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who had asked her if the administration seeks to prevent Iran becoming a “nuclear threshold state.” She had responded that the policy is to prevent Iran from “attaining nuclear weapons.”

Berman asked Clinton to clarify if administration policy was in fact “merely to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons,” or rather to “prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapons capability.” At virtually the same moment, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was being asked the same question at his press conference. A reporter asked him to “clarify, is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from a nuclear weapon, or to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons capability?” Clinton and Carney — speaking virtually simultaneously at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — gave opposite answers.

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At Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “clarify” her statement the day before to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who had asked her if the administration seeks to prevent Iran becoming a “nuclear threshold state.” She had responded that the policy is to prevent Iran from “attaining nuclear weapons.”

Berman asked Clinton to clarify if administration policy was in fact “merely to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons,” or rather to “prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapons capability.” At virtually the same moment, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was being asked the same question at his press conference. A reporter asked him to “clarify, is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from a nuclear weapon, or to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons capability?” Clinton and Carney — speaking virtually simultaneously at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — gave opposite answers.

Carney’s answer was, “Well, I think I’ve been clear that we are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” Clinton’s answer was, “I think it’s absolutely clear that the president’s policy is to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons capability.” Clinton then asserted that her answer – which differed not only from Carney’s response but from her own response the day before – reiterated the existing policy of the administration: “Let there be no confusion in any shorthand answer to any question. The policy remains the same.”

Someone should tell President Obama. On multiple occasions, he has articulated his policy as – to use Berman’s words – merely preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. In his 2008 AIPAC speech, Obama said “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” In his first White House press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009, Obama said he would not allow Iran to proceed with “deploying a nuclear weapon.” In the 2012 State of the Union Address, he said “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” [Emphasis added].

Israel is highly unlikely to stand by while Iran develops nuclear weapons capability, much less actually obtaining, deploying, or getting a nuclear weapon. Israel’s policy reflects the fact that once nuclear weapons capability is attained, getting nuclear weapons requires only a secret political decision that may not be discovered by U.S. intelligence until after the fact. That is what happened in North Korea.

Sen. Graham and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), together with prominent senators and representatives from both parties, have introduced identical “Sense of the Senate” and “Sense of the House” resolutions, which affirm that it is “a vital national interest of the United States to prevent [Iran] from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability” and reject “any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran.”

On Sunday, the president speaks again to AIPAC. We will see if he endorses the Graham/Ros-Lehtinen resolutions or sticks with his prior shorthand answers.

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Pat Buchanan and His Mysterious “Blacklisters”

It always seemed odd that MSNBC, the far-left network, employed one of the most fringey, controversial, anti-Semitic figures on the right. But then again, there was probably a good reason for it. The left still wishes all conservatives were as easy to demonize as Pat Buchanan.

But now it seems some powerful, shadowy group of “backlisters” went and drove Buchanan out of MSNBC, after his writing was attacked by liberals as racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic. Buchanan took to the internet today to warn darkly about these blacklisters:

Without a hearing, they smear and stigmatize as racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic any who contradict what George Orwell once called their “smelly little orthodoxies.” They then demand that the heretic recant, grovel, apologize, and pledge to go forth and sin no more.

Defy them, and they will go after the network where you work, the newspapers that carry your column, the conventions that invite you to speak. If all else fails, they go after the advertisers.

I know these blacklisters. They operate behind closed doors, with phone calls, mailed threats and off-the-record meetings. They work in the dark because, as Al Smith said, nothing un-American can live in the sunlight.

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It always seemed odd that MSNBC, the far-left network, employed one of the most fringey, controversial, anti-Semitic figures on the right. But then again, there was probably a good reason for it. The left still wishes all conservatives were as easy to demonize as Pat Buchanan.

But now it seems some powerful, shadowy group of “backlisters” went and drove Buchanan out of MSNBC, after his writing was attacked by liberals as racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic. Buchanan took to the internet today to warn darkly about these blacklisters:

Without a hearing, they smear and stigmatize as racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic any who contradict what George Orwell once called their “smelly little orthodoxies.” They then demand that the heretic recant, grovel, apologize, and pledge to go forth and sin no more.

Defy them, and they will go after the network where you work, the newspapers that carry your column, the conventions that invite you to speak. If all else fails, they go after the advertisers.

