Obama could only take Netanyahu on when Dennis Ross, Bibi’s backchannel, was incommunicado

Peter Beinart is upfront about the centrality of Jewish identity to Obama’s presidency in his new book on the Crisis of Zionism. From this reported excerpt in Daily Beast, the theme is liberal Zionists versus rightwing Zionists. Obama came out of the former community and betrayed it in his first term. Obama underestimated the strength of what his former aide (and an eternal presence at the White House) Dennis Ross represented: Netanyahu and his ties into the rightwing Jewish community, the Israel lobby’s man in the American government.

So when Obama wanted to take Netanyahu on, he had to make sure that Dennis Ross was out of the loop–presumably so that Ross wouldn’t dime him out to Netanyahu. 

The story of Obama’s relationship to Netanyahu and his American Jewish allies is, fundamentally, a story of acquiescence. Obama took office with a distinctly progressive vision of Jewish identity and the Jewish state, one shaped by the Chicago Jewish community that helped launch his political career. Three years later—after a bitter struggle with the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment–that vision is all but gone.
Obama entered the White House after an adulthood spent—more than any predecessor—in the company of Jews….

Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had a record of opposing settlement growth too. In 2003, he had been one of only four Jewish members of Congress to sign a letter endorsing the Road Map. Privately, he told associates that the Bush administration had coddled Israel, and that it was time for Israel’s American friends to speak more frankly to the leaders of the Jewish state. When Netanyahu tried to establish back-channel discussions with Emanuel, bypassing Mitchell, Obama’s chief of staff refused.
Among the few administration skeptics of a settlement freeze was former Clinton administration envoy Dennis Ross, who considered it unrealistic given Netanyahu’s right-leaning government. But Ross was working at the State Department, not the White House, and his job description was restricted to Iran. He had tried to broaden his mandate during the transition, arguing that in order to effectively craft Iran strategy he needed the freedom to dabble in every aspect of Middle East policy, including the peace process. A statement by Ross’s former employer, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had even declared that he would be working on a “wide range of Middle East issues, from the Arab-Israeli peace process to Iran.” But Jones promised Mitchell that Ross would not meddle in his work, and when a State Department spokesman announced Ross’s appointment, he insisted that Ross “will not be, in terms of negotiating, will not be involved in the peace process.” Whether Ross abided by that pledge while at the State Department is a matter of sharp dispute. But either way, he did not control the Israel-Palestinian portfolio. Not yet…

Soon, reports surfaced about a power struggle between Ross, on the one hand, and Mitchell and his chief of staff, Mara Rudman, on the other. It was no contest. For one thing, Ross now worked at the White House, in close proximity to the president, while Mitchell spent most of his time either in the Middle East or at his home in New York. Second, given the weakness of James Jones, Tom Donilon—an old Ross ally from the Clinton administration— had become the de facto national security adviser. Finally, Ross had much closer ties to the Israeli government—which had been trying to bypass Mitchell from the outset—and to the American Jewish establishment….

While Ross and [National Security staffer Daniel] Shapiro were on a commercial flight back to Washington, however, and thus briefly incommunicado, Hillary Clinton held her weekly meeting with President Obama—with Emanuel, Jones, and Donilon sitting in—and the White House decided that it could no longer tolerate Netanyahu’s affronts. On Friday, Clinton harangued the Israeli leader on the phone for 43 minutes. Two days later, on March 14, Axelrod publicly called it “an insult” that Israel had announced the Ramat Shlomo construction during Biden’s visit. When Netanyahu visited the White House nine days later, Obama refused him the courtesy of a joint press conference or photo op.

The divergent responses reflected, in part, the ongoing battle between Ross and Mitchell. One administration official complained to Politico that Ross was advocating “pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi’s coalition’s red lines.” Ross, in turn, waged what one close observer called “a ruthless campaign against George Mitchell,” repeatedly suggesting that he was spending too much time at home in New York and not enough in Washington and the Middle East.

A year back, John Mearsheimer said in a call in that Ross was essentially an agent for the Israeli government. It’s hard to argue with that description, reading Beinart. And remember, Ross went from being chairman of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute before he went into the Obama administration to being back at the JPPI as a co-chair. The institute opposes intermarriage, among other great stances. Crazy, huh? (And you wonder why Grant Smith at IRMEP has been trying to get AIPAC registered as a foreign agent…)

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in American Jewish Community, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Media, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics

{ 23 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Dan Crowther says:

    What is maybe most amazing is that James Jones – the former Commandant of the Fckin US Marine Corps – is considered “weak” – and desk jockey cowards like Ross and Co. are considered “strong” or something. WOW.

