The New In-Your-Face Israel Lobby

July 17th, 2010 at 9:23 am David Frum | 27 Comments |

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A new pro-Israel group has launched one of the hardest-hitting commercials of America’s 2010 campaign season. It will run in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Joe Sestak faces Republican Pat Toomey in a battle for the Senate seat formerly held by Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter.

Over images of masked gunmen and grainy footage of anti-Israel protests, a narrator’s voice demands: “Does Congressman Joe Sestak realize Israel is America’s ally?

“Sestak raised money for an anti-Israel organization the FBI called ‘a front-group for Hamas.’ Sestak signed a letter accusing Israel of ‘collective punishment’ for blockading Hamas in Gaza. Sestak refused to sign a bipartisan letter affirming U.S. support for Israel.

“Call Joe Sestak: Ask him to stand with Israel.”

That’s tough medicine, and a departure from the traditional behind-the-scenes advocacy of groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The departure signals a coming shift in the American Jewish community. While most American Jews vote Democrat, those Jews most passionately involved with Israel have felt ever-increasing mistrust of Barack Obama, his administration and his party.

The anti-Sestak ad, for example, was produced by the newly launched Emergency Committee for Israel (EIC). The EIC is governed by a three-person board: Bill Kristol of Fox News and the Weekly Standard; Gary Bauer, a stalwart of the Christian Right; and Rachel Abrams, a writer married to former senior Bush administration official Elliott Abrams. It is raising funds from donors increasingly alienated from the Obama administration, not usually by any one single big thing, but by an accumulation of ominous signals and warnings of trouble to come.

Here is the trouble that these Obama-skeptics fear.

For months, the Obama administration has been nudging Israel and the Palestinian Authority toward a resumption of direct talks on Palestinian statehood. I won’t recapitulate here the reasons why the nudges have failed, but fail they have.

In the absence of direct talks, the administration (it’s widely believed) is developing a Plan B: a U.S. plan for an independent Palestinian state that will be imposed on Israel sometime after the mid-term elections, as long advocated by former Jimmy Carter national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

And if Israel does not like the dictated settlement — well, its arm will have to be twisted.

The new pro-Israel advocacy group wants to act in advance of the crisis. It is anxious for indications of the intentions of current candidates.

The candidate targeted by the EIC’s first ad is a case in point. In 2007, then-congressman Sestak delivered a speech to a Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) fundraiser. (That’s the anti-Israel group referenced by the TV ad.) An extract from his speech:

“CAIR does such important and necessary work in a difficult environment to change such perceptions and wrongs — from racial profiling and civil rights to promoting justice and mutual understanding — at a time when it is challenging to be an American-Muslim and pass, for example, through an airport checkpoint. The Jewish people have passed through — and still confront — many of the same challenges, some so horrific that one gentle man was moved to write after visiting the horror of Auschwitz: ‘Forgive them not Father, for they knew what they did.’ “

Equating airport checkpoints to the Holocaust at a CAIR fundraiser raised eyebrows among pro-Israel groups. So too did Sestak’s signing of a Jan. 21, 2009, letter urging a lifting of the Gaza blockade — just days after Israel had unilaterally ended its Operation Cast Lead operation in Gaza.

Does all of this add up to a profile of hostility to Israel? Not exactly. But it sure sends a significant message. Better to read those messages now, in advance, rather than wait to lobby and argue when it is too late.


Originally published in the National Post.

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • bamboozer

    It will not work, not now. Unlike Frum and the rest of the NEOCONS Americans in general are unconcerned about the never ending games in Israel and it’s current leading mad man Bibi Netanyahu. The game is up for the Israel Firsters, we’re tired of it and your attitude that places the best interests of this country second to one that seems to have little real interest in peace. And good luck on Sestak, Toomey and the Club For Growth are a big part of the problem in this country as is the absurd Gary Bauer and pathetic Bill Kristol. If thats thier “A” team I suggest they head for the showers and save thier money.