I know these blacklisters. They operate behind closed doors, with phone calls, mailed threats and off-the-record meetings. They work in the dark because, as Al Smith said, nothing un-American can live in the sunlight.

Dying to know who these mysterious blacklisters are. If only he would be a bit more specific!

On a related note, Buchanan was one of the few figures on the right who regularly used the term “Israel Firsters” to smear the pro-Israel community. He also used the same Al Smith quote in a Human Events article in which he accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee of torpedoing Chas Freeman’s National Intelligence Council nomination:

Nor did Freeman shrink at naming the source of the noxious campaign of slander against him.

“The tactics of the Israel lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods and an utter disregard for the truth.”

“A lobby,” Steve Rosen confided in an AIPAC internal memo, “is like a night flower; it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun.”

Yes, and long ago, Al Smith addressed the age-old problem of the Rosens within: “The best way to kill anything un-American is to drag it out into the open, because anything un-American cannot live in the sunlight.'”

The pro-Israel lobby didn’t drive Buchanan out of MSNBC, as much as he may wish it did. It was just a matter of time before the MSNBC audience objected to Buchanan’s past offensive statements. The only surprise is that it took so long.

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Occupy AIPAC Next Step for Leftist Group

Many Jewish liberals have been in denial about the anti-Israel and often anti-Semitic tone of much of the Occupy Wall Street movement since its inception. As our colleague Jonathan Neumann wrote in the January issue of COMMENTARY, the leftist hatred for Israel is thoroughly integrated into the Occupy worldview even though some mainstream sympathizers with the movement would prefer to ignore it. But their tolerance for the way this virus has attached itself to a movement that is supposedly about “social justice” will soon be put to the test again.

The so-called U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is organizing an Occupy AIPAC event set to coincide with the annual national conference in Washington, D.C. of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March. The group, an anti-Zionist organization dedicated to promoting boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel is hoping to piggyback on the popularity of the Occupy movement to try to sabotage or at least overshadow the AIPAC event. Though the odds are, it will fail, as most such anti-Israel efforts generally do, the manner with which this BDS group has commandeered the Occupy brand name ought to alert liberals to the direction the movement is headed with respect to Israel and the Jews.

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Many Jewish liberals have been in denial about the anti-Israel and often anti-Semitic tone of much of the Occupy Wall Street movement since its inception. As our colleague Jonathan Neumann wrote in the January issue of COMMENTARY, the leftist hatred for Israel is thoroughly integrated into the Occupy worldview even though some mainstream sympathizers with the movement would prefer to ignore it. But their tolerance for the way this virus has attached itself to a movement that is supposedly about “social justice” will soon be put to the test again.

The so-called U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is organizing an Occupy AIPAC event set to coincide with the annual national conference in Washington, D.C. of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March. The group, an anti-Zionist organization dedicated to promoting boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel is hoping to piggyback on the popularity of the Occupy movement to try to sabotage or at least overshadow the AIPAC event. Though the odds are, it will fail, as most such anti-Israel efforts generally do, the manner with which this BDS group has commandeered the Occupy brand name ought to alert liberals to the direction the movement is headed with respect to Israel and the Jews.

Anti-Israel protests at AIPAC are nothing new but the way the BDS coalition has neatly appropriated the slogans and the spirit of the movement praised by Obama could give these outliers a bit more prominence and a more respectful hearing in a mainstream press that has bent over backwards to excuse the excesses of the occupiers.

Even more importantly, the identification of this viciously anti-Zionist group with the mainstream of the Occupy movement ought to shock get the attention of liberals who have refused to acknowledge the connection between the hard left and anti-Semitism. As Neumann points out in his article, far from being a marginal phenomenon, the link between the neo-Marxism of the occupiers and the BDS crowd is far from tenuous. The occupiers and the Israel-haters are natural allies. The only question is when, if ever, are mainstream Jewish liberals who want nothing to do with the Occupy AIPAC leftists going to face up to the fact that there is no distance between this group and the rest of the Occupy mob.

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ADL, AJC Rebuke CAP for “Hateful” Anti-Israel Comments

The controversy over Center for American Progress’s anti-Israel bloggers has dragged on for what seems like an eternity in blog-time. When the story first broke, Newt Gingrich was still a GOP frontrunner, the battle over the payroll tax cut was still suspenseful, and Ben Smith was still at Politico. I only say all this to emphasize how absurdly long it took the AJC and ADL to weigh in on the issue:

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League weighed in last week on the mushrooming anti-Israel scandal surrounding a group of bloggers working for the U.S. think tank Center for American Progress (CAP).

