AIPAC puts Menendez-Kirk on the shelf

Now that AIPAC has backed off from Mendendez-Kirk, are we going to hear that the orgnization is indifferent to the survival of Israel?

As 42 Senate Republicans push for a quick vote on the Mendendez-Kirk Iran sactions bill – guaranteed to derail the current negotiations if it were to pass – Sen. Menendez follows most of his Democratic co-sponsors in asking that consideration of the bill be delayed to give the diplomats a chance. And guess who’s on his side? The American Israel Public Affairs Committee:

We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.

Considering the hate mail I got when I suggested that RBC readers should oppose Menendez-Kirk, I am no less puzzled than pleased to find AIPAC taking essentially the same position. Has the organization been taken over by a bunch of kapos? Is it now headed by self-hating Jews indifferent to the survival of Israel?

Footnote Commenting on that earlier post, an RBC reader wrote:

I think that you cannot underestimate the power of the incumbent Jewish establishment on people like me.
I live in a mid-sized city with a compressed and insular Jewish community.  I practice law.  I require clients to practice law and make a living. I am fairly open about my progressive political views and probably lose clients as a result.
But, were I to be as open about my views on the Mideast, which views are just a tad to the left, but would certaintly be within the mainstream in Israel, I would lose many friends and a significant portion of my referral/client base. A great disincentive to speaking out.
Or, as Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller once said, “You can remain in good standing as an American Jew if you doubt the existence of God, but not if you doubt the wisdom of Bibi Netanyahu.”


Here is Something That Didn’t Happen

All Republicans know that President Obama is an anti-Semitic Islamist Marxist who wants to throw Israel into the sea; after all, Bill Kristol has been saying so for years.  So it is quite amazing that the Wall Street Journal reported this the other day, concerning Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.  The Bush Administration rejected the system as impracticable, but

Iron Dome got a significant boost soon after President Obama came to office in 2009. Mr. Obama visited Sderot as a presidential candidate and told his aides to find a way to help boost Israel’s defenses from the makeshift rockets, his aides said, although defense officials at the time still doubted Iron Dome was the way.

As president, Mr. Obama tapped Colin Kahl to run the Pentagon office overseeing U.S. military policy in the Middle East. Mr. Kahl found the Iron Dome request on his desk, decided to take another look and had what he later described as a light-bulb moment. “Ding, ding, ding. It just made sense,” Mr. Kahl said.

At the direction of a White House working group headed by then-National Security Council senior director Dan Shapiro (who today is the U.S. ambassador to Israel), the Pentagon sent a team of missile-defense experts to Israel in September 2009 to re-evaluate Iron Dome. The decision raised eyebrows in some Pentagon circles. Iron Dome was still seen as a rival to the Phalanx system, and previous assessment teams had deemed Iron Dome inferior.


In its final report, presented to the White House in October, the team declared Iron Dome a success, and in many respects, superior to Phalanx. Tests showed it was hitting 80% of the targets, up from the low teens in the earlier U.S. assessment. “They came in and basically said, ‘This looks much more promising…than our system,’ ” said Dennis Ross, who at the time was one of Mr. Obama’s top Middle East advisers.

Now, of course this could not possibly have happened, because we all know that Obama is an anti-Semite.  More recently, the Administration made the (terribly wrong) decision to oppose Palestine’s move for state observer status at the United Nations.  But of course that did not happen either, because Obama hates Israel.

Nothing to see here.  Move along.


The American Right Throws Israelis Into the Breach

At this writing, Middle East watchers are, well, watching to see if Israel and Hamas can reach a cease-fire.  Signs are good, but pessimists are rarely disproved in the Middle East.

There is little doubt that Jerusalem would like a genuine cease-fire.  Even though the Israeli public strongly supports Operation Pillar of Defense, it is very wary of a ground assault on Gaza: only a small minority of Israelis support an immediate ground offensive, and such operations during Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War quickly became quagmires that upended Israeli governments.  Few in Israel doubt that an actual cease-fire is in the national interest.

The caveat, though, is the phrase “in Israel.”  Once again demonstrating that it could not possibly care less about the Jewish state, the right wing has concocted yet another preposterous anti-Obama narrative.  Last night on the Hannity show, Oliver North claimed that Obama has threatened Israel with the cutoff of military supplies if it launches a ground invasion and refuses to accept a cease-fire on Hamas’ terms.  This story has now become common in the fever swamps of the American right.

This obviously demonstrates the Right’s desperation to undermine President Obama’s clear support of Israel’s position.  Throughout the 2012 campaign, conservatives insisted that Obama would betray Israel as soon if he was re-elected.  Since Obama very clearly backed up Jerusalem’s position, the American Right’s Plan B was to unilaterally re-define Israel’s security interests, insisting that in fact it should move in with ground troops.  What Israelis themselves want is irrelevant: the important thing is to convince American Jews and evangelicals that Obama is a closet anti-Semite.

The Right’s gambit, however, is more than pathetic: it is dangerous.  Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Today is Israel’s largest circulating newspaper (not “best-selling” because it is given away for free), and it carries the explicit attempt to drive the Israeli conversation rightward.  If it succeeds, we will face the grotesque spectacle of American conservatives seeking to make Israel more right-wing in order to justify its evidence-free conviction that Obama is anti-Israel.  And if they succeed, they will accomplish the goal of making Israel more aggressive and rejectionist.  That will lead to a further erosion of Israel’s international position, a magnification of settler violence, and putting even more Israeli soldiers and civilians at risk.

But none of this bothers the American Right.  In order to serve its own political goals, it is willing to fight to the last Jew.



The Emergency Committee to Promote Bill Kristol

For the last 20 years, the Right has worked hard to convert support for Israel from an area of bipartisan consensus into a topic for Republicans to beat Democrats with.  Even Washington’s most tepid disagreement with the Israeli government will be lept upon by right-wingers as an indication that the US is selling out the Jewish state — even though in most of those circumstances, the American position arguably helps Israeli democracy more than Jerusalem’s own.

No organization has played a more prominent role in this effort than the Emergency Committee for Israel, yet another fake think tank cooked up by conservative welfare recipient Bill Kristol.  Kristol’s foreign policy credentials comprise a series of embarrassingly wrong and ill-informed predictions about future events.  But his real talent seems to be inventing think tanks that he can get gullible GOP billionaires to spend money on.

Still, one might think that in the past week and a half, with Israel in the midst of a genuine security crisis (whatever you think of it on the merits), that an “Emergency Committee” might have something to say.  Statements of support?  Lobbying efforts?  Op-eds?  Something?

Well, no.  A check of the Emergency Committee’s website has nothing on the current crisis.  Indeed, its Twitter feed has nothing on it in the last 87 days.  All that the front page contains is a series of stale tweets, advertisments, and statements criticizing Democratic candidates for not standing with Israel.  ECI has produced a lots of anti-Obama propaganda, including an infamous and deceitful audio mash-up where Obama is supposedly debating Netanyahu, which now must be somewhat embarrassing given the President’s support for Israel in the current crisis.  The Emergency Committee for Israel has a lot to say during domestic elections, but what about when an Israeli public relations effort would really need it?  Sorry.  Must be on vacation.

None of this should be surprising, of course.  The Right’s supposed love of Israel is really more about its own domestic goals.  American Jews get this, which is why 70% of us voted for President Obama.  But Israelis should understand this as well: Republicans will make a lot of noises, but unless it serves their own political interests, they don’t really give a goddam.


J Street’s Big Unforced Error

The New York Times today reports on casino mogul and probable-foreign-government-briber Sheldon Adelson’s latest attempt to get his buddy Mitt Romney elected president: $6.5 million dollars to the Republican Jewish Coalition to get more Jews to vote for Romney.  Whatever.  We’ll see.

But it might just work if J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, whom I have a lot of respect for, keeps making verbal gaffes like this:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a Jewish lobbying group in Washington that favors Democratic candidates, said the effort by Mr. Adelson and the Republican Jewish Coalition would fall short.

“Every single number indicates there is simply no such thing as a Jewish problem for the president,” Mr. Ben-Ami said. “The people who vote only on Israel didn’t vote for Obama last time and know who they are voting for already.”

That is exactly wrong.  If you care about Israel and only about Israel, then your candidate is Barack Obama, and it isn’t a close question.

Romney, like most conservatives nowadays, is an anti-Zionist.  He supports continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and rejects a two-state solution.  That course effectively means that Israel will have a non-Jewish majority, thereby causing the destruction of Zionism, or the death of Israeli democracy, or both.  (Note, of course, that if Israel ceases to be a democracy, then it will have violated the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which defines the country as a “Jewish and democratic state.”).

Barack Obama wants Israel to be a Jewish state and to be a democracy.  Mitt Romney does not.  Thus, Barack Obama supports Israel, and Mitt Romney does not.  This isn’t complicated.


