Abrams calls Hagel anti-Semitic for questioning legitimacy of the Israel lobby

on 32 Comments

I frequently criticize Brian Lehrer because he is an intelligent/progressive/influential public-radio host in New York City and also a reflexive defender of Israel. He’s what I’m up against in liberal Jewish establishment opinion. 

Well, the other day Lehrer interviewed neoconservative Elliott Abrams (who is due to speak at Brooklyn College’s Political Science Department soon) and– impelled by the Saturday Night Live skit that never made it to air about Would you fellate a donkey for Israel?— Lehrer repeatedly questioned Abrams about the countries’ different interests: Why Americans should care about Israel, what does Israel do for America, etc.

And then in questioning Abrams about his smear of Chuck Hagel as an anti-Semite, Lehrer went on to assert that there’s a difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli-ism, or anti-Israel-lobbyism. 

Notwithstanding the fact that Lehrer said that Palestinians rejected a generous offer at Camp David in 2000, it was a superb interview. Extended excerpts follow, with my comments. (Thanks to Phil Shea).

Abrams: The one sentence summary of [the peace process] is that the most that Israel is willing to offer right now is less than the least that Palestinians are able to accept right now. I think that’s still true.

This is a pithy, helpful statement. One-staters on the left surely agree with one-staters on the right in this regard; though the former understand why Palestinians don’t accept the deals, and recommend democracy; while the latter seem to regard Palestinians as clannish primitives unfit ever to determine their future, and seek to consolidate apartheid.

After that, Lehrer launches on his skepticism about Israel being in the American interest. “Why by the way is Israel an important ally of the United States?” What about all our client states and military bases in Arab countries?

Abrams has a weak answer. Because it’s a “democratic state” and “a firm US ally.” We are not dependent on “a straw man or dictator or king, whose views can change,” but can count on the people of the country there to stand by us.

But, Lehrer persists, “Some Americans think the United States does and does for Israel… Maybe you heard about that Saturday Night Live routine that didn’t make it to air.” And though it may be “politically necessary to support Israel” — Lehrer is daring to address the Israel lobby, which in the SNL skit asks a politician to fellate a donkey — but what does it do for us?

Abrams has more weak answers. That it has contributed to the stability of Jordan and Egypt, that it eliminated the Syrian nuclear weapons program, which was “quite a boon for us.” Lehrer responds that Egypt had stability under a dictator. A heck of a price to pay. And this kind of support often comes back to haunt the U.S. Abrams responds that the U.S. had “other military, security, financial, trade interests” with Egypt even under a dictator.

(A counterfeit conversation. Lehrer should have asked Abrams about his reasons for supporting Israel: he’s a Zionist, he believes in the need for a Jewish state. Then these two empowered Americans could discuss the wisdom of that position.)

Lehrer than battens on to Abrams for seeing “so few shortcomings on the Israeli right. [In your new book] you repeatedly dismiss the expansion of settlements.”

Excellent question. Abrams goes on about Yair Lapid’s centrist surge, praising it, but won’t say a word against settlements. Lehrer: Will you say anything critical of Netanyahu policy in the occupied territories? Abrams refuses to say a word against settlements, though he deprecates checkpoints, suspensions of international payments, “too many raids” in the West Bank.

On to Chuck Hagel. Lehrer quotes Abrams’s smear on public radio of Hagel as an anti-Semite.

Lehrer: “Do you wish you had chosen different words in characterizing Chuck Hagel?”

Abrams: “No. I think the problem here is that the organized pressure of the organized Jewish community in support of Israel is either legitimate or not fully legitimate, and his words over many years have given I think the strong impression that he views that organized community pressure as not legitimate, and I think that’s terrible.”

Ah, so it’s about the Israel lobby. Hagel had criticized the Israel lobby for intimidating legislators, and called it the Jewish lobby.

Lehrer asks, where do you get the impression that he sees organized Jewish pressure as illegitimate– “as opposed to [his] saying… they have too much influence, or they’re wrong on the issues… to say that he feels that  fundamentally the idea of a pro-Israel lobby is an illegitimate thing.”

Abrams fumbles and bumbles. Because in the end, his view that Hagel is an anti-Semite is based on impressions. So he cites Hagel’s “famous” statement that he was a US senator, not an Israeli senator. Then cites criticisms from Nebraska Jews of Hagel. And the fact that Hagel never criticized the “organized efforts” of the Greek, Cuban, or Armenian communities.

“It seems to be this one group, and I think that’s very unfortunate.”

Lehrer then cites reporting by Ali Gharib and Nathan Guttman undermining the Nebraska claim. “Does that refute your argument about Nebraska?”

Abrams: No, it refutes the argument that there is no rabbi or single Jew in Nebraska who doesn’t likes Chuck Hagel. but this is not a question about individual Jews or about Judaism, it’s about the organized Jewish community…

[Then this vagueness:]

Look, I think everyone understands there’s a problem here, in the relationship between Senator Hagel and the Jewish community. It’s very unfortunate.

The interview ends with a bang. Lehrer permits criticism of the Israel lobby, Abrams accuses Lehrer of leveling an “accusation” against the beloved AIPAC.

Lehrer: If he’s criticizing AIPAC or the organized rightwing Jewish community, that’s different than being anti-Semitic?

Abrams: Of course it is. First of all, I reject your accusation which I think you just made that that AIPAC is rightwing. AIPAC is the largest pro-Israel lobby in the American Jewish community, and it is firmly bipartisan, and it has said nothing about the Hagel nomination. So first of all, that’s unfair to AIPAC. This is not about whether you think policy a or policy b is the correct policy. It’s about whether this kind of organized lobbying activity is fully legitimate, I think that’s the question.

Great interview by Lehrer; and it leads to an inevitable sequel. Why is Abrams so passionate about the need for American Jews to protect Israel? Why shouldn’t American Jews be pushing for democracy that protects minority rights over there, like the system we have flourished under here? It’s time for Lehrer to discuss Zionism. He knows that’s what’s at the heart of this, an assessment of Jewish safety in the west, and the resultant error, Jewish nationalism.

P.S. Abrams’s critique of Hagel re the lobby is, I believe, the reason that people like Michael Walzer and Leon Wieseltier refused to debate Mearsheimer and Walt: they regarded Mearsheimer and Walt as anti-Semites for daring to criticized organized Jewish community efforts. And in staking out a position tolerating such criticism, Lehrer implicitly and repeatedly echoed Mearsheimer and Walt– whose views, like that SNL skit, were initially suppressed in the US.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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32 Responses

  1. EUR1069
    February 16, 2013, 11:52 am

    Israel a “democratic state” and “a firm US ally?” Well, it’s neither. It’s a parasitic geopolitical experiment feeding off it’s host – the U.S. to such an extreme degree that it may soon kill it – i.e. the money and the political will to babysit & bail Israel out at the UN at every turn will eventually run out.

    BTW, to stop the nonsensical accusations of “anti-semitism” there ought to be a public & formal debate as to WHAT constitutes “anti-semitism”, establishing & codifying ONE (not as many as Abe wishes) definition.

    • jimmy
      February 16, 2013, 11:37 pm

      I concure

    • Djinn
      February 17, 2013, 8:56 pm

      The insistence that Israel is a firm ally is bizarre. Australia has followed the US into every folly since Vietnam and has never bombed a US warship and has never pushed for the release of a spy who sold its secrets to an enemy possibly causing the deaths of US spooks and informants. Australia has never killed any American human rights volunteers. How many troops did Israel send to Afghanistan again? Would bet my right eye that concerns about perceived slights towards Australia wouldn’t ruffle a single feather. Hopefully this insane fuss is making at least some Americans ask what’s so special about Israel. Probably won’t though.

  2. Blank State
    February 16, 2013, 1:05 pm

    This “anti-semite” thing intrigues me.

    Who, really, is an anti-semite? The individual that calls into question the actions of the self-professed “Jewish State”, or the zionist whose actions and words openly support the despicable policies and actions of the self-proffessed “Jewish State”?

    I find the ilk such as Abrams, Dershowitz, etc. to be loathsome beyond words. Am I to accept these two as as having the kind of character that discourages anti-semitism through example? Am I to consider these two as legitimate spokespeople for Israeli or American Jews?

