Gideon Levy writes: It’s the biggest convention of Israel-haters, attended yearly by some 15,000 representatives, and the damage, historically speaking, that it has done to Israel is perhaps graver than any done by Iran. The convention is held once a year, and time seems to stop. It’s always the same wheeler-dealers, the same kitsch, the same hollow applause, and the same standing ovation for every Israeli prime minister, no matter his policy. The world turns round and round, but this never changes. Even Israel changes, but not in their eyes. Here, Israel is worthy only of applause, blind and automatic applause, now and forever.
Like at similar conventions held in Romania by Nicolae Ceausescu, all they do is praise the great leader. Welcome to Bucharest in Washington, to the Kremlin of American Jewry, behold the yearly AIPAC conference. Only here can Netanyahu use his old tricks and gimmicks and be met with a full auditorium on its feet. “I bring you a message from the unified Jerusalem” – applause; Israel built a hospital for victims of the Syrian war, which Netanyahu visited, and he even spoke to a Syrian – cheers; the whole world is knocking down Israel’s door – applause; we will never abandon Israel’s security – the hall rumbles. “BDS is BS,” and this bullshit was praised as well, even though Netanyahu devoted a large portion of his speech to BDS, which was a bigger gift than the organization could have dreamt of.
Behind Netanyahu sat a young American woman who rose to cheer him when everyone else did. I said to myself, Why exactly did she get up and cheer? For the ongoing occupation? For the undermining of Israeli democracy? For the ever prevalent racism in Israel?
“I’m pro-Israel, I’m AIPAC,” says the organization’s slogan. Pro-Israel? The organization’s critics claim that it sometimes acts against U.S. interests; that it also acts against Israeli interests. Yes, it has caused Congress to pass resolutions congratulating Israel on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War. AIPAC also prevented the sale of air defense systems to Saudi Arabia, as well as any weapon to any Arab state. No fewer than 259 Congress members and 79 senators signed the organization’s petition condemning aid for the Palestinian Authority.
Bravo, AIPAC. Seek out the conservative right among American Jewry. But long ago, Israel should have said, “No, thanks.” Not every show of loud and pushy, even crazed support is a display of friendship. Sometimes caring and friendship mean criticism. But that is not in AIPAC’s playbook. [Continue reading...]
Haaretz reports: The recent losses of face over the Syria and Iran issues had already cast a pall on the mammoth annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which opens Sunday in Washington. But the crisis in the capital over Russia’s move into Crimea, which threatens to reignite the Cold War, has infused the America Israel Public Affairs Committee confab with a strong sense of anticlimax.
If a week ago the question before the 14,000 delegates was whether AIPAC could regain the full fearsomeness of its reputation in Washington, the question now appears to be: Will anybody be paying attention? [Continue reading...]
Mehdi Hasan asks: Is a lobby group famed for its ability to move bills, spike nominations and keep legislators in line now in danger of looking weak and ineffectual? Consider the evidence of the past year. Exhibit A: Chuck Hagel. In January 2013, the independent-minded Republican senator from Nebraska was tapped by Obama to become his second-term defence secretary. Pro-Israel activists quickly uncovered a long list of anti-Israel remarks made by Hagel, including his warning in a 2010 speech to a university audience that Israel risked “becoming an apartheid state”.
In previous years, Aipac would have led the charge against Hagel, but this time it stayed silent. “Aipac does not take positions on presidential nominations,” its spokesman Marshall Wittman insisted. Hagel was (narrowly) confirmed by the Senate the following month.
Exhibit B: Syria. In September 2013, Aipac despatched 250 officials and activists to Capitol Hill to persuade members of Congress to pass resolutions authorising US air strikes on Syria. “Aipac to go all out on Syria” was the Politico headline; the Huffington Post went with “Inside Aipac’s Syria blitz”. And yet, although it held 300-plus meetings with politicians, the resolutions didn’t pass; the air strikes didn’t happen.
Exhibit C: Iran. Despite President Obama pushing for a diplomatic solution to the row over Tehran’s nuclear programme, Aipac is keener on a more confrontational approach. Between December 2013 and last month, a bipartisan bill proposing tough new sanctions on Iran, and calling on the US to back any future Israeli air strikes on the Islamic Republic, went from having 27 co-sponsors in the Senate to 59 – and threatened to derail Obama’s negotiations with Tehran. [Continue reading...]
Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s pledge to sell advanced antiaircraft weapons to Syria, noting that it would have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.” And really, who could argue that pouring more weapons into a heavily-armed corner of the globe, roiled by conflict, convulsed by civil strife and civil war, could do anything but inflame tensions and cost lives?
Yet Kerry’s State Department, in coordination with the Pentagon, has been content to oversee a U.S.-sanctioned flood of arms and military matériel heading into the region at a breakneck pace. In December, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment, announced that it had approved the sale of more than 15,000 Raytheon-produced anti-tank missiles to Saudi Arabia under two separate agreements worth a combined $1 billion. Last month, potential deals to sell and lease Apache attack helicopters to the embattled government of Iraq were also made public, in addition to an agreement that would send the country $82 million worth of Hellfire missiles. At about the same time, the DSCA notified Congress of a possible $270 million sale of F-16 fighters to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). All of this was on top of a potential $600 million deal to train 6,000-8,000 Libyan military personnel and a prospective $150 million agreement for Marines to mentor members of the UAE’s Presidential Guard Command, both of which were announced in January. And let’s not forget that, last month, Congress also turned on the spigot to allow automatic weapons and anti-tank rockets to flow to rebel fighters in — wait for it — Syria.
Of course, Muslim nations around the region aren’t alone in receiving U.S. support. The U.S. also plies Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, with copious amounts of aid. Since World War II, the Jewish state has, in fact, been the largest beneficiary of U.S. foreign assistance, almost all of it military, according to the Congressional Research Service. Yet the topic is barely covered in the U.S. Today, TomDispatch regular Chase Madar provides a remedy for that collective silence, taking us on a deep dive into what that aid means in Israel, Palestine, and Washington. In the process, he explains why you’re unlikely ever to hear John Kerry suggest that sending weapons to Israel might have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.” Nick Turse
Washington’s military aid to Israel
Fake peace process, real war process
By Chase Madar
We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28% of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10%. In actual fact, barely 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.
In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain, or South Korea.
Consider also that this top recipient of such aid — nearly all of it military since 2008 — has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming. In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.
“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel — for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse — who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?
Electronic Intifada reports: Weeks after Ambassador Michael Oren, Israel’s former envoy to the United States, suggested it, members of the United States Congress have introduced a bill to punish American universities if their members support the academic boycott of Israeli institutions.
The so-called “Protect Academic Freedom Act” would deny federal funding to any institution that participates in a boycott of Israeli universities or scholars or even whose departments issue statements in support of a boycott.
The proposed law defines “an institution of higher education to be participating in a boycott” if “the institution, any significant part of the institution, or any organization significantly funded by the institution adopts a policy or resolution, issues a statement, or otherwise formally establishes the restriction of discourse, cooperation, exchange, or any other involvement with academic institutions or scholars on the basis of the connection of such institutions or such scholars to the state of Israel.” [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The last time the nation’s most potent pro-Israel lobbying group lost a major showdown with the White House was when President Ronald Reagan agreed to sell Awacs surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia over the group’s bitter objections.
Since then, the group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has run up an impressive record of legislative victories in its quest to rally American support for Israel, using a robust network of grass-roots supporters and a rich donor base to push a raft of bills through Congress. Typically, they pass by unanimous votes.
But now Aipac, as the group is known, once again finds itself in a very public standoff with the White House. Its top priority, a Senate bill to impose new sanctions on Iran, has stalled after stiff resistance from President Obama, and in what amounts to a tacit retreat, Aipac has stopped pressuring Senate Democrats to vote for the bill.
Officials at the group insist it never called for an immediate vote and say the legislation may yet pass if Mr. Obama’s effort to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran fails or if Iran reneges on its interim deal with the West. But for the moment, Mr. Obama has successfully made the case that passing new sanctions against Tehran now could scuttle the nuclear talks and put America on the road to another war.
In doing so, the president has raised questions about the effectiveness of Aipac’s tactics and even its role as the unchallenged voice of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. [Continue reading...]
Huffington Post reports: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supports President Barack Obama’s opposition to imposing new sanctions on Iran as negotiations continue on the country’s nuclear program.
“The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that imposing new unilateral sanctions now ‘would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.’ I share that view. It could rob us of the diplomatic high ground we worked so hard to reach, break the united international front we constructed, and in the long run, weaken pressure on Iran by opening the door for other countries to chart a different course,” Clinton wrote in the January 26 letter. [Continue reading...]
