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US Israel lobby groups ‘take orders’ from Netanyahu — says leading Israeli journalist

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Today a trio of Michigan Democrats came out for the Iran Deal, including two Congresswomen and Senator Debbie Stabenow. Stabenow was seen as genuinely undecided, says Greg Sargent at the Washington Post; while Politico does the numbers: Obama has now got 28 Democrats in the Senate with 2 against him and 16 still undecided.

Obama must have at least 34 backers in the Senate to sustain his veto of a resolution of disapproval.

Senator Stabenow’s statement includes many celebratory references to Israel, including this near the end:

A final note: I am deeply concerned that national security decisions and foreign policy have become highly-charged partisan issues, including our relationship with our long-time friend and democratic ally, Israel.

Stabenow is worried about the damage to the Israel lobby. It is now openly divided between a powerful right wing that supports Israel’s Prime Minister and a less powerful centrist wing that supports the President. The open debate hasn’t helped its Q rating. Last week Paul Pillar said that many Americans are disgusted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s machinations in our politics, and today Nahum Barnea in Ynet reports what no American publication is saying out loud, some lobby leaders take their “orders” from Netanyahu.

President Obama is in Martha’s Vineyard, Barnea says, “phoning Democratic members of Congress about the Iran deal.”

Netanyahu is calling; [Israeli ambassador Ron] Dermer is calling; Obama is calling. No American president gets this kind of competition over the attention of his party’s elected representatives.

The leaders of the Jewish community in the United States are stuck in the middle. The word “community” is misleading. There is no community. The word “leaders” is also misleading. There are no leaders. There are lobbyist groups that take orders from the Israeli prime minister, there are a few wheeler-dealers close to the top, and there are Republican billionaires whose ego has become as inflated as their bank accounts. They have contempt for Obama for all the wrong reasons, including his skin color.

Reread that line: “[L]obbyist groups… take orders from the Israeli prime minister.” If a non-Jewish American writer said that, he or she would be smeared for putting out the “dual loyalty canard.”

Haaretz has a story that the New York Times missed, how Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s support for the Iran Deal has brought opprobrium from Orthodox Jews in his NY district. The article (like Nadler’s statement in favor of the deal) is filled with protestations of Nadler’s devotion to Israel:

“Most hurtful is people asserting, shouting, that somehow I am anti-Israel,” Nadler says. “I’ve been a supporter of Israel my whole life,” ever since he was a boy of 8 or 9 in Crown Heights and raised money for Israeli charities by holding out pushkes.

The congressman went on to detail some of his pro-Israel bona fides. He has visited more times than he can count, including twice last year. After a trip with AIPAC last summer, when he stayed on for a vacation with his wife, Nadler appeared on MSNBC defending Israel’s actions during the Gaza war.

As a teenager, Nadler was active in Mizrahi Hatzair, a youth group then affiliated with the larger B’nai Akiva youth movement, he said. He was being groomed for a leadership position, until he reflected on the organization’s motto: “Eretz Yisrael, Am Yisrael, al pi Torah,” or “The Land of Israel for the Jews according to the Torah.”

“I said to myself, at 16 or 17, ‘I don’t believe in theocracies,’” and so he stepped back from involvement with the group.

As a Columbia University student he headed the district of the Zionist Organization of America. At the time it was not as right-wing an organization as it is today, he said.

His professional pro-Israel political activism predates his time in Congress, to which he was first elected in 1992. As a New York State Assembly member, in 1981 he authored a resolution urging Congress to reject the sale of the advanced aircraft known as AWACS to Saudi Arabia, a deal vehemently opposed by Israel and the organized American Jewish community at the time.

Congressman, if you don’t believe in theocracies, then why not call for Israel to make a transition to a democratic state of its citizens?

Meantime, J Street calls Nadler a “pro-Israel champion.” And President Obama sent a letter to Nadler last week seeking his support in which he laid out all the aid his administration is extending to beloved Israel, including Qualitative Military Edge, JDAMs, bunkerbusters, etc.

Also as you probably know, President Obama will be addressing the Jewish community in a webcast later this week, set up by the Jewish Federations and the Conference of Presidents, which opposes the deal. These organizations are surely trying to limit the damage to the Israel lobby from all the public division over the deal.

One theory holds that Netanyahu has staked so much against Obama because he is playing for Obama’s successor: the open division in the lobby will help a Republican win the presidency with major Jewish support. In that connection, a new Quinnipiac poll of public opinion says that swing states Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio are opposed to the Iran Deal.

73. Do you support or oppose the nuclear deal with Iran?

Florida opposes 61-25, Ohio opposes 58 to 24, Pennsylvania opposes by 61-26. I have to believe that all the money that AIPAC has spent on ads against the deal has played a role here.

David Bromwich has a sharp piece up at TomDispatch about the long game: “The Neoconservatives, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Republicans Game the System.” He traces a long arc of neoconservative influence, right up to the Charlie Rose show’s discussion of the Iran Deal.

On the day of Obama’s speech, even a relatively informed talk show host like Charlie Rose allowed his coverage to slant sharply against the agreement. His four guests were the Haaretz reporter Chemi Shalev; the Daily Beast columnist Jonathan Alter; the former State Department official and president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass; and the neoconservative venture capitalist, Mark Dubowitz, who has come to be treated as an expert on the nuclear policies and government of Iran.