    What kind of fcked up parallel universe are we in here?

    • American says:

      Well Dan hang around, this fcked up parallel universe will crash.
      The pickle is this, if we bomb Iran and they don’t retaliate in a large way, that still isn’t the end of it.
      The Israel firsters will demand more, the demands and enemies will get bigger and bigger, there will never be an end to it.

      • Charon says:

        The parallel universe crashing is wishful fckin thinking I’m afraid. Been reading a lot of history and mythology lately. Ancient stuff mostly. Not really all that reliable considering the sources, but we don’t have much of a choice.

        Anyways, my point is we’ve been living in this fcked up parallel universe for at least 2,000 years. History repeats even in our lifetimes. An example of this is the whole Iran things. Same folks from a decade ago saying the same thing, spinning the same shit. I’m a little ignorant when it comes to nuclear reactors and I would think normal people are the same way (right?). The way these talking heads bring up centrifuges and enrichment and speculate over spy photos regarding underground installations… reminds me of aluminum tubes.

        I would hope the public would only trust these liars to tell lies, but if these polls are true (and I don’t trust polls) over half the USA is banging the drums of war. I’m seriously wondering if I’m from a different planet than these kooks (I have RH negative blood… maybe there is some truth to that)

  2. Les says:

    For the other directed, Jewish identity is the submission to someone else’s definition of Judaism. For the inner directed, it is the recognition that within one’s self there is at the very least a smidgen of Jewishness.

  3. Kathleen says:

    “The divergent responses reflected, in part, the ongoing battle between Ross and Mitchell. One administration official complained to Politico that Ross was advocating “pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi’s coalition’s red lines.” Ross, in turn, waged what one close observer called “a ruthless campaign against George Mitchell,” repeatedly suggesting that he was spending too much time at home in New York and not enough in Washington and the Middle East.”

    A fair amount written about Ross’s persistent and successful efforts to undermine Mitchell. I believe I read that Mitchell quit because of Ross. Ross has been in there undermining negotiations for a long time. He is clearly an agent for Israel.
    link to forward.com
    link to huffingtonpost.com

    What some Vets had to say about Ross
    link to veteranstoday.com

    The word was out awhile back Ross still advising Obama. Too bad
    link to haaretz.com

  4. irmep says:

    An alternative to registering AIPAC would be for Attorney General Eric Holder to declare AIPAC exempt from it. In a way, affirming AIPAC’s de facto status as essentially above the law now, rather than waiting for the next crisis, would be the most honest thing to do…

    link to turcopolier.typepad.com

    -gfs

    • Kathleen says:

      That is not going to happen. Allowing the situation to be in limbo has been working just fine for Aipac and Israel. But of course not for US national security

  5. Donald says:

    In reference to Obama’s liberal Zionist background, here’s a paragraph from his first speech reacting to the Reverend Wright controversy (this is before he cut ties with Wright)– March 18 2008

    “But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”

    Hardly anyone was talking about Wright’s views of Israel in March 2008, but in defending American exceptionalism (whatever one thinks about that) Obama felt it necessary to make a point about Israel and the Mideast that any neocon would have applauded. There’s a wide spectrum of people calling themselves “liberal Zionists”–Jerry Slater is on the left (he may be on bad terms with various people here, but he’s a very harsh critic of Israeli violence) and on the right you’ve got alleged supporters of a 2SS that never blame Israel for anything. Obama is somewhere in the middle. In this speech he was way over on the right.

    • Hardly anyone was talking about Wright’s views of Israel in March 2008

      no that is not my recollection. someone released a video of a wright sermon that was completely radical wrt mainstream discourse. wright had been somewhat of an issue before and people had asked obama to denounce him, but then the video came out and he called a speech, very impromtu, and basically divorced himself from wright. it was big news and a big speech.

    • kalithea says:

      “In this speech he was way over on the right.”

      Besides being a jellyfish who would throw his best friend under the bus for political gain…WHO’S FAULT IS THAT, REALLY??? Pffft!

  6. Pamela Olson says:

    When I worked at a think tank in Washington, Dennis Ross was a special guest one day, giving his usual bullsh-t talk, and by the end smoke was pretty much coming out of my ears while everyone else in the room was nodding appreciatively, with stars in their eyes. (The power-worship in Washington is nauseating.)

