Yesterday the New York Times published a juicy piece about Democratic Party apparatchik Neera Tanden that included a revelation from the Wikileaks dump of documents from the Democratic National Committee in 2016: Tanden hosted Benjamin Netanyahu for a fawning interview at her thinktank, the Center for American Progress, even as Netanyahu was trying to undermine President Obama’s Iran deal, so she could recruit a pro-Israel board member, Jonathan Lavine, who gave the organization $1 million last year.
The Times’s reliance on Wikileaks to provide important information about our political process is a timely reminder of the public role of the man dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy last Thursday, headed for criminal proceedings related to his obtaining and publishing government documents. Julian Assange is a journalistic source. I’ve been in the news business for a long time and I’ve always been told to protect sources. And by the way, not all these sources had great character or reputation. That wasn’t the point. The First Amendment protected news gathering, and sources are a critical element of the process.
The value I can add to the Assange debate is to convey to readers how much his organization Wikileaks has contributed to our understanding of the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. I will not itemize every revelation we’ve published that we got off Wikileaks, we’d be here all day. But I do want to convey the range and depth of these revelations. In every case these were important reports about how officials and public figures worked behind closed doors to make sure that Israel and its interests stayed at the forefront of US deliberations. We would not have that understanding without Assange. Full stop. You can say anything about his personality or his support for Trump, that’s not the issue.
Apropos of yesterday’s Times report, the 2016 dump from the DNC itemized numerous collaborations between the Clinton campaign and pro-Israel donors to shape policy when she got to the White House. I’ll get to them in a minute. First, some earlier documents.
This 2009 cable from the State Department quoted Netanyahu — forget about his lip service to two states — saying he was only willing to give Palestinians a Bantustan: “a Palestinian state must be demilitarized, without control over its air space and electro-magnetic field, and without the power to enter into treaties or control its borders.”
This 2008 Wikileaks cable established the State Department’s own understanding of the cruelty of the Israeli policy toward Gaza: to staunch the banking system to keep Gaza on the “brink of collapse.”
Israeli officials have confirmed to econoffs on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge…
This cable showed that the State Department had publicly lied about its response to an Israeli hit in Dubai in February 2010 that Dubai was angered about, as State sought to protect Israel.
In 2011 Wikileaks showed that the U.S. under Obama was deeply enmeshed in the United Nations response to the Gaza slaughter of ’08-’09, including behind the scenes efforts to stifle the Goldstone Report so it wouldn’t get to the International Criminal Court. Foreign Policy reported that story under the title “Special Relationship.”
The new documents, though consistent with public U.S. statements at the time opposing a U.N. investigation into Israeli military operations, reveal in extraordinary detail how America wields its power behind closed doors at the United Nations. They also demonstrate how the United States and Israel were granted privileged access to highly sensitive internal U.N. deliberations on an “independent” U.N. board of inquiry into the Gaza war, raising questions about the independence of the process.
Yes, in one of those cables, Ambassador Susan Rice called U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon three times on one day, May 4, 2009, to block a recommendation by the U.N. to carry out a “sweeping inquiry” into war crimes by Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. She said that the recommendation far exceeded the legitimate scope of an investigation, and set a “bad precedent.” Ban Ki-moon then assured her that his staff was “working with an Israeli delegation” on revisions of the inquiry’s mandate.
This 2006 State Department cable, released in 2011, showed that the U.S. State Department was privately expressing sharp reservations about fascistic currents in Israeli political life, even as the U.S. government was holding its tongue about these trends. The cable was subtitled: RIGHT-WING LIEBERMAN UNABASHEDLY ADVOCATES TRANSFER OF ISRAELI ARABS. That cable includes government minister Avigdor Lieberman’s endorsement of the idea to strip Palestinians of their citizenship if they wouldn’t swear a loyalty oath.
In 2010, Wikileaks published cables from the State Department reflecting the view that there was growing distrust of the U.S. globally because of our close alliance with Israel. As Josh Ruebner wrote:
In an explosive WikiLeaks revelation, Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, the head of the Political Military Bureau of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, while discussing Israeli requests for U.S. military aid, “acknowledged the sometimes difficult position the U.S. finds itself in given its global interests, and conceded that Israel’s security focus is so narrow that its QME [Qualitative Military Edge] concerns often clash with broader American security interests in the region,” according to the State Department.
Fast forward to the 2016 political race. Wikileaks showed that the special relationship was alive and well and influencing the Clinton campaign.
DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wondered if Bernie Sanders believes in God. “The Israel stuff is disturbing,” she wrote, when she was supposed to be a referee of the process (and later resigned over the widely-reported email).
Hillary Clinton made a host of promises to megadonor Haim Saban under the prodding of Saban and her Israel liaison guy, Stu Eizenstat. She would come out against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), so as to balance her support for the Iran deal. She would make a publicized phone call to Malcolm Hoenlein of the rightwing Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Orgs to indicate that she was going to turn the page on Obama’s difficult relationship with Netanyahu. Eizenstat warned the campaign that “in Israel there is wall-to-wall opposition” to the Iran Deal– as if anyone should care what Israelis think! (Yes, ask Ilhan Omar.) Eizenstat met with Netanyahu and conveyed his counsel to Clinton: to “attack, attack, attack” BDS. Oh and Clinton should oppose the Obama administration’s rumored efforts to pass a UN Security Council resolution against settlements. (Obama did her the service of waiting till the election was over on that one.)
Netanyahu must be invited to the White House as soon as Clinton gets there herself: “Bibi should be invited for early talks on how the partnership with Israel can be strengthened to combat Iran and Israel’s other avowed enemies,” Eizenstat counseled.
The importance of these leaks is that they documented in riveting detail an important (and negative) force in U.S. policymaking, the depth and extent of Israel’s influence at the highest levels. Return to Neera Tanden and the Iran Deal. The Democratic Party’s own disavowals of that deal alongside Netanyahu played an important role in its destruction.
We wouldn’t know all this without Julian Assange. I hope that other reporters and editors stand up for that work in the days to come.
A forthcoming book from OR books edited by Tariq Ali and Margaret Ratner Kunstler is sure to make related points. It is to include chapters by Noam Chomsky, Charles Glass, Chris Hedges and Angela Richter among others.