Why is AIPAC silent on Syrian refugees?

Peter Beinart writes: The last two weeks have brought a festival of American ugliness. Since the attacks in Paris, virtually every Republican governor has declared their state off-limits to Syrian refugees. GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz has called for allowing in Syrians only if they’re Christian. Donald Trump has mused about registering American Muslims and falsely accused them of celebrating 9/11. The bigotry and cowardice are jaw dropping. France, which lost 130 lives on November 13, has nonetheless committed to accepting 30,000 desperate Syrians. Barack Obama wants to accept 10,000 and the Republican Party has erupted in nativist hysteria.

In this dark time, the organized American Jewish community has been a source of light. In 2011, during another spasm of Islamophobia, the Anti-Defamation League shamed itself by opposing the building of an Islamic Center near the site of the World Trade Center. This time, by contrast, it has joined with nine other American Jewish groups to pen a letter to Congress declaring that, “To turn our back on refugees would be to betray our nation’s core values.” Even the right-leaning Orthodox Union has declared that, “While security concerns must be paramount, our focus as a nation should be on ‘getting to yes’” and accepting Syrian refugees.

Why is an American Jewish establishment so untroubled by the denial of Palestinian rights in Israel so concerned about America’s treatment of Syrian refugees? Because human beings think analogically. When new events arise we scan our brains for similar events in the past and then use the lessons of those past events to determine how to respond. If the last time you ate carrot cake you got sick, you’re unlikely to eat anything that looks like carrot cake again.

For American Jewish leaders, the most powerful analogy is the Holocaust. But it contains two, radically different, lessons. Lesson number one is to be on the lookout for Nazis. Thus, when Iranian leaders call for the elimination of Israel, American Jewish leaders assume that, like Adolf Hitler, they will use any weapons at their disposal, no matter the risk, to murder Jews. Lesson number two is that anyone suffering a Holocaust—or some lesser persecution–deserves help, as long as they are not Nazis themselves.

The first lesson is tribal; the second is universal. The first inclines Jewish organizations to take a hard line against Iranian’s nuclear program and Palestinian nationalism. The second inclines them toward empathy for Syrians fleeing persecution and gays and lesbians who want the right to marry.

This summer, during the Iran fight, most American Jewish organizations activated the right sides of their brain. Now, this fall, during the Syrian refugee controversy, they’re activating their left. And in the process, they’re showing compassion when it’s needed most.

But there’s a problem. While the organizations that petitioned Congress on behalf of Syrian refugees respond to both halves of the Holocaust analogy, they don’t wield much power in Washington. They’re far less influential than AIPAC, which focuses only on the first. AIPAC leaders invoke the Holocaust constantly, but only to imply that Israel’s enemies are Nazis, never to suggest that non-Jews suffering oppression deserve help. That’s why AIPAC won’t weigh in on Syrian refugees. It’s also why AIPAC has repeatedly hosted the Reverend John Hagee, even though he’s said Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans because the city was hosting a gay pride rally. For AIPAC, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Hagee supports Benjamin Netanyahu against Israel’s Nazi-like foes.

People in the American Jewish community take this for granted. But they shouldn’t. In the mid-twentieth century, the idea that American Jewry’s most powerful communal institution would ignore everything except Israel would have struck Jewish leaders as perverse. Back then, before AIPAC became the powerhouse it is today, America’s most influential Jewish groups cared about Israel. But they cared about civil rights and civil liberties inside the United States even more. J.J. Goldberg notes in his book, Jewish Power, that in the 1940s American Jewish Congress employed more lawyers fighting racial segregation than either the NAACP or the Department of Justice. [Continue reading…]


Map: As a recipient of U.S. military aid, Israel dwarfs the rest of the world


Hillary Clinton is an enemy of Israel

Gideon Levy writes: Hillary Clinton’s election as U.S. president would ensure Israel’s continued decline and degeneration. And so she is not a friend, but an enemy. She must not be allowed to deceive and present herself as a friend of Israel, as she tried so ingratiatingly to do in an article published in The Forward (“How I would reaffirm unbreakable bond with Israel — and Benjamin Netanyahu”) last week. The tear ducts were targeted as she wrote of how she assisted Magen David Adom in being accepted to the International Red Cross. But she and those like her – false friends of Israel – have been one of the curses on this country for years. Because of them, Israel can continue to act as wildly as it likes, thumbing its nose at the world and paying no price. Because of them, it can destroy itself unhindered.

