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Sunday, April 20, 2014

M.J. Rosenberg

JEREMYBEN(Jeremy Ben-Ami)

In October 2009, i attended J Street’s first national conference in Washington, D.C. The advocacy group, which described itself as a “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” was a year old and already under attack by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, for half a century the dominant Israel-issues organization.

AIPAC was leaning on members of Congress who had signed up for the conference, leading some to request that their names be withdrawn.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, told me she had received a number of calls urging her to steer clear of the conference. Another Democratic House member, who asked not to be named, told me he had been the target of an AIPAC campaign to dissuade him from attending the conference.

Four years later after first taking on AIPAC, J Street has delivered.

The following weekend, NPR’s Jacki Lyden interviewed J Street founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami. “AIPAC has tens of millions of dollars and is very influential with a lot of Congress people, several of whom backed out of their invitations after saying they were going to come to your conference,” Lyden said. “You have just several million. Do you think you can deliver?”

Four years later, J Street delivered, countering an AIPAC campaign to push an Iran sanctions bill through the Senate, thus allowing President Obama time to make his case. Going into the State of the Union, 59 senators, including 16 Democrats, were supporting a bill that would have derailed diplomatic efforts intended to persuade Tehran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

AIPAC wasn’t speaking for the record, but Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk told the National Journal that AIPAC’s campaign included regular briefings from the advocacy group’s leadership regarding the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act.

At the same time, J Street was working to convince senators that the sanctions included in the act would undermine, if not end, the Obama administration’s diplomatic engagement with Tehran.

J Street was not without allies. In 2012, J Street’s PAC had endorsed California Senator Dianne Feinstein—“one of its biggest names,” The New York Times reported—committing to raise $100,000 for her campaign.

J Street ended up contributing $82,781 to Feinstein’s campaign (only $20,000 less than Pacific Gas & Electric). Did J Street move Feinstein to a more moderate position or was she already there and eager to accept the support? The answer probably is more nuanced than the question, but two years later Feinstein was the critical voice at a critical moment in the debate about the Iran sanctions act.

Because she chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and has been unflagging in her support for Israel, Feinstein’s vocal opposition to the sanctions act resonated with Senate Democrats, keeping the tally of supporters below 66, which would have almost ensured passage. None of the seven Democrats endorsed by J Street joined the 16 Senate Democrats supporting the act.

By February, four Democratic Senators who had supported the sanctions act had withdrawn support, including Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal who had been a co-sponsor. And Hillary Clinton, whose future support among progressives hinged on her position on the Iran sanctions act, according to Spectator blogger M.J. Rosenberg, announced that she opposed it.

The fight over the sanctions bill was a rite of passage for an organization that Ben-Ami started in his basement in 2007. (It helped that he had worked as an advisor in the Clinton administration.)

While it’s far too early to write AIPAC’s obituary, in early February the Times’ Mark Lander described the Iran sanctions fight as the end of AIPAC’s “impressive record of legislative victories in its quest for American support for Israel.” J Street had, as a Congressional aide told the National Journal, “broadened the definition, the boundaries, of what it means to be pro-Israel.”

As we go to press, more than 90 House Democrats have signed onto a letter opposing any sanctions bill while the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran. The letter was written by Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett who had been supported and endorsed by J Street.


Lou Dubose is the editor of The Washington Spectator


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HillaryClintonObamaAddressNationalPrayerWmrBDiTNGLNl

There can be little doubt that Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 nomination for president because she voted to authorize the Iraq War. If she had opposed it, there would have been no rationale for the Obama candidacy. It is likely that she, not President Obama, would now be in the White House.

It seems crazy. But Clinton might see history repeat itself.

If she doesn't, progressive Democrats will need to find another candidate. Just like we did last time.

Today, Obama’s effort to achieve a peaceful resolution of our differences with Iran through diplomacy and not war is under serious attack by the same neoconservative claque that promoted the Iraq War. Almost a veto-proof majority of senators is supporting new Iran sanctions that would, if implemented, almost surely cause the Iranians to walk away from the negotiating table. According to the White House, that would greatly increase the chances for war.

Last night, in his State of the Union address, Obama made clear that he will veto any new Iran sanctions so long as there is a chance that negotiations could succeed. His language was strong, leaving no doubt that he views the new sanctions bill as dangerous to U.S. interests:

But let me be clear: If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.

Obama’s forcefulness on this issue is good news. It couldn’t be more obvious that the last thing he wants in the remainder of his term is another war.

But where is his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? So far she has had nothing to say about the Congressional initiative to block Obama’s Iran diplomacy. But she has to know that if she forcefully supported what Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are trying to do, unsure Democrats would likely follow her lead.

