The man who wants to buy our election explains his loyalties starting at 4:58. Watch a half minute or so. It’s unbelievable.
Remember how the Israel Firsters all got on my case for calling them out. Alan Dershowitz went so far as to say that either Media Matters fires me for using the term Israel Firster or he will defeat President Obama (thereby demonstrating that he is even more of a Firster than I could have imagined).
And now this. The Emergency Committee For Israel, the group chaired by William Kristol, is now openly calling for the U.S. to go to war with Iran. Imagine the chutzpah. The organization’s very name includes the phrase “For Israel” and here it is calling on America to go to war. For Israel, of course.
One thing you can bet on, if there is a war, Bill Kristol’s kids will be nowhere near it.
Yesterday I published a piece in Huffington Post on why I am voting for Obama in November. My bottom line is that he is a pretty lousy president but the GOP is infinitely worse. I stand by that.
However, I will say that if my vote was based exclusively on Middle East issues, rather on domestic concerns, I would not vote for Obama because he is a wholly owned subsidiary of AIPAC and Bibi Netanyahu. Obama’s Middle East policies are about fundraising not about US security.
I know that is a terrible charge to make about any president but this shoe fits comfortably on Obama and I have no doubt he knows it.
Take this latest news about the Iran negotiations by the terrific reporters Barbara Slaven and Laura Rozen in Al Monitor.
Briefings by diplomats whose countries took part in the talks portrayed the meetings as a “dialogue of the deaf,” with the two sides trading widely divergent proposals. However, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator did express willingness to discuss one key step requested by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1): stopping enrichment of uranium to 20% U-235, the isotope that gives uranium its explosive power.
The western members of the P5+1 insisted, however, that Iran had to meet all three conditions contained in their proposal: stop 20% enrichment, ship out a stockpile of more than 100 kilograms of 20%-enriched uranium and close Fordo, a fortified enrichment facility built into a mountain near Qom.
That stance has led some P5+1 members to conclude that the United States hardened its position in Moscow compared to two earlier sessions in Baghdad and Istanbul, according to diplomatic briefings shared with Al-Monitor.
The new American position is precisely the same as Netanyahu’s. And it is classic Israeli “negotiating.” Rather than sit down and talk without conditions, Israel invariably sets the results it wants to achieve as preconditions for negotiations.
Take its position on negotiating with Hamas. First Hamas must swear off violence including in the occupied areas, accept all previous agreements negotiated by its adversary Fatah and recognize Israel. Then maybe Israel will talk or, more likely, add new conditions like recognizing Israel ”as a Jewish state.”
Hamas has to agree to Israel’s demands in advance of negotiations, begging the question of why negotiate at all. Israel doesn’t negotiate. It offers a diktat.
And now, under Netanyahu’s tutelage, that is what we are doing with the Iranians. We issue ultimata.
The only reason Obama is doing this is because he believes that the key to keeping the money flowing from the “pro-Israel” community is by simply doing what AIPAC tells him to do.
Someone needs to explain to Obama that it is one thing for Members of Congress to develop their stands on the Middle East to please a few dozen donors. Congressmen are not entrusted with the security of the United States. Yes, they are hacks. Yes, they are bought by the lobby. But they cannot get us into a war.
Obama’s endless sucking up to Israel and AIPAC can get us into a war. At this rate, it will.
Has there ever before been an American president who has made foreign policy a subset of political fundraising the way this one has? Bush did not go to war in Iraq to please AIPAC or Israel. Bush is a guy who believes that war is the answer to any international differences. It is who he is.
It is not who Obama is. His Iran policies are entirely dictated by his desire to please a foreign country, its lobby, and most of all some very wealthy people who give his campaign money based exclusively on their view of that foreign country’s interests.
Obama should be ashamed. I bet he is.
But he’ll keep doing it. He has since he became president. It’s sickening. And it is so damn insulting to American Jews including Jewish donors who support Obama not because he is in Bibi’s pocket but because he is the more liberal candidate. Obama acts as if we are Israeli hardliners, not Americans.
Back in 2007-8, I was an outspoken promoter of Barack Obama’s nomination and election. I believed he had both the skills and the progressive views that would make him another FDR. Additionally, as the first black president, his election would be a hugely significant milestone in the history of a country cursed by racism from the very beginning.
I was right only on that last point: race. Obama’s presidency changes America forever. No matter how successful or unsuccessful his presidency is judged to be, or whether he wins a second term, the very idea that the United States elected Barack Hussein Obama shows that a clear majority of the country accepts the revolutionary (for Americans) fact of racial equality. Yes, America is still cursed with racism but Obama’s face among the 44 presidents depicted in every child’s history book or on the post office wall, changes America in a profound way.
Unfortunately, I do not believe he has been a particularly good president. Former Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said of FDR that he was a born leader because, although he had a “second class intellect,” he had “a first class temperament. ” In my opinion, Obama is the opposite.
He is a brilliant man but he does not have the temperament for the presidency. He is reclusive, avoiding the glad handing of Congress that is necessary to get individual members of the House and Senate to feel personally close or loyal to him. He is not a fighter, always seeking to conciliate the opposition rather than defeat it. He refuses to use the presidency as a “bully pulpit” (in Theodore Roosevelt’s phrase), reaching over Congress and the media to rally the people behind him.
Worst of all, his critical policy decisions have been informed by timidity.
His two most significant efforts — reviving the economy and health care reform — were both hobbled by a lack of boldness and propensity for preemptive compromising. His stronger actions, as on gay equality and on immigration, were only undertaken after he had lost the strong mandate he was elected with and needed to solidify his base in advance of re-election
Obama’s foreign policy record is even worse. Between intensifying drone attacks, staying the course in Afghanistan, keeping Guantanamo open, and aligning our Middle East policies with Israel, Obama’s foreign policy is pretty much a continuation of George W. Bush’s.
In short, for progressives like me, Obama is a big disappointment. Nonetheless, it is absolutely critical that he be re-elected.
I suppose that my position can be characterized as “lesser evilism” but for the fact that I, in no way, consider Obama evil. I would rather categorize my support for Obama as recognizing reality.
We have a two-party system. Every four years we have to decide which of the two candidates will be better for the country or, more accurately, which will be worse.
For progressives, the answer is more clear in this election than in most. Even the most storied election of the last half century, Kennedy vs. Nixon, was a contest between two centrists who agreed on almost everything. So many progressives in 1960 felt that the two candidates were the same that historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote a book called Kennedy or Nixon: Does It Make Any Difference? Schlesinger argued that it did and history proved him right. (Imagine the Cuban Missile Crisis with Nixon at the helm).
The choice this year is less about the individual candidates than about the two parties. Republican Romney would ratify and implement the policies of the right-wing Republicans in Congress. And never has the gap between the two parties been greater, with congressional Republicans united in opposition to virtually all the programs implemented by Democrats since FDR’s day to reduce economic and social inequality and improve lives for the poor, minorities, needy children and seniors, and working people in general.
Mitt Romney may not personally be a far-right Republican (he seems to have few strong views about anything) but he has endorsed the Republican blueprint for America. That is the Paul Ryan budget which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops correctly characterized as lacking certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately slashing programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.” Meanwhile, it dramatically cuts taxes imposed on the very wealthy, almost literally, as the phrase goes, “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.”
And then, of course, there is the Supreme Court which, under Chief Justice John Roberts, is dedicated to seizing every opportunity to rule on behalf of the powerful and against working people, minorities, labor unions and any form of governmental regulation that protects Americans if it inconveniences corporations. We are exactly one justice away from a 6-3 right-wing court and if that happens “we ain’t seen nothing yet.” At the first opportunity, Romney would appoint that justice.
In short, there is no excuse for any progressive to sit this election out. Even if Barack Obama was the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the dynamic would be the same. It is not the Democrat that is the key element in this election, it is the alternative and what that alternative would do to the Americans who are already hurting more than they have since the Great Depression.
