Israel advocates with past ties to AIPAC are all over the smear Hagel campaign

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 19 Comments

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.

But as Max Blumenthal reports for AlterNet (where I am an editor), former AIPAC employee Josh Block, the current CEO of The Israel Project, is going to the mat against Hagel. More from Blumenthal:

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. 

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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19 Responses

  1. ToivoS
    January 14, 2013, 7:00 pm

    Alex this is exactly where the Hagel nomination debate should be focused. Name the names of those calling Hagel an antisemite. We need to get some quotes from Senator Schumer on how the SOD must be an advocate for Israel.

    BTW Walt today puts Abrams and the FRC in the spotlight over the Hagel debate.
    link to walt.foreignpolicy.com

  2. Annie Robbins
    January 14, 2013, 7:14 pm

    great coverage alex. thank you! and everyone should read max’s article in its entirety. too many gems to mention.

    On January 8, I attended an Israeli national election debate sponsored by The Israel Project at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. On a stage before virtually the entire foreign press corps stationed in Jerusalem were candidates from the four leading Israeli political parties. Bombarded with questions from reporters about their opinion of the Hagel nomination, each candidate studiously refused to issue any criticism. Tzachi Hanegbi, a close ally of Prime Minister Netanyahu from the Likud Party, emphasized that it would be inappropriate for any Israeli official to publicly question the judgment of the American president.

    i have read (or heard) at least 30 news reports claiming aipac or the israel lobby was staying out of this. if they were staying out of this one would think they wouldn’t need to have that repeated every 5 minutes. do they think we’re all idiots?

  3. atime forpeace
    January 14, 2013, 7:26 pm

    It’s any and all the Israel firsters that ought to remain in the spotlight, believe me they will run like the proverbial roaches when the lights are turned on, Aipac has plausible deniability down pat.

  4. Kathleen
    January 14, 2013, 10:40 pm

    Will go read Max’s piece in its entirety. But I don’t buy that Aipac is sitting this one out at all… going back to the operating in at night in the shadows. No way is Aipac going to sit this one out

    • Annie Robbins
      January 15, 2013, 2:06 am

      But I don’t buy that Aipac is sitting this one out at all…

      yeah, i think that’s the point kathleen. after all max’s article is titled “Is AIPAC Waging A Shadow War On Hagel?”

      which, in realspeak, means AIPAC is Waging A Shadow War On Hagel

      • Kathleen
        January 15, 2013, 8:59 am

        I should have been more specific I was responding to the link Alex provided to Eli Lake’s piece on Aipac sitting it out. The whole purpose of Aipac is to take down leaders who might stand in the way of their Israel agenda and to write and promote legislation that created and then cultivated the “special” relationship protecting Israel from any consequences for breaking international law etc

  5. Blank State
    January 14, 2013, 10:57 pm

    Its intriqueing to me that Hagel’s free ride with his ESS scandal hasn’t surfaced as a means by which to sully his name. Ironic that a true wart in his past isn’t brought up. Could it be that all parties involved are scared to death that the public may take a closer look at electronic voting if they bring up Hagel’s sleazy little episode of not disclosing his financial stake in an electronic voting machine company whose machines were used to vote him into office?

    • Ellen
      January 16, 2013, 6:19 am

      Blank State, it has been covered by the press. And your statements are false.

      At the the time of his first win, it was widely covered. His first election filings at the time of his first run disclosed his stake in ES&S.

      You are either lying or misinformed — reaching, playing readers for dumb with a whispering campaign. You do not even bother to back up your whispers.

      NY Times has an editorial about it after his election.
      link to nytimes.com

      Hagel made his fortune in the IT industry and this included stakes in optical recognition and voting machines. Public knowledge.

      His public filings reported disinvestment in those units in 2005. Before running he removed himself from the boards. In hinsight, yes, I think all would agree he should have disinvested before his first Senate run. But in the 90’s there was not the public perception of possible problems with the machines.

      As the NYT editorial of 2004 states:

      Defeated candidates who think they were robbed are nothing new in American politics. But modern technology is creating a whole new generation of conspiracy theories — easy to imagine and, unless we’re careful, impossible to disprove.

      “The Hill” also covered the controversy at the time. You can research it.

      Here is another reasonable account
      link to eurekaencyclopedia.com

      Matulka, who first lost to Hagel in the 90s was a very weak candidate. He lost by a lot and understandably raised questions about his loss.

      • Rusty Pipes
        January 16, 2013, 8:31 pm

        “You are either lying or misinformed” or concern-trolling.

  6. Kathleen
    January 15, 2013, 9:03 am

    I thought all of these free trips to Israel or any other foreign country for our Reps was supposed to stop after the Ney scandal? Wonder if the trip that Chris Matthews referenced having been paid for him to go to Israel was paid for by the Israel Project? He mentioned his trip months ago but said it had been paid for. Did not say who paid for it.

