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December 19, 2014 / 27 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘AIPAC’

AIPAC-Sponsored Trip to Israel a Big Issue in Nevada Lt. Gov. Race

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Travel to Israel sponsored by an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has become an issue in the race for Nevada lieutenant governor.

Sue Lowden, a former state senator, said her opponent in the Republican primary race, State Sen. Mark Hutchison, should have disclosed his 2013 trip to Israel with the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), the pro-Israel lobbying group’s educational affiliate.

“I think you should be on the safe side of reporting and report everything so you’re on the safe side of integrity,” Lowden told the Las Vegas Sun in an article posted Tuesday.

Her criticism came in the wake of a long report in the Sun on Sunday outlining how lawmakers define what is and isn’t a gift that requires mention on disclosure forms.

It noted that four Nevada state legislators, including Hutchison, did not classify the AIEF trip as a gift, saying that it was educational and also that they had the backing of legislative legal counsel in declining to define it as a gift.

AIEF trips to Israel are heavy with meetings and lectures, although they also include tourist stops and restaurant meals.

Lowden called the trip a “junket,” albeit one that might be useful for a lieutenant governor, who heads the state tourist board; she said her problem was that her opponent did not disclose the trip.

Hutchison called her criticism “desperate.”

Lowden lost the 2010 primary to be the Republican nominee for Nevada’s U.S. Senate seat; she earned notoriety when she suggested those who could not afford medical care could barter goods for it.

Will the Real Debbie Wasserman Schultz Please Stand Up?

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

First she was touting the sanctions imposed on Iran as the single most significant reason why Jews should be supporting President Barack Obama for re-election this past fall.

That was Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23)(D), chief cheerleader for the quarterback at the top of her ticket, intimating that Obama was responsible for the passage of strict sanctions.

The truth, of course, was that Obama did his best to muzzle those sanctions every step of the way. And he did temper them as best he could by delivering exemptions to countries such as China, India and Turkey, thereby effectively removing at least several major incisors from the bite.

More recently it was reported that Wasserman Schultz has been aggressively backing the president’s position against Iran sanctions, and this time around she was allegedly telling her counterparts in the U.S. Senate not to support the Menendez-Kirk bill.

That bill, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, calls for stiffened sanctions but only in the event Iran fails to fulfill its obligations under an agreement it entered into with the P5+1 countries, which became effective last Monday.

Wasserman Schultz was also reportedly telling her colleagues in the House that they should not sign on to the Cantor-Hoyer resolution which supports the Menendez-Kirk bill, although her Florida constituents are largely supportive of the measure.

And that’s where what we call a machloket arose.

The Washington Free Beacon reported on Jan. 14, that the south Florida regional arm of the venerable American pro-Israel institution, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, wagged its finger in Wasserman Schultz’s direction. It reported that word went out to some members asking Wasserman Schultz to explain why she was lobbying against the sanctions legislation.

The WFB cited a report in the Daily Beast in which Mara Sloan, a spokesperson for Wasserman Schultz, said the congresswoman believes in “holding off on new sanctions until the diplomacy plays out.” Sloan also said that the congresswoman was “not working against introducing Iran legislation.”

Contrasting the position offered to the Daily Beast, the WFB then served up another quote from Sloan which seems to present Wasserman Schultz as having a very different position.

“Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a strong supporter of sanctions against Iran and will continue to be,” Sloan told a Miami Herald blogger who called asking for the congresswoman’s position.

That Miami Herald blogger, Marc Caputo, called for clarification in response to an ad aired by the conservative Emergency Committe for Israel.  That ad called out Wasserman Schultz for what it said were her efforts to block the Iran sanctions bill. The ECI ad aired on Sunday news shows and on sports shows in the south Florida area. It is also available on YouTube.

Wasserman Schultz’s spokesperson also told Caputo that right now, ” there is not a resolution on sanctions offered in the House. As soon as one is filed, she will review the language, as she does with any legislation and decide whether it helps to ensure that Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.”

But that begs the question, because, according to an WFB earlier report citing congressional insiders, Wasserman Schultz was perhaps the driving force behind the implosion of the House resolution urging the Senate to pass the latest sanctions bill.

If you are diagramming the debate, get ready for a new player on the field.

Following the WFB versus DWS versions of anti-sanctions versus pro-sanctions positions, now comes another voice from AIPAC. On Jan. 24, a new AIPAC letter was sent out forwarding a statement from an AIPAC national board member denigrating earlier news reports suggesting Wasserman Schultz was anything but a stalwart defender of Israel.