    Look, just saying. Anti-semitism is fostered by these two. They consistently defend Israeli actions and policies that the majority of the international community considers illegal, immoral, and racist. And while launching thier ill-concieved defense of inhumane and racist policies, they advocate, at times openly, always tacitly, for the “purity” of the Jewish State. They themselves sow the seeds of anti-semitism, particularly within the Muslim community.

    • EUR1069
      February 16, 2013, 3:03 pm

      @Blank State: Agreed. Most of the Zionist establishment is vitally interested in keeping the anti-semitism alive, it’s their bread-and-butter, their whole raison d’être, without it Abe at al would be collecting unemployment. Hence they throw the accusations around at random, hoping something will stick.

    • Cliff
      February 16, 2013, 4:14 pm

      an antisemite is anyone or ‘thing’ that poses a viable threat to Jewish nationalism and colonialism

      and by viable, ‘they’ (Zionist Jewry) mean legitimate and reasonable proposals. not the easily-demonized. if it was some guy yelling ‘death to Israel’ or ‘Jews did 9/11’ – i dont think the ADL, AJC, Dershowitz, SWU, etc. etc. (all the usual suspects) are going to have a conniption

      there’s no threat in the long-run from Westboro Church types, because they demonize themselves by being so shallow and crazy

      think of how shallow and crazy Dov Hikund is. Or his constituents. That’s why it’s important to hear what these Orthodox Zionist Jews think. They are extremely crazy and are like a splash of cold water over the ignorant who dont pay attn to this issue. meanwhile, we all know about Islam this and Islam that.

      Jewish group mobility (as they, Zionist Jews, see it) is at stake so long as Palestinian agency is strengthened

      Zionist Jews fear non-tribe members being socialized away from their (Zionism) political alignment

      be right-wing or left-wing, but be pro-Israel is the Israel Lobby’s motto

      read Elliot Abrams comments in reply to the notion that AIPAC is right-wing.

      no! he says

      no, AIPAC is ‘bi-partisan’ LOL

      of course it is

      Zionism is bipartisan so long as the money, military support and coordination, diplomatic support and coordination, and propaganda keep flowing to and for Israel

    • jimmy
      February 16, 2013, 11:39 pm

      ah yes ,,,,the ..Purity”….thing….

      this is one sick puppy

  3. James Canning
    February 16, 2013, 1:59 pm

    Elliott Abrams literally conspired with Israel to overthrow the government elected by the Palestinians, in Gaza. Abrams does not give a fig for “democracy” as such, but instead sees it as a way to deceive the American public so they allow the US Congress to continue to reward Israel for growing illegal colonies in the West Bank.

  4. James Canning
    February 16, 2013, 2:00 pm

    Chuck Hagel weas quite right to say that the Israel lobby intimidates members of the US Congress. All too true.

    • jimmy
      February 16, 2013, 11:41 pm

      and that is what the SNL…skit was about…excessive influence by a minority

  5. mijj
    February 16, 2013, 4:11 pm

    modern, de facto definition of “anti-semitic” = “seeking truth; protecting the dis-empowered”

  6. bob
    February 16, 2013, 4:16 pm
    • jimmy
      February 16, 2013, 11:47 pm

      a bit scarey aint it

      • sardelapasti
        February 17, 2013, 2:28 am

        Jimmy: Scary, no. Good news. If a Maher says it (without being sacked as he had been for an equally obvious observation on 9/11) I guess this is a turning point. It should be a sign that it is now socially acceptable for so-called liberals to oppose the most glaring wrongs of Zionism.

    • Avi_G.
      February 17, 2013, 12:10 am

      A couple of points:

      1. Jamie Weintein is a hack and a putz. Look how he backs down the moment Maher challenges him about the State Department comment. He’s a typical pro-Israel hack who hopes his theatrics will be sufficient in place of factual, empirical evidence; “That the State Department is…..” {Oh no! The horror!}.

      2. Someone else is going to have to sit through an entire Bill Maher show in order to understand exactly what took place there. I simply cannot afford another ulcer.

      For the time being, however, based on that short excerpt/exchange, it seems to me that Bill Maher is merely upset because the Republicans are making the accusation. In other words, he’s insinuating that Republicans are anti-Semites.

      That’s my take on Bill Maher’s comments, but I’m basing that on his past history of Islamophobic and pro-Israel statements. Who knows, perhaps the meteor’s electromagnetic field had some effect on Maher’s synapses.

