Journalists who are favorable to Israel have reported that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is sitting the Chuck Hagel fight out. But there are some ties between the nation’s premier Israel lobby group and those who are openly joining in on the smear campaign waged against the former Nebraska senator who has been tapped to take the helm at the Pentagon.
In public, AIPAC is staying mum; the group, which works assiduously to cultivate bipartisan support for Israel, does not want to be seen as opposing President Barack Obama. It’s also a fight they know they will lose, since Hagel is very likely to be confirmed as Defense Secretary. And it should be noted that there is no direct link between AIPAC and the anti-Hagel smear campaign.
A closer investigation of the campaign against Hagel indicates that AIPAC — and by extension, the Israeli government — may be outsourcing the attacks to its longtime former spokesman, the notoriously combative pro-Israel operative Josh Block. Through Block, who was until very recently quoted by reporters as a “former AIPAC spokesman,” AIPAC has apparently been able to assail one of President Barack Obama’s key nominees without risking the political fallout that such a gambit might invite.
“Because Josh Block does not work for AIPAC anymore, he can say whatever he wants,” MJ Rosenberg, a former editor of AIPAC’s weekly newsletter and ex-congressional aide who is now one of the Israel lobby’s premier critics, told me. “And he does: when AIPAC wants a message sent, it tells journalists, ‘We have no comment but you can call Josh Block.’ And Block, who is in constant contact with AIPAC, gives the line but AIPAC has deniability – they can just say, he doesn’t work for us…”
In June 2012, Block was hired as CEO of The Israel Project, a major pro-Israel advocacy group that focuses on influencing journalists, politicians, and other cultural elites free trips to Israel, lavish seminars, and aggressive lobbying. When Hagel’s name was floated as the likely Defense Secretary nominee in December, Block opened up a series of harsh attacks on Hagel, reportedly disseminating anti-Hagel talking points to sympathetic reporters and neoconservative activists. Block’s Twitter feed has become a clearinghouse for attacks on the former senator, including those that baselessly portray him as anti-American and anti-Semitic, and the former AIPAC spokesman has been quoted in publications ranging from the Daily Beast to Politico disparaging Hagel.
As the above video with Blumenthal shows, other Israel Project staffers seem uncomfortable with Block’s behavior.
Block isn’t the only example of how people with ties to AIPAC have attacked Hagel. As Annie Robbins noted last week on this site, a top aide to Senator Mark Kirk, whose career has been fueled by Israel lobby cash, is reportedly distributing anti-Hagel emails to a listserv of Congressional staffers.
In March 2012, the aide, Richard Goldberg, spoke at an AIPAC event for young Jewish professionals. And Goldberg also worked closely with former AIPAC official Steve Rosen and an Israeli Member of Knesset on a bill that fundamentally redefines who a Palestinian refugee is. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Rosen, who in 2005 was indicted by the Justice Department for passing sensitive information on to Israel, met with Goldberg to promote the refugee bill.
Note: This article and headline has been updated to better explain the links between AIPAC and those waging the smear campaign. My reading that there were “AIPAC fingerprints” was overblown.