Mayor De Blasio Says Defending Israel Is Part of His Job

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Bill de Blasio, New York’s newly installed mayor said, “Part of my job description is to be a defender of Israel” while speaking at a private New York event of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“There’s no greater ally on earth, and that’s something we should say proudly,” he said last Thursday, as first reported Friday by the Capital New York news website.

De Blasio, elected in November described his visit to Israel with his family several years ago, and said that “City Hall will always be open” to AIPAC.

He noted in his talk that New York has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel. Successive New York mayors have for decades cultivated close ties with Israel.

The AIPAC event was omitted from the mayor’s schedule distributed to the press corps, and the mayor said it was because AIPAC wanted the dinner to be closed to the press. De Blasio promised to provide a “clearer understanding” of his schedule and speeches, in the wake of the AIPAC speech.

Students Angered by Hillel’s Pro-Israel Standards

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Hillel, which self-defines as the “center of Jewish life on campus,” and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are calling attention to their frequent collaboration in an op-ed penned by national Hillel’s new president and chief executive officer, Eric Fingerhut, and Jonathan Kessler, AIPAC’s leadership development director, in this week’s issue of the New York Jewish Week .

The two acknowledge the Jewish community’s concern about this country’s campus environment “that is too often hostile to Israel. Public demonstrations, inflammatory language and personal attacks by anti-Israel organizations seek to exploit the spirit of open debate and public action central to American academic life.”

The article gives examples of the efficacy of their collaboration to “strategically and proactively empower, train and prepare American Jewish students to be effective pro-Israel activists on and beyond the campus.”

In theory, it is a good idea, and there is anecdotal evidence of success.

OPEN HILLEL

However, some students were alarmed by what seemed to be a formalizing of the relationship between Hillel and AIPAC.  These are students and adult mentors who are trying to create a movement known as “Open Hillel.”

This movement started earlier this year at Harvard – although it has not yet been successful there. However, it is cropping up on other campuses. In fact, this Sunday, Dec. 8, the Swarthmore College Hillel student board unanimously voted to declare itself an Open Hillel.

The activists behind Open Hillel are opponents of Hillel’s national guidelines. Those guidelines, crafted several years ago, discuss the many ways in which Hillel is an inclusive institution, but places outside its boundaries those entities that seek to “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel,” or which advocate the economic and political warfare known as the Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) movement.

What’s wrong with that standard?  Well, there are college students who are put out by such rules.  They say:

These guidelines are counterproductive to creating real conversations about Israel on campus. They prevent campus Hillels from inviting co-sponsorship or dialogue with Palestinians, as almost all Palestinian campus groups support the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel. They also exclude certain Jewish groups because of their political views. Although individual campus Hillels are not obligated to follow the guidelines, they have been used to pressure Hillels into shutting down open discourse on Israel.

Mind you, these students still want to benefit from the goodies they get from Hillel donors, such as the meeting space, the opportunity (i.e. funds) to bring in (anti-Israel) speakers, communication networks and lots of other goods and services for which the Hillel donors pay.  Those guidelines certainly could not stop any independent student groups from engaging in whatever anti-Israel activities they desire.  But the advocates for an Open Hillel want their tent and the right to blow it up, also.

Perhaps there will be a movement by Hillel donors demanding that the money provided to the Hillel foundation not be used for activities that are contrary to the organization’s stated guidelines.  Maybe an open door will be shown to those who want an Open Hillel.

However, in response to this newly formalized collaboration between Hillel and AIPAC, the Open Hillel advocates are lovingly supportive of the high priority Hillel places on inclusiveness. This time it is the “hawkish AIPAC” they resent.

Why?

Because, according to this group, AIPAC’s definition of “pro-Israel” cannot be the benchmark for what is and is not acceptable within the Jewish community on campus. The example of an unacceptable AIPAC position provided in the Open Hillel Response to Fingerhut and Kessler’s celebration of collaboration is “the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.” Why is that unacceptable? “Because the Palestinian Arabs also claim Jerusalem as their capital.”

Again, this is not a question of whether any group can bring anti-Israel speakers or activities to campus, the only question is whether Hillel donors should be required to pay for it.

A quote comes to mind from Cong. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) when talking about the “open-mindedness” of J Street with respect to Israel positions. He said “an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”

There is another direction from which the Hillel/AIPAC relationship may receive criticism. But these students don’t demand that Hillel changes, these students seek out other organizations on campus with which to work.

For these pro-Israel students on campus, the Hillel method of dealing with anti-Israel activity, rather than being empowering, actually seems to empower the anti-Israel activists.

