President Obama touched on the power of the Israel lobby yesterday in a meeting with Democratic senators, but in its report on the meeting, The New York Times did a magic trick: it never used the word Israel.
Obama met for two hours with a group of Democratic senators in Baltimore and pleaded with them not to apply more sanctions to Iran now negotiations are underway. He got an argument from Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
According to one of the senators and another person who was present, the president urged lawmakers to stop pursuing sanctions, saying such a move would undermine his authority and could derail the talks. Mr. Obama also said that such a provocative action could lead international observers to blame the Americans, rather than the Iranians, if the talks collapsed before the June 30 deadline.
The president said he understood the pressures that senators face from donors and others, but he urged the lawmakers to take the long view rather than make a move for short-term political gain, according to the senator. Mr. Menendez, who was seated at a table in front of the podium, stood up and said he took “personal offense.”
Mr. Menendez told the president that he had worked for more than 20 years to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and had always been focused on the long-term implications. Mr. Menendez also warned the president that sanctions could not be imposed quickly if Congress waited to act and the talks failed, according to two people who were present.
So the president addressed donor pressure on the senators! What donors? What others? This is clearly a reference to the Israel lobby in the Democratic Party. But our leading newspaper is opaque about a central political issue. Chris Matthews will in turn be just as opaque. Did the Koch brothers ever get this kind of immunity? Never.
A few weeks back the Washington Post reported on these pressures inside the Democratic Party in a story on “the billionaire political kingmakers planning to bankroll much of the 2016 presidential campaign.” Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban, leading American Zionists.
Haim Saban, a media mogul and close Democratic ally of Hillary Rodham Clinton, criticized President Obama’s outreach to Iran, declaring that “we’ve shown too many carrots and a very small stick.”
Maybe that’s who Obama means?
Or maybe he is reading Daniel Zoughbie’s new book on Israel/Palestine policy, from MIT Press. It’s remarkable for all the insiders who dished dirt. Lord Patten, a leading British politician, was European Commissioner when he met a group of senators in Washington in 2002 in the runup to the Iraq war. According to Patten, one of the senators said:
“What you’ve got to understand, Commissioner, is that we’re all members of the Likud Party here.”
Walt and Mearsheimer made the Israel lobby an issue 9 years ago. But they still can’t get arrested on Connecticut Avenue. Isn’t it time Americans got to discuss this central question of the national interest versus a political faction?
Update: The Republican Jewish Coalition and neoconservative Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post have both pushed back against the Times story, saying in essence that it is anti-semitic for suggesting that conservative Jews are leveraging U.S. policy, when we all dislike Iran in the U.S. Rubin says Obama was invoking “the hideous trope that lawmakers are in the pocket of the ‘Israel lobby.’” The RJC’s Matt Brooks:
“What exactly was President Obama suggesting when he said opposition to his Iran policy is due to ‘donors’? No one would say opposition to his Russia policy is due to ‘donors,’ or his Cuba policy is due to ‘donors,’ or his general foreign policy is due to ‘donors.’ So why did President Obama single out those who seek tougher sanctions on Iran and say their viewpoints are based on ‘donors’?
“The threat Iran poses to Israel and the western world is a national security issue.”
Update: Yesterday’s Times has a big editorial: Standing Up to the N.R.A. It uses the word “lobby” four times. It ends: “An additional gun is always the N.R.A.’s panacea for the nation’s troubles.”
Thanks to James North.