    I called him out on one of his more glaring inaccuracies. He just sneered and looked at the audience as if to say, “Who is this silly person?” Then he completely dodged the question.

    What could I do? He had everyone’s ear. I was just a 26-year-old who had actually lived in the Middle East. A lot of people in my think tank actually considered that a bad thing — I’d “spent too much time with Arabs,” “gone native,” “lost my objectivity.”

    Is that what they call learning about reality from reality itself?

    Yes, yes it is.

    • Kathleen says:

      Good for you. Someone has to step up to the plate. Ross was a guest speaker here at Ohio University at the Baker Peace Conference. I was able to ask him several questions. I asked if Israel should be pressured to sign the Non Proliferation Treaty and open up to international inspections like Iraq and Iran? He danced around the question.

      • Pamela Olson says:

        He’s a dancer. Dennis the dancer. Slippery as a fish. That’s why Washington loves him. They can’t stand straight answers based on observable reality.

        • Charon says:

          They really can’t. The whole West kinda operates that way it seems. Observable reality and straight answers based on it are taboo and alien things it seems. Their perceptions must be off

  7. “Obama took office with a distinctly progressive vision of Jewish identity and the Jewish state, one shaped by the Chicago Jewish community that helped launch his political career.”

    How much of Obama’s political career was aided by the Chicago banking community? Chicago is one of the US’s banking centers and considering Obama’s favors to finance and banking post “credit crisis”, stock market dive and resuscitation, housing bubble crash, etc. I highly doubt his biggest supporters/ financiers are as progressive as the Daily Beast implies. You can’t win a campaign in this country without money, money, money and more $$$$$$ -until we take money out of politics.

    • ahhiyawa says:

      Money is all the Republican candidate has got, and its apparently not doing him much good in shutting down the competition and sewing up the nomination against opponents with no money and less organization. How’s your “money out of politics” square with that fact?

  8. Kathleen says:

    Israel’s Atom Bomb Factory in 3D

    Posted on 03/14/2012 by Juan

    An Israeli news magazine report in 3D animation on Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility, which produces enough plutonium every year to make another 10 nuclear weapons (Israel is thought to have 400 atom bombs, among the biggest stockpiles in the world). The report is based on the information given by nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, treated by Israel rather as Bradley Manning has been treated by the US.
    link to juancole.com

    US Public to Israel’s Likud: On Iran, Negotiate or you are on Your Own
    link to juancole.com

    Shalom, Beijing
    Israel and China just celebrated 20 years of friendship. But will this new special relationship come to the breaking point over Tehran?
    BY OREN KESSLER | MARCH 13, 2012
    “As Chinese-Israeli cooperation deepens and expands, one issue is becoming harder to avoid: Iran. China is Iran’s largest destination for exports — it buys 80 percent of Iran’s oil — and its second-largest source of imports (barely edged out by the trade hub of Dubai). Chinese trade with Iran is valued at over $30 billion — at least three times larger than Chinese trade with Israel — and is projected to reach $50 billion by 2015. And with sanctions edging Western companies out of Iran, China has rushed in to fill the void: At least 100 state-run companies now operate in the Islamic Republic, many heavily invested in its fuel and infrastructure industries.

    The Chinese officially support a peaceful Iranian nuclear program, but have dragged their feet in condemning Tehran’s move toward weapons-grade uranium enrichment. They grudgingly voted in favor of all U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Iran, but each time expressed reservations over the imposition of sanctions and urged more time be given for negotiations.

    “China only agreed to sanctions that don’t apply real pressure on Iran — namely, those that don’t touch its financial or energy sectors,” says Yoram Evron of the University of Haifa and the Institute for National Security Studies. “China’s participation might have given the sanctions legitimacy, but it has effectively weakened international pressure.”

    link to foreignpolicy.com

    • Sumud says:

      (Israel is thought to have 400 atom bombs, among the biggest stockpiles in the world).

      Some disturbing food for thought, if you think of the right wing zio nutjobs in Israel and their ever increasing influence. I don’t see them as rational actors.

      There’s no reason for Israel to have 400 nuclear weapons and to keep increasing their stockpile. To what end? When the time comes to transition to one state will there be religious extremists in the IDF who invoke Masada – and hey we’ve got 400 nukes why not wipe everybody else out also?

    • Charon says:

      If you took an unofficial/anonymous survey among all the world’s leaders on who was the most likely to hit the button, I would bet money that Israel would top the list by a landslide.