That is because the “behind-the-scenes” diplomacy and interfaith gestures Hillels generally favor seem, some believe, to result in pro-Israel students simply remaining silent and ignoring lies and distortions and the painting of Israel as an evil occupier. A preferred method for responding to, for example, BDS conferences is to host inclusive Shabbat dinners. Those are nice, but do nothing to counter the lies which, when repeated often enough, attain the status of truth to the students who hear them, or who read reports of those events.

For these less passive pro-Israel students, there are the more action-oriented groups such as the CAMERA Campus Activist Project, or StandWithUs or the Chabads on campus.

The students who work with these groups may still utilize Hillel resources for other activities, but turn to other sources of guidance, and resources, in order to pursue their version of Israel advocacy.

ZOA: Iran Deal Is Munich, Obama Is Chamberlain

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

The Zionist Organization of America blasted the interim Iran deal in the strongest terms, describing the agreement concluded over the weekend in Geneva between  the P5+1 –– the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States) and Germany –– and the Islamic Republic of Iran as an appeasement deal.

“This is our era’s new Munich and President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are the new Neville Chamberlains,” the ZOA stated.

Other prominent Jewish groups — including AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League — have also expressed strong reservations about the deal, but perhaps none in language quite so barbed as the ZOA.

The ZOA’s statement may actually be the closest in tone to the response of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who refrained from name-calling, but called the agreement a “historic mistake” that “made the world a much more dangerous place.”

J Street and the Decline of American Power

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

A few weeks ago, I ventured the theory that rather than the so-called Israel Lobby controlling the administration, it’s the administration that controls the Israel Lobby.

As evidence, I cited two recent episodes. First, Secretary of State John Kerry’s much-vaunted effort to revive Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations, which, to this date, have gone nowhere for much the same reason that past efforts have failed: the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel’s historic legitimacy by abandoning the so-called “right of return.”

Nonetheless, American Jewish organizations faithfully broadcast Kerry’s message.

Second, the Obama administration’s mobilization of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to garner support on Capitol Hill for limited air strikes against the Syrian regime. That also came to naught, largely because Obama himself was seduced by the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to cajole Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into giving up his chemical weapons.

Both the “Lobby” and the administration would likely reject the charge that one controls the other. Instead, they would portray the relationship as a two-way street, with lots of mutual backscratching going on.

But outside the fevered minds of Israel Lobby conspiracy theorists, it’s clear that the administration holds the cards. Consequently, an otherwise spectacularly unsuccessful president has pulled off one small achievement, by closing off any prospects for sustained opposition to his Middle East policies from the mainstream Jewish organizations.

In exchange, the White House will provide its leading lights, like Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, to speak at events sponsored by these same organizations in order to demonstrate to well-heeled donors that their influence remains intact.

From the White House’s standpoint, that’s a pretty good deal.

Which brings us to J Street, the leftist lobbying group that claims to be pro-Israel and that has just held its annual policy conference.

J Street wants to be seen as part of the Jewish mainstream, and its roster of speakers this year – among them Biden, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Middle East negotiator Martin Indyk – certainly undermines the assertions of Jews on the right that its influence is marginal.

Nonetheless, J Street’s moment in the sun is the result of fortuitous political circumstances, rather than any ingenious strategy on its part. As the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo reported last week, the group has spent $100,000 reaching out to lawmakers to look kindly on both Iranian diplomatic entreaties and Palestinian efforts to secure unilateral recognition – a stance that contradicts the administration’s commitment to direct talks.

As we are now at a juncture where the administration is attempting to engage Iran on a level not seen since the Islamic revolution of 1979, J Street’s willingness to persuade American Jews that the mullahs can be trusted comes in very handy.

Leave aside, for the moment, the abysmal spectacle of a Jewish organization prettifying the outreach of Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, who is as much of a Holocaust denier as his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, just not as bombastic. J Street has always had tin ear when it comes to anti-Semitism, as its dogma determines that Jew-hatred, along with Iran’s nukes and the Arab refusal to normalize relations with Israel, will disappear if only Israel would make territorial concessions to the Palestinian authority.

There are more important reasons for alarm at the administration’s alignment with J Street. One, there’s the pettiness: AIPAC’s efforts on Syria have been hung out to dry, while the White House is apparently unconcerned at J Street’s refusal to back Obama when he was dangling the prospect of air strikes against Assad.

Two, it’s emblematic of the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy. Rather than maintaining our status as an unchallenged superpower, the emphasis is instead upon persuading nervous Americans that, unlike the evil George W. Bush administration, we are not going to go to war, and we are not going to tell foreigners what to do, even if their leaders are human rights-abusing tyrants.

In other words, what we’ve seen over the last month is the rapid decline of American power. In this drama, J Street, much like other left-wing groups, is an enthusiastic cheerleader, nothing more.