  • ZombieTory

    This won’t flare up the conspiracy theories at all. Nope, not one bit.

  • Watusie

    Let’s discuss the “Emergency Committee for Israel”.

    1) It is based out of the same offices as the old “Committee for the Liberation of Iraq”, an influential inside-the-beltway group of chickenhawks set up in 2002 to argue for using 9/11 as a pretext for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Big Ahmed Chalabi supporters. How did that work out?
    2) That same office is home to Orion Strategies, which is the consultancy business of GOP strategist Randy Scheunemann – who was one of the “planners” (LOL) of the Iraq fiasco. Scheunemann then moved on to become one of John McCain’s campaign advisors where his contributions included accusing Obama of wanting to lead America to defeat in Iraq for political gain.

    These people are proven failures whose conduct borders on treason. Why are you giving them oxygen?

    Here’s hoping these morons so discredit the whole concept of the “Israel lobby” that we can finally get some sanity on this topic. Israel is an ally. But we have lots of other allies, too. For example, Britain, who is actually sending troops to fight and die alongside ours in Afghanistan. If there was a group running rabidly pro-Britain ads, everyone would think they were a bit bananas. Maybe we can get to that point with Israel as well.

  • JimBob

    Admiral Joe Sestak. Navy man.

    The Loss of Liberty

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7384200507117357203#

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    The new group is not “pro-Israel,” they’re “extremist,” or “pro-far-right.”

    Everything you’ve written about the tribalism and reality-aversion of the worst of the GOP and Tea Party applies twice over to the current government in Israel. It’s being run by people like Avigdor Lieberman and Binyamin Netanyahu, who make Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck look like Dwight Eisenhower. Here’s Jeffrey Goldberg writing about one of the latest developments from these extremists. (The target is the Jewish diaspora, rather than Arabs, so maybe you can be moved to care).

    Over-the-top propaganda targeting American military and political leaders isn’t what Israel’s “emergency” demands.

  • S.L. Toddard

    “Nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded.”

    - President George Washington

    “Not seldom it has seemed as if some eminent Neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States.”

    - Russell Kirk

  • DeepSouthPopulist

    Regarding the notion that Israel is an ally, it is pretty clear what the US has done for Israel over the years, but what has Israel has ever done for the United States in return?

    The US for the last few decades:

    - has provided substantial foreign aid
    - has supplied Israel with an continuous flow of weapons, including advanced weapon technology
    - took Israel’s side in Israel’s various wars
    - almost always takes Israel’s side in the UN
    - almost always takes Israel’s side in Israel’s local disputes with the Palestinians and others
    - favoritism toward Israel so blatant it has engendered a lot of animosity toward the US throughout the middle east.
    - supports a double-standard when it comes to Israel (Ex: one reason given to go to war with Iraq was Iraq’s defiance of UN resolutions when Israel stands in violation of more UN resolutions than any other nation in the world; the US says Iran has to submit to nuke inspections but Israel doesn’t).

    And Israel has done what in return for the US that compares to all that?

  • msmilack

    That kind of ad will stir up anti-Jewish feelings, in my opinion. I hate fear-baiting.

  • msmilack

    David, Elvis and others:

    Here is a detailed article on the same subject as the article cited by Elvis: “The Diaspora Need Not Apply” at this link:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/opinion/16newhouse.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general

    If this new law is allowed to pass, putting Jewish life in the hands of this small radical group of rabbis with the power to decide who is a real Jew and who is not, Israel will lose support around the world from members of the diaspora, and then where will they be? It’s almost like this right wing sect is on a suicide mission, doing everything they can to make the world turn away from them; until the government of Israel puts a stop to this trend, they are in profound trouble. Frankly, I think it would be smarter for concerned Americans to lobby against these rabbis and the radical Israelis they represent than to try and scare Americans about terrorist threats; they are two different subjects, but the internal threat to Israel is far graver (in my opinion) and in the creepiest way possible, the internal threat seems like a form of terrorism itself albeit social and psychological. It is a very worrisome development that deserves much attention.