Whether Clinton believes what she wrote or simply wanted once again to sell her soul for a fistful of dollars from Haim Saban and other Jewish donors, the result is extremely embarrassing. A love letter to Israel, the likes of which no U.S. statesman would ever write to another country. Americans believe “Israel is more than a country – it’s a dream,” she states. Most of the world calls it a nightmare, yet Clinton says a dream. What dream exactly? The dream of tyrannical control over another people? Racism? Nationalism? The killing of women and children in Gaza?

What happened to the Hillary Rodham Clinton who in her youth fought for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, and as a lawyer specialized in children’s rights? Did she not hear what her dream state is doing to Palestinian children? What happened to the glorious career woman who was considered liberal and justice-seeking on her way up? Did she forget it all? Does money buy everything? Or, when it comes to Israel, do all principles suddenly change?

Did the former secretary of state not hear about the Israeli occupation? After all, she didn’t mention it once in her article. This is not the time or place to anger Saban. To Clinton, Israel is a “thriving democracy” and to hell with the violent and totalitarian regime in its backyard. And so Clinton is also an enemy of peace and justice. She doesn’t believe there has been the slightest damage to Palestinian rights. Israelis being stabbed in Jerusalem “appalls” Clinton. Palestinians being unjustifiably shot to death, meanwhile, fails to register with her. They will love her for that on Fifth Avenue. Religious figures who encourage killing are, of course, only Muslim; only Israeli security must be vouchsafed. The synagogues of Manhattan will love that, too. [Continue reading…]


Hillary’s unbreakable bond with Bibi and her commitment to fight for Israel

Hillary Clinton writes: I will do everything I can to enhance our strategic partnership and strengthen America’s security commitment to Israel, ensuring that it always has the qualitative military edge to defend itself. That includes immediately dispatching a delegation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to meet with senior Israeli commanders. I would also invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House in my first month in office.

The dangers facing both our nations in the Middle East require bold and united responses. We must remain committed to preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon, and to vigorously enforcing the new nuclear agreement. I would move to step up our partnership to confront Iran and its proxies across the region, and make sure dangerous Russian and Iranian weapons don’t end up in Hezbollah’s hands or threaten Israel. I also will combat growing efforts to isolate Israel internationally and to undermine its future as a Jewish state, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. I’ve spoken out against BDS in the United States and at the U.N., and will continue to do so.

For me, fighting for Israel isn’t just about policy — it’s a personal commitment to the friendship between our peoples and our vision for peace and security. [Continue reading…]


Sheldon Adelson warms to Marco Rubio

Politico reports: Sheldon Adelson, one of the Republican Party’s most sought-after contributors, is leaning increasingly toward supporting Marco Rubio — and the Florida senator is racing to win the backing of other uncommitted megadonors who have the potential to direct tens of millions of dollars his way and alter the contours of the Republican primary fight.

Last week, during a campaign swing through Las Vegas, Rubio held a meeting in Adelson’s offices at the Venetian Las Vegas, one of a number of five-star luxury casinos the billionaire mogul owns around the world. Adelson, seated at the head of his conference table, heaped praise on Rubio’s performance while he discussed the dynamics of the 2016 race. Those briefed on the meeting described it as short but said it had an air of importance, with the two joined by Rubio’s campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, and a pair of senior Adelson advisers, Rob Goldstein and Patrick Dumont.

Those close to Adelson — who spent more than $100 million on Republican candidates and causes during the 2012 campaign and has been aggressively courted by most would-be Republican nominees — stressed that the 82-year-old gambling magnate had made no final decision on whom he’d support but said that momentum had strongly shifted to the Florida senator. A formal endorsement, they said, could come as soon as the end of the month — and with it, the potential for a multimillion dollar contribution. With a net worth of $25.7 billion, according to Forbes, Adelson can afford to spend freely. [Continue reading…]


Why the U.S. should not provide Israel with the GBU-57 bunker buster or the means to use it

Kingston Reif writes: In the aftermath of the Republican-controlled Congress’ failure to block the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), attention has begun to turn to implementation of the agreement and steps the administration and Congress can take to ensure scrupulous Iranian compliance, strengthen the global nonproliferation regime, reassure nervous regional allies, and counter Iran’s many destabilizing activities in the region.

While numerous worthwhile suggestions have been put forward pursuant to these objectives, other proposals that have been put forward, including by Democratic supporters of the JCPOA on Capitol Hill, would severely complicate — if not threaten altogether — implementation of the agreement.