But where is she? I suspect that she is doing what she did back when she had to make her decision about the Iraq War. Weighing policy considerations against the desires of some of her hawkish supporters.

Hopefully, I am wrong. Hopefully she will support Obama and make clear that the United States will pursue a diplomatic solution with Iran— ot war, by us or Israel—if she becomes president.

If she won’t do that, if she makes the same mistake twice, progressive Democrats will need to find another candidate. Just like we did last time.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC's newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.


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jerusalem

I had a good laugh when I saw The New York Times story last week with the headline: "Members of Jewish Student Group Test Permissible Discussion On Israel."

The piece told of the decision by the Hillel Jewish student society at Swarthmore College to break with the national organization over its ban on discussions of the Middle East that did not tilt toward the Israeli position. It noted that the restrictions faced by Swarthmore students are far from unusual:

At Harvard, the Jewish student group Hillel was barred from co-sponsoring a discussion with a Palestinian student group. At Binghamton University, a Hillel student leader was forced to resign his position after showing a film about Palestinians and inviting the filmmaker’s brother to speak. And on many other campuses, Hillel chapters have been instructed to reject collaboration with left-leaning Jewish groups.

In any context other than the Israeli one, the idea of college students testing the limits of "permissible discussion" would be ridiculous. Imagine college students "testing the limits" of debate on abortion, gun control, the death penalty or any other issue. It's inconceivable, at least nowadays. (Students at the University of South Carolina and Ole Miss weren't free to debate the morality of slavery in 1859). In the United States today, students can freely discuss anything ... except Israel.

Denial, by Israel of the naqba, and by Palestinians of Israel's legitimacy, now can only lead to further catastrophe.

That is as likely to change in 2014 as it is likely that Senators Schumer, Menendez, and Booker will condemn the occupation, and for the same reason. College presidents, like other politicians, will not offend fat cat donors. It's that simple. And the Israel issue is only one of hundreds of issues where the guys writing the checks set the policy. Democracy? Not any kind Washington or Lincoln would recognize. But as conservatives love reminding us, America is exceptional.

The same people who set limits on debate in college are also in the book-censoring business. "Pro-Israel" organizations have not only condemned Max Blumenthal's book about the occupation, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, they have tried to ban the author from certain venues. This is nothing new; they have been doing this for decades.

A new twist in the case of Blumenthal came when former Harvard professor, Alan Dershowitz, the lobby's chief enforcer of limits on free speech, demanded that Hillary Clinton disassociate herself from Max Blumenthal's father (a Clinton friend and confidante of long standing) or face the consequences. He said that the elder Blumenthal and Clinton could avert his evil decree if Sidney merely repudiated his own son. (Calling on a parent to repudiate his child marks a new high in the lobby's deviation from Jewish law and tradition, but what else is new?). I expect we won't see Sidney Blumenthal around Secretary Clinton much in coming days. She is not exactly known for standing up to the lobby.

It's all pretty crazy. And stupid. The same crowd that is working so hard to smother Blumenthal's book has enthusiastically endorsed Ari Shavit's My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, helping to push it to the best-seller list. But, guess what, the Shavit book is infinitely more dangerous to the "pro-Israel" line than anything in Blumenthal's book.

Blumenthal depicts the horrors of the occupation in gory (and true) detail. The settlers are like something out of a European Jewish nightmare (armed thugs tormenting their helpless victims). Beyond that he reports on racism inside Israel itself, a growing phenomenon as evidenced by Israel's treatment of African migrants. It is sickening to see how easily Israelis have adopted the language and style of American white supremacists.

But Blumenthal is simply not credible, even though the facts are on his side, because the book drips with hatred of Israel. In fact, it concludes with a section called "Exodus Party" which expresses what he clearly hopes is Israel's future: its collapse after its people depart for Europe. Moreover, Blumenthal is an American who speaks neither Hebrew nor Arabic. His book, despite the truth it tells about the occupation is easy to ignore, which is what the Israel establishment should have done rather than attempt to ban it. (For the record, I recommend the book for its comprehensive reporting of the occupation, just ignore its recommendations and tone).

Shavit's book, on the other hand, will be devastating to anyone who believes that there is nothing wrong with Israel that ending the occupation won't fix (although the two-state solution would go a long way). Shavit's description of how Israel was created is almost literally nauseating, at least it was for a liberal Zionist like me. He describes exactly how Israeli forces managed to get most Palestinians to leave the country which was through horrific violence.

