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…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

‘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…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

Sheldon Adelson is hedging his bets in this presidential race

Politico reports: Few of the Adelsons’ associates wanted to be quoted talking about the famously temperamental self-made billionaire, who is known for valuing loyalty and holding grudges. But, with Tuesday’s GOP presidential caucuses in his backyard looming, several expressed concern that Adelson’s hesitance could have long-lasting consequences. Time is running short, they say, for major donors to fund an assault to try to slow the momentum of GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

While Adelson, whose political involvement is largely animated by his support for Israel’s defense, is thought to distrust Trump on the issue, an Adelson adviser suggested his boss had no plans to spend big on behalf of — or against — any candidate in the tumultuous GOP primary.

“I don’t see any involvement until there is a nominee,” the adviser told POLITICO.

If Adelson sticks with that plan — a big “if” given his reputation for writing massive checks with little warning — it could remove a major source of anti-Trump cash and also could hamper Republicans’ general election chances up and down the ballot.

The prospect is a serious source of concern for other Republican megadonors and operatives, who have offered a range of explanations for Adelson’s sudden tightening of his purse strings.

“Nobody knows exactly why he’s still on the sidelines or when he might come off,” said one operative with ties to Adelson, “but the party needs him to get in the game before it’s too late.” [Continue reading…]

In the past, Adelson’s concern has been to back the candidate who he thinks would best serve his interests. His greater interest right now might not be to support the stop-Trump campaign but instead to avoid making Trump his enemy. Both Trump and Adelson operate in a world where loyalty gets rewarded and enemies get punished.

Facebooktwittermail

The Clintons earned over $3.5 million in paid addresses to pro-Israel organizations

Sarah Lazare and Max Blumenthal report: Bill and Hillary Clinton are under increasing scrutiny from the mainstream press over paid speeches they have given to big banks in exchange for millions of dollars. According to CNN, the couple has earned a total of $153 million in lecture fees from companies and organizations affiliated with the financial industry.

But the media has been conspicuously silent about the large sums the Clintons have raked in from paid addresses to pro-Israel organizations, including the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which directly participates in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and Bedouin citizens of Israel. An evaluation of Hillary Clinton’s public disclosures from 2001 to 2015 shows that she and Bill, and their daughter, Chelsea, have earned roughly $4 million in speaking fees from pro-Israel organizations, including JNF and organizations allied with the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The vast majority of these documented payments — $3,599,999 — have gone toward the Clintons’ personal income, and up to $450,000 has been funneled into the Clinton Foundation. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

After Bernie Sanders landslide in New Hampshire, team Hillary plans fightback on Israel

The Forward reports: Tuesday night will go down in history as the first time a Jew won a presidential primary.

A jubilant Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, repeated his call for eradicating income inequality, breaking up the big banks and providing free college tuition.

“Together we have sent the message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California, and that is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders said in his victory speech.

For the Clinton campaign it was a night that made clear that it is time to increase pressure on the Vermont socialist — including a harsher message to Jewish American voters.

“Hillary Clinton has been a very strong friend of Israel and that is something that should not be lost on the American Jewish community,” said Paul Hodes, a former New Hampshire congressman who came to rally for Clinton at her post-primary event. Hodes, who is Jewish and from New Hampshire, told the Forward: “Senator Sanders hasn’t showed himself to be the kind of friend of Israel that Secretary Clinton is.”

Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state and former U.S. senator, now looks wounded, trailing Sanders by 60 to 39% based on 86% of the returns. [Continue reading…]

Who can suck up to Israel, is a game that only works when everyone plays and the shamelessness is mutual as the Goyim compete as Zionists.

In that respect, the fact that Sanders is Jewish and the fact that he isn’t fishing for large donations, both serve to his advantage. When questioned about his loyalty to Israel, he can reasonably wave off such challenges by pointing out that he’s running in an American presidential election.

Facebooktwittermail

How to determine which Democratic presidential candidate is beholden to wealthy Jewish donors

Politico reports: If Bernie Sanders defeats Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination, he’ll be the first Jewish presidential nominee of a major political party.

But when it comes to his views on Israel, some Jewish Democrats are scratching their heads in confusion.

“His voting record on Israel recently is fine, absolutely fine,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a media consultant and former Clinton White House aide who supports Clinton. “I haven’t heard him once talk about it on the campaign trail. It’s as though he doesn’t utter the word Israel. It just strikes me as odd.”

But over his career Sanders has cast some votes and made critical statements about Israel that unnerve some in the pro-Israel community. That’s all the more puzzling, some say, given his own heritage as the son of a Jewish immigrant father from Poland whose family was wiped out by the Nazis — and someone who spent time working on an Israeli kibbutz.

As Clinton has struggled in recent days to prevent Sanders from notching twin victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, she has zeroed in on what she calls his naive statements about Iran — a country that Israel happens to consider its greatest enemy.

How many Democratic primary voters might have qualms with Sanders is unclear, however. President Barack Obama himself has grown increasingly critical of Israeli policy toward Iran and the Palestinians. Many liberal voters agree: A recent poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that only 4 in 10 Democrats consider Israel to be playing a positive role in the Middle East.

