Why pro-Israel Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton could have a fight about Israel

The Washington Post reports: The only Jewish candidate in the 2016 presidential race, who calls himself “100 percent pro-Israel,” and one of Israel’s strongest U.S. defenders are nearing a fight over what being a pro-Israel Democrat means.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont plans to push for revisions in the Democratic Party position about relations with Israel, with a focus on elevating Palestinian rights as a U.S. priority, people involved in discussions over potential changes to the Democratic Party’s platform said.

Sanders wants revisions in wording about U.S. relations with Israel and commitment to seeking peace between the U.S. ally and the Palestinians while preserving the commitment to Israel’s security, those people said. They requested anonymity to discuss ideas for the platform that are still being developed. The platform is drafted by a Democratic National Committee panel and presented at the party convention in July.

The proposed new language on Israel is expected to seek what Sanders has elsewhere called a more even-handed U.S. approach to Israeli occupation of land Palestinians claim for a future state. [Continue reading…]


Sheldon Adelson is poised to give Donald Trump a $100 million donation boost

The New York Times reports: The casino magnate Sheldon G. Adelson told Donald J. Trump in a private meeting last week that he was willing to contribute more to help elect him than he has to any previous campaign, a sum that could exceed $100 million, according to two Republicans with direct knowledge of Mr. Adelson’s commitment.

As significant, Mr. Adelson, a billionaire based in Las Vegas, has decided that he will significantly scale back his giving to congressional Republicans and direct most of his contributions to groups dedicated to Mr. Trump’s campaign. The two Republicans familiar with Mr. Adelson’s plans spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Mr. Adelson’s pledge to Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, comes at an opportune time. Mr. Trump has relied on a mix of his own wealth and small-dollar contributions to finance his primary effort and lacks the sort of major donor network needed to sustain him in the general election. Mr. Trump has said that he may need $1 billion for the campaign but has only recently begun scheduling fund-raisers and hiring finance staff members. Many of the Republican Party’s wealthiest contributors, including the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, have indicated they are unlikely to give to his candidacy. [Continue reading…]

Chas Danner writes: Trump has often boasted about how he was self-funding his campaign and thus wasn’t beholden to special interest groups or wealthy donors like, well, Sheldon Adelson:

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Bernie Sanders is aligned with mainstream America on Israel

Dina Smeltz writes: Rarely — if ever — has a presidential candidate been so publicly critical of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians as Sen. Bernie Sanders was last week during the CNN Democratic primary debate in Brooklyn. Media outlets seized the moment, with headlines such as “Bernie Sanders smashes the Israel status quo,” “Bernie Sanders just shattered an American taboo on Israel” and “Why Does Bernie Sanders hate Israel?”

Some writers have pitched this as a “watershed moment” in Democratic Party politics. For the political class, perhaps it is. But public opinion surveys show that Sanders’s views are representative of many Americans, and particularly Democrats, who are critical of some Israeli policies yet remain favorable toward Israel.

At the debate, the senator from Vermont stuck by a previous comment that the 2014 Israeli incursion into Gaza was “disproportionate.” Sanders further advocated a more balanced U.S. role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, saying “there will never be peace in that region unless the United States plays a role, an even-handed role trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people.”

Survey results from the past decade demonstrate that a majority of Americans has consistently favored an impartial role for the United States in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. A CNN-ORC poll from 2015 showed that two-thirds of Americans said the United States should refrain from taking either side, while 29 percent favored taking Israel’s side and 2 percent favored taking the Palestinians’ side. Although this sentiment is strongest among self-described Democrats (76 percent), a majority of independents (70 percent) and even a substantial number of Republicans (47 percent) agree. [Continue reading…]


Obama’s November surprise?

Philip Weiss writes: The organized liberal Jewish community has a new vision: that President Obama will use the lame duck period of his presidency to make a major initiative on the Israel/Palestine conflict and introduce resolutions at the United Nations Security Council to condemn settlements and/or set out the parameters of a two-state solution.

Thus Obama will establish a more assertive U.S. policy in favor of Palestinian human rights and self-determination that the next president will live by.

Hillary Clinton won’t let him go forward with such a resolution now because it would capsize her campaign. But when he does it in November or December– after she is elected president, according to the scenario– then she will say, There is only one US president at a time, and Obama’s policy is my inherited policy.