Anyone who rejects the Palestinian characterization of the liquidation of Palestine as the nakba (catastrophe) won't feel that way after reading Shavit. While the results of the events of 1947-1948 were glorious for Jews, they were accomplished by means of unambiguous war crimes including mass killings. And because Shavit is a distinguished Israeli who loves his country, his facts (unlike Blumenthal's) cannot be dismissed. From now on, Palestinian debaters need only cite Ari Shavit when they challenge the absurd myth that the Palestinians left the country after being told to flee by their own leaders. They were driven out. Period.

Either the "pro-Israel" establishment did not read Shavit or they don't much care that he has utterly destroyed much of their hasbara package. After all, he is an Israeli and he does endorse bombing Iran (that chapter seems extraneous). Blumenthal, by their definition, threatens them while Shavit doesn't. Except they have it backwards. The anti-Zionist left is the mirror image of the "pro-Israel" right. They love Blumenthal's book even though it is nothing more than preaching to the choir while Shavit's is the very opposite: opening the eyes of the brain washed.

More and more, I view the self-proclaimed anti-Zionist left as primarily being in the hate business, every bit as much as the "pro-Israel" right. The more virulent the attack on Israel and Israelis, the more enthusiastically they will endorse it. Blumenthal's book is all virulence and so they love it. Shavit's book, like that of Peter Beinart, is infused with love of Israel so they hate it—even though it advances arguments they, in theory, champion. Hate gets in the way.

I recommend Shavit's book without reservation although I have to admit that it shook me up. I hated reading the truth about 1948. Anyone who cares about Israel will, but it's necessary. Until we understand what happened then, we will not understand why Palestinians seem so inflexible on such issues as refugee return. The 1948 refugees are not returning to Israel. But it would go far toward peace for Israel to at least admit that it caused the nakba, and it did so intentionally.

Maybe then the two sides can get beyond fairly ancient history and do what must be done now to preserve Israel and what is left of Palestine: establish two states for two peoples. Denial, by Israel of the naqba, and by Palestinians of Israel's legitimacy now can only lead to further catastrophe.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC's newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.


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Menendez-0800c(Robert Menendez | Source: AP)

Just when President Obama was starting to believe that it was safe to go back into the water, AIPAC has come out with a new Iran sanctions bill designed to torpedo negotiations with Iran. And, once that is accomplished, it provides for automatic U.S. military backing for Israel if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decides to bomb.

This may be AIPAC’s most brazen attempt yet at subverting negotiations and, in Andrew Sullivan’s words, “handing over American foreign policy on a matter as grave as war and peace to a foreign government.”

This may be AIPAC’s most brazen attempt yet at subverting negotiations and, in Andrew Sullivan’s words, “handing over American foreign policy on a matter as grave as war and peace to a foreign government.”

The resolution, introduced by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), seemingly responds positively to Obama’s request that Congress hold off on new sanctions during the negotiations. It does that by giving Obama the authority to waive its proposed new sanctions until the two sides successfully reach an agreement. It is only at that point, with the agreement in hand, that the new sanctions would go into effect, effectively killing the deal.

The bill is almost like an exploding Christmas present. It looks pretty under the tree, all wrapped up nicely, but then in six months it blows down the house.

Here is how it would work, according to an exclusive report in Foreign Policy by Ali Gharib, who obtained a copy of the AIPAC bill. The legislation would expand current sanctions to include all aspects of its petroleum trade and its shipping and mining sectors. However, these new sanctions would not take effect so long as Obama certifies that Iran is negotiating in good faith and that imposing them would not be in the U.S. national interest.

That is all well and good. Other than threatening to further damage Iran’s economy while in the midst of negotiations, the new sanctions remain theoretical so long as the president can waive them. Although damaging (there is no telling how the Iranian government will react to such an insulting action by Congress while it is in the midst of negotiating with the administration), the resolution is par for the course. If it's not one donor-backed lobby dictating policy, it's another.

But then the bill goes off in a truly unprecedented direction. It states that if negotiations fail (it defines failure as leaving Iran with the capacity for any nuclear enrichment at all, a goal Obama calls unrealistic) and Prime Minister Netanyahu decides to dispatch his bombers, the United States is automatically at war, too. Here is the language of the resolution:

If the government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide in accordance with the laws of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, and economic support to the Government of Israel in the defense of its territory, people and existence.

It is difficult to know where the deconstruction should start.

First, is the resolution’s assumption that the existence of an Iranian weapons program makes Israel “compelled” to take “military action of legitimate self-defense” against Iran. That is absurd. The mere possession of a “weapons program” by any state does not give any other country a “legitimate” right to respond militarily.

If it did, the United States would have had the right to bomb the Soviet Union when it ended our atomic bomb monopoly in 1949. In fact, given that there are today nine states with nuclear arsenals (including Israel), recognition of such a right would have meant that the last 60 years would have seen one war after another as various nations felt “compelled” to attack when they suspected that an unfriendly state was on the verge of a nuclear breakthrough. Accepting the logic of the Menendez bill, Iran has the right to attack Israel right now, given that Israel not only has nuclear weapons but is clearly hostile to Iran.