“The faction of the Democratic base that supports a strongly pro-Israel point of view is shrinking,” said Matthew Duss, president of the left-leaning Foundation for Middle East Peace.

But the Democratic Party still features a strong network of wealthy Jewish donors, such as the Hollywood mogul Haim Saban and American Jewish Congress president Jack Rosen, who hold candidates to high standards when it comes to Israel. It also boasts better political organization than liberals who pressure Israel to take a more conciliatory line with the Palestinians and Iran. [Continue reading…]

Some Jewish Democrats are scratching their heads in confusion? If so, that’s probably because Sanders hasn’t offered himself to the highest bidder.

At the same time, there’s no evidence that Sanders has a progressive view of Israeli-Palestinian politics. As Joseph Dana writes:

The problematic and least radical aspect of the senator’s foreign policy is his unwavering support for Israel. When it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Mr Sanders’s economic radicalism falls by the wayside.

He has endorsed continuing military aid to Israel along with economic aid to the Palestinians, which has proven to be an effective tool for both Israel and the United States to exercise undue influence over Palestinian decision-making, as evidenced by the withholding of aid after the PLO pursued statehood recognition at the United Nations. Additionally, the senator has seldom condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and said nothing of Israel’s aggression in Gaza over the last decade.

Some have argued that Mr Sanders’s support for Israel is because he is Jewish. Yet, he has barely spoken about a faith-based connection to Israel. He has only cited his religion as an inspiration for progressive activism, especially regarding the struggle for civil rights equality.

Instead of taking a progressive stance, Mr Sanders relies on the security-based narrative that Israel has spun over the international community for decades. Where is the passion and critical thinking that has captured the imagination of millions of Americans and has demonstrated that fresh conversations are possible?

For a politician running a campaign against the “rigged” political and economic system that continues to disenfranchise millions, he is surprisingly content with the prevailing Washington orthodoxy on Israel (and also gun control, but that is a separate issue altogether).

The perplexing part is that Mr Sanders’s orthodoxy comes at a time when American diplomats in Israel are signalling a readiness to chart a new course on the conflict, one that doesn’t accept Israeli PR at face value.

For American single-issue voters whose sole concern is the resolution of the Middle East conflict, the 2016 presidential election won’t be different from any other: there won’t be a single candidate who ranks this as their primary issue (or even top foreign policy issue).

Is this a failure to acknowledge the defining issue of our times? On the contrary, it’s a reminder to be wary of polemicists who pound their podiums when talking about “the defining issue of our times.”

Indeed, if it turns out that throughout this election season, the subject of Israel rarely comes up, on balance that’ll probably be a good thing.

After all, when the subject does get raised, more often than not it is simply for the purpose of finding out who has the least amount of shame in presenting him or herself as a loyal Zionist.

Let’s be thankful if we are subject to as few as possible of these obsequious and obscene exercises.

Facebooktwittermail

Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of Las Vegas paper seen as a power play

The New York Times reports: Two days after Sheldon Adelson’s lawyers lost in their attempts to have a judge removed from a contentious lawsuit that threatens his gambling empire, a call went out to the publisher of this city’s most prominent newspaper.

Almost immediately, journalists were summoned to a meeting with the publisher and the general counsel and told they must monitor the courtroom actions of the judge and two others in the city. When the journalists protested, they were told that it was an instruction from above and that there was no choice in the matter.

It is unclear whether Mr. Adelson, who was then in talks to buy the newspaper, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, or his associates were behind the directive or even knew about it. But it was an ominous coincidence for many in the city who worry what will become of the paper now that it is owned by Mr. Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate and prominent Republican donor with a history of aggressively pursuing his interests.

Suspicions about his motives for paying a lavish $140 million for the newspaper last month are based on his reputation in Las Vegas as a figure comfortable with using his money in support of his numerous business and political concerns, said more than a dozen of the current and former Review-Journal staffers and local civic figures who have worked closely with him. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

NSA’s targeting of Israeli leaders also caught private conversations between U.S. lawmakers and Israel lobby

The Wall Street Journal reports: President Barack Obama announced two years ago he would curtail eavesdropping on friendly heads of state after the world learned the reach of long-secret U.S. surveillance programs.

But behind the scenes, the White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch, current and former U.S. officials said. Topping the list was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The U.S., pursuing a nuclear arms agreement with Iran at the time, captured communications between Mr. Netanyahu and his aides that inflamed mistrust between the two countries and planted a political minefield at home when Mr. Netanyahu later took his campaign against the deal to Capitol Hill.

The National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. That raised fears — an “Oh-shit moment,” one senior U.S. official said — that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress.

White House officials believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign. They also recognized that asking for it was politically risky. So, wary of a paper trail stemming from a request, the White House let the NSA decide what to share and what to withhold, officials said. “We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’ ” a senior U.S. official said. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’ ”

Stepped-up NSA eavesdropping revealed to the White House how Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations — learned through Israeli spying operations — to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail