Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Yarmuth

J Street Ally Promotes Anti-Semitic Slander

Yesterday on the Sunday morning talk shows, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough attempted to walk back some of the most intemperate off-the-record comments from administration officials about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about Iran sanctions. But even as he reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, some of the president’s supporters continued to not only campaign for Netanyahu to cancel his acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation but to denigrate the Israeli leader. Among the most vocal was Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, who told radio talker Stephanie Miller that the invite was “close to subversion” and accused the bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress of dual loyalty. That should leave the Jewish group that has embraced Yarmouth—the left-wing lobby J Street—with some questions as to whether they are prepared to draw a line between their own campaign against Netanyahu and slander of Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

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Yesterday on the Sunday morning talk shows, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough attempted to walk back some of the most intemperate off-the-record comments from administration officials about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about Iran sanctions. But even as he reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, some of the president’s supporters continued to not only campaign for Netanyahu to cancel his acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation but to denigrate the Israeli leader. Among the most vocal was Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, who told radio talker Stephanie Miller that the invite was “close to subversion” and accused the bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress of dual loyalty. That should leave the Jewish group that has embraced Yarmouth—the left-wing lobby J Street—with some questions as to whether they are prepared to draw a line between their own campaign against Netanyahu and slander of Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

J Street is currently promoting a petition on its website demanding that Congress delay Netanyahu’s speech. They say the problem is timing, coming as it does weeks before the Israeli election in March. But unlike those Israelis and Americans like myself that think Netanyahu is showing poor judgment because the issue of his invitation is aiding the administration’s efforts to fight increased sanctions on Iran, J Street’s concern is just the opposite. They worry that Netanyahu’s speech may help rally Americans behind the new bipartisan sanctions legislation. They probably are also concerned about whether the speech might help Netanyahu’s reelection prospects.

J Street’s priority here is support for Obama and his policy of appeasing Iran in negotiations that are supposed to be aimed at halting Tehran’s nuclear program but which are instead increasingly aimed at promoting detente with the Islamist regime. But as discreditable as those positions are, they are a far cry from Yarmuth’s incitement.

As it turns out, the relationship between Yarmuth and J Street is close. The group’s website is also promoting an effort to get more members of Congress to sign a letter co-authored by the Kentucky congressman urging the administration to put the creation of a Palestinian state at the top of America’s foreign-policy agenda. Though couched in the language of support for a two-state solution, the letter ignores or minimizes the Palestinian rejectionism and culture of intolerance for Zionism and Jews that is the real obstacle to peace and places the onus for a solution to the conflict on Israel. Seen in the context of Yarmuth’s statements, it is hard to see it as anything but the latest effort from the left to promote pressure on the Jewish state.

Yarmuth’s interview laid bare the animus for Israel that lies behind some of the bland “pro-Israel, pro-peace” statements that serve as a cover for some of J Street’s supporters’ true intentions.

Yarmuth starts by claiming that his Jewish identity gives him particular standing to speak on Israel but then proceeds to claim that most of those who do back the Jewish state and those who seek to defend its security are merely in it for the money. Echoing some of the worst elements of the Israel Lobby thesis about support for the Jewish state, Yarmuth says members only back Israel to get campaign donations and accuses its backers of putting its interests above those of the United States:

“And you know, a lot of it has to do with fundraising — I’m sure some of it is sincere support for Israel,” Yarmuth said.

“You know, I’m a Jewish member of Congress, I’m a strong supporter of Israel, but my first obligation is to the Constitution of the United States, not to the Constitution of Israel. And unfortunately, I think, some of the demands that are made of members by AIPAC and some strong Jewish supporters are that we pay more attention — I guess we defer — to Israel more than we defer to the United States.”

Echoing the slanders of the pro-Israel community made by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Yarmuth also said the acclaim with which Netanyahu was greeted during his speech to a joint session in 2011 was bought and paid for by AIPAC:

“And, you know, I was there in the chamber in 2011, when Netanyahu spoke, and there he got I don’t know how many standing ovations. And I was in Israel shortly thereafter, and believe me, the Israelis pay very, very close attention to events like that. And I just — the first thing out of virtually every Israeli’s mouth was: ‘What was with all the standing ovations?’ And I said: ‘Well, AIPAC was meeting in Washington that week, and the gallery was full of AIPAC members, and every one of the members all wanted to see — make sure that their constituents saw them stand up.’

Neither Yarmuth’s faith nor his relationship with J Street can justify these remarks. They are an echo of the worst sort of anti-Semitic stereotypes put about by Israel haters. Like the authors of the Israel Lobby smear and others who seek to discredit the bipartisan across-the-board pro-Israel coalition in Congress, Yarmuth fails to understand that support for Israel is part of this nation’s political DNA. It transcends party politics or region. Members of Congress back Israel because it is both good public policy and good politics. That’s because Israel is beloved by the vast majority of Americans, whether they are Jewish or not.

I understand that rabid Obama supporters like the leaders of J Street will back him in anything he does, even in appeasement of Iran, though doing so endangers Israel. One doesn’t have to think it’s smart for Netanyahu to intervene in a debate that the pro-sanctions side can win without him (in fact, it may be easier without the speech since the alleged breach of protocol gave Obama an issue that could cause some weak-willed Democrats to sustain a veto of sanctions) to understand that this kind of pushback against the speech has nothing to do with what is best for the U.S. or Israel. Yarmuth’s vile accusations show that the motivation here is to marginalize those who whose support for Israel’s safety means more to them than loyalty to Obama. The real “subversion” going on here isn’t an invitation to an allied leader to speak to Congress, but the willingness of a rogue member of Congress and his allies to trash the alliance with the Jewish state in order to promote the presidential agenda.

If J Street is serious about the “pro-Israel” part of its slogan, it must repudiate Yarmuth. If it doesn’t, a group that had little credibility as a backer of the Jewish state will be rightly branded as an ally of its enemies rather than its friends.

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Gambling with Israeli Lives

On January 21, some 54 Democratic congressmen — many familiar names in the never-have-a-good-word-or-positive-vote-for-Israel club — sent a letter to the president imploring him to force the lifting of “the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt” on Gaza. (As Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition points out, it’s troubling to see Rep. Joe Sestak, who is a candidate for U.S. Senate, also on the signatory list.) Citing the great suffering of the people of Gaza, they call for the resumption of access to a long list of materials for the Hamas-controlled territory.

And what if in lifting the blockade once again bombs and armaments flow to Gaza? What about the ordeal of those trapped in hellish conditions thanks to the Hamas overlords who use the misery of children and the deaths of innocents to increase their bargaining power? The congressmen don’t say. Or perhaps the rearmament of Gaza-based terrorists is a price they are willing to pay in order to strut before the “international community.”

Now what’s interesting is the extent of the overlap between the pro-Gaza blockade lifters and the roster of J Street–supported congressmen. The following appear on both the Gaza letter and the recently released J Street list:

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Rep. Michael Capuano (MA-08), Rep. Lois Capps (CA-23),  Rep. William Delahunt (MA-10),Rep. Donna Edwards (MD-04), Rep.  Keith Ellison (MN-05), Rep. Bob Filner (CA-51), Rep. Jim Himes (CT-04),Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12),  Rep. Jay Inslee (WA-01), Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15),  Rep. Eric Massa (NY-29),  Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04),Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-03), Rep. George Miller (CA-07), Rep. David Price (NC-04), Rep. Peter Welch (VT-At Large),   and Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-03).

Inveterate Israel bashers who have not yet appeared on the J Street list but who did sign the Gaza letter include Reps. John Conyers, James Moran, and John Dingell.  No Republicans signed the Gaza letter.

Well, at least we know the sort of congressmen that J Street supports and the sort that are only too glad to accept J Street’s largesse. What is most disturbing, however, is that 54 Democrats are more than happy to gamble with the security and lives of Israelis to curry favor with … well, with whom? Are they, like Obama, under the impression that the “Muslim world” would be impressed? Or is their aim to bolster Hamas even further, hoping to blur the stark differences between the Hamas-induced squalor of Gaza and the emerging economy of the West Bank? It’s hard to say. The Obama administration, we hope, will ignore their pleas and direct its attention to the true cause of Gazans’ suffering — Hamas and the state sponsors of terrorism.

On January 21, some 54 Democratic congressmen — many familiar names in the never-have-a-good-word-or-positive-vote-for-Israel club — sent a letter to the president imploring him to force the lifting of “the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt” on Gaza. (As Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition points out, it’s troubling to see Rep. Joe Sestak, who is a candidate for U.S. Senate, also on the signatory list.) Citing the great suffering of the people of Gaza, they call for the resumption of access to a long list of materials for the Hamas-controlled territory.

And what if in lifting the blockade once again bombs and armaments flow to Gaza? What about the ordeal of those trapped in hellish conditions thanks to the Hamas overlords who use the misery of children and the deaths of innocents to increase their bargaining power? The congressmen don’t say. Or perhaps the rearmament of Gaza-based terrorists is a price they are willing to pay in order to strut before the “international community.”

Now what’s interesting is the extent of the overlap between the pro-Gaza blockade lifters and the roster of J Street–supported congressmen. The following appear on both the Gaza letter and the recently released J Street list:

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Rep. Michael Capuano (MA-08), Rep. Lois Capps (CA-23),  Rep. William Delahunt (MA-10),Rep. Donna Edwards (MD-04), Rep.  Keith Ellison (MN-05), Rep. Bob Filner (CA-51), Rep. Jim Himes (CT-04),Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12),  Rep. Jay Inslee (WA-01), Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15),  Rep. Eric Massa (NY-29),  Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04),Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-03), Rep. George Miller (CA-07), Rep. David Price (NC-04), Rep. Peter Welch (VT-At Large),   and Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-03).