One such counterproductive recommendation is to transfer the GBU-57 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), and the means to deliver it, to Israel. The most powerful air-delivered conventional weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the bunker-busting MOP is reportedly capable of holding at risk hard and deeply buried targets, such as Iran’s underground nuclear facility at Fordow. [Continue reading…]


AIPAC suffers stinging political defeat

The New York Times reports: Officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee knew the odds were against them in the fight to block President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran from surviving a congressional vote. But the influential pro-Israel group threw itself into a nearly $30 million advertising and lobbying effort to kill the accord anyway.

On Thursday, the committee, known as Aipac, was handed a stinging defeat. After Mr. Obama mustered enough Democratic backing in the Senate to halt a vote on a resolution of disapproval against the deal, a group known for its political clout saw its power and reputation in Washington diminished.

“They failed — they couldn’t even get a vote,” said Clifford Kupchan, an Iran expert and the chairman of the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm, who noted that Aipac had gone “all in” and tried everything to stop the deal. “It’s among the biggest setbacks for Aipac in recent memory.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Senate Democrats delivered a major victory to President Obama when they blocked a Republican resolution to reject a six-nation nuclear accord with Iran on Thursday, ensuring the landmark deal will take effect without a veto showdown between Congress and the White House.

A procedural vote fell two short of the 60 needed to break a Democratic filibuster. It culminated hours of debate in the Senate and capped weeks of discord since the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China announced the agreement with Iran in July.

The debate divided Democrats between their loyalties to the president and to their constituents, animated the antiwar movement on the left and exposed the diminishing power of the Israeli lobbying force that spent tens of millions of dollars to prevent the accord. [Continue reading…]


Sheldon Adelson is ready to buy the presidency

Jason Zengerle writes: In a few weeks, when the nuclear deal Barack Obama negotiated with Iran comes before Congress, it’s all but certain that not a single Republican will vote in support of it. With the possible exception of Maine’s Susan Collins, who has yet to reveal her position, each of the 246 Republicans in the House and 53 Republicans in the Senate has indicated his or her opposition to the deal. Not that a mere vote could possibly express the intensity of even that unanimous opposition — or the fervid support for Israel that lies behind it. “It is a fundamental betrayal of the security of the United States and of our closest allies, first and foremost Israel,” Texas senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz has said. Cruz’s 16 Republican-primary opponents have denounced the deal in similar terms. One of them, Mike Huckabee, has gone so far as to argue that Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

American Jews are not hard-liners on Israel. Obama won 69 percent of Jewish voters in 2012, even as American conservatives accused him of purposefully undermining the country’s security and status in the region. Indeed, according to a 2013 Pew study, only one in three American Jews feel a strong emotional attachment to the Jewish state. But over the past 30 years, and especially in the last decade, the GOP’s attachment to Israel has become remarkably fierce, to an extent that is basically unprecedented in modern American politics. On issue after issue — from military aid to settlement policy — the GOP now offers Israel unconditional and unquestioning support, so much so that some Republicans now liken the country to America’s “51st state.” The person most responsible for this development is the multi­billionaire casino magnate and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson. [Continue reading…]


How AIPAC failed to block the Iran deal

The Washington Post reports: Not since George H.W. Bush was president has the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sustained such a public defeat on an issue it deemed an existential threat to Israel’s security.

But the Iran nuclear deal has Washington insiders wondering if the once-untouchable lobbying giant has suffered lasting damage to its near-pristine political reputation.

In fighting the deal, AIPAC and its affiliates mustered all of its considerable resources: spending tens of millions on television ads in the home states of undecided lawmakers and organizing a fly-in to blitz lawmakers on Capitol Hill – another is planned for next week when Congress returns from August recess to vote on a resolution of disapproval. But all that noise amounted to a humbling and rare defeat this week, when President Obama secured a strong enough plurality in the Senate to protect the pact from efforts to dismantle it. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Just before the Senate left town for its August break, a dozen or so undecided Democrats met in the Capitol with senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia who delivered a blunt, joint message: Their nuclear agreement with Iran was the best they could expect. The five world powers had no intention of returning to the negotiating table.

“They basically said unanimously this is as good a deal as you could get and we are moving ahead with it,” recalled Senator Chris Coons, the Delaware Democrat who lent crucial support to the deal this week despite some reservations. “They were clear and strong that we will not join you in re-imposing sanctions.”