Some elections do not represent life and death choices. Certainly the Stevenson-Eisenhower or Ford-Carter campaigns didn’t. Neither, perhaps, did the 1988 Bush-Dukakis campaign. In fact, not even the McCain-Obama race was in that category; John McCain, for all his faults, never signed off on the agenda of the extreme right-wing of the Republican party.
Mitt Romney has. His election would represent the right’s triumph, granting it the mandate it has long sought to crush and eradicate the America it despises: the America that embraces diversity and seeks to improve the lot of those who have the least.
No, Barack Obama is not perfect, not even close. But what difference does that make?
This video has to be seen to be believed. Although it has long been known that AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee and other pro-Netanyahu groups have ties to groups promoting anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate, this video represents a new low.
The ad encourages Americans who have emigrated to Israel from the United States to work from Israel to counter the effects of voting by Americans who live here, Arab-Americans.
The ad is the logical extension of what the American Jewish Committee’s president, David Harris has done for years, trying to limit the influence of the growing Arab-American population.
Under his leadership, the American Jewish Committee issued a study “proving” that, contrary to the commonly used estimate of six million American Muslims, the correct number is 2.8 million.
And why is Harris worried about Muslim population estimates?
“Six million has a special resonance,” Harris wrote in a May 21, 2010 article in Jerusalem Report magazine. ”It would mean that Muslims outnumber Jews in the U.S. and it would buttress calls for a redefinition of America’s heritage as ‘Judeo-Christian-Muslim,’ a stated goal of some Muslim leaders.”
That is some scary “stated goal.”
Even more, Harris is worried that the perception that there are as many Muslims as Jews would give Muslims additional political clout, leading Congress to occasionally actually pay attention to them. (Unfortunately, that is not how it works.)
This ad is the next ugly step. First GOP suppression of the black vote. Now neoconservative suppression of Arab-American votes.
Pretty damn ugly.
It has been almost three months since the big “Israel Firster” brouhaha which led to me leaving Media Matters for America and the Center for American Progress deciding that it is safer to avoid offending certain donors and to stop writing about anything that might be construed as “anti-Israel.”
At that time I thought that the AIPAC-initiated onslaught was not really about a label it (and its allies) found offensive but about silencing some key critical voices.
I knew that they would not succeed. I, for instance, am just as “out there” as before. I love Media Matters, which supported me throughout the whole controversy, but my voice was heard on the Israel/lobby issue long before I landed at Media Matters and nothing has changed since I left.
And I am far from alone. Other than among the lobby and its cutouts and devotees, supporting Israeli policies is no longer the default position it once was. Even among Jews, support for Israeli policies is deep only among that dwindling number that defines itself, first and foremost, as part of the organized Jewish community. (Of course, these are the people politicians listen to because they vote and contribute money based exclusively on a candidate’s support for Israeli policies. But according to the American Jewish Committee poll, these Israel voters and donors constitute just 4% of Jews.
So what was the campaign all about — a campaign which, in the end, brought together AIPAC (via its spokesman-for-life Josh Block), Alan Dershowitz (who said he would campaign against President Obama unless I was fired!) and Bill Kristol (who took out a full page ad in the New York Times condemning me and the offending term).
I now understand it was really about the term “Israel Firster” and about my use of it now. I say now that because I used the term regularly during my decade at the moderate (to the point of being almost indistinguishable from AIPAC) Israel Policy Forum and no one objected. It was viewed correctly as a description of those individuals and institutions which place support for right-wing Israeli policies over any concern for how those policies impact the United States.
Short definition: you are an Israel Firster if you believe it is acceptable to criticize US Presidents (whether Obama, Bush or any other) but believe that you must stand behind any and all Israeli policies and prime ministers. Call it “my country, right or wrong” but with a significant twist.
My best examples of the concept of Israel Firster are liberal Members of Congress, like Jerry Nadler, Al Franken, and Barney Frank, who are invariably anti-war in every situation except when it comes to Israel. These legislators have no problem criticizing US Presidents for whatever reason but never criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu for any reason.