Jason Isaacson, the AJC’s director of government and international affairs, told the Jerusalem Post by e-mail on Friday that “think tanks are entitled to their political viewpoints – but they’re not free to slander with impunity. References to Israeli ‘apartheid’ or ‘Israel-firsters’ are so false and hateful they reveal an ugly bias no serious policy center can countenance.”

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The controversy over Center for American Progress’s anti-Israel bloggers has dragged on for what seems like an eternity in blog-time. When the story first broke, Newt Gingrich was still a GOP frontrunner, the battle over the payroll tax cut was still suspenseful, and Ben Smith was still at Politico. I only say all this to emphasize how absurdly long it took the AJC and ADL to weigh in on the issue:

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League weighed in last week on the mushrooming anti-Israel scandal surrounding a group of bloggers working for the U.S. think tank Center for American Progress (CAP).

Jason Isaacson, the AJC’s director of government and international affairs, told the Jerusalem Post by e-mail on Friday that “think tanks are entitled to their political viewpoints – but they’re not free to slander with impunity. References to Israeli ‘apartheid’ or ‘Israel-firsters’ are so false and hateful they reveal an ugly bias no serious policy center can countenance.”

The ADL, for its part, told the Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal it considered two specific comments from CAP bloggers to be anti-Semitic, including the “Israel Firster” remarks and claims the Israel lobby had pushed the U.S. into the Iraq war.

So now that the ADL – considered by many media outlets to be the final word in all things anti-Semitism – has criticized the think tank, where does this leave the CAP-linked Truman National Security Project?

If you remember way back in late December, the Truman Project broke its association with former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block, claiming he crossed the line by calling statements made by CAP bloggers anti-Semitic. Implying that Block’s accusations were false, the Truman Project wrote that his statements were akin to a “character attack” against the CAP writers. Bill Kristol weighed in on the controversy in a scathing post last month:

Block is a pro-Israel Clinton-type liberal (who in fact served in the Clinton administration). The Truman Project says that it seeks to advance a ”strong progressive national security policy,” and claims to represent mainstream liberal and Democratic foreign policy thinking. Doesn’t the expulsion of Block suggest that it is now impossible to be unapologetically pro-Israel—and publicly hostile to those who are anti-Israel—and remain a member in good standing of the liberal and Democratic foreign policy establishment?

I asked the Truman Project today whether it believed the ADL and AJC were also wrong for calling the comments from CAP bloggers anti-Semitic. The center’s spokesperson, Dave Solimini, declined to answer the question directly:

I think our position has been very clear on this. Josh was removed from our community because he was unable to differentiate between an honest debate and damaging personal attacks. There is real anti-Semitism in the world and we cannot debase the term by using it for everyone who disagrees with us on Israel policy. We are a community of trust, and his actions have caused too many to fear discussion within our community.

Okay – so in other words, the Truman Project doesn’t believe that the comments from CAP bloggers about dual-loyalty and “Israel-Firsters” rise to the level of “real” anti-Semitism? I posed this question to Solimini and received another non-response:

Thanks for getting back to me; I’m sure this is a trying story to cover with so much flying around.  Frankly, we consider the matter of Josh’s behavior closed. If you need a quote from us, the language to use is what I sent at first. Anything more would be your words, not ours, and I would suggest against it. As I said, we consider the issue of Josh’s behavior closed.

Ah. So we can confirm that the Truman Project believes there is real anti-Semitism in the world, but that this is very different from legitimate disagreements on Israel policy. Unfortunately, the first part of that means depressingly little if the organization can’t explain the difference between the two. When I pressed Solimini to simply explain which comments from CAP bloggers the Truman Project believed were falsely labeled “anti-Semitic” by Josh Block, he declined.

“The decision to remove Josh from our community was made without any input from CAP, and it was made because of Josh’s behavior, not his views on policy,” wrote Solimini.

So there you have it. The Truman Project cut ties with Block for behavior it will not explain. It refuses to say whether it believes dual-loyalty charges constitute “real” anti-Semitism. And it’s standing by its position that the remarks from CAP bloggers were merely “disagree[ments] on Israel policy,” even after the offensive comments have been condemned by the three leading American Jewish organizations. It makes you wonder, what would President Truman think?