For many if not most Democrats, it was that message that ultimately solidified their decisions, leading to President Obama on Wednesday securing enough votes to put the agreement in place over fierce and united Republican opposition. One after another, lawmakers pointed to the warnings from foreign leaders that their own sanctions against Iran would be lifted regardless of what the United States did. [Continue reading…]


Iran deal opens a vitriolic divide among Jewish Americans

The New York Times reports: The attacks on Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, since he announced his support for the nuclear accord with Iran have been so vicious that the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Anti-Defamation League both felt compelled this week to publicly condemn Jewish voices of hate.

On the other side, three Jewish Democrats in the House who oppose the deal released a joint statement denouncing “ad hominem attacks and threats” against not only supporters like Mr. Nadler but also Jewish opponents, who have been accused of “dual loyalties” and treason.

This August recess has not produced the kind of fiery town hall-style meetings that greeted lawmakers in 2009 before their vote on the Affordable Care Act, but in one small but influential segment of the electorate, Jewish voters, it has been brutal. Infighting among Jewish Americans may be nothing new, but the vitriol surrounding the accord between Iran and six world powers has become so intense that leaders now speak openly of long-term damage to Jewish organizations, and possibly to American-Israeli relations. [Continue reading…]


American generals and admirals lobbying for Israel against Iran deal

Given the uncritical admiration many Americans have for men in military uniforms, it wasn’t surprising to see the White House’s effort to promote the Iran deal enlisting support from three dozen retired senior military officers who released an open letter earlier this month.

Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, U.S. Marine Corps, who served as the eighth Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until his retirement in 2011, and his colleagues, called the agreement “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

The voices of those in uniform can be trusted to put America first — at least that’s supposed to be the value of getting political support from a bunch of former generals.

But given the degree to which the Iran deal has been turned into a partisan issue, and given the Republican tilt of the military, it’s not surprising that another letter would follow, this time carrying the signatures of nearly 200 retired generals and admirals who oppose the deal. Shameless in making hyperbolic assertions, this letter claims that Iran has been waging war against the United States for the last 36 years!

And whereas the concern of the former letter was focused squarely on U.S. national security interests, the preeminent security concern of the larger group of former generals and admirals is not that of their own nation, but that of Israel.

“Removing sanctions on Iran and releasing billions of dollars to its regime over the next ten years is inimical to the security of Israel and the Middle East,” the letter states.

In Washington DC, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) is an organization whose mission is the promotion of “a strong U.S. security relationship with Israel.”

To that end, JINSA spares no expense in trying to persuade retired American generals and admirals that Israel’s security interests should remain uppermost in their minds and thus it instituted an annual Generals and Admirals Program to Israel.

A few years ago, Jason Vest reported:

The bulk of JINSA’s modest annual budget is spent on taking a bevy of retired US generals and admirals to Israel, where JINSA facilitates meetings between Israeli officials and the still-influential US flag officers, who, upon their return to the States, happily write op-eds and sign letters and advertisements championing the Likudnik line.

Naturally, when it comes to opposition to the Iran deal JINSA is manning the front lines.

But here’s what’s noteworthy about the latest exercise in letter writing designed to put Israel’s interests first when crafting U.S. foreign policy: a large majority of JINSA’s advisory board members who are retired generals and admirals, did not sign the letter opposing the Iran deal.

The board includes 36 such figures and yet only eight of them were signators.

It’s hard to say how many of the non-signers made an active choice not to sign. Even so, JINSA’s leaders would surely have expected more solid support on this issue.

What this lack of solidarity most likely illustrates is that the divide between those who support or oppose the Iran deal has virtually nothing to do with objective assessments about the national security interests of the U.S., Israel or any other nation.

The opponents to this deal are in fact opponents of any deal with Iran.

And the suggestion that standing with Israel necessitates standing against the deal, is an equation that can be seen as false not only among the deal’s strongest advocates but probably even many of JINSA’s own advisory board members.