The phenomenon is not, of course, limited to Congress. It is evident in the media (think MSNBC) and even in the blogosphere where even supposedly independent bloggers can write endlessly about the failing negotiations with Iran without revealing who is torpedoing them. (See this Atlantic piece by Robert Wright which explains how it is Netanyahu and AIPAC who are preventing successful negotiations with Iran (by insisting that sanctions not be lifted no matter what Iran does) and contrast it with the other prominent center-left bloggers who are afraid to mention this fact).
The same dynamic applies to all the columns about Sheldon Adelson which conspicuously ignore that the sole reason he is involved in politics is to maintain U.S, support for Netanyahu.
However, as I said, I have been using “Israel Firster” for years and it wasn’t even considered “anti-Israel.” Why would it be? Preserving the status quo or promoting wars that will get Israelis killed is not, by any definition, pro-Israel? And that is what the Israel Firsters promote.
But then, in 2012, it all changed. Suddenly suggesting that those who put their view of Israel’s interests above anything else was anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, and (I love this term) perpetuating a “blood libel.”
As Israelis say: “mah pitom?” Why all of a sudden?
I now understand why. And it is the reason I will continue to use the term “Israel Firster” and why I think you should too.
The reason Israel Firster became so explosive in 2012 is because (1) this is the year the lobby wants the United States to either attack Iran or allow Israel to do it and (2) this is the year in which tens of millions of dollars of unregulated campaign contributions are flowing to the Republican candidate for president simply because the single-issue crowd believes that Mitt Romney is the candidate most likely to fit comfortably in Netanyahu’s pocket.
The lobby’s biggest fear is that the American people will figure this out and that the blow back will harm the US-Israel relationship.
Frankly, I share part of that worry. But my fear is that if the American people do figure out what AIPAC and its friends are up to, it could harm us here. After all, the lobby has done a great job convincing Congress and opinion leaders that they represent all Jews not just 4%.
I don’t want my kids or theirs tainted with any association with those who are pushing for war with Iran, as they did with Iraq, or who blackmail presidents into supporting policies that harm the United States.
How to prevent that?
In a famous memo, Steve Rosen, the ex-AIPAC official who was indicted for espionage, wrote: a lobby is like a night flower; it thrives in the dark and withers in the daylight.
And that is why we need to use the term Israel Firster, not to call names for its own sake but to make it harder for these people to get the war they want or buy the president they think will give it to them.
It won’t be easy to get the media or blogosphere to tell the truth about any of this. Young reporters know that if they dare discuss the lobby and its influence, their careers will likely be cut short. No matter that the climate of opinion in the country at large (and certainly in the Jewish community) may be changing, a journalist who speaks out could well be destroyed. Just look at this hit piece on Peter Beinart.
So, let’s use all the weapons in our arsenal. And that includes “Israel Firster” with everything that term evokes.
Frankly, I think I’m more than entitled to call this spade a spade. I have supported Israel (not, however, its more horrific policies) my whole life. I believe that Israel should survive and live in security, in some kind of arrangement with the Palestinian people who deserve peace, security and sovereignty just as much as Israelis do. Also, I speak as someone whose own kids are first generation. Their mom, my wife, was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany to two Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust.
I simply cannot be intimidated by those who business is intimidation. The way I see it, both my country, America, and a country I deeply care about, Israel,and the Jewish people are all being placed at risk by a small bunch of multi-millionaires and billionaires whose only interests are self-aggrandizement, hob-nobbing with those in power, and crushing anyone who gets in their way.
One day, everyone will understand that. It should be our mission to make sure that before they do, we break the back of an unrepresentative, dishonest and corrupt lobby that jeopardizes us all.
I have a prediction about how the United States will respond if the Egyptian revolution is ultimately utterly crushed by the military, which certainly seems to be happening.