And then, of course, is the resolution’s acceptance of Binyamin Netanyahu’s view that any Iranian capacity to enrich uranium is tantamount to nuclear weapons development. This is not the view of any nation on earth but Israel’s and yet the resolution would have us “stand with Israel” in combined “military action” should Netanyahu decide that Iranian enrichment at 5% or 10% or whatever means a nuclear bomb is being developed.

But worst of all is the fact that this resolution would enable Israel to make the decision to go to war for us. Israel would decide it feels threatened and we would have to back an attack on Iran with “military force,” not to mention all the other forms of support the resolution spells out.

Never in American history have we permitted another government to decide such matters of life and death for us. Israel is a friend but the United Kingdom was our foremost ally in 1940 when it was under constant bombing by Nazi Germany (50,000 British civilians were killed in the Blitz). Nonetheless, President Roosevelt could not join the war alongside Britain until Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. Not even Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor automatically brought us into the war against its German ally. No, it took Germany declaring war on us before Roosevelt was able to go to Congress and ask for a declaration of war.

This resolution would dispense with all that in the case of Israel, giving Netanyahu a power that not even FDR had, or any other president, for that matter.

Andrew Sullivan has it exactly right:

For the US Senate to proactively bless future aggressive military action by a foreign government when it is not justified by self-defense is an appalling new low in the Israeli government’s grip on the US Congress.

But to proactively commit the United States as well to whatever the Netanyahu government might want to do in a war of choice against Iran is more staggering. Yes, this is non-binding language. But it’s basically endorsing the principle of handing over American foreign policy on a matter as grave as war and peace to a foreign government, acting against international law, thousands of miles away. George Washington would be turning at a rather high velocity in his grave.

But, of course, George Washington never imagined the awesome clout of campaign donors.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC's newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.


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130928065924-pkg-roth-iran-pres-rouhani-landmark-week-00005004-story-top(Source: CNN)

Think about it. The Obama administration is close to an agreement with the Iranian government to achieve a decade’s long goal. Iran would give up any plans it might have to develop nuclear weapons (verified by international inspections) in exchange for the lifting of some international sanctions that are doing significant damage to the Iranian economy.

This development—the possibility of ending any Iranian nuclear threat and ultimately normalizing relations with Iran after a four-decade freeze—was made possible by an event few anticipated. That was the election of a moderate Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who has been authorized by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, to explore if the United States is serious about peace in exchange for a no-weapons pledge. Fortunately, in Obama, the Iranians have a negotiating partner eager to improve relations if Iran gives up the nuclear bomb option.

When it comes to real matters of national security—like avoiding an unnecessary war—a president and Congress needs to do the right thing without regard what any lobby is saying.

Negotiations commenced and moved more swiftly than anyone expected. A week ago US Secretary of State John Kerry was about to announce the first step toward a breakthrough when, apparently, the French government objected, putting the process on hold and giving the Israel lobby the opening it wanted to kill the negotiations. By itself, of course, the French position counts for very little in Washington. But the lobby, that is a whole other thing.

Nonetheless, the French have provided the delay the lobby needed. And it has gone to work. Here is the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman saying that Kerry’s Iran opening is “chutzpah” that he hopes “will unite American Jews” in opposition. Here is Alan Dershowitz, the lawyer and pro-Israel spokesman, likening Kerry to Neville Chamberlain and, like Foxman, saying that the “entire pro-Israel community must unite” against the Iran deal.

Far more significant than either is the memo that the official lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) sent to Congress:

To avoid any misunderstanding in Tehran, America must clearly signal that it will consider no easing of sanctions until Iran has verifiably suspended its nuclear program. If Iran’s nuclear activities continue, the United States and the international community should escalate sanctions and reinforce President Obama’s message that a credible military option is on the table to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

AIPAC’s position is identical to that of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the very opposite of Kerry's. As is normal in any successful negotiations, Kerry is utilizing a step-by-step approach: offering some lifting of sanctions in exchange for some verifiable evidence that Iran is moving toward eliminating its nuclear weapons potential. AIPAC (and Netanyahu) are demanding that first Iran suspend its entire nuclear program (they make no distinction between civilian and military) and then the United States will consider the “easing of sanctions.” Chutzpah?

Given that the statement itself quickly segues to a military threat (“credible military option”), it is obvious that Netanyahu and the lobby understand that no country would accept a deal in which it gives up everything in exchange for maybe something later. No, the goal of the lobby’s position is achieving the “military option.” And that is what is so amazing.

It is one thing for the lobby to constantly thwart America’s efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Although it is short-sighted and not in the interests of the United States or Israel, the lobby’s position does not directly fly in the face of U.S. security interests. Yes, one can argue that continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will ultimately threaten American lives and regional interests in general. But that is a supposition, one that is not provable.

The Iran case is different because the Obama administration is seeking to avoid a war that would jeopardize American lives. Once the bombs fly, the United States would be in another deadly Middle Eastern war, which is the last thing the United States wants. As was demonstrated by the Syria debate, the American people virtually stand as one in opposition to another war.

But the lobby apparently feels differently. Although it says (following Netanyahu) that its goal is to prevent an Iranian bomb, it is rejecting the administration’s surprisingly successful effort to achieve that result by laying down conditions it knows cannot be fulfilled. It wants the “military option” because its goal is eliminating the Islamic Republic as a regional power.

In theory, neither the lobby nor Netanyahu should be able to get away with this. After all, the administration is acting in the interests of the United States while they are acting in support of Netanyahu’s. But they might get away with it. Congress may allow them to.

Republicans oppose everything President Obama does. By definition, if he does it, it is wrong. Choosing Netanyahu over a president they despise is as natural to them as shutting down the government or refusing to confirm judicial appointments. As for the Democrats, they receive a significant amount of their campaign funding from the lobby. Unlike supporting the Syrian intervention which was a minor lobby initiative, thwarting an agreement with Iran in favor of the military option is the lobby’s (and Netanyahu’s) No. 1 initiative. Those who support negotiations could literally pay a price for it.

But it would not be as much of a price as Netanyahu and the lobby would like them to believe. According to the polls (see the American Jewish Committee poll here and the recent Pew poll here), the overwhelming majority of American Jews are progressives who support Democrats because they find the Republicans to be antithetical to every value they hold dear.

Jews are overwhelmingly pro-choice, pro-labor, pro-immigration, pro-regulation and, to put it in Republican terms, pro-big government. They are, unlike today’s Republicans, compassionate liberals and no matter how much money a renegade like Sheldon Adelson spends to make them forget Jewish values, they refuse. (Almost three quarters of the Jewish vote went for Obama in 2008 and 2012). As for Israel, the same polls show that although most Jews care about Israel, hardly any choose between the two parties based on Israel. They certainly are not going to switch from the party of Barack Obama to the party of Ted Cruz because Obama negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of Jews will applaud.

But forget all that. When it comes to real matters of national security—like avoiding an unnecessary war—a president and Congress needs to do the right thing without regard what any lobby is saying. The supreme national interest—American lives—must come first. And the lobby and Netanyahu need to be told that they are, to put it gently, out of line.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC's newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.


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wonk1121-1024x682

Oh my God. It is so hard to log on and, when you do, you can't get anywhere.

Clearly, Obamacare is a disaster.

I blame two things for that. One is computers which although a huge benefit to humanity are a royal pain in the butt. I mean who could have imagined a system that is continuously subjected to random attacks from idiots who devote their lives to creating "viruses" that we spend billions of dollars to guard against and which serve no purpose. A rare good day is one without any "computer problems."

Progressives need to be defending the law and providing the assurance that it will work despite the best efforts of reactionaries to destroy it.

And then, infinitely more significant, there is that great collection of obstructionism and spinelessness: Congress. The legislation creating Obamacare never for a moment was a straightforward piece of legislation designed to solve a massive problem. No, unlike, say the legislation creating Social Security, Obamacare was created by legislation in which special interests—starting with the insurance and hospital industries and ending with religious groups who demanded that a U.S. government program created in 2010 comport with medieval teachings on abortion.

In between, hundreds of other special interests (represented by Members of Congress they provide with campaign funds) weighed in to change the legislation not in ways to make it serve Americans more efficiently but to please donors.

Then, of course, were the right-wing Republicans whose only goal was (and is) to destroy the whole idea of health insurance for all and (often joined by "moderate Democrats') were granted one cumbrous modification after another in order to win their votes for legislation they opposed in the end anyway. Then, following enactment, right-wing opponents in various states used their power (by way of Republican governors and legislators) to muck up the system by refusing to set up the insurance exchanges and/or rejecting the federal funds offered to the states for Medicaid expansion. Crazily, it is the states with the highest percentage of working poor (mostly in the south) where Republicans are blocking strings-free federal assistance in the hopes that the donut hole they create will turn millions of people Obamacare is designed to help into disappointed opponents of the whole program.

And now, not even a month into the new program, screaming that the online registration system is slow or broken fills the land.

Give me a break.