  • Thucydides

    DeepSouthPopulist,

    What Israel does for the United States is generally the kind of thing that proponents of American Empire either like to pretend doesn’t happen or they reflexively justify by saying, “But we’re Americans, so we’re exceptional, and therefore, it’s not a war crime.”

    A small sampling:

    The “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel must be understood within the overall American imperialist project and the quest for global hegemony, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example, 99% of all U.S. aid to Israel came after 1967, despite the fact that Israel was relatively more vulnerable in earlier years (from 1948-1967). Not coincidentally, it was in 1967 that Israel won the Six Day War against several Arab countries, establishing itself as a regional superpower. Also, in the late 1960s and particularly in the early 1970s (this was around the time of the Nixon Doctrine), the U.S. was looking to establish “spheres of influence”-regional superpowers in each significant area of the world to help the U.S. police them.

    The primary U.S. interest in the Middle East is, and has always been, to maintain control of the oil in the region, primarily because this is the source of energy that supplies the industrial economies of Europe and Japan. The U.S. goal has been to insure that there is no indigenous threat to their domination of these energy resources. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. made the strategic decision to ally itself with Israel and Iran, which were referred to as “our two eyes in the middle east” and the “guardians of the gulf.” It was at this point that aid increased drastically, from $24 million in 1967 (before the war), to $634 million in 1971, to a staggering $2.6 billion in 1974, where it has remained relatively consistent ever since.

    Israel was to be a military stronghold, a client state, and a proxy army, protecting U.S. interests in the Middle East and throughout the world. Subsidized by the CIA, Israel served U.S. interests well beyond the immediate region, setting up dependable client regimes (usually military-based dictatorships) to control local societies. Noam Chomsky has documented this extensively: Israel was the main force that established the Mobutu dictatorship in Zaire, for example. They also supported Idi Amin in Uganda, early on, as well as Haile Selasse in Ethopia, and Emperor Bokassa in the Central African Republic.

    Israel became especially useful when the U.S. came under popular human rights pressure in the 1970s to stop supporting death squads and dictatorships in Latin America. The U.S. began to use Israel as a surrogate to continue its support. Chomsky documents how Israel established close relations with the neo-Nazi and military regimes of Argentina and Chile. Israel also supported genocidal attacks on the indigenous population of Guatemala, and sent arms to El Salvador and Honduras to support the contras. This was all a secondary role, however.

    The primary role for Israel was to be the Sparta of the Middle East. During the Cold War, the U.S. especially needed Israel as a proxy army because direct intervention in the region was too dangerous, as the Soviets were allied with neighboring states. Over the last thirty years, the U.S. has pursued a two-track approach to dominating the region and its resources: It has turned Israel into a military outpost (now probably the most militarized society in the world) that is economically dependent on the U.S. while propping up corrupt Arab dictatorships such as those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. These regimes are afraid of their own people and, thus, are very insecure. Therefore, they are inclined to collaborate with the U.S. at any cost.

    Cite

    The sad thing is that the Israelis earn every single penny we give them by doing the dirty work that the United States cannot be seen to be doing.

    The solution is not just to cut off Israel, but to dismantle the entire neoconservative vision of American empire that justifies relations with such an odious apartheid state.

  • dante

    “It is raising funds from donors increasingly alienated from the Obama administration, not usually by any one single big thing, but by an accumulation of ominous signals and warnings of trouble to come.”

    Gee, it would be nice to know where those millions of dollars are coming from, wouldn’t it? Some sort of openness of government, and openness of elections, so that we could see exactly who was putting up all of this money to try to influence foreign policy…

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  • ktward

    While most American Jews vote Democrat, those Jews most passionately involved with Israel have felt ever-increasing mistrust of Barack Obama, his administration and his party.