In 2005, AIPAC’s Steven Rosen when prompted by Jeffrey Goldberg to assess the level of the lobby’s influence famously said: “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”
The “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013” sponsored by Democratic Senator Robert Menedez has the support of fifty-nine senators. That’s a dangerously large majority but
just short of a veto-proof sixty-seven votes and well short of Rosen’s seventy.
Does that mean that AIPAC is refraining from pulling its weight or is it just not as powerful as Rosen declared?
I called my Democratic Senator Kay Hagan, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, to tell her that if she follows through and casts a vote in favor, she won’t have my vote in November. Interestingly, her staffer was at pains to underline the fact that this is still in process and hasn’t gone to a vote. I got a strong sense that Hagan, perhaps like many other senators both Democratic and Republican, would be content demonstrating her loyalty to AIPAC without actually casting a vote.
In the report below, Republican Senator Roy Blunt essentially says that every senator’s hands have been tied by Senate leader Harry Reid and far from striking a defiant tone, Blunt seems content to be rendered powerless.
If the bill got just one more supporter, would Reid bow to pressure and let it go to a vote? And can’t AIPAC with all its influence turn just one more senator in its favor?
I get the sense that for everyone involved — including AIPAC — this is all political theater. They want to act tough, but at the end of the day, they probably don’t want to be held responsible for sabotaging the most significant diplomatic opening in a decade.
National Journal reports: Senate Iran hawks have lots of votes to back their sanctions legislation. What they lack is a plan to get the bill to the floor.
Fifty-nine senators — including 16 Democrats — have signed onto sanctions legislation from Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk. The measure would punish Iran with sanctions if it reneges on an interim nuclear agreement or if that agreement does not ultimately abolish any nuclear-weapons capabilities for Iran.
That count has climbed rapidly since the bipartisan pair introduced their legislation in late December. But now it’s unclear whether that support will be enough to clear the bill’s next major hurdle: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Reid is siding with the White House, which has put intense pressure on lawmakers not to act on sanctions, arguing it could result in both a nuclear-armed and hostile Iranian state. And without Reid’s backing, supporters of the Menendez-Kirk bill are unsure how to move the measure to the floor.
“I assume that if the Democrat senators put enough pressure on Senator Reid he might bring it to the floor,” said Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt. “But, you know, we are at a moment in the Senate where nothing happens that Senator Reid doesn’t want to happen; and this is something at this moment that Senator Reid doesn’t want to happen.”
And for now, sanctions supporters are still mulling their strategy.
“We are talking amongst ourselves. There is a very active debate and discussion ongoing about how best to move forward,” said Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a cosponsor of the bill. “There are a number of alternative strategies, but we’re deliberating them.”
While Reid has, at least for now, foiled their policy plans, sanctions supporters are still scoring the desired political points on the issue. They can report their efforts to their constituents while blaming Reid for the inaction.
Jon Stewart, comparing these senators to egg-throwing Justin Bieber, is perfectly clear about which “constituents” they are trying to represent: AIPAC and Israel. (It’s a shame that Daily Show writers, having crafted a strong piece then felt compelled to add some “balance” by treating Rouhani’s tweet with scorn: “World powers surrendered to Iran’s national will.” If he can placate his hawkish critics just with a tweet, I’m sure Obama is envious.)
Jeffrey Goldberg is arguably the most influential liberal Zionist in America, so it’s worth taking note when he speaks out against the efforts of the Israel lobby and its lackeys inside the U.S. Senate.
For years, Iran hawks have argued that only punishing sanctions, combined with the threat of military force, would bring Tehran to the nuclear negotiating table. Finally, Iran is at the table. And for reasons that are alternately inexplicable, presumptuous and bellicose, Iran hawks have decided that now is the moment to slap additional sanctions on the Iranian regime.
The bill before the U.S. Senate, which has 59 co-sponsors at last count, will not achieve the denuclearization of Iran. It will not lead to the defunding of Hezbollah by Iran or to the withdrawal of Iranian support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. What it could do is move the U.S. closer to war with Iran and, crucially, make Iran appear — even to many of the U.S.’s allies — to be the victim of American intransigence, even aggression. It would be quite an achievement to allow Iran, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, to play the role of injured party in this drama. But the Senate is poised to do just that.
M.E. Bowman writes: Jonathan Jay Pollard liked to imagine his life was greater than it was. He told fanciful tales to peers while at Stanford in the 1970s, including that he was a Mossad officer and that he had once been captured and tortured by Arabs.