In a few weeks or maybe months, it will work. Or maybe it won't because the same people who hate the idea of Obamacare and did everything to thwart it will do everything they can to make sure it fails.

Yet some progressives (ever eager to agree with the right on something, anything) are joining the Republicans in crying that Obamacare is broken. How ridiculous can you get? And how can anyone with the interests of the American people at heart team up with people who hate universal health care so much that they shut the government down in order to block it, who threatened to topple the world economy to make sure it isn't implemented.

Progressives need to be defending the law and providing the assurance that it will work despite the best efforts of reactionaries to destroy it. They need to stop pouring fuel on the fire, helping Ted Cruz and Eric Cantor snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. What kind of progressive, what kind of person who actually cares about insuring the uninsured, wants to be cited by right-wingers as evidence that even liberals realize that Obamacare doesn't work?

America has been held hostage by the far right since the GOP took the House in 2010, and almost literally over the past month. It is understandable that some progressives would develop the Stockholm Syndrome, i.e, identifying with the hostage takers. I only ask that they get over it fast.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC's newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.


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Netanyahu(Source: Haaretz)

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a major speech the other day at Bar Ilan University. Most of it was saber rattling at Iran, but enough of it was about the Palestinians to steel my belief that negotiating with Netanyahu is a waste of time and that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative is a charade.

 

Netanyahu’s Israel “as a Jewish state” mantra was invented to preclude an agreement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s formulation destroys any chance for peace.

 

The centerpiece of his discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was this: his demand that Palestinians recognize Israel “as a Jewish state.” He said:

"This is the nation state of the Jewish people ... Recognize the Jewish state. As long as you refuse to do so, there will never be peace. Recognize our right to live here in our own sovereign state, our nation-state—only then will peace be possible. I emphasize this here—this is an essential condition."

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

- See more at: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/36917473237100E285257028006C0BC5#sthash.j3SYwG7h.dpuf

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

- See more at: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/36917473237100E285257028006C0BC5#sthash.j3SYwG7h.dpuf

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

- See more at: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/36917473237100E285257028006C0BC5#sthash.j3SYwG7h.dpuf

It’s a new demand, one that only became Israeli policy when Netanyahu came to office. Every prime minister prior to Netanyahu only demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel. But then, on September 9, 1993, PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat sent this statement to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (in exchange for Rabin’s recognition of the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people). This agreement stands to this day and is recognized as binding by both sides.

The PLO recognizes the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO accepts United Nations resolutions 242 and 338. The PLO commits itself to the peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues related to final status will be resolved through negotiations. 

This commitment—encompassing Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s three long-standing conditions—led to Rabin’s agreement to begin negotiations with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, then leader of the Likud opposition, vehemently opposed Rabin’s acceptance of Arafat’s concessions and began a campaign of incitement against him. Netanyahu understood then, as he does now, that Palestinian recognition of Israel meant the largest obstacle to a land-for-peace agreement was gone.

After becoming prime minister, he came up with a new formula to thwart peace: the idea that Palestinian recognition of Israel is not enough. They must recognize Israel “as a Jewish state.”

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

- See more at: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/36917473237100E285257028006C0BC5#sthash.FBz0Q20d.dpuf

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

- See more at: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/36917473237100E285257028006C0BC5#sthash.FBz0Q20d.dpuf

This is different. Neither Egypt nor Jordan had to recognize Israel as anything but Israel when they signed peace treaties with it. No country in the world recognizes Israel as anything but “Israel,” just like no country recognizes any other country “as anything” other than its name.

In fact, the phrase “Jewish state” first came into modern prominence because of a mistranslation. Theodor Herzl, who invented political Zionism, called his 1895 manifesto calling for a Jewish homeland Der Judenstaat which was mistranslated in English as The Jewish State. Actually, the very secular and assimilated Herzl called his book The Jews’ State, meaning a homeland or state for Jews, not some kind of theocracy for the faithful.

And Israeli governments were more than content with that until Netanyahu decided to demand that Israel must be recognized as Jewish by religion.

Secular Israelis don’t like that. Orthodox rabbis already interfere in public and private life in a way that is utterly unique in the western world where church/state separation has become the norm. Theocratic influence in Israel is already so onerous that most Jews in Jerusalem are Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox. The rest choose Tel Aviv and other areas to escape the rabbis and their rulings. Thousands have left the capital for Tel Aviv for precisely this reason.

Additionally, the religious formulation excludes foreign Jews, including American Jews, whose Judaism derives from their fathers and not mothers. They are ineligible to become instant citizens under the Law of Return. Only Jewish orthodoxy is recognized in Israel.

In other words, the status quo is bad enough, even without the insistence that Israel be recognized “as a Jewish state.”