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CAP Under Fire for Anti-Israel Comment About Sen. Kirk

The dustup over anti-Israel comments made by writers and analysts at the Center for American Progress continued this week, after several pro-Israel organizations criticized the think tank for turning a blind eye to staffers who used terms like “Israel Firster” and accused members of Congress of having an allegiance to the Israel lobby.

The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal spoke to anti-Semitism historian Jeffrey Herf, who saw historical, anti-Jewish connotations in the CAP writers’ comments:

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The dustup over anti-Israel comments made by writers and analysts at the Center for American Progress continued this week, after several pro-Israel organizations criticized the think tank for turning a blind eye to staffers who used terms like “Israel Firster” and accused members of Congress of having an allegiance to the Israel lobby.

The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal spoke to anti-Semitism historian Jeffrey Herf, who saw historical, anti-Jewish connotations in the CAP writers’ comments:

In a telephone conversation with the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, University of Maryland historian Jeffrey Herf, who has authored books on anti-Semitism, said the phrase “Israel Firsters” is “dangerous.” The notion of “Israel Firsters” “delegitimizes support for Israel” and stokes the “dual-loyalty” charge against American Jews, he said.

The dual-loyalty conspiracy theory existed on “the far Left and far Right of American politics but has not yet seeped into the center of American politics,” Herf said.

CAP blogger Zaid Jilani used the term “Israel Firster” on Twitter several times, but deleted the tweets and apologized after his remarks were publicized. Another CAP blogger, Ali Gharib, was also criticized in the JPost story about his insinuation that Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, was a representative of AIPAC. Gharib made the comment on his private Twitter account:

Gharib wrote that Senator “… Mark Kirk (R-AIPAC) should care about *anyone* other than Israel.”

When asked about Gharib’s statement that the senator from Illinois represents AIPAC, [CAP spokeswoman Andrea] Purse declined to comment. …

[NGO Monitor President Gerald] Steinberg said, “And Gharib’s inference that Senator Kirk is controlled by AIPAC because he supports tough Iran sanctions is equally absurd and sadly reminiscent of campaigns that allege that Jews control American foreign policy. Gharib’s statement also should be publicly condemned by CAP.”

Gharib issued a clarification and apology for his Kirk comment on Twitter yesterday:

One my tweets several months ago, a crude characterization of a senator is being seized upon by critics branding me as an anti-Semite.(1/2)

(2/2) While the accusations are completely false and contemptible, I do apologize for the crudeness of the flippant tweet in question.

Kirk hasn’t weighed in on the controversy yet, but the JPost story has already drawn attention on the Hill. One Republican congressional aide said Gharib’s comment amounted to a charge of “dual loyalty” against a sitting U.S. senator.

“I don’t think you’ll ever see a U.S. senator lower him or herself to respond directly to a relatively unknown fringe blogger but clearly the Jerusalem Post story has forced this issue into the mainstream public debate,” one GOP congressional aide told me. “Gharib’s bosses probably told him he crossed the line and forced him to apologize. In the end, Team Podesta doesn’t want this kind of publicity and they certainly don’t want to be seen accusing U.S. senators who serve in the U.S. military of dual loyalty.”

Questions have also been raised about why stories by CAP bloggers have appeared in the vehemently anti-Israel fringe publication The Electronic Intifada. According to CAP’s spokesperson, EI republished the articles without permission. But critics have pointed out that stories by Gharib and fellow CAP blogger Eli Clifton still remain on EI’s site, despite the alleged lack of authorization.

The CAP saga is a broader reflection of growing internal divisions within the Democratic Party and on the progressive-left. Now that Republicans and the conservative movement have turned support for Israel into a key value issue, anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist segments of the isolationist far-right have found themselves unwelcome in the party. During the past decade and a half they’ve started to swell the ranks of the anti-Zionists in the left-wing pro-Palestinian and anti-war movements. The Democratic Party now has to decide whether it wants to let this strain of anti-Zionism trickle into its mainstream institutions, or whether it will reject these ideas, just like the conservative movement once did.

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Israel’s Critics Cry About Being Repressed … from Their Usual Soapbox at the New York Times

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.” Read More

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.”