Inveterate Israel bashers who have not yet appeared on the J Street list but who did sign the Gaza letter include Reps. John Conyers, James Moran, and John Dingell.  No Republicans signed the Gaza letter.

Well, at least we know the sort of congressmen that J Street supports and the sort that are only too glad to accept J Street’s largesse. What is most disturbing, however, is that 54 Democrats are more than happy to gamble with the security and lives of Israelis to curry favor with … well, with whom? Are they, like Obama, under the impression that the “Muslim world” would be impressed? Or is their aim to bolster Hamas even further, hoping to blur the stark differences between the Hamas-induced squalor of Gaza and the emerging economy of the West Bank? It’s hard to say. The Obama administration, we hope, will ignore their pleas and direct its attention to the true cause of Gazans’ suffering — Hamas and the state sponsors of terrorism.

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J Street Is Ba-a-a-ck

When last we left the J Street gang, they were enjoying their Washington confab — though with many fewer congressional “hosts” once it became clear what the group’s agenda really was and what sort of Israel-bashing “artists” planned to entertain the assembled crowd. Then the conference itself proved informative. We learned that the J Streeters didn’t fancy calling themselves “pro-Israel,” at least not on college campuses. And we learned that what really got their juices flowing was a healthy dose of anti-anti-Iranian-regime propaganda and good old-fashioned neocon-bashing. Alas, there’s not much of a market for that on Capitol Hill, so their “lobbying” devolved into some mushy nothingness in which lawmakers were asked to do something to show they favored a two-state solution. (Gutsy stuff from these J Streeters, eh?)

Soon afterward we learned that J Street and NIAC shared some interesting conference calls, the object of which seemed to be, among other things, to get Dennis Ross. J Street didn’t like any of the Iran-sanction measures floating around Congress but seemed powerless to influence the votes.

So now that our memories are refreshed (ever since “engagement with Iran” became a laugh line, they’ve been sort of quiet), we see this report that J Street will “be increasing the number and amount of its contributions to US Congressional candidates by at least 50 percent in the coming year. The announcement comes a few weeks ahead of J Street’s first planned trip to bring members of Congress to Israel.” One wonders if Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson are to be the tour guides.

And who are the recipients of the not-to-be-called-pro-Israel-if-it’s-inconvenient gang’s largesse? There are a bunch:

The 41 endorsees include one Republican, Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, and one of the two Muslim members of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Eight Jewish members also received JStreetPAC’s nod, including representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Susan Davis of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, as well as the only senator on the list, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Also on the list are Bob Filner of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

Well, no one can excuse himself by pleading ignorance this time around, as did many of the “hosts” when confronted with J Street’s record in October. These lawmakers must be well aware of J Street’s anti-anti-Iran agenda and be quite enamored of its Israel-can-do-no-right rhetoric. One wonders if these lawmakers’ constituents share these views. That’s what elections are for, I suppose. We’ll find out soon enough whether there’s a market for Israel-bashing and Iran-sanction opposition.

When last we left the J Street gang, they were enjoying their Washington confab — though with many fewer congressional “hosts” once it became clear what the group’s agenda really was and what sort of Israel-bashing “artists” planned to entertain the assembled crowd. Then the conference itself proved informative. We learned that the J Streeters didn’t fancy calling themselves “pro-Israel,” at least not on college campuses. And we learned that what really got their juices flowing was a healthy dose of anti-anti-Iranian-regime propaganda and good old-fashioned neocon-bashing. Alas, there’s not much of a market for that on Capitol Hill, so their “lobbying” devolved into some mushy nothingness in which lawmakers were asked to do something to show they favored a two-state solution. (Gutsy stuff from these J Streeters, eh?)

Soon afterward we learned that J Street and NIAC shared some interesting conference calls, the object of which seemed to be, among other things, to get Dennis Ross. J Street didn’t like any of the Iran-sanction measures floating around Congress but seemed powerless to influence the votes.

So now that our memories are refreshed (ever since “engagement with Iran” became a laugh line, they’ve been sort of quiet), we see this report that J Street will “be increasing the number and amount of its contributions to US Congressional candidates by at least 50 percent in the coming year. The announcement comes a few weeks ahead of J Street’s first planned trip to bring members of Congress to Israel.” One wonders if Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson are to be the tour guides.

And who are the recipients of the not-to-be-called-pro-Israel-if-it’s-inconvenient gang’s largesse? There are a bunch:

The 41 endorsees include one Republican, Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, and one of the two Muslim members of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Eight Jewish members also received JStreetPAC’s nod, including representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Susan Davis of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, as well as the only senator on the list, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Also on the list are Bob Filner of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

Well, no one can excuse himself by pleading ignorance this time around, as did many of the “hosts” when confronted with J Street’s record in October. These lawmakers must be well aware of J Street’s anti-anti-Iran agenda and be quite enamored of its Israel-can-do-no-right rhetoric. One wonders if these lawmakers’ constituents share these views. That’s what elections are for, I suppose. We’ll find out soon enough whether there’s a market for Israel-bashing and Iran-sanction opposition.

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