My prediction is that we say how terrible it is that the Egyptian people lost their struggle for democracy (at least, temporarily) but will take no actions that really punish the generals. Specifically, we will not halt $1.3 billion in United States military assistance – at least, not for longer than a symbolic suspension to indicate displeasure with the generals.
Of course, stopping the military aid is the best possible way to get the generals to go back to the barracks and let the revolution continue. After all, military aid does not benefit the Egyptian people in any way (in contrast to the humanitarian assistance we provide through USAID). Those tanks, fighter aircraft and the rest only benefit the army and the U.S. contractors who produce them, of course. They only add to the power the military can use against its prime enemy: the popular forces for democracy that launched the Egyptian revolution last year.
It seems counter-intuitive that we would support a military junta that crushed a revolution we supported. After all, the United States government is usually quick to stick it to Arabs who defy us in any way unless they happen to be floating on a sea of oil, which Saudi Arabia is and Egypt isn’t.
So why would we continue supplying the Egyptian military with aid, after they upturned the revolution, especially given the provisions of the law that require a cutoff of military aid if Egypt does not move toward democracy (the law contains a waiver which Secretary of State Clinton invoked as recently as March, a sign of more waivers to come).
The reason is simple. The Netanyahu government wants the aid to continue and, a point I need not belabor, it gets what it wants from both the president and Congress.
It wants the aid to continue because it is not interested in Egyptian democracy (Israel was closely allied with the Mubarak government) and because it does not want the United States to do anything to jeopardize its peace treaty with Egypt. The military assistance itself was first provided to Egypt to reward it for making peace with Israel (Arms for peace!), and the Israeli government fears that if the United States cut it off, the generals will repudiate a treaty which is none too popular to begin with.
Israel will do almost anything to preserve the treaty, and with good reason. It has saved countless Israeli lives since it was first brokered by President Jimmy Carter 30 years ago. It has also freed Israel from fear that the most powerful Arab state will join in some future Arab war against Israel. That is a legitimate concern. No sane person can possibly want to see Israel and Egypt back in a state of war.
Of course, as critical as Israel considers the treaty to be, it never led the Israeli government to do much of anything to create a Palestinian state or end the blockade of Gaza, both of which President Mubarak demanded to no avail. Israel loved Mubarak and will get along just fine with the new junta but not to the extent of paying any attention to anything they say about the Palestinians.
The bottom line is that Israel (and its lobby here) will almost surely pressure the United States to keep aid to Egypt flowing no matter what happens to democracy.
For a time, this may confuse some members of Congress, especially the new Tea Party types. They don’t like foreign aid to begin with and their instinct will certainly be to cut it off to a bunch of Arab generals. But then they will hear from AIPAC, the Israeli embassy, the defense contractors, and, voila, they will see the light.
In the end, we will keep the military hardware flowing. Any need our politicians feel to tell the Egyptian military what they think of them will be channeled in a more politically productive direction. They will site the unstable conditions in Egypt as a rationale for more aid and support for Israel and they will bash the Palestinians, who are the safest target of all.
Bottom line: the United States has no Egypt policy. Israel does. We will just go along.
It is hard to believe, but right-wing Israelis and their allies here are now arguing that the concept of a refugee applies only to the first generation (i.e., the people who actually fled or were driven from their homes). Yes, that formulation would have eliminated any right of Jews to “return” to Israel in the 1940’s, after 95 generations, but nonetheless — in their zeal to be done with Palestinian claims — that is what the right is arguing.
They are doing that because the Palestinian refugees’ existence, and that of their descendants, are an ugly stain on Israel’s birth certificate.
If Israel was created at the expense of the Palestinians, then Israel must make amends to them to achieve full legitimacy in the eyes of the world, and in the eyes of many Israelis.
It could do that by acknowledging the fact that it caused the refugee problem. Even if one accepts the myth (now thoroughly discredited) that the Palestinians fled on their own rather than having been driven out, one cannot argue with the fact that it was the Jewish migration to Palestine that caused them to leave.