What is his proof? Because left-wingers who tried to disrupt a speech being given by Israel’s prime minster were “dragged out” of the auditorium where Netanyahu was trying to speak in New Orleans. Never mind that if someone tried to do that to President Obama, he’d be arrested. What else? Because one synagogue in Massachusetts decided not to host a J Street leader. Shocking. Want more? Cohen claims that AIPAC, a vast group with across-the-board support from American Jews, won’t debate J Street, a small group largely funded by financier George Soros (though the group spent years inexplicably lying about Soros’s role in propping up this Potemkin organization) that is dedicated to supporting American pressure on Israel. Even worse, the young Jew whose story Cohen tells is getting some negative feedback from friends about his J Street activities. Isn’t that awful?

The truth is, despite promoting itself as the liberal alternative to AIPAC, a stance that ought to make it popular due to the fact that most Jews are liberals, J Street has little grassroots Jewish support. That’s because it has systematically taken stands on Israel’s right to self-defense and the nuclear threat from Iran that strike most Jews as being outside the pro-Israel consensus. But far from being silenced, J Street is the darling of a mainstream media that has consistently promoted it, especially in places where Israel’s supporters have trouble making their voices heard. Like the opinion pages of the New York Times.

But Cohen did get one thing right. He notes in passing that the administration’s latest attempt to pressure Israel failed because “President Barack Obama had virtually no domestic constituency” for his policy. This is absolutely true. The vast majority of Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, support the Jewish state and oppose twisting its arm in this manner. That they hold to this belief despite the constant drumbeat of attacks on Israel, such as those by Cohen, his Times colleague Nicholas Kristof, and Peter Beinart, speaks volumes about how marginal J Street still is.

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Is Frank Toast?

Robert Snider of Pajamas Media is flatly predicting Barney Frank’s defeat next week (h/t Instapundit). He makes a good case.

I have thought for a while now that Frank was in deep trouble, and the fact that he loaned his campaign $200,000 last week (and he’s not a rich man) has only confirmed that. A sitting committee chairman who can’t outraise his little-known opponent? Now that’s trouble.

According to Snider, Frank’s tepid support for Israel is one of his problems:

A record number of AIPAC members, over one thousand, attended its dinner in Boston this year. That is an objective indication of the level of fear in the Jewish community. Barney Frank gave a short statement in which he assured the audience that if there is a crisis, the audience could count on him. Frank’s statement showed a devastating lack of understanding of the issue. If there is a crisis in the Middle East, it will be too late. Frank was greeted by a wall of coldness: members walked out to show their displeasure. Frank’s body language and the tone of his statement were uncertain. In the several events I attended in which there was a substantial Jewish audience, Bielat’s announcement that “I am Sean Bielat and I am running against Barney Frank” was greeted by unusually loud and enthusiastic applause. AIPAC members define the term “opinion makers.”

The polls close in Massachusetts at 8 p.m. I imagine exit polling will be announced almost instantly.

Robert Snider of Pajamas Media is flatly predicting Barney Frank’s defeat next week (h/t Instapundit). He makes a good case.

I have thought for a while now that Frank was in deep trouble, and the fact that he loaned his campaign $200,000 last week (and he’s not a rich man) has only confirmed that. A sitting committee chairman who can’t outraise his little-known opponent? Now that’s trouble.

According to Snider, Frank’s tepid support for Israel is one of his problems:

A record number of AIPAC members, over one thousand, attended its dinner in Boston this year. That is an objective indication of the level of fear in the Jewish community. Barney Frank gave a short statement in which he assured the audience that if there is a crisis, the audience could count on him. Frank’s statement showed a devastating lack of understanding of the issue. If there is a crisis in the Middle East, it will be too late. Frank was greeted by a wall of coldness: members walked out to show their displeasure. Frank’s body language and the tone of his statement were uncertain. In the several events I attended in which there was a substantial Jewish audience, Bielat’s announcement that “I am Sean Bielat and I am running against Barney Frank” was greeted by unusually loud and enthusiastic applause. AIPAC members define the term “opinion makers.”

The polls close in Massachusetts at 8 p.m. I imagine exit polling will be announced almost instantly.

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A Really Big Whopper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

With help from Saturday Night Live‘s Seth and Amy, Cliff May takes apart Jamie Rubin (no relation, thankfully).

With help from the IDF, we have a concise and thorough account of the flotilla incident.