After graduation, he lied to superiors and friends about his exploits and his qualifications. By the mid-1980s, he had used his position as a civilian naval intelligence analyst to become an enthusiastic and willing spy for profit by passing state secrets to Israel.
The Department of Justice was prepared to file a variety of charges against him, but in a plea agreement all except the most serious were dropped. Mr. Pollard pleaded guilty to espionage in 1987.
At the time of his arrest and trial, I was the liaison officer for the Department of Defense to the Department of Justice, and the coordinator of an investigation into the damage Mr. Pollard’s treachery had done to the American intelligence community.
Every few years, there is an orchestrated attempt to forge popular support for Mr. Pollard’s release. It is now happening again. In addition to calls for clemency coming from across the Israeli political spectrum, Lawrence J. Korb, the assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon at the time of Mr. Polland’s arrest, has said that his punishment was disproportionate to his offense. R. James Woolsey, a former director of central intelligence echoed that sentiment at a security conference in November. Last month, when Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Israel, there was a rash of hopeful reports in the Israeli press that he was considering releasing Mr. Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions.
Mr. Pollard’s apologists portray him as a sort of dual patriot: loyal to the United States, but also motivated to help Israel. In fact, he was primarily a venal and selfish person who sought to get rich. [Continue reading...]
Stephen Kinzer writes: The diplomatic bargain struck by the United States and Iran this week is the Obama administration’s greatest diplomatic triumph. Efforts by the US Congress to derail it would, if successful, constitute a self-inflicted strategic wound even more myopic than its vote to endorse the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That vote, after all, was only endorsing a mistaken policy set in the White House. This one would be a rebellion against a White House decision that promises great benefits to the United States.
Congress, it turns out, is filled with Republicans and Democrats eager to act as enablers for the most repressive forces in Iran. It is an astonishing spectacle: an alliance between brutal Iranian institutions, principally the Revolutionary Guard, and elected representatives of the American people. Both are deeply invested in the paradigm of hostility, and both are in a state of near-panic at the prospect of reconciliation between Tehran and Washington.
Hostility toward Iran may not be the silliest of all American foreign policies –that would probably be the continuing trade embargo of Cuba – but it is undoubtedly the most self-defeating. No step the United States could take anywhere in the world would bring strategic benefits as great as détente with Iran. It has tantalizing potential. Iran’s interest in stabilizing the violence-torn countries on its eastern and western borders, Iraq and Afghanistan, closely parallels that of the United States. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: With the United States and Iran about to embark on a critical phase of nuclear talks, President Obama is waging an intense rear-guard action to prevent Senate Democrats from supporting strict new sanctions that could upend his diplomatic efforts.
Sponsors of the bill, which would aim to drive Iran’s oil exports down to zero, have secured the backing of 59 senators, putting them within striking distance of a two-thirds majority that could override Mr. Obama’s threatened veto. Republicans overwhelmingly support the bill. So far 16 Democrats have broken with the president, and the bill’s sponsors hope to get more.
The struggle is casting a long shadow over the talks, which administration officials say will be even harder than those that resulted in the six-month interim agreement, signed Sunday, that will temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program in return for limited sanctions relief.
Iranian officials have threatened to leave the bargaining table if the United States enacts any new sanctions during the negotiations.
The White House has cast the issue in stark terms, saying that a vote for new sanctions would be, in effect, a “march toward war” and challenging those lawmakers who support the bill to acknowledge publicly that they favor military action against Iran.
“It just stands to reason if you close the diplomatic option, you’re left with a difficult choice of waiting to see if sanctions cause Iran to capitulate, which we don’t think will happen, or considering military action,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. [Continue reading...]