How the Iran deal will pass — and why it should

Fred Kaplan writes: It’s looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

If current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists — mainly AIPAC — are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

It would have been better for Netanyahu — and for Israel — had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality. Not that Obama, or any other American president, will cut Israel off; but relations will remain more strained, and requests for other favors (for more or bigger weapons, or for certain votes in international forums) will be scrutinized more warily, than they would have been. [Continue reading…]


Netanyahu’s lackeys storm the airwaves in an ad war against the Iran deal

Bloomberg reports: Nationally, 14 groups have spent an estimated $14 million to run about 24,600 TV spots arguing for and against the Iran agreement in 55 local broadcast markets and national cable, ­according to data compiled by Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks political advertising. The largest buyer has been Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, which was created to oppose the Iran deal by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC. It’s spent about $9 million buying more than 15,500 TV ads in 34 local markets and on national cable. It plans to spend as much as $20 million advertising against the Iran agreement by the time Congress votes in September—far more than the $1.7 million AIPAC has spent this year lobbying Congress, its main activity. “There are still a number of undecided senators and members of Congress,” says Patrick Dorton, a spokesman for Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran. “Our goal is to educate the public and encourage the public to weigh in with their elected representatives.”

Montana saw a spike in Iran-related advertising before Democratic Senator Jon Tester announced Aug. 13 that he’d vote for the deal. More than 1,000 TV spots ran in Billings, Butte, Great Falls, and Missoula through Aug. 24, according to CMAG. Most were paid for by a group called Veterans Against the Deal, which now can shift the focus of its $1 million ad campaign more toward North Dakota. The nonprofit, created in July, has not disclosed its donors. [Continue reading…]


Sheldon Adelson and the wave of TV ads opposing the Iran deal

A recent headline at The Intercept seems to have been crafted to deceive its readers:

Wave of TV Ads Opposing Iran Deal Organized By Saudi Arabian Lobbyist

Parse those words very carefully, avoid the grammatical trap of assuming that a Saudi Arabian lobbyist would be Saudi Arabian, and you might grasp that the ads, though organized by the said lobbyist, may or may not have any connection to Saudi Arabia.

But most people don’t dissect headlines with such lawyerly exactness and thus wouldn’t hesitate in jumping to this conclusion:

Saudis Financing TV Ads Opposing Nuke Deal with Iran

That headline appears above a report appearing at the Macedonian International News Agency which is simply The Intercept report re-published without attribution.

So what’s the deception?

The ads in question are being run by a group called the American Security Initiative whose president is former Republican Senator Norm Coleman.

Coleman now works for the major lobbying law firm Hogan Lovells, where he provides legal services for the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia and legal services for other existing firm clients.

On that basis — and not much else — The Intercept’s Lee Fang has constructed a report that will lead many readers to believe the Saudis are behind the ad campaign, even though that conclusion is never spelled out. The report doesn’t make its conclusion explicit — even though it’s strongly inferred in the headline — presumably because it’s a claim for which there is no direct evidence.

But maybe it’s true. Maybe the Saudis are sinking millions of dollars into this ad campaign. It’s possible.

Yet there already is a much more plausible source for the funding for the American Security Initiative: the casino boss who bankrolls Benjamin Netanyahu, Sheldon Adelson.

The reason for believing it’s Adelson’s money rather than the Saudis’ isn’t simply because the tycoon’s opposition to the Iran deal is well-known. It’s because his financial links to the American Security Initiative have already been reported.

In Washington this March, Adelson co-chaired a fundraising event where Coleman made a pitch for the American Security Initiative.

Coleman is a close ally of Adelson — both are board members of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The primary goal of the Coalition right now is to kill the Iran deal.

Following the March fundraiser and Coleman’s pitch for the American Security Initiative, the Daily Beast reported: “A GOP source said Adelson is expected to help fund the new security group, but Coleman declined to comment.”

So why is The Intercept now pointing at the Saudis when Adelson’s already been fingered?


Europeans shocked by efforts of Israel lobby to block Iran deal

The New York Times reports: In the United States, pro-Israel groups have spent heavily on a campaign to block the deal in the Congress, organizing meetings with Israeli diplomats and a videoconference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has called the deal a “stunning historic mistake” that threatens Israel’s existence.

Although France’s main Jewish organization has expressed “very serious doubts” about the Iran deal, [Camille] Grand [director of the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris and an expert on nuclear nonproliferation] said, its objections have not spilled into the political sphere.

“Netanyahu’s opposition was so extreme that it made it difficult for it to exist in any French debate,” he said. “Even critics couldn’t sign up to the Netanyahu narrative because it doesn’t offer a constructive solution.”

And then there is the money — huge sums being spent mainly by the pro-Israel groups, less by supporters of the deal — which shock Europeans unused to this kind of profligate lobbying. Some here are also baffled by the hyperbole coming out of Washington, with talk of a choice between war and peace, and oblique references to the Holocaust. [Continue reading…]