With help from the increasingly unpopular president, “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, June 13. That ties the GOP’s largest ever lead, first reached in April, since it first edged ahead of the Democrats a year ago.”

With help from the upcoming elections: “There aren’t enough votes to include climate change rules in a Senate energy bill, a top Democrat said Tuesday. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, dismissed any hopes his colleagues might have of including regulations to clamp down on emissions as part of a comprehensive energy bill this summer.”

With help from J Street (the Hamas lobby?), Israel’s enemies always have friends on Capitol Hill: “In the most open conflict in months between the left-leaning Israel group J Street and the traditional pro-Israel powerhouse AIPAC, the liberal group is asking members of Congress not to sign a letter backed by AIPAC that supports the Israeli side of the Gaza flotilla incident.”

With help from the NRA, House Democrats are in hot water again: “House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the NRA. House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the National Rifle Association that was added to a campaign finance bill.”

With the help of Rep. Peter King, we’re sniffing out who the real friends of Israel are: “Congressional Democrats say they want to defend Israel — but without taking on Israel’s enemies. Bizarre choice — so bizarre as to make their professed support for Israel practically meaningless. At issue is a resolution proposed by Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) that calls on Washington to quit the US Human Rights Council — which two weeks ago voted 32-3 to condemn Israel’s raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. Incredibly, not a single House Democrat — not even from the New York delegation — is willing to co-sponsor King’s resolution ‘unless we take out the language about the UN,’ he says. Why? No Democrat wants to go on record disagreeing with President Obama’s decision to end the Bush-era boycott of the anti-Israel council — whose members include such human-rights champions as Iran and Libya.”

With help from an inept White House and BP, Bobby Jindal is beginning to look like a leader: “Eight weeks into the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of the Mexico, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has told the National Guard that there’s no time left to wait for BP, so they’re taking matters into their own hands. In Fort Jackson, La., Jindal has ordered the Guard to start building barrier walls right in the middle of the ocean. The barriers, built nine miles off shore, are intended to keep the oil from reaching the coast by filling the gaps between barrier islands.”

With help from Saturday Night Live‘s Seth and Amy, Cliff May takes apart Jamie Rubin (no relation, thankfully).

With help from the IDF, we have a concise and thorough account of the flotilla incident.

With help from the increasingly unpopular president, “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, June 13. That ties the GOP’s largest ever lead, first reached in April, since it first edged ahead of the Democrats a year ago.”

With help from the upcoming elections: “There aren’t enough votes to include climate change rules in a Senate energy bill, a top Democrat said Tuesday. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, dismissed any hopes his colleagues might have of including regulations to clamp down on emissions as part of a comprehensive energy bill this summer.”

With help from J Street (the Hamas lobby?), Israel’s enemies always have friends on Capitol Hill: “In the most open conflict in months between the left-leaning Israel group J Street and the traditional pro-Israel powerhouse AIPAC, the liberal group is asking members of Congress not to sign a letter backed by AIPAC that supports the Israeli side of the Gaza flotilla incident.”

With help from the NRA, House Democrats are in hot water again: “House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the NRA. House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the National Rifle Association that was added to a campaign finance bill.”

With the help of Rep. Peter King, we’re sniffing out who the real friends of Israel are: “Congressional Democrats say they want to defend Israel — but without taking on Israel’s enemies. Bizarre choice — so bizarre as to make their professed support for Israel practically meaningless. At issue is a resolution proposed by Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) that calls on Washington to quit the US Human Rights Council — which two weeks ago voted 32-3 to condemn Israel’s raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. Incredibly, not a single House Democrat — not even from the New York delegation — is willing to co-sponsor King’s resolution ‘unless we take out the language about the UN,’ he says. Why? No Democrat wants to go on record disagreeing with President Obama’s decision to end the Bush-era boycott of the anti-Israel council — whose members include such human-rights champions as Iran and Libya.”

With help from an inept White House and BP, Bobby Jindal is beginning to look like a leader: “Eight weeks into the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of the Mexico, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has told the National Guard that there’s no time left to wait for BP, so they’re taking matters into their own hands. In Fort Jackson, La., Jindal has ordered the Guard to start building barrier walls right in the middle of the ocean. The barriers, built nine miles off shore, are intended to keep the oil from reaching the coast by filling the gaps between barrier islands.”

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