  7. Ramzi Jaber
    January 15, 2013, 9:12 am

    It’s working. Hagel prostituting himself just to get Shumer’s vote and aipac’s approval. Read it in Haaretz…..

    Hagel: ‘I intend to expand the depth and breadth of U.S.-Israel cooperation’ link to haaretz.com

    Exactly as I predicted. BOX him as anti semite anti israel and he will OVERCOMPENSATE. Here goes the independent voice and soul of Hagel. Sold to the ZIONIST LOBBY. Pathetic. As someone said years ago, The Hill is zionist-occupied territory.

    Just amazing. aipac/likud/zionists always win. Americans and Palestininas always lose. HIGH TIME TO WAKE UP AMERICAN CITIZENS! Ask your representatives a simple question: are you a US Senator/Congressperson or an Israeli Senator/Congressperson? DEMAND a CLEAR ANSWER BEFORE you vote for them, then hold them ACCOUNTABLE.

    • Ramzi Jaber
      January 15, 2013, 10:17 am

      CNN just reporting that schumer is now supporting Hagel based on STRONG ASSURANCES that Hagel gave schumer. Clearly, Hagel agreed to all that nutenyahoo demanded through schumer. Boxer is also supporting him now. What price does selling one’s soul have????????

    • Rusty Pipes
      January 15, 2013, 12:53 pm

      Hagel would not be planning “to expand the depth and breadth of U.S.-Israel cooperation” if that were not already a commitment that Obama has made to the Israel Lobby. In the run-up to the election, some key PEPs came out in support of Obama, suggesting that he had given them some specifics about his support for Israel. Hagel is just giving congressional PEPs assurances that he will faithfully enact Obama’s commitments. In order to get those endorsements, Obama may have severely constrained his options regarding his Middle East policy.

  8. American
    January 15, 2013, 10:38 am

    Schumer announces support for Obama’s choice of Hagel for Pentagon’s top job
    Washington Post – ‎8 minutes ago‎
    WASHINGTON — An influential Senate Democrat says he will back President Barack Obama’s choice of Chuck Hagel for the top job at the Pentagon. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said in a statement Tuesday that he met with Hagel for 90 minutes on …>>>>>>>

    Interesting.
    One thing I am convinced of—-Schumer doesn’t really want Hagel as Sec of Def….Schumer is The Dem Senator for Israel and a Iran hawk.
    So why has he agreed to support him?
    Let’s say Hagel expressed his undying love for Israel to Schumer. Anyone believe Schumer actually believed him or that Hagle actually meant it?
    I am not convinced Hagel’s confirmation really hinged that much on Schumer power. Reid had already announced that he supported Hagel.
    So I wonder what the real deal is.
    Why has Schumer given his support when Hagel is the last person he would want at defense?

  9. American
    January 15, 2013, 10:48 am

    Ramzi Jaber says:

    It’s working. Hagel prostituting himself just to get Shumer’s vote and aipac’s approval. Read it in Haaretz…..”>>>>>>>>>

    I wouldn’t worry about this yet. There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.
    And there’s also lip service.
    And once Hagle is in, he’s in.
    I am still betting that when it comes to US vr Israel interest he will draw the line.
    You can take the boy out of the heartland but you can’t take the heartland out of the boy.

  10. gingershot
    January 15, 2013, 5:59 pm

    I don’t care what Hagel told Schumer or what Schumer says Hagel told him

    The critically important (for Israel) war on Iran is not going to happen – without that Apartheid has had it

    • ritzl
      January 16, 2013, 10:30 pm

      Yep.

      Filling in some hypothetical intermediate steps:

      “War on Iran is not going to happen.” >> Israel constrained wrt Iran (first time ever??/tipping point??) >> Israeli electoral paranoia amplifies rightward GoI shift >> Increasingly non-democratic state (“shared values” argument falls away) >> Increasing and pronounced viciousness toward Palestinians (“Arabs”) >> Some broadly-perceived, unmotivated, glaringly unarguably and universally repugnant, violent defining moment (Soweto Massacre-like?) >> Broad private BDS support and/or political consensus on solving this, with some credible talk of imposing a solution (over time) and/or ICC prosecutions. >> Israel embraces some form of either Justice (requires intense Israeli political introspection) or “Masada” (avoids any introspection whatsoever) >> Israeli “Apartheid [Hafrada] has had it.”

      The bad part of all this is that many [more] Palestinians are going to suffer as it plays out. Hopefully not many, nor too much.

      What a world.

  11. Rusty Pipes
    January 16, 2013, 8:47 pm

    So, if Block at the Israel Project is doing AIPAC’s dirty work and coordinating with the Israeli embassy, why doesn’t the Israel Project have to register as an agent of a foreign government?

    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.

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