Haass, passionately opposed to the agreement, said that the president’s speech had been “way over the top,” and hoped Congress would correct its “clear flaws.” Shalev rated the speech honest and “bracing” but thought it would leave many in the Jewish community “offended.” Dubowitz spoke of Iran as a perfidious nation that ought to be subjected to relentless and ever-increasing penalties. His solution: “empower the next president to go back and renegotiate.” Jonathan Alter alone defended the agreement.

Here is another sign of neoconservative influence: At Politico, Michael Crowley reports that the Obama administration’s latest argument for the Deal is that it will allow us to bomb Iran more easily than without a deal!

In meetings on Capitol Hill and with influential policy analysts, administration officials argue that inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities under the deal will reveal important details that can be used for better targeting should the U.S. decide to attack Iran.

“It’s certainly an argument I’ve heard made,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “We’ll be better off with the agreement were we to need to use force.”

By contrast, look at Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell’s statement in support of the deal today. She doesn’t mention Israel once and has the temerity to suggest that working with Iran will help us in the region:

It is also my hope that support of this historic agreement will unlock new opportunities to resolve other conflicts in the region and help strengthen our renew our global commitment to fighting terrorism in a more productive way.

Bromwich makes this argument at TomDispatch too. “To say it as simply as it should be said: the Shiites and Sunnis are different sects, and the Shiites of Iran are fighting against the same enemies the U.S. is fighting in Syria and elsewhere.” Why aren’t more progressives and centrists arguing this point?

Two more signs of the strength of the lobby. This one is amusing. An article on the front page of the New York Times about the many risks of the Iran Deal, by David Sanger and Michael Gordon, quotes Israel supporter Dennis Ross at great length pulling his chin. But Ross hasn’t decided whether he’s for or against the deal! The poor man. He is obviously marooned between the leadership of the Israel lobby, which as Barnea observes has followed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lead, and the Democratic Party establishment, which is lining up behind the deal.

And here’s an article in the New York Times saying that as Joe Biden considers running for president, he has called on Jewish donors to test their commitment:

Mr. Biden has been in contact with donors who could help finance a campaign, eyeing major contributors to President Obama and pillars of his own fund-raising network: trial lawyers, Jewish leaders and Greek-Americans.

The article names just one Greek American. So that series of supporters, trial lawyers, Jewish leaders, and Greek-Americans, seems like an effort to evade the role of the Israel lobby.

Last week Politico identified an overlapping Biden triumvirate: “Meanwhile, Biden’s circle has identified what they see as their potential voting blocs: Reagan Democrats, Jews, an LGBT base…” While today’s Washington Post says “top Democratic” bundlers are invited to meet with Biden, and identifies only one by name, Andy Spahn who represents Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, both Israel supporters.

The lobby’s power reflects the Jewish rise into the establishment in the last generation. That rise elevated the neoconservatives. Now that rise is diffusing. The establishment is growing more diverse; the Jewish community’s solidarity is fracturing. Joe Donnelly, a freshman Democratic senator from Indiana who will face stiff opposition in three years, is not afraid of AIPAC, and supports the deal. We’ve come a ways from the time when AIPAC could get 76 Senators’ signatures on a napkin overnight. It’s down to 60 or so, and counting.

 

About Philip Weiss

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

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5 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    August 24, 2015, 4:00 pm

    The dog that didn’t bark in the night.

    How many cheers would Netanyahu get if he spoke on Iran in Congress today? Is that why he isn’t doing it?

  2. JLewisDickerson
    August 24, 2015, 6:30 pm

    RE: “We’ve come a ways from the time when AIPAC could get 76 Senators’ signatures on a napkin overnight. It’s down to 60 or so, and counting.” ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: The “night flower” is withering in the noonday sun!*

    * AS M.J. ROSENBERG WAS TOLD AT AIPAC: “A lobby is like a night flower. It thrives in the dark and withers in the light.” ~ AIPAC’s Steve Rosen in his famous 1982 memo to M.J. Rosenberg
    SOURCE – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mj-rosenberg/steve-rosen-former-indict_b_291223.html

  3. Krauss
    August 24, 2015, 6:33 pm

    I think the analysis on Netanyahu’s all-out war on Obama has a big flaw.

    Netanyahu is probably operating under the same assumption as the rest of us: Clinton will win the democratic primary. Clinton is seen as a loyal horse for the lobby, and not without reason.

    Why would he want to risk her wrath by openly lobbying for the GOP nominee in 2016? 2012 was special for many reasons, many of them found in Oren’s latest book.

    I think the reasons for his lobbying in the final days of the Obama administration is quite a bit more straight-forward: he doesn’t care about relations anymore with Obama or his staff. Which is why he is going for Danon as UN ambassador. Which is why Dermer, and not a democrat like Oren, is his US ambassador. We’re only a few short weeks from a final result on the Congress vote and it is in the final stretch that it all counts.

    P.S. After the deal is sealed, Netanyahu would probably not bother trying to play nice at the UN. If Obama gives green light to a resolution on settlements or something similar, that is where Netanyahu would unleash Danon. It would allow Netanyahu a final chance to paint Obama as hostile to Israel/unreliable ally.

    • Boo
      August 25, 2015, 3:22 pm

      I’m sure President Obama would love to visit New York and say a few words in front of the General Assembly if Bibi unleashes his newest attack dog.

  4. JLewisDickerson
    August 24, 2015, 6:35 pm

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