Aug 292014

The lobbying group AIPAC has consistently fought the Obama Administration on policy. Is it now losing influence?

For AIPAC, it is crucial to appeal across the political spectrum. But Israel has become an increasingly divisive issue with the public. Credit Illustration by Matt Dorfman

On July 23rd, officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—the powerful lobbying group known as AIPAC—gathered in a conference room at the Capitol for a closed meeting with a dozen Democratic senators. The agenda of the meeting, which was attended by other Jewish leaders as well, was the war in the Gaza Strip. In the century-long conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the previous two weeks had been particularly harrowing. In Israeli towns and cities, families heard sirens warning of incoming rockets and raced to shelters. In Gaza, there were scenes of utter devastation, with hundreds of Palestinian children dead from bombing and mortar fire. The Israeli government claimed that it had taken extraordinary measures to minimize civilian casualties, but the United Nations was launching an inquiry into possible war crimes. Even before the fighting escalated, the United States, Israel’s closest ally, had made little secret of its frustration with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “How will it have peace if it is unwilling to delineate a border, end the occupation, and allow for Palestinian sovereignty, security, and dignity?” Philip Gordon, the White House coördinator for the Middle East, said in early July. “It cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. Doing so is not only wrong but a recipe for resentment and recurring instability.” Although the Administration repeatedly reaffirmed its support for Israel, it was clearly uncomfortable with the scale of Israel’s aggression. AIPAC did not share this unease; it endorsed a Senate resolution in support of Israel’s “right to defend its citizens,” which had seventy-nine co-sponsors and passed without a word of dissent.

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Jun 042014

Pressuring Candidates Even Before They Are Nominated

The major organizations that comprise the Israel Lobby are well known: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and Christians United For Israel (CUFI). All are well known, benefiting from large budgets and staffs. They are extremely effective, having excellent access to politicians and the media to promote their points of view, and are, as a group, regular visitors to the White House. AIPAC is without doubt the most powerful lobby in the United States that is focused on a foreign policy issue.

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Oct 022013

On the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to the White House and subsequent speech at the UN General Assembly, it once again appears appropriate to recall the great geopolitical wisdom he displayed almost exactly 11 years ago when he appeared before Congress to bang the drums of war against Iraq with a confidence fully equal to that of the neoconservatives whose arguments he echoed (and may have helped shape). He subsequently drew heavily on his testimony in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal’s neocon editorial page (September 20, 2002) and in an interview with the Washington Times a month later (October 23).

Of course, he is now coming to our shores under very different circumstances. His use of the phrase “hinge of history” in his testimony below sounds particularly ironic in the sudden sprouting of hope for détente, if not rapprochement, between Iran and the U.S. following this week’s visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a visit that probably dashed Netanyahu’s hopes of banging those drums on this occasion, as opposed to injecting scepticism about the likelihood of reaching a verifiable nuclear accord with Iran and raising as many other issues regarding Iranian skullduggery in Syria, Lebanon, etc. and why it can never be trusted as he can.

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Sep 302013

“For greed all nature is too little.” ~ Seneca

Philosopher kings are as rare as unicorns. If they do exist… you certainly won’t find one in the 113th U.S. Congress.

Back in his time, Plato thought that philosopher kings would make ideal rulers. Someone who strove for knowledge and justice for justice’s sake. The philosopher king would despise worldly things, as he would seek only justice. It would be a reign free of whim, greed or bias.

Boom, thought Plato. Problem solved.

But besides maybe the biblical superstar Solomon, can you name a philosopher king in history?

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Sep 182013

“We prefer to stay out of the public eye. We don’t want AIPAC to become the issue.”

– ROBERT ASHER, Former president and chair of AIPAC board, Oct. 1, 1988, Jerusalem Post. Int. Ed.

“A lobby is like a night flower: it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun.”

– STEVEN ROSEN, former foreign policy director, AIPAC, The New Yorker, July 4, 2005; indicted August, 2005 for alleged violations of the Espionage Act but charges were later dropped.

By a curious coincidence, as Russian president Vladimir Putin was rescuing President Obama from public humiliation last week, leaving the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to take a rare public drubbing over its failure to reverse Congressional opposition to a US attack on Syria, the 22nd anniversary of AIPAC’s last defeat went unnoticed.

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Sep 092013

In dealing with the pretexts for war-making, not the real reasons, the Obama administration is underestimating the opposition.

Copy of a detail of “The Battle of Anghiari,” Leonardo da Vinci’s lost depiction of the futility of war

A few days ago, writing about the Obama decision to postpone a military strike against Syria, we speculated:

At the least, it buys time to build opposition to such a reckless course. At the most, it is the beginning of a change in direction. Too early to tell. we would hope the latter but fear the former.

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Jun 032013

Asymmetric Political Warfare

Last week the Senate passed Resolution 65, mandating a new round of sanctions against Iran and promising to support Israel if it should choose to launch a unilateral war. The bill contradicted explicit US policy in a number of areas: it imposed secondary penalties on US allies; it lowered the bar for military action to Israel’s preferred language of “nuclear capability” rather than acquisition of a nuclear weapon; and it interferes with the attempt to reach a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear impasse at a delicate time. No wonder Secretary of State John Kerry implored Congress not to pass the bill when he testified before the Senate Foreign relations committee last month.

Nevertheless, the Senate bill came to a vote on May 22, and the result – in a roll call vote – was 99-0 in favor of the bill.

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May 202013

“I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.”

— Joseph Stalin (1923), as quoted in The Memoirs of Stalin’s Former Secretary by Boris Bazhanov.

To glimpse the political future of America, turn off the news, ignore public statements from officials, and follow instead the paper trail of executive orders issuing from the White House.

On March 28, President Obama signed an executive order entitled “Establishment of the Presidential Commission of Election Administration.” The president has created yet another administrative agency. This one is overseen by nine members, who will be unilaterally appointed by Obama and entrusted with a specific mission:

The Commission shall identify best practices and otherwise make recommendations to promote the efficient administration of elections in order to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay, and to improve the experience of voters facing other obstacles in casting their ballots, such as members of the military, overseas voters, voters with disabilities, and voters with limited English proficiency.

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Apr 222013

The Locus of the Conflict in Palestine is in Washington DC

The ideology, or political project, of Zionism which underlies the creation of the State of Israel had, in fact, a Christian origin rather than a Jewish one, as writings can be found dating from the 1500’s, written by Christian clergymen in England advocating the migration of Jews to the Holy Land.

The migration of Jews to Palestine was also advocated by Napoleon Bonaparte.

The first Jewish presentations of Zionism were written by Moses Hess in 1862 and 20 years later by Leo Pinsker, both of the Russian Pale, with each writer advocated a separate state for Jews.

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Nov 142012

How to Get Yourself to the Edge of the Fiscal Abyss and Not Jump

They don’t call it the “cliff” for nothing.  It’s the fiscal spot where a nation’s representatives can gather and cry doom.  It’s the place — if Washington is to be believed — where, with a single leap into the Abyss of Sequestration, those representatives can end it all for the rest of us. 

In the wake of President Obama’s electoral victory, that cliff (if you’ll excuse a mixed metaphor or two) is about to step front and center. The only problem: the odds are no one will leap, and remarkably little of note will actually happen.  But since the headlines are about to scream “crisis,” what you need to understand American politics in the coming weeks of the lame-duck Congress is a little guide to reality, some Cliff Notes for Washington.

As a start, relax.  Don’t let the headlines get to you.  There’s little reason for anyone to lose sleep over the much-hyped fiscal cliff.  In fact, if you were choosing an image based on the coming fiscal dust-up, it probably wouldn’t be a cliff but an obstacle course — a series of federal spending cuts and tax increases all scheduled to take effect as 2013 begins. And it’s true that, if all those budget cuts and tax increases were to go into effect at the same time, an already weak recovery would probably sink into a double-dip recession.

But ignore the sound and fury.  While prophecy is usually a perilous occupation, in this case it’s pretty easy to predict how lawmakers will deal with nearly every challenge on the president’s and Congress’s end-of-year obstacle course. The upshot? The U.S. economy isn’t headed over a cliff any time soon.

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