      They prepared nuclear warheads to fire at targets in Egypt and Syria back in ’73. Few people are aware of it. It’s one of the only times in history that the world came close to nuclear war. Well that we know of at least. Cuban Missile Crisis and the ‘fall of the third temple’

      IMHO, Israel is NEVER going to settle for anything with the Palestinians. Since the US is responsible for dragging its feet (and allowing sensitive areas of our government to be ‘infiltrated’ by Zionists) they should finish the job. Forget about the propaganda implicating Syria. Forget about Iran. Those are diversions keeping wandering eyes away from the core problem on planet Earth: The I/P conflict. Send the US military and US troops on a ‘humanitarian’ mission that really needs it. Force the Israelis to withdraw to their recognized territories and stick around on the borders trying not to wear out your welcome (to keep the peace).

      Most importantly, contain Dimona. Disarm Dimona. Remove their entire nuclear arsenal and decommission every warhead. They deny their existence and refuse to sign the NPT. I don’t trust them. I’m honestly afraid of their nukes. They don’t keep me up at night, but I fear they will use them… preemptively. Or otherwise in bad faith. That’s the Zionist way.

  9. RE: “Obama took office with a distinctly progressive vision of Jewish identity and the Jewish state, one shaped by the Chicago Jewish community that helped launch his political career. Three years later—after a bitter struggle with the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment–that vision is all but gone.” ~ Beinart

    SEE: The Dilemmas of Israeli Power, by Roger Cohen, New York Times Op-Ed, 2/13/12

    (excerpt). . . Some of the most fascinating pages of “The Crisis of Zionism” [by Peter Beinart] trace the ideological backdrop to the bitter clash between Obama and Netanyahu. Beinart demonstrates the strong liberal Zionist influence of Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf on Obama during his Chicago years. Wolf hated the idea of “an Israel besieged by anti-Semites;” his teaching was “interfaith” and “integrationist.” It cleaved to the liberal roots of American Zionism and the ethical teachings of the prophets who, as expressed in Exodus, commanded Jews not to oppress strangers “having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”
    The contrast with Netanyahu — raised in the Jabotinsky strain of Zionism by a father who viewed Arabs as “semi-barbaric”* and rejected an “emasculating moralism” [e.g. universal human rights] in favor of a new warrior breed of Jew — could scarcely be greater. . .

    ENTIRE OP-ED – link to nytimes.com
    * SEE: Netanyahu Family’s Racist History: Like Father, Like Son, by Richard Silverstein – link to richardsilverstein.com

  10. ahhiyawa says:

    The fact is Obama stepped up to the plate and took a shot, only to find himself out on a limb all by his lonesome and pretty much abandoned by his party and liberal Zionists, for whom when the fight got particularly nasty running backsides was the order of the day, not brave fronts.

    He did the right thing by cutting his losses and used Ross as a temporary block punt to blunt the Israeli lobbies revenge attacks. Did Ross the traitor and Netanyahu exploit the situation for Israel’s benefit? Of course. Did Obama calculate this possibility? Probably. What is today’s current outcome? Ross is out of the administration and likely was bounced instead of quit, and its Netanyahu’s turn to be on the short end of the stick.

    “…Obama took office with a distinctly progressive vision of Jewish identity and the Jewish state, one shaped by the Chicago Jewish community that helped launch his political career. Three years later—after a bitter struggle with the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment–that vision is all but gone…”

    No kidding. What we got now is a far more experienced and pragmatic Obama on the Israeli/Palestinian question. What that means we will find out after November next.

  11. dbroncos says:

    Donald:
    “Hardly anyone was talking about Wright’s views of Israel in March 2008, but in defending American exceptionalism (whatever one thinks about that) Obama felt it necessary to make a point about Israel and the Mideast that any neocon would have applauded.”

    The NYR, Washington Post, and Jerusalem Post have all reported that Jewish donors account for up to 50% of all campaign contributions to the DNC. Obama had no choice if he ever expected to get a whiff of the white house, no matter what his personal opinions may be.

  12. kalithea says:

    Obviously the agent of Israel was triumphant in sabotaging whatever Mitchell could have accomplished (although even that potential accomplishment is debatable) and then slithered back under the rock he slithered out of to do his dirty deed.

    But, this is all good!! Yes, believe it or not it’s great! See everytime “those who are insatiable about getting every little thing they demand no matter who it hurts” get their way…THEY MOVE CLOSER TO THE EDGE. Because in the end, the disaster that awaits them, is the ONLY hope left for Palestinians and those of us who feel like our democracy is being trampled and our voice silenced.