David Frum Embraces Anti-Zionism

In a piece that seems to have created something of a firestorm, Peter Beinart calls for a boycott of Israeli goods produced in the occupied territories.  I admit that Beinart’s piece enraged me — not because it is untrue, but rather because it is so derivative.  People have been saying this stuff for years: what’s the big deal?  Beinart was a pretty hawkish New Republic editor: he shouldn’t get extra points now for being wrong beforehand.

But I suppose I don’t appreciate sufficiently how ideas get into the public square.  Now, the sometimes-sensible David Frum has decided to (politely) attack his Daily Beast colleague — and in the meantime, give aid and comfort to those who are working to destroy Zionism.

 Frum says that Beinart’s proposal is tantamount to  “punish[ing] Israelis in order to change the Palestinians. It’s not a very good plan.”

If the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were a dispute over borders, it would have been settled long ago. The dispute never has been about borders, and it is not about borders now. The spread of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is not a cause of Palestinian rejectionism. It is a consequence of Palestinian rejectionism. It’s tiresome to repeat the history. Peter knows it as well as I do. Has there been a moment since 1936 when a majority of Jewish opinion would have rejected a peace based on partition and mutual recognition by a Jewish and Arab state? Has there has been a moment since 1936 when the Palestinian political community would have accepted such a peace?

Objection, your honor! Relevance. 

Beinart’s point — which really is quite obvious — is that  Israel cannot be a Jewish and democratic state while holding on to the territories.  His minor premise is that continued settlement in the West Bank (which he calls “undemocratic Israel”) makes any eventual relinquishment of the territories impossible.

Beinart never says that Israel should return the territories without an end to Palestinian rejectionism.  What he does say is that continuing to build settlements will make it impossible to return the territories if and when the Palestinians do accept peace based upon partition and mutual recognition.

Recall how searing and painful it was just a few years ago for Ariel Sharon to effect a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.  Withdrawing from the West Bank will make that look like a cakewalk (although the context of an actual agreement will soften things a smidge).  And Frum’s solution for this is to make it harder.

Again: no one is saying that Israel should withdraw now.  It will take some painful concessions from the Palestinians — definitely over the right of return and maybe over other issues — to get an agreement.  I have no evidence that any Palestinian political leader is contemplating such concessions.  And that means we are in a state of suspended animation for the foreseeable future, managing the conflict instead of solving it.  But if anything, that gives Israel a chance to grapple with its own internal problems — social, economic, religious, and demographic — which are the true threats to Zionism.

This isn’t hard, and I can’t understand why Frum is unable to see it.  He’s already been fired by the conservative movement, although perhaps this is his (ironic) way of extending them an olive branch.

Shortly after the Six Day War, General Ariel Sharon, fresh from his spectacular campaign to conquer the Sinai, proudly told Prime Minister Levi Eshkol that Israel was now secure, that no one would ever be able to conquer the Jewish State.

“That’s fine, Arik,” replied Eshkol.  “But what are we going to do with all these Arabs?”

Forty-five years later, we still don’t have an answer.  That’s bad enough, but Frum and people who agree with him still can’t even understand the question.  That’s frightening.

Israel and America in 2012: Wait for November

As long as people are making predictions for the new year, I’ll hazard something myself: Israel and America will have a loud diplomatic dispute about 11 months from now.

President Obama’s initial attempts at jump-starting the Mideast peace process were well-intentioned and sound from a policy perspective, but somewhat naive politically.  Demanding a settlement freeze, after all, conforms with decades of US policy and is necessary for the political and demographic survival of the Jewish state.

What he did not count on — but should have — was the Leninism of the Republican Party and the anti-Zionism of the current Israeli government.  The GOP’s current commitment to putting party over country means that it will undermine any policy initiative, no matter how positive, that does not contribute to its assumption of power.  Thus, the right wing immediately spread the meme of Obama’s supposed anti-Israel outlook.  This is nonsense: of all the Presidential candidates, only Obama seems to know or care about the impending demographic disaster that will occur if the settlements persist.  As for the Likud (and its US adjunct, also in the GOP), it seems oblivious to all of this, insisting that Israel is a democracy even if the settlements make it impossible ever to withdraw from the territories.  (Note: this does not mean withdrawal now is necessary; rather, it must be possible, and the maintenance of hundreds of thousands of settlers in West Bank makes that close to impossible).

Seeing the political writing on the wall, Obama backed off.  He basically had no other choice.  But after the election, he will.