Palestinians feel this even more strongly than non-Orthodox Jews, of course. After all, there are a million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who would be relegated into permanent second-class citizenship under the new formulation. Additionally, that formulation precludes any—even a token—return to Israel by any Palestinian refugees or their progeny. The “Jewish state” formulation declares all Palestinians to be foreigners in their ancestral homeland, even those who live there now and whose ancestors never left the land. Given that there will be no resolution of the conflict without addressing the issue of Palestinian return to the satisfaction of both parties, Netanyahu’s formulation destroys any chance for peace.

And that is why the “as a Jewish state” mantra was invented: to preclude an agreement with the Palestinians.

Palestinians have recognized Israel’s right to exist in security. It is Israel that, in occupying the ’67 lands, is denying Palestinians that same right. Adding the phony “as a Jewish state” demand to the mix is just one way to ensure that the occupation continues forever.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC's newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.


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HT twitter obama rouhani lpl 130927 16x9 992(Source: ABC)

 

I have always believed that, at some point, the Israeli prime minister and his lobby would lose their grip on U.S. Middle East policy, at least I’ve believed that since 1982 when Tom Dine, AIPAC’s most successful executive director, explained how it would happen.

It was during my four year stint at AIPAC that I asked Dine if a U.S. president could take a position opposed by the lobby, in a case where national security interests were clearly at stake, and prevail.

Dine responded that although he hoped that day wouldn’t come, he did not think a president could make Israel do anything it didn’t want to do given the power of AIPAC and “our friends in Congress.” In other words, as long as politicians need AIPAC-directed campaign funds, it wouldn’t happen.

But then he added a caveat:

“Of course, if a president pushed hard enough, and told the American people directly that U.S. security was at stake, he’d win. By that I mean AIPAC would have no choice but to support him. We can never defeat a U.S. president who reaches over the heads of AIPAC and Congress and goes to the American people directly and invokes the national interest.”

No one can force a president to abandon diplomacy in favor of war. A president can, as Obama is doing with Iran, simply do what he believes is best for America.

Although both my question and Dine’s answer referred to the occupation, his response is even more apt in reference to policies like bombing Syria or Iran, where the actions pushed by Israel and the lobby would lead the United States into war. Although continuation of the occupation endangers U.S. interests and lives, the causal connection is not as obvious as it is to actually attacking another Middle Eastern country.

What Dine got wrong was his belief that the lobby could only be defeated if the president directly confronted it, highly unlikely in the present context in which Vice President Joe Biden never ceases to tell audiences of present and potential donors that there must be “no daylight, no daylight” between U.S. and Israeli policies.

And that is not how the AIPAC collapse happened over the past six weeks.

The lobby has been beaten on Syria and on its No. 1 priority, blocking any U.S. rapprochement with Iran in order to get the war it wants. Anyone who follows the news knows that both the Israeli government and its lobby have been hit harder by the U.S. in the last month than at any time since Eisenhower forced Israel out of Sinai in 1956.

One small indication was the reaction to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations. The man actually threatened war with Iran if he did not get his way, and Americans, Iranians, Israelis and the world at large reacted with a silence that was less than a yawn.

A year ago the world hung on every threat Netanyahu uttered at the General Assembly and his red line cartoon made the front page of every major news outlet in the world. Two years ago, when he spoke to a joint session of Congress, House Members Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Eric Cantor and Eliot Engel orchestrated 29 standing ovations for Netanyahu’s threats. He stood there, joking with Biden like the two old pols they are, and basking in the love.

Look at the situation today.

Netanyahu huffs and puffs and ... nothing. AIPAC sent hundreds of lobbyists to Capitol Hill to win support for bombing Syria and didn’t change a vote. Only a few dozen legislators supported the idea and it was withdrawn and replaced by diplomacy. On Iran, with Netanyahu and AIPAC warning that President Rouhani was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, President Obama picked up the phone for the first conversation with an Iranian leader. When Netanyahu howled in protest at the UN, he was dismissed as a wolf in wolf’s clothing.

How did this all happen?

It happened because the American people have spoken in almost one voice: it does not want another Middle Eastern war. (The only people who favor confrontation with Iran over its nuclear development are the lobby and its neoconservative mouthpieces in Congress and the media).

In other words, democracy prevailed.

I feel odd writing about democracy when 30 Republicans are so blatantly subverting it during the first government shutdown in 17 years. They cannot tolerate the idea of an African-American president. But that is the result of a ridiculous quirk built into our failing system. That is certainly a catastrophe but one that will soon end with the right’s defeat.

Foreign policy is different. No one can force a president to abandon diplomacy in favor of war. A president can, as Obama is doing with Iran, simply do what he believes is best for America.