    Evidently, Frum believes his statement succinctly characterizes a reactionary, activist “… New In-Your-Face Israel Lobby”.

    Uh-huh.
    FWIW, a few factual observations and reality-check:

    1) Read Forward rather than Frum if you want the latest on Israel-US relations, particularly where American Jewry sentiment is concerned.
    http://forward.com/articles/129353/

    Considering all the threats Israelis face right now … you might think the last thing they’d be looking for would be a fight with their closest ally, the American Jewish community.

    You might think that, but you’d be wrong. The Knesset is currently hard at work stirring up the most serious crisis in Israel-Diaspora relations in a decade.

    The issue, as usual, is conversion. A key Knesset committee approved a bill in mid-July that would tighten ultra-Orthodox control over conversions to Judaism and push the main streams of American Judaism — Reform and Conservative — further than ever from Israeli legitimacy.

    2) Unlike other inarguably prominent, deep-thinking Cons the likes of Chris Buckley and Gen. Powel, I seriously doubt that hardcore ‘Nation Building’-neocon/’Israel First’-zionist Frum ever remotely considered voting for Obama. (To my knowledge, he’s never ‘fessed up either way.) That said, Frum can hardly be considered a voice of reliable authority when it comes to Dem Jewish voters.

    3) I’m continually struck by this particular Frum disconnect: he spares zero criticism for fringe GOP voices the likes of Palin, Limbaugh, Paul and Angle, but he remains wholly unquestioning and uncritical when it comes to the far-right leadership currently at Israel’s helm.

    So.

    Make no mistake: despite his US citizenship, Frum’s first and foremost loyalties remain firmly with Israel, regardless of Her current policy direction, and no matter how deservedly controversial Her practices are relative to today’s critical geo-political context. In this respect alone, Frum is every bit as blindly and ideologically driven as are the born-again Christian fundamentalist creationist/Armageddon lovers. And because the Religious Right is an extraordinarily comfy vote-collecting bedfellow of the neocon/zionist contingent, Frum will never explicitly criticize their political aims.

    Hence, FrumForum. (Post GWB/Cheney, natch: a GOP-bucking, controversial FF would *never* have been launched during any neocon admin.)

    Here, Frum can conveniently invite other contributors to A) do some of the more RR-unfriendly dirty work he won’t ever do himself in order to maintain a safe distance of deniability, (e.g. Knepper) and B) to reinforce–under a pseudo-credible guise–his own ideo-driven neocon/zionist Anti-Muslim propaganda. (e.g. Ayaan Hirsi Ali)

    But hey.
    Outside of all that bulls**t, FF’s all good.

  • Danny_K

    Meanwhile, the Washington Post printed a major story yesterday stating that military support and cooperation between the US and Israel are stronger than they’ve ever been…
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/15/AR2010071506268.html
    That’s real money and military hardware, not fine speeches or planting trees in the Negev.

    You pride yourself on being outside the bubble, David, why can’t you comment on this? Believe it or not, the current situation is not gut fur die yidden. If support for Israel becomes a partisan issue, associated with the war in Iraq and the Republican party, that leaves Israel vulnerable when the pendulum swings and people get tired of all these Middle East conflicts.

    And here’s a perfect example; if Joe Sestak survives the election, how is he going to feel about the Israel lobby, and by extension, Israel? I think this is crude and it’s going to cause blowback.

  • TerryF98

    Balloon Juice as usual says it best.

    Please spare me the bullshit that David Frum of January 2010 is any different than the David Frum of “axis of evil” notoriety. Anyone gleefully touting the smear efforts of Bill Kristol, Elliot and Rachel Abrams, and unhinged Christianist lunatic Gary Bauer is just as crazy as they come.

    Nothing has changed except that Frum has recognized the Republicans have a marketing problem. That is all.

