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American Jewish leader calls Iranians manipulative ‘bazaaris’

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Malcolm Hoenlein of Conference of Presidents, seated amid Israeli Knesset at Auschwitz, photo by Shmuley Boteach
Malcolm Hoenlein of Conference of Presidents, seated amid Israeli Knesset at Auschwitz, photo by Shmuley Boteach

From Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev, who interviewed Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations:

When Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Zarif was his country’s envoy to the United Nations, he invited Malcolm Hoenlein to have dinner at his New York home. “I keep kosher, so I didn’t eat,” Hoenlein recalls, “but we had plenty to talk about.”

“He’s a charming guy,” Hoenlein says, “I don’t dispute it. He’s intelligent and clever. Iranian President Hassan Rohani is also clever.” He pauses for a few seconds before delivering his punch line: “But we forget: These guys have been ‘bazaaris’ [bazaar merchants] for 2,000 years, while we come in as novices. They can run circles around us. They know how to negotiate and how to manipulate every situation.”

Heard any good stories about shifty-eyed Jews lately?

Hoenlein’s organization represents Americans for Peace Now, and 51 other constituent groups. I wonder whether APN endorses Hoenlein’s view of Iranians as bazaaris– and his support for Senate sanctions legislation that would delegate an American decision about war in the Middle East to Israel? Imagine if any leader associated with APN made stereotypical racial comments about blacks, or Jews.

Hoenlein has been upset by challenges to the sanctions suggesting that its supporters are war-mongerers. And he is afraid of any daylight showing between the Obama administration and the Israel lobby. To Shalev:

“We support [the sanctions]. But we don’t want to be pitted against the administration and we are not on a collision course.”

But the news is that the sanctions legislation has lost. Obama destroyed the opposition to the deal, for now, in his State of the Union speech by warning of the “risks of war” in such action and stating: “For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”

Three Democratic supporters of the sanctions in the Senate have now abandoned the bill, one of them Kirsten Gillibrand. MJ Rosenberg says Obama crushed the opposition by implicitly suggesting that Israel lobbyists might have dual loyalty:

Sen. Menendez scurried for the elevators the second the speech ended, dodging reporters, and muttering that “the president has the right” to defend the national interest. So he does. Schumer had nothing to say. He really has no interest in the issue, he’s just dialing for dollars…

In 1983 or thereabouts, during my four year stint at AIPAC, I asked Tom Dine, its executive director, if a president of the United States could ever defeat the lobby, even in a case where US national security interests, and lives, were clearly at stake.

Dine responded that AIPAC would win on matters not directly related to U.S. national security but not on an issue that was.

He elaborated: We can never defeat a president who reaches over the heads of AIPAC and Congress and invokes his prerogatives as president of the United States or, even more, the national interest.

The logic behind Dine’s thinking was simply that American Jews would never allow themselves to be perceived as putting Israel’s interests over America’s.

And Paul Blumenthal reports that several pro-Israel PACs went all-in on the Iran legislation, and lost:

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has received the lion’s share of attention for its support of and potential failure to pass a new Iran sanctions bill in the face of fierce presidential opposition. But the pre-eminent pro-Israel lobby group in the U.S. has not been alone in this fight. It has been joined by a network of lesser known pro-Israel PACs equipped with one persuasive tool that AIPAC lacks: campaign contributions.

Representing communities of Jewish Americans from Long Island to Florida, from northern New Jersey to Tucson, Ariz., and the San Francisco Bay Area, these PACs have pumped more than $5.4 million into federal campaigns while hosting dozens of fundraisers and other events for members of Congress since 2011. Usually they receive little coverage, but as Chuck Gannon, president of the pro-Israel Desert Caucus PAC, told the Arizona Jewish Post, “It’s not a secret among politicians.”

And these pro-Israel PACs have tended to be as determined as AIPAC in their call for tougher sanctions against Iran.

Blumenthal says that NJ Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker raised a lot of money from NORPAC, whose president Ben Choake calls the Iran deal “Munich.”

NORPAC, which is located in northern New Jersey, is the single largest donor among the pro-sanctions groups based on its direct campaign contributions and its members’ so-called conduit contributions through the PAC.

Howard Dean has come out against Obama on the deal. Amazing. Still waiting for Hillary Clinton to speak up. At the Guardian, Stephen Kinzer says she’s quiet because of money:

[She] would risk outraging pro-Netanyahu groups and individuals who have been among Clinton’s key supporters since her days as a Senator from New York. Having spent years painstakingly laying the ground for a presidential campaign, she does not want to risk a misstep that would alienate major campaign contributors.

Clinton’s choice is clear. If she opposes détente with Iran, she will look like a warmonger who prefers confrontation to diplomacy. If she supports it, she will alienate a vital part of the base she is relying on to finance her presidential campaign. With this in mind, she has chosen to remain silent on the central foreign policy issue of the age. It is a classic act of political cowardice – the kind that often leads to victory at the polls.

So an American Democratic leader sides with a rightwing prime minister.

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I remember a few years ago a senior British politician – can’t remember who exactly – openly said in TV interviews that negotiating with Iranians was so infuriating because Iranians were devious and slippery, or words to that effect. Can you imagine if he’d said something similar about negotiating with… Read more »

I’m grateful then.

Grateful that neither Dean nor Clinton became President.

As for Hoenlein– he’s a racist. No real surprise there.

Ugly racist! Nothing more to say.

P#1: “Dine responded that AIPAC would win on matters not directly related to U.S. national security but not on an issue that was.” P#2: “We can never defeat a president who reaches over the heads of AIPAC and Congress and invokes his prerogatives as president of the United States or,… Read more »

I recall a conversation with a colleague, a former IDF who had moved to the US, advising me similarly to be very careful when our business was looking into working with another company that was owned by a fellow with Palestinian ancestry. It struck me as particularly odd because the… Read more »