The dream was alive at J Street’s gala dinner the other night. Both Joe Biden and John Kerry were coming! That was a huge score for the liberal Zionist organization. President Obama invited members of J Street’s youth chapter into the White House last Friday! Mort Halperin the chairman of the J Street board (and the father of political talking head Mark Halperin) said the organization is counting on the Obama administration to set out the parameters of a final deal between Israel and Palestine.

Then Biden and Kerry spoke, and the wealthy elderly legion at J Street derived hope from the following statements. Biden:

Despite our overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government, we have an obligation to push them as hard as we can… at the same time being a guarantor, an absolute guarantor of their security.


I can tell you that for these next nine months we will not stop working to find a way…

[N]o matter how many times we hear people tell us the goal is unattainable, they can’t do it, they’re not ready, I remember the words of Mandela: “Nothing is impossible until it is done.”

The J Street people think that Obama still has a trick up his sleeve and he owes it to them because they helped him get the Iran deal. The theme of the evening was: Obama wouldn’t have gotten the Iran deal if we had not taken on AIPAC inside the official Jewish community. But J Street took on AIPAC and cracked the monolith and signaled to politicians around the country, they could support the deal and still get Jewish backing. J Street is justly proud of this. And by the way, Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council and Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares were in the hall that night; they also delivered the Iran deal. As did Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink and a lot of grassroots groups.

Do I actually believe that Obama will come up with a November surprise? Yes, I think he will do something. But will it mean anything or have any effect; that is the real question. [Continue reading…]


Bernie Sanders smashes the Israel status quo

At CNN, Jeremy Diamond writes: Bernie Sanders is taking a sledgehammer to the political status quo on Israel.

Sanders refused to back down Thursday night from his claim that Israel in 2014 used “disproportionate” force to respond to Hamas rocket fire from Gaza while calling for the United States to stop being “one-sided” in the conflict there. In doing so, he upended a long-standing tenet of American politics: that unflinching support for Israel is non-negotiable.

Sanders’ unorthodox remarks at CNN’s Democratic debate came just days before voters head to the polls in New York, where Sanders is fighting to narrow the significant, but not insurmountable, deficit he faces against former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The Empire State’s 19.79 million residents include the country’s largest Jewish population — some 1.8 million of the country’s 6.8 million Jews live there, according to the 2014 American Jewish Year Book — and one of the most active pro-Israel constituencies.

Sanders’ nationally televised stance could represent a watershed moment in Democratic politics, as the sole Jewish candidate in the race — and only one to have lived in Israel — smashed a taboo that could lead others to follow suit. [Continue reading…]


Criticizing Israel, Bernie Sanders highlights split among Jewish Democrats

The New York Times reports: It was the sort of question — Does Israel have a right to defend itself as it sees fit? — that had often caused candidates, especially those with designs on winning a primary in New York, to produce paeans to the strength of the Israeli-American relationship and a stream of pro-Israel orthodoxy.

But Senator Bernie Sanders dug in.

“There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time,” Mr. Sanders said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, amid cheers from the crowd at Thursday’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn. He added: “All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue.”

Jewish Democrats, like the rest of the party, have been struggling for years over the appropriate level of criticism when it comes to Israel’s policies in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. But that debate burst onto a big national stage this week thanks to Mr. Sanders, the most successful Jewish presidential candidate in history.

Mr. Sanders’s comments, in the de facto capital of Jewish American politics, buoyed the liberal and increasingly vocal Democrats who believe that a frank discussion within the party has been muzzled by an older, more conservative Jewish leadership that is suspicious of criticism of Israel. [Continue reading…]


Why did Bernie Sanders suspend a staffer for speaking the truth about Israel-Palestine when he has done the same?

Ali Gharib writes: During Thursday night’s heated Democratic debate in Brooklyn, Senator Bernie Sanders came out firing on Israel. A candidate who initially sought, seemingly at all costs, to avoid foreign policy altogether finally spoke out on the most politically charged issue of global affairs in Washington — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and he took it by the horns.

That’s why it was so disappointing that, only a few hours earlier, the Sanders campaign suspended one of its young staffers, Simone Zimmerman, who served only briefly as its Jewish outreach coordinator. (Disclosure: I edited Zimmerman at a blog where I worked in 2013, and we have remained friends.) Zimmerman’s sin was to call the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an “asshole,” adding “Fuck you, Bibi,” using his nickname, for good measure, in a Facebook post last winter, when she was all of 24 years old.

At the time, Netanyahu was coming to Washington to marshal support against the Iran nuclear deal, claiming to speak on the behalf of all “Jewish People” everywhere, not just Israelis. Zimmerman, who has been deeply involved for years in Jewish and liberal pro-Israel activism — often critical, though it may be — took umbrage at the notion, resulting in her expletive-laden post on social media. Within half a day, Zimmerman edited the Facebook post to remove the curses — mentioning in a comment that she did so to “reflect the seriousness with which I take this issue” — but not soon enough. Someone had screen-captured the original text, and lay in waiting for more than a year to leak it to the McCarthyite smear artists at the right-wing Washington Free Beacon (one only needs to scan the post, where liberal Zionist groups are derided as anti-Israel, to see what ideologues this lot are).

Then the pressure came. [Continue reading…]


Sanders slams Clinton for ignoring Palestinian needs and thinking Netanyahu is ‘right all the time’

Philip Weiss writes: It’s finally happened: the issue of Palestinian human rights came up in the Democratic debate tonight on national television, and Bernie Sanders repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton–for siding with Israel singlehandedly, for her support of Benjamin Netanyahu and her indifference to the plight of Palestinians.

On the same night that he caved in to rightwing fools and suspended his Jewish outreach director over her criticisms of Benjamin Netanyahu, Senator Sanders stood up for Palestinians and against Netanyahu to cheers from the Brooklyn crowd.

Toward the end of a bruising debate, the two Democratic candidates tangled over Israel and Palestine for more than six minutes, beginning when Wolf Blitzer asked Sanders if he stood by his criticism of Israel for “disproportionate” attacks on Gaza. [Continue reading…]


Sheldon Adelson and top GOP donors retreat to the sidelines

Politico reports: Dispirited over a Republican Party primary that has devolved into an ugly, damaging fight, some of the GOP’s biggest financiers are reevaluating whether to invest in the 2016 presidential contest at all.

Among those on the sidelines: Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who hosted the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting at his Venetian hotel this weekend. His apparent ambivalence about 2016 was shared by many RJC members here. With grave doubts about the viability of the few remaining Republican contenders, many of these Republican donors have decided to sit out the rest of the primary entirely. And while some are reluctantly getting behind a remaining candidate, others are shifting their attention to congressional contests.

On Friday morning, during a meeting of the group’s board, Arthur Finkelstein, an iconic Republican strategist who has advised numerous politicians over the past four decades, presented polling data that showed Donald Trump sitting at historically low approval numbers among American Jews, according to three attendees who described the off-the-record meeting. Ted Cruz, despite an aggressive recent push to court Jews, fared little better.

Following the nearly 30-minute presentation, the group turned to a discussion about what’s next in the race. While some in the room spoke in favor of Cruz, others expressed reservations about his prospects in the general election. Trump, meanwhile, had little support: Not one person volunteered to raise money for him if he were the nominee. [Continue reading…]


In speech to AIPAC, Donald Trump affirms support for Israel

The Wall Street Journal reports: Despite threats of protests, the crowd appeared largely receptive to Mr. Trump, save for a few moments. He received several rounds of cheers, with some standing to applaud him, when he said Israel would no longer be treated like a “second-class citizen” and when he criticized the Iran deal.

But he drew some titters when he said that no one had studied the Iran deal more than him — “believe me.”

Having drawn fire last year for giving an ambiguous response on a key litmus-test issue, Mr. Trump also told the audience: “We will move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

Mr. Trump’s prior insults to women and minorities had prompted protests from rabbis and other critics who threatened to walk out or boycott the address. Some attendees, wearing stickers that read “Come together against hate” — a play-off of Aipac’s theme, “Come Together” — planned to walk out before he began speaking, while protesters gathered outside.

Daniel Burg, a rabbi from Baltimore who was attending Aipac this week for the ninth year in a row, was among the attendees who walked out. “People are exercising their rights to not simply abide the presence of Mr. Trump and pretend that this election cycle is business as usual,” he said. He called the real-estate billionaire’s rhetoric “so hateful, so misogynistic, so racist” and said it had “undermined the democracy that we believe in.”

Rick Jacobs, a rabbi from New York City and president of the Union for Reform Judaism, helped author a letter to Mr. Trump requesting a meeting to discuss the community’s concerns with the front-runner, citing his comments about Mexican immigrants, women, Muslims, and other groups.

Mr. Jacobs said the campaign has said it is considering setting up a meeting later this week. “It’s not that we won’t engage with this candidate,” he said. “We want to have a chance not just to listen—we want to have a chance to speak.”

Mr. Jacobs walked out ahead of Mr. Trump’s speech and gathered with about 70 others outside the auditorium while Mr. Trump speaking. He said he saw hundreds leaving the stadium before Mr. Trump took the stage. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: The leaders of the largest American pro-Israel lobby distanced themselves on Tuesday morning from Donald Trump’s attacks on President Barack Obama at their policy conference.

Trump addressed the annual Washington gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday night, and some of his biggest applause lines were his characteristically blunt critiques of Obama, who he said “may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me.”

AIPAC president Lillian Pinkus read a statement from the stage on Tuesday to disavow Trump’s remarks.

“We say unequivocally that we do not countenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense to those that are levied against the United States of America from our stage,” Pinkus said. “While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the president of the United States and our president, Barack Obama.”

She also castigated attendees who responded positively to Trump’s comments. [Continue reading…]


‘Trump’s relationship with Israel and the Jews is beyond fabulous,’ says former chairman of Palm Beach County Republican Party

The New York Times reports: Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and a major donor to Republican and Israeli causes, said recently that he would back Mr. Trump if he were the nominee, and a newspaper that he owns, Israel Hayom, has written favorably about Mr. Trump.

But there is still concern about Mr. Trump’s behavior, which if not anti-Semitic is at least seen by many Jews as overly accommodating of bigotry. “The way he dillydallied with David Duke basically sent a message that was perceived by many in the Jewish community as he’s looking for any votes he can get from the hard right,” said Alan M. Dershowitz, the defense lawyer.

To Mr. Dershowitz, the problem is not simply Mr. Trump; it is the white supremacists who have rallied around his candidacy. “It’s quite frightening to see who supports him,” he said.

Ms. Hicks, the campaign spokeswoman, said Mr. Trump had “disavowed David Duke and continues to strongly condemn any groups that share those hateful views.”

And for all of his critics in the Jewish world, Mr. Trump also has his supporters, including Sid Dinerstein, the former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party in Florida.

“Donald Trump’s relationship with Israel and the Jews is beyond fabulous,” Mr. Dinerstein said, noting that his wife displayed a Trump bumper sticker on the dashboard of her Mercedes-Benz.

Mr. Dinerstein said he trusted Mr. Trump to negotiate good deals for Israel — “he only negotiates from strength, he doesn’t know anything else” — and to make sure that America “doesn’t get pushed around.”

He and his wife are hardly the lone Trump supporters in their predominantly Jewish community, he said, though not everyone is outspoken about it.

“Sometimes people come over to me and quietly say, ‘Sid, I never thought I would say this, but I’m voting for Trump,’” Mr. Dinerstein said. “And I say, ‘Everybody says that.’ ” [Continue reading…]


How AIPAC mainstreams anti-Muslim hate

Ali Gharib writes:  ast year, Investigative Project on Terrorism head Steven Emerson quietly pulled out of the annual conference of Washington’s most influential pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He pinned the withdrawal on “an unexpected medical problem that required my immediate attention,” but it was impossible not to notice that it came amid reverberations of criticism for the latest of Emerson’s Islamophobic outbursts.

A couple months before the AIPAC summit, Emerson had taken to the airwaves of Fox News to expound on so-called no-go zones in Europe, purported Muslim enclaves where governments dared not go. But there was a problem: “They don’t exist,” David Graham wrote in The Atlantic. And yet Emerson took the myth even farther. In the United Kingdom, he reported on Fox, “There are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims simply don’t go in!”

The Birmingham comment elicited ridicule from across the spectrum — “This guy is clearly a complete idiot,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said in an interview — and eventually Emerson and, perhaps more improbably, Fox News itself apologized. A few weeks later, Emerson was out at AIPAC.

Now, Emerson is back. His name appears on a list of confirmed speakers published by AIPAC ahead of its Washington, DC, conference later this month. [Continue reading…]