At this point, it is still not clear who will be appointed Secretary of Defense. I continue to believe that former Senator Chuck Hagel will not get the job because President Obama has never said “no” to the lobby about anything. And the lobby (whether you call it the Israel Lobby or the Jewish Lobby) has never been as united about any internal U.S. matter as it is about stopping Hagel. My guess is that Obama will choose former Pentagon official, Michele Flournoy, in the hope that the excitement about a woman as Defense secretary will make observers forget that she only got the appointment because Obama was afraid to take on AIPAC.
Nonetheless, presidential rejection of Hagel will not represent victory for the lobby because, as never before, its behind-the-scenes machinations have been exposed by virtually ever major news outlet.
The lobby hates that kind of exposure more than almost anything. As former (and indicted, although not tried, under the Espionage Act) AIPAC official Steve Rosen wrote me in 1982: “A lobby is a nightflower. It thrives in the dark and shrivels and dies in the daylight.”
The Hagel controversy has certainly provided plenty of that deadly light.
The best sign that the lobby is frightened by it came from a hysterical statement issued by David Harris, president of the American Jewish Committee in response to an op-ed in the New York Times by long-time and highly-respected New York Jewish Week writer, Jim Besser. Besser criticized mainstream “pro-Israel” organizations for being hijacked by extremist groups, using the wall-to-wall anti-Hagel opposition as proof:
Today mainstream Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, are either silent about the mounting controversy or offering cautious support for those who want to kill Mr. Hagel’s nomination. They have been driven into silence and submission by a radical fringe that in no way represents the American Jewish mainstream.
Groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee were created to foster strong American-Israeli ties and to promote the idea that… Israel is a critical American ally in an undemocratic region
But as the debate over the best route to peace for the Jewish state has become more bitterly polarized, groups like Aipac, the A.D.L. and the A.J.C. have undercut and obscured that message by refusing to distance themselves from extremists.
Intimidated by pro-settler zealots, right-wing donors and those who liken the slightest criticism of Israeli policy to Israel-bashing (or even anti-Semitism), pro-Israel leaders are increasingly allowing the fringes of their movement to set the pro-Israel agenda in Washington.
The response from David Harris was not unexpected as the A.J.C. under his leadership has been transformed from a moderate and rather starchy institution into one of the most stridently paranoid Jewish organizations. Nonetheless, the language was over-the-top even for Harris. Read Phil Weiss on the Harris statement although here is my favorite part of Harris’ jeremiad:
Decision-making and direction are determined by AJC’s Board of Governors through discussion and debate, involving close cooperation between lay leadership and staff. We welcome different points of view among our leaders and outside speakers who inform our thinking, a long-standing hallmark of AJC.
Third, our stance on Israel-related issues is staunchly centrist and non-ideological. An incredibly long paper and voice trail underscores that point, as do the daily examples of our diplomatic and political advocacy.
We fully support Israel’s right to exist free of boycotts, divestment and sanctions, and the moral and political hypocrisy of double standards.
We steadfastly defend Israel’s right to protect itself and its citizens.
We speak up for the special U.S.-Israel link, as serving the highest interests of both nations.
And we belabor under no illusions about the immense dangers Israel faces in a hostile, arms-laden region — from Syrian chemical weapons to Iran’s nuclear ambitions; from the deadly arsenals of Hamas and Hezbollah to the growing strength of political Islam.
At the same time, we have consistently, and over a long time, advocated for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
Precisely none of the points Harris makes are true. Decision-making at the American Jewish Committee is now entirely the province of David Harris. The organization is not right-wing or in love with Netanyahu, Harris is. In fact, it is well-known that there is growing discontent within the organization because Harris has essentially turned it into a one-man show, reflecting Harris’ paranoia and ethnic chauvinism rather than the nuanced (and often progressive) stands of the organization’s lay leadership and donors.
Even more ridiculous is Harris’ assertion that the A.J.C. supports peace, specifically the two-state solution. It doesn’t. Yes, it proclaims its support on its website but has opposed every effort to implement it, most recently opposing the Palestinian effort to achieve limited recognition by the United Nations. It supported both Gaza wars and has NEVER opposed any Israeli policy. It has supported Netanyahu over Obama every time the American president tentatively applied even the most feather-like pressure. Unless one assumes that Binyamin Netanyahu is always right about everything, one has to conclude that David Harris is simply a spokesman for his government.
But beyond all that is the larger question. What do any of the points Harris raises have to do with Chuck Hagel? Why is he foaming at the mouth about a Jewish journalist questioning of the propriety of the Israel lobby seeking to deny a president the Secretary of Defense he wants? Why doesn’t Harris explain why it is appropriate to block this appointment because a foreign government objects to it?
No, Harris doesn’t address any of this. In stead, he rails at Besser who is, luckily, retired. If he wasn’t Harris would no doubt be on the phone with his publishers seeking (probably successfully) to have him fired. For Harris and his ilk, First Amendment rights apply to everything except discussions of Israel.
So what else is new? That is how the lobby has operated for decades. But now they are exposed. Caught in the headlights. And Harris, and the others, are frightened that this exposure could lead to their replacement by a leadership cadre that is less obviously of the Israel First orientation.
Nothing Harris is doing can remotely be considered pro-Israel. Israel is in trouble. It is utterly isolated worldwide. Its support in the U.S. government is purchased with campaign donations. Its young people are leaving in ever larger numbers and young Jews abroad have abandoned the cause in droves.
The only way this situation can be changed is through peace. It’s not that hard. Polls in 1993 showed that worldwide Yitzhak Rabin was chosen as the most popular foreign leader. Netanyahu is the least popular. And what did Rabin do that was different? He simply began talking to Palestinians and held out the hope of peace with them. And he dealt with the Palestinian leadership as if it too consisted of human beings worthy of respect. (Netanyahu deals with Palestinians in the style of the Belgians in the Congo in 1958).
The hope for peace died with Rabin, largely because of his successors: most notably, Barak and Netanyahu. And David Harris and the others have helped them pound every nail into the coffin. And now they are trying to prevent a presidential appointment here in the United States out of fear that negotiations might be restarted and that their dreams of never-ending occupation will be dashed. These people are not pro-Israel. They are just avaricious (their salaries are astronomical) and paranoid.
The good news is that they finally have something to be paranoid about. They are being exposed.