Obama wants reconciliation. As for Netanyahu, he will just have to content himself with his $3.5 billion in aid, faux words of love at the White House, and the absence of pressure from Obama to allow inspection of his huge nuclear bomb stockpile ... for now.

Again, how did this happen?

On Iran, Obama led. On Syria, he followed. In both cases, the politicians followed the American people who, the polls showed, overwhelmingly want to avoid another war in the Middle East.

But what about AIPAC?

Can’t it defeat public opinion with its campaign funds and threats?

Apparently not on Iran or Syria.

Rep. Alan Grayson, who led the fight against bombing Syria, although he is very close to AIPAC, says that the lobby is irrelevant when public opinion is on the other side.

Here he is speaking about why AIPAC failed on Syria. His explanation is equally applicable to Iran:

AIPAC has issued a statement saying that they’re in favor of an attack ... But at this point it’s not relevant, because the public is engaged, the public is paying attention, and the public is adamantly against this. All these organizations sort of fall to the wayside when the public weighs in. There are now both Democratic and Republican members of Congress who have reported that their emails and letters and phone calls to their office are running more than a hundred to one against this. People are against it. They’re adamantly against it ... So, any organization, like AIPAC or otherwise, cannot operate effectively in the environment that we’re in, where the public is speaking and speaking very loudly.

AIPAC “falls to the wayside when the public weighs in.”

I can add nothing to that except: Hallelujah.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC's newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.


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3-US-Israel

I was on the bus, returning to Washington from New York where I spent Yom Kippur.

I wouldn’t have talked to the kid next to me him except I could not find the outlet near my seat to charge my phone. He saw me struggling and helped me find it. (It was camouflaged under the seat in front of mine). We started to talk and, after I told him I had been in Manhattan for the Jewish holiday, he said that he had been there for the same reason.

 

"Forty-six million Americans live in poverty and the situation keeps getting worse and worse. This country keeps getting worse. Why should I worry about Israel?"

 

We talked about Georgetown University and why he chose to go there and then he asked me what I did. I told him “my story,” which led him to say that he had no interest in the Middle East at all. His issue was income inequality in the United States.

Nonetheless, he was fairly knowledgeable about the Middle East. I discovered he was fairly knowledgeable about everything. Judging from his looks I’d have taken him for a jock or a preppy but he seemed more intellectual than either of those categories would suggest.

After telling him about my odyssey from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to critic of both AIPAC and Israel, he said this (paraphrase, obviously):

"I don’t get it. I’m Jewish but Israel is not important to me. I live here and I’d like to help out people who live here. Forty-six million Americans live in poverty and the situation keeps getting worse and worse. In fact, this country keeps getting worse. Why should I worry about Israel?"

I explained why and he said:

"You may not realize it, but your premise is Zionist. You think Jews are, by definition, connected to Israel and have to care about it. But that isn’t who I am. I’m an American kid whose religion is Jewish. Period. I have no obligation to Israel or to Palestinians because I feel no connection to either. I feel that as a privileged American I do have an obligation to Americans who aren’t privileged. I’m not saying I don’t care about people in other countries. I do.

"Maybe someday I will think about Israel more than I do. But, just as likely, I’ll care about poverty in Latin America. As for your point that America is responsible for Palestinian suffering by sending aid to Israel, I agree. But how does that make the situation unique? As a taxpayer, actually a future U.S. taxpayer, I will be contributing to all kinds of terrible things everywhere. But my being Jewish has nothing to do with it. It’s not like I would ever take a Birthright trip! I don’t consider Israel to be my birthright.”

I asked him if he was typical of his friends. He said that he was.

"The Jewish kids who are deeply involved with Israel or Palestinians are sort of the same kids. They accept your premise that they are connected to that place. I don’t and most of my friends don’t either. I’d say we are post-national. America is our country because we live here. Period. It’s home. But then we travel, see the world, and want to help other people, at least some of us do. But Israel is not special to us and neither are Palestinians.

"You, M.J., are a Zionist. You think I have an obligation to try to stop the occupation because of my religion. To me, that is no different than telling me I have to support Netanyahu because of my religion. I see no difference. It is outmoded thinking. Tell me why Israel and Palestine is any more my problem than that of any other American my age, or why I should think about it anymore than I think about the treatment of women in India. I have the right to choose the issues I care about and work to solve, don’t I? Or does my being Jewish mean I have my choice made for me? Show me where I’m wrong? I’m sure that if you were 20, you would feel the exact same way. Am I right?”

I had no response.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC's newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.


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Pew Syria
(Source: Pew)

The lobby is reeling.

Reports from Capitol Hill reveal that AIPAC’s big lobbying day for war with Syria changed no