The rest of us will have to calculate what that means for U.S. allies in the Middle East, not just Israel but the conservative Sunni regimes too. Their distrust of any deal with Iran will not be assuaged by Obama – and if they decide to take unilateral action without American support, we really will be saying, “Welcome to the New World Order.”

What the Syria Crisis Tells Us about the Israel Lobby

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Barely minutes after the news broke earlier this month that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was planning a major effort on Capitol Hill to garner support for the Obama administration’s plan for a limited military operation against the Syrian regime, the conspiracy theorists were having a field day.

As always, it’s instructive to note how the notion that American foreign policy is a prisoner of organizations like AIPAC, the main pro-Israel lobbying group in America, is an idée fixe on both the far left and the extreme right. Juan Cole, a left-wing academic with a strong online following, grabbed the opportunity to argue that AIPAC, in advocating for what he described as “attacking Syria,” is out of touch with the opinions of most American Jews, who are not evil neoconservatives but solid progressives. The anti-Zionist Jewish blogger M.J. Rosenberg ranted about how “AIPAC and its cutouts are the only lobbying forces supporting the administration’s plans for war.”

Not to be outdone, Rod Dreher of The American Conservative, a magazine founded by Pat Buchanan, wrote that in supporting military action, AIPAC was endangering the lives of Syrian Christians, whom he believes are better off under the Assad regime.

Such concern for the plight of Christian minorities in the Middle East is touching, but also a tad disingenuous, as The American Conservative has never shown much sympathy for the fate of those Christian communities, from Nigeria to Pakistan, who suffer from Islamist atrocities. When you bring Israel into the equation, however, the magazine suddenly finds its voice.

The combined message here is clear: Syria is Iraq Redux, another “endless war” America is being pushed into by a shadowy Jewish cabal.

Critics of these conspiracy theories have rightly pointed out the anti-Semitic pedigree on display here. The idea that Jews are powerful enough to manipulate their governments from behind the scenes is a staple of modern anti-Semitism. Still, let’s for a moment take the Israel Lobby thesis on its own merits. Is the charge that the “Lobby” is the real authority when it comes to U.S. foreign policy empirically verifiable?

The answer to that question is a resounding no. In fact, what the latest developments on Syria demonstrate is that rather than the “Lobby” running the administration, it is the administration that runs the “Lobby.”

AIPAC, along with mainstream Jewish advocacy organizations, had been largely silent on the atrocities taking place in Syria. In that sense, they were no different from the other influential groups and individuals who were either undecided on the issue of a limited military operation or firmly opposed to it. It’s no secret that Obama always faced a rough ride in Congress, especially as some of his traditional supporters, like the MoveOn.org PAC, actively opposed any intervention in Syria.

Similarly, the Jewish left is uncomfortable with the prospect of taking on the Assad regime; J Street, a group that once ludicrously claimed to be Obama’s “blocking back” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict issue, has deserted the president over Syria.

Rather than pushing for war, then, AIPAC and similar groups were drafted in at the last minute to boost support for a president who was looking dangerously isolated. The irony of an administration that includes Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary who famously bemoaned AIPAC’s influence, running to groups like AIPAC to secure backing shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Even so, away from the political point scoring, what this shows is that the influence of pro-Israel groups is something this administration values. Equally – and this is key – these groups will wield that influence when the administration requests that they do so.

Importantly, this is not the first time the administration has turned to the “Lobby” for support on Middle East-related matters. Part of the reason Secretary of State John Kerry was able to galvanize support and publicity for his efforts to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was that he turned to American Jews, whose principal organizations dutifully trumpeted his message. The fact that Kerry’s diplomacy has yielded few results isn’t really his fault, nor is it the fault of American Jews. The stasis on the Israeli-Palestinian front is the consequence, as it always has been, of rejectionism among the Palestinians, whose leaders remain distinctly queasy about doing anything that might smack of accepting Israel’s legitimacy.

Any worry about all of this on the part of American Jewish organizations should relate not to accusations of outsize influence but to association with failure. So far Israel has little to show for its decision, under pressure from the Americans, to release Palestinian terrorists ahead of the talks; meanwhile, the Syrian intervention proposal is mired in confusion because of widespread concern that an American-led operation will be too little, too late.

If the Obama administration can be confident of anything, it is that its American Jewish partners will never go so far as to openly criticize the president. Far from being the war-crazed cabal depicted in the imaginations of conspiracy theorists, the “Israel Lobby” is in reality an oasis of calm reliability for a president who may just be on the cusp of his biggest foreign policy failure.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/what-the-syria-crisis-tells-us-about-the-israel-lobby/2013/09/25/

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