It can start by acknowledging the fact that it caused the refugee problem. Even if one accepts the myth (now thoroughly discredited) that the Palestinians fled on their own rather than having been driven out, one cannot argue with the fact that it was the Jewish migration to Palestine that caused them to leave.
Had Jews not begun immigrating to Palestine in the 19th century and had the Jewish community been limited to the indigenous local population, the Palestinians would have remained in the towns and villages they had inhabited from time immemorial. (This is not to say that Palestinians did not play a role in their own catastrophe by ignoring the handwriting on the wall and rejecting the Palestinian state that the United Nations offered them in 1947. However, from their point of view, without the Jewish migration that began in the 19th century, 100% of Palestine would have remained theirs).
Does that mean that Jews had no right to return to their ancestral home?
Not to me, it doesn’t. But it does mean that their return was accomplished at the expense of the people who lived there.
In addition to acknowledging its responsibility for the refugee problem, Israel can eliminate this stain on its birth certificate by agreeing to Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem, with all refugees having the right to settle there. Or by giving Palestinians full democratic rights in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, with the goal being one democratic state for two peoples between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
In exchange, Israelis achieve peace, security, and normalization with the entire Arab world as was offered twice by the Arab League.
However, there is little evidence that the right-wing Israeli government is ready to do any of these things with some Israelis and their friends here believing they can work through the United States Congress to eliminate the whole idea of Palestinian refugees and hence any obligation to Palestinians at all.
On May 24 the Senate unanimously passed an amendment offered by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) to the $52.1 billion fiscal foreign operations appropriations bill. It sounds innocuous. Ha’aretz described it as requiring “the State Department, for the first time, to do a ‘count’ of Palestinian refugees.”
The amendment required the State Department to specify how many of the five million Palestinians who receive aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) are refugees who were personally displaced from their homes in 1948, and how many are descendants of those refugees.”
The “hook” that enables Congress to get involved in refugee counting is the funding the United States provides to the United Nation and to UNRWA. The U.S. has every right to know if it is being ripped off.
However, that was not the real intention of Kirk or the people who devised the amendment for him – an Israeli Knesset member and two lobbyists here who work on behalf of right-wing Israeli causes.
Here is the real story, again from Ha’aretz. Under the headline, Israeli MK, AIPAC behind Senate bill to cut total number of Palestinian refugees, Barak Ravid reports that “the Kirk amendment got its start in the Jerusalem office of Member of Knesset Einat Wilk…who toiled for months together with AIPAC lobbyists and Kirk’s staff to promote the change.”
Initially, the Israeli government opposed the change with a senior Defense ministry official arguing that “UNRWA plays an important role in aiding the Palestinian population.”
But then Member of Knesset Wilf turned to “AIPAC staffers and also approached Steven J. Rosen. a former foreign policy director for the organization who now works for a Washington think tank, to get things rolling on Capitol Hill.”
And, like magic, the Kirk amendment passed.
The reason the Defense Ministry initially opposed it was that it thought the amendment’s purpose was to cut aid to refugees, something Israel had no interest in doing.
But AIPAC and Rosen who was fired by the lobby after being indicted under the Espionage Act (the government never took the case to trial) were not interested in starving refugees per se. Their goal was making the whole concept of Palestinian refugees go away.
Here is how Daniel Pipes, who is Steve Rosen’s boss at the Muslim-baiting, far-right Middle East Forum, described the purpose of the amendment in National Review Online. After claiming credit for Steve Rosen and himself for getting Kirk to carry their amendment, Pipes explains why it is important.
The fetid, dark heart of the Arab war on Israel, I have long argued, lies not in disputes over Jerusalem, checkpoints, or “settlements.” Rather, it concerns the so-called Palestine refugees.
So called because of the nearly 5 million official refugees served by UNRWA (short for the “United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East”), only about 1 percent are real refugees who fit the agency’s definition of “people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.” The other 99 percent are descendants of those refugees, or what I call fake refugees
Using Pipes’ definition – that the only refugees are those who actually fled in 1948 – he writes that “in about 50 years not a single real refugee will remain alive” thereby “solving” the whole refugee problem through accounting.
The stain on Israel’s birth certificate will be removed and no one will be able to call on Israel to do anything for the refugees because there won’t be any.
It’s brilliant, and diabolical.
In fact, the argument that the only refugees are people who themselves were driven out and not their descendants is ridiculous. My wife’s family was driven out of Poland by the Germans during World War 11. Not only did her parents receive reparations from the Germans, she (and, after her, our children) are able to claim the property left behind in Poland. Thousands of young Israelis claim German citizenship on the basis that their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were Germans until the Holocaust. Even Israel’s most famous prisoner of war, young Gilad Shalit, is a citizen of France through ancestry which is why the French government fought so hard for his release.
Refugee status does not end with the generation that fled or was expelled just as suffering the loss of one’s homeland does not end after the original refugees die. The loss is forever. After all, refugees are not simply immigrants who left their homeland to seek a better life. They were forced out or fled.
That is why, in the end, the Kirk amendment will have no effect. International law cannot be created to affect only one people.
The amazing part is that Israel and its lobby are pushing a concept that would be damaging to so many Jews and Israelis (who rightfully claim the freedom to return to the homeland, and/or claim the home, their ancestors were driven from). And to present and future refugees of all nationalities.
What is not amazing is that the lobby got the Senate to pass Kirk’s amendment. What else would you expect?
AIPAC is still worried that there might be a breakthrough in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. Accordingly, its staff drafted a letter to President Obama that will be circulated by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). Its goal is to have the entire Senate endorse the hardest possible line to kill the next round of negotiations which is slated to convene in Moscow next week.
The letter demands the following as “the absolute minimum steps” which Iran “must take immediately.”
1. Shutting down the Fordow facility
2. Freezing enrichment above 5%
3.Shipping all uranium enriched above 5% out of the country.
In return the AIPAC/Senate letter tells the President to offer NOTHING except the continuation of negotiations. In other words, AIPAC proposes a negotiating framework under which Iran makes tangible concessions in return for our agreeing to… more negotiations. Any easing of sanctions is specifically ruled out.
The final paragraph of the letter indicates its real purpose: to shut down negotiations in favor of getting ready for military action. It reads:
If the sessions in Moscow produce no substantive agreement, we urge you to reevaluate the utility of further talks at this time and instead focus on significantly increasing the pressure on the Iranian government through sanctions and making clear that a credible military option exists. As you have rightly noted, ‘the window for diplomacy is closing. Iran’s leaders must realize that you mean precisely that.
The letter is pure AIPAC/Netanyahu. One, it offers the other party nothing except (2) negotiations themselves which are viewed as a concession to the other side. The offer is designed to be rejected. Why would Iran give up something for nothing?
The letter is also an AIPAC device for scoring senators in an election year. Those who sign will be rewarded or left alone. Those who don’t will hear from AIPAC and its friends. Not a pretty possibility.
This is foreign policy making at its worst, not policy at all but pure special interest politics designed by a lobby to advance Binyamin Netanyahu’s interests and agenda. Ugly stuff. But not surprising.
It is rare when AIPAC decides to pour its resources into an election that it loses. But on Tuesday it lost big.
The election was a primary between two incumbents: Rep. Bill Pascrell and Rep. Steve Rothman. The district was in northern New Jersey and it was a combination of both men’s old districts, with most of the voters from Rothman’s.
Rothman had the clear edge. In addition to most of the voters having voted for him in the past, he is Jewish and a leading advocate for more and more Israel funding on the House Appropriations Committee. It was AIPAC who told the House Democratic leadership to put him on Appropriations because he is as far right on Israel as anyone in Congress and had a safe district.
Bill Pascrell is pro-Israel too, but in the old sense. He favors the peace process and cares about Palestinians too.
And that is what the lobby tried to use to defeat him. This is the essence of the message that went out to every voter in the heavily Jewish district.
Here is AIPAC telling the voters in New Jersey who to support. It is from the New Jersey Jewish Standard and it went out, in one form or another, to every Jewish voter in the district.
Josh Block, a former [and current] longtime spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said that Rothman’s “record of pro-Israel leadership is second to none, and in this particular race the differences couldn’t be clearer.”
Block accused Pascrell of having “actually sided against American support for Israel’s right to defend herself against weapons smuggling and attacks by terrorists.” He pointed to Pascrell’s signing of a January 2010 letter to Obama criticizing the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza. The letter, signed by 54 House members, called on the president to press for the easing of the blockade to improve conditions for Palestinian civilians.
Then Steve Emerson, the rightist Islamophobe who formerly worked at AIPAC, put out a long vicious hit piece on Pascrell depicting the Roman Catholic Pascrell as an “Islamist Fellow Traveler.” Follow the link if you want to read it. It is too vile for me to spread by quoting it.
Rothman embraced the lobby onslaught, doing everything he could to make the primary a referendum on Israel, Islam, Muslims, etc. But then James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, a Christian Lebanese-American and a strong supporter (like Pascrell) of Israeli-Palestinian peace came in to work with the district’s Arab-American population and help the local people organize for Pascrell. The issue wasn’t Israel; it was Rothman’s Arab and Muslim-baiting which offended Arab-Americans as much as Jews would be offended by an openly anti-Semitic candidate.
Few expected Pascell to withstand the onslaught with AIPAC directing PACs and individual donors to save their hero, Rothman.
But then yesterday it all blew up in AIPAC’s face. Pascrell won (in essentially Rothman’s old district) with 60% of the vote. Rothman announced his premature retirement from politics while the AIPAC crowd nursed its wounds.
To be clear, Bill Pascrell did not win because of the Israel issue. He himself is pro-Israel, just not anti-Arab. He won because of his Get Out The Vote campaign, hustling from door to door and ads like this. And because he is an effective and strong progressive from a district that appreciates that.
Nonetheless, this race was the first time that the lobby went head to head with an organized Arab-American community and its friends (notably in the non-AIPAC, non-Orthodox, Jewish community) and got that head handed to it.
AIPAC got beaten, fair and square, by a Congressman who had the temerity to actually speak out for treating Palestinians as human beings. (Here is the letter AIPAC and Rothman tried to destroy him with).
When Pascrell returns to the House today, he will be greeted as a well-loved victor (his colleagues supported him not Rothman). But he will also be greeted as as Member of Congress who stood up to AIPAC’s lies and smears and won. Big. Don’t think his colleagues won’t recognize what this may mean: that just perhaps they can vote their consciences too. And, as one who worked on Capitol Hill for 20 years, I can tell you: AIPAC is feared up there but it is also despised. Senators and House members are sick of having to play jack-in-the-box, jumping up to applaud Netanyahu when the lobby’s enforcers tell them too and, most of all, not being allowed to support peace and security for two peoples, not just one.
For them, Pascrell’s victory may just represent Independence Day.
It may also represent the day progressive Jews joined progressive Arab-Americans to push back against a Muslim-baiting candidate. A friend who lives in the district put it to me this way:
It was sickening. Rabbis actually told Republicans in their congregation, from the pulpit no less, to switch their party registration to vote for Rothman. It was like the Six Day War and Bill Pascrell was Egypt. And it worked with many, maybe most, Orthodox Jews and those whose only concern in life is Israel. But I worked in Pascrell headquarters and there were Arabs, Jewish, Italians, Irish, African-Americans everybody. Working together. My guess is that most progressive Jews voted for Pascrell. And those are the ones who are typical of Jews in the country in general. So please don’t paint this as the Jewish candidate being beaten. It was the AIPAC candidate. Every Jew I know voted for Pascrell. Besides, look at his margin. Pascrell only could win that big with Jewish support. As I said, Jews and Arab-Americans working together as Americans beat Rothman. My message to AIPAC is “Don’t Mess With Jersey.”