    And does anyone want to just think for a second how batshit insane it is for proponents of a foreign country to be running ads in an election against someone running to be the Senator for Pennsylvania. Can you imagine this being acceptable if advocates for South Korea were running a high profile smear campaign against a candidate in a Florida gubernatorial campaign? Or if Saudi Arabia advocates spent millions on a PAC attempting to influence the Colorado Senate race? That alone is just crazy. And beyond even that, Admiral Joe Sestak is a man who dedicated his entire adult life to the service of the United States military- and now these crazy, extremist, pro-Israel radicals have the nerve to smear him?

    *** Update ***

    And, as Matt Duss notes, now that Israel is easing the blockade (in part because the entire world recognized collective punishment when the Israeli’s drew their attention to it with the bungled overreaction that was the flotilla raid), they essentially share the same position as Joe Sestak.

    As always, Israel’s worst enemy is her “best friends” who blindly and uncritically cheerlead.

  • ktward

    John Cole: As always, Israel’s worst enemy is her “best friends” who blindly and uncritically cheerlead.

    Indeed.

    Much like our own worst enemies in the US: the RR ‘Real Amuricans’ who–with disproportionately loud moralistic voice and long-strategized infiltration of elected seats–both overtly and covertly rely upon barbaric religious ideo motifs as implements of government.

    It’s not ever the best case scenario, no question, but responsible voting sometimes requires supporting a lesser of two evils. Crappy-tasting pill, admittedly, but if it means, in the end, keeping any RR crazies out of office, then do it. And know that you did the right thing.

  • Thucydides

    I find it interesting that neither did the American Empire warmongers come out and deny that any of the behaviors I cited exist, nor did the Israel-first advocates come out and say that it’s either okay or deny it, nor did anyone contest the fact that by doing the US’s dirty work, the Israelis earn everything we give them.

    Any reason why?

  • msmilack

    Thucydides
    Where did that long description of Israel come from? I see that it’s a quotation but I am curious who wrote it originally.

  • msmilack

    Terry F

    I respectfully disagree with your description of David Frum. You question whether over a period of years he could have changed his mind? If I understood what he wrote, that was one of his main points — that conservative thinking should be neither fixed nor frozen in time, that it should not “resist change”.

    I am neither a conservative nor a Republican but I learn a great deal from reading his take on the world; I find it original and nuanced whether he and I agree on policy or not. Reading him helps to clarify my own thinking so that’s where we don’t agree.

  • TerryF98

    msmilack.

    It’s not my description, though I think a lot of it hits the mark.

    Frum is always an Israel firster and will always be. The needs and interests of the USA will always come second. He will defend the indefensible regarding Israel and tie himself into ideological pretzel knots doing so.

    He is right at this moment on this forum asking for cute “Mission statements” in order to rebrand the Republican party. It’s almost all image with these people.

    Just think for a moment and ask yourself these questions.

    How many really original outside the box ideas has Frum brought forward here since this site started?

    Why does he still believe that preemptive war and nation building are such great ideas? He is a staunch Neocon after all.

    Why has the site degenerated to following the standard GOP attack lines against Obama in recent times?

    Why all the postings on this site, sometimes 5 in a day by Neocon Israel firsters?

    Why if he wants a Conservatism that works has he not identified and laid out corrective measures to avoid the mistakes of the Bush years?

  • jakester

    Usually I support most of these Zionist things, but this kind of stuff is alienating a lot of people on both ends of the spectrum and is counter productive.

  • Thucydides

    @msmilack: The original citation is here, although there is no shortage of evidence on the subject.

    Again, Israel earns every penny by being evil on the US’s behalf. The solution is to withdraw from empire.

  • jakester

    Thucydides
    Of course, the Palestinians & Arabs are sweet innocent little victims, boo hoo.

  • Thucydides

    Jakester,

    It’s the same false equivalence as condemning someone for shooting back at a thief who broke into his house.

    “Palestinians fight back against Israeli occupiers. They’re just as much to blame.”

    I say that’s crap. Violence against an occupier is more morally justifiable than the violence used to occupy.

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