This is true whether or not he wins re-election.  It is not too hard to imagine a series of Security Council resolutions demanding settlement freezes, or recognizing a Palestinian state.  They might clarify UN Resolution 242/338 by saying that “the territories” referred to in those resolutions comprise all of the territories in mandatory Palestine conquered in 1967.  These resolutions will not be anti-Israel, but rather anti-Likud, which as I noted above, is now a basically anti-Zionist party.

In the past, we could easily expect a US veto.  But after Election Day, President Obama is a lame duck either way — his term will end either in January 2013 or January 2017.  He will be untouchable politically. It is no accident that Ronald Reagan — that well-known enemy of Israel — initiated the formal US dialogue with the PLO in December 1988, when he had one month left in his term.  It will not be hard for Obama to tell his UN representative to abstain from these motions.  I think he will be particularly happy not to take the phone call from Netanyahu. 

All of this assumes, of course, that the status quo remains in place for the next 10 months — which it might not.  I still believe that even a politician as crass, unprincipled, and oleaginous as Netanyahu will not want to commit national suicide by attacking Iran.  Ditto with mullahs in Tehran.  If not, not.  Then we will have bigger problems.  But assuming complete madness does not overtake the Middle East (always arguable), the smash will come in about 11 months.

Sloppy charges of anti-Semitism

Politico should be more careful.

I could never present myself as a fitting representative of the Jewish religion or the Jewish people. I very rarely blog about Israel because I don’t have a lot to add that more knowledgeable people can’t express with greater authority. I do take great pride in the Jewish community and my heritage, and I feel a deep affection for Israel. I worry deeply about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon. I worry about whether Egypt will abrogate its peace treaty with Israel. I worry more generally about some frightening trends in the Middle East. I’m offended by some fundamental attacks on Zionism and Israel, including those pursued by my University of Chicago colleague John Mearsheimer, who recently endorsed a disgraceful book on these matters. 

I also hold other views. Many of Israel’s present policies towards the Palestinians are morally and strategically disastrous. The Netanyahu government needs to be a better ally with the United States. Over time, Israel is fostering great resentment across the American military and diplomatic establishment with its occupation policies and, at times, its heavy-handed meddling in American domestic politics. Millions of American and Israeli Jews agree with me about these basic points. Continue reading “Sloppy charges of anti-Semitism”

Richard Goldstone debunks the “Apartheid Israel” slogan

And does a very nice job of it. Waiting for apologies from those who called him an “anti-Semite” for his criticism of the Gaza mission.

… and does a very nice job of it, though I wish he’d paid more attention to the extent to which the current government is willing to defy the law, or rewrite it when the courts try to enforce Palestinian rights.

It will be interesting to see how many of the extremist Zionists who labelled Goldstone an “anti-Semite” for his critical report of the Gaza operation now admit that they were wrong. I think the over-and-under on that is zero.

The state of Palestine

Why not?

Why not?

Statehood isn’t some metaphysical essence, but created, like other social facts such as property and marriage, by the recognition of others, in this case, other states. Liechtenstein and the Holy See are states because other states say they are, though they don’t control their own gas supply. The Tamil Tigers, at their peak far bigger than either, were never a state because nobody accepted them as one. Recognition is partly – and for hardcore realists only – a matter of fact: does this entity, however nasty, exercise effective and autonomous control over a territory and population? (Soviet-era Belarus didn’t meet the autonomy part. Lukashenko’s Belarus does.) Partly it’s a long-range moral judgement: does this entity, however unsatisfactory its current leadership and shaky its power, deserve to exist, and enjoy the rights of statehood under international law?

Israel and its US protector have clearly been caught napping by the surprising development of a well-thought-out Palestinian initiative, now backed strongly by Turkey. A draft resolution in the UN Security Council on Palestinian statehood will be vetoed (the US explanation will be interesting reading as it has to address Arabs as well as AIPAC). Another resolution in the General Assembly will pass by a large majority. Following this a lot of countries will recognize Palestine, with more or less fancy footwork over its borders. Palestinian leaders will rename themselves as Ministers, fly new flags on their cars and offices, and lots of ambassadors will be appointed.

The new state will continue to have a bitter dispute with its neighbour Israel over borders, settlements, Jerusalem as the capital, free movement, water, and refugee return: exactly the same disputes that the Palestinian Authority has now. Can anybody explain to me why Palestinian statehood makes these disputes more intractable? And it would clear the air by removing the non-issue of state recognition from the table.