M.J. Rosenberg writes: Nobody I know is interested in talking about Israel anymore.I think that may be because virtually all my friends are essentially pro-Israel and have supported Israel their entire lives. Now their attitude is “what’s there to say?” as if Israel was a friend with an alcohol problem who, despite everyone’s best efforts, simply chooses drinking to excess over being sober. You know the alcohol is killing him but you also know that it’s his considered choice to drink. He’s weighed the risks and chosen alcohol. There isn’t anything anyone can do.So you stop talking about him, other than the occasional sigh at the mention of his name. It’s wrong, but essentially you stop actively caring.That is the way it is with Israel. Nobody wants to discuss the new conditions Prime Minister Netanyahu keeps adding in his effort to defeat not the Palestinians but Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to achieve peace. First the demand that Israel be recognized “as a Jewish state.” Then allowing the fanatic settlers in Hebron to remain along with the satellite outposts populated by the violent “settler youth.” Then there is keeping troops in the Jordan Valley, along the border with Jordan, thereby ensuring that any Palestinian state in the West Bank would be as sovereign and viable as the ghetto Israel created in Gaza. The latest: Netanyahu is hard at work trying to prove that President Mahmoud Abbas, who Netanyahu himself credits with preventing terrorist attacks against Israel, is, you guessed it, an anti-semite.Why waste time discussing these things? Everyone knows that these Netanyahu conditions are nothing but pretenses.
So we ignore them, even though we know Israel is committing suicide.
In fact, our indifference helps create the conditions for suicide. After all, if Jews don’t much care about Israel anymore, then who does?
Right-wing Christians? True, they “love” Israel but not nearly as much as they love the idea of banning abortion, discriminating against GLBT people, lowering taxes on the rich, erecting walls against immigrants, eliminating unemployment insurance, and winning the War Against Christmas. They like talking about Israel a lot (mainly to inoculate themselves against the charge of anti-semitism which most Jews sense they are) and as part of the active dream of some to convert the Jews. But that is about it.
No, the only Americans that Israel can count on is Jews and they are losing interest. Big time.
But, you say, Israel still can count on the politicians who look to AIPAC for campaign contributions. They aren’t going anywhere.
And that’s true. So long as there is money in it, one can count on Bob Menendez, Lindsey Graham, and the like to “stand with Israel.” But that will last only as long as there is money it. And that money will run out as the old Jews die off and their children choose other causes, causes that are not morally compromising. [Continue reading...]
Jim Lobe writes: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has published the list of senators who so far have agreed to co-sponsor the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013, aka the Wag the Dog Act of 2014. You’ll recall that the initial list, which was introduced by its principal engineers, Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez, Dec 19, included 26 co-sponsors equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, to which newly elected New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker quickly added his name. Since then, 20 other senators — all Republicans, unsurprisingly — have added their names, for a grand total of 47 — still short of a majority, let alone one that could survive an Obama veto that the White House has already committed the president to cast if the bill is passed in its present form.
According to the AIPAC list, which is reproduced below, 53 senators, including 36 Democrats and the two independents who normally vote with the Democratic caucus, have not agreed to co-sponsor the bill, or, in the dreaded moniker used by AIPAC to score lawmakers’ voting records (presumably for the benefit of the “pro-Israel” PACs that decide how to dole out campaign cash), are labeled “DNC.” They will undoubtedly be the top targets for AIPAC’s legendary powers of persuasion when the Senate reconvenes early next week.
What is remarkable about this list, however, is that very few of the 47 co-sponsors have chosen to publicize their support for the bill to their constituents through local media or other means. [Continue reading...]
Peter Beinart writes: The organized American Jewish community has spent decades building influence in Washington. But it’s succeeded too well. By making it too politically painful for Obama to push Netanyahu toward a two-state deal, the American Jewish establishment (along with its Christian right allies) is making Washington irrelevant. For two decades, the core premise of the American-dominated peace process has been that since only America enjoys leverage over Israel, the rest of the world should leave the Israel-Palestinian conflict in America’s hands.
But across the world, fewer and fewer people believe Washington will effectively use its leverage, and if the Kerry mission fails, Washington will no longer even try. The Palestinians are ready with a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that shifts the struggle to arenas where the American Jewish establishment lacks influence. In the Russell Senate Office Building, Howard Kohr and Malcolm Hoenlein’s opinions carry weight. In German supermarkets and the Modern Language Association, not so much.
But the decline of the American-led peace process is only one reason 2014 may spell the decline of organized American Jewish influence. The other is Iran. For two decades, AIPAC and its allies have successfully pushed a harder and harder American line against Iran’s nuclear program. In Congress, where a bipartisan group of senators has just introduced new sanctions legislation over White House objections, that hard-line agenda remains popular. But in the country at large, it risks alienating the Americans who will dominate politics in the decades to come.
It’s no secret that young Americans are less unwaveringly “pro-Israel” than their elders. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, while a majority of Americans over 65 say they sympathize primarily with Israel, among Americans under 30 it drops to just over one-in-three, with a plurality of respondents saying they sympathize with both sides. [Continue reading...]