      Either that, or the proverbial levee is breaking and the Lobby’s sandbagging just isn’t effective anymore.

      Time will tell, eh?

      • Citizen
        February 17, 2013, 6:56 am


        That’s my take too. Maher was all about how evil the Republicans are in their vicious attack on Hagel. Neither he, nor his panel, pursued anything about the lobby’s intimidation. Just McCain’s sour grapes because Hagel didn’t continue to go along with him over the years.

      • MLE
        February 17, 2013, 1:24 pm

        He was talking about how the Republicans are just holding up the confirmation because of Benghazi, the conservative guy said “we’ll he did make this comment about Israel” and that’s when Bill Maher made that statement.

        But last week, he was talking to Tina Brown about the girl shot by the Taliban and he started talking about how great it is to be in Israel vs. everywhere else in the Middle East because Israel is more “western”.

  7. southernobserver
    February 16, 2013, 5:46 pm

    Indeed, the holy roman empire of the 20th century, which as Voltaire observed, was neither holy nor roman nor an empire.

    It is not a democracy, since its citizens rights are religiously defined.

    it is not liberal, since its ‘press freedom’ is subject to retrospective suppression and journalists who do not support the state have been murdered. Current rating: 112/179

    this week it was reported that they kidnapped an australian citizen, held him under a false name and in secret, and allowed him to die under very suspicious circumstances. Habeus corpus dates from the magna carta.

    I understand that our rights are often pressured even in the most ‘liberal’ countries during war. Fear is horrible, and often facilitates immoral actions. It may be fairly argued of course that the only reason that Istratine is under threat is because it keeps attacking others. However, that would be a red herring. The great declarations of rights, the magna carta, the american constitution, were developed to defend people who were believed to be traitors by the authorities.

    We lose sight too easily of this central belief throughout the ages that those who are against them should be locked up or killed for the greater good of the country…

  8. CloakAndDagger
    February 16, 2013, 7:16 pm

    I continue to believe that the times are changing and the demise of donkey fellators is not far. I just wish the change was happening faster.

  9. MHughes976
    February 16, 2013, 8:02 pm

    No one is sovereign over words. We can all dhhefine each other into anti-Semitism or into spporting apartheittd if we wishe eis

  10. piotr
    February 16, 2013, 10:33 pm

    My earliest memory of Elliott Abrams was an interview he gave during Reagan years in which he attacked liberals for being unfair, using a short stick and long stick — WTF? — namely, that they measure human rights abuses and torture perpetrated by our friends with a short stick, and the same perpetrated by our foes, with long sticks. For the youngsters here, the context were the wars in southern Africa and central America, with our friends running death squads and massacring villages in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, plus terrorist attacks in Nicaragua, plus atrocities of Renamo and Unita in Mozambique and Angola. What the friends are for!?

    The most charitable take on the morality of the Abrams and his ilk is that we pick our friends through somewhat mysterious process, perhaps by chance encounters in bars, country clubs and at bar mitzvahs, and then we sticks with them through thick and thin.

  11. RoHa
    February 17, 2013, 3:31 am

    ‘it eliminated the Syrian nuclear weapons program, which was “quite a boon for us.” ‘

    There was no Syrian nuclear weapons program, and if there had been, it would not have been a threat to the US if the US were not the main backer of Israel.

    When these characters – senators, AIPAC people, etc., start going on about Israel as America’s “best ally”, I would love to see or hear someone give them the facts I repeatedly post about Britain, Canada, and Australia, and then ask if they can give a similar list of real, genuine, ally-type actions about Israel.

  12. Citizen
    February 17, 2013, 7:00 am

    Re Most popular pick on Netflix these days:
    House Of Cards Season 1, Episode 2 Recap: Working In Shadow

    He (Frank, the key protagonist, a powerful guy on the Hill) discovers a 1978 anti-Israeli newspaper op-ed about Israel and Palestine, written when proposed Secretary of State Michael Kern was editor-in-chief. Of course, without having Kern in his back pocket, what use does Frank have for him in office? He texts and meets up with Zoe to get her to publish an article about it, and when she does, the resulting shitstorm gets Kern booted out (as an anti-Semite, no less) and Frank’s puppet Catherine Durant in as Secretary of State.

    There’s a whole sub-plot here with Peter Russo finding out key information to bring down Kern, but it’s mostly a distraction to show us that he has a propensity to be reckless, and could possibly be a liability for Frank down the road. He can also roll an amazing joint, apparently. Peter’s relationship with office assistant Christina is even more distracting, and is the weakest part of the show. No Spacey involvement, no care.

    Equally uninteresting is Zoe moving quickly up the ranks at her newspaper (from Metro desk to CNN appearances), having to deal with jealous coworkers and a boss growing increasingly uneasy at her mysterious sources and killer stories. Besides the fact that I don’t buy such rapid progression for a minute, Zoe’s arrogance is tiresome. I do like how House Of Cards shows the texting between its characters on-screen, though — that’s a cool element that other shows could benefit from using.

    In her own separate storyline, Claire is a hardass, firing most of the employees from her non-profit company, Clear Water Initiative (CWI). If Wright weren’t playing Claire, I think this plotline would definitely suffer, but with her in the role it works somehow. It’s enjoyable (and somewhat terrifying) to see her completely dismantle the company she formed, and then fire 59-year-old devotee Evelyn. Crushing stuff coming from the steel-jawed Wright, and it absolutely left me wanting more. Frank and Claire are like two rock pillars, strong and unbreakable — at least for now.

    At the end of the episode we’re left with numerous shots of talking heads in the media, spouting “news” that Frank literally crafted from the ground-up. Accurate and very scary, it certainly made me wonder how much of what goes on in reality is actually fabricated information, built to keep the maw of the shadowy underbelly fed.

    The key to getting Kern booted out as candidate for the Sec of State is

    whether or not, way back when, Kern actually wrote the article describing the Israeli conduct as “an illegal occupation.” Or just allowed it to be printed. The Russo character is a druggie, and it was unclear to me if he manufactured evidence of Kern’s direct involvement as writing the old piece critical of Israel.

  13. NickJOCW
    February 17, 2013, 7:14 am

    The more people accused of anti-Semitism the more diluted the meaning. If someone called me an anti-Semite I wouldn’t even bother to refute it, I’d just shrug my shoulders.

    • James Canning
      February 17, 2013, 1:29 pm

      Sensible approach.

    • Djinn
      February 17, 2013, 9:02 pm

      I feel the same. I used to get extremely upset if I was called an anti-Semite because bigots are amongst the lowest of the low in my book and it was offensive that I would be characterized that way merely for opposing the actions of a nation state. It has now become so ridiculous that it’s akin to someone angrily calling you a grapefruit. Most other activists I know in the Palestinain solidarity movement feel the same. Zionists never heard the story of the boy who cried wolf apparently.

    • piotr
      February 19, 2013, 12:30 am

      I keep suggesting to check: new anti-Semitism or old? The entire concept of the new anti-Semitism is preposterous.

  14. Citizen
    February 17, 2013, 7:35 am

    MJ Rosenberg:
    Even the UK, at the height of its war with Germany, and desperate for US to join, never dared tell FDR who he could choose as Sec’y Of War.

  15. Ramzi Jaber
    February 17, 2013, 8:55 am

    As I expected, AIPAC is playing this game behinds the scene in spite of their public announcements. First McCain and Graham and Kristol and Abrams, then Cruz and Inhofe, then Kristol and Abrams (never stopped), and now this…….

    Two American Jewish organizations call for further review of Hagel statements – http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/two-american-jewish-organizations-call-for-further-review-of-hagel-statements-1.504012

    Anyone needs more proof?

    Lets see if Obama buckles and pulls him off or if Schumer and other Dems will change their minds.

  16. MK_Ultra
    February 17, 2013, 11:38 am

    Anti-semitism™: a catch-all intimidation phrase overused by the Zionists to quash dissent of their neocolonialist, terrorist actions against humanity. A phrase never used to criticize those who demonize and dehumanize other Semitic groups such as the Palestinians. Another way of showing that hypocrisy is one of the cornerstones of the racist and genocidal movement known as Zionism.

  17. Accentitude
    February 19, 2013, 6:30 am

    “Anti-semitism” doesn’t mean much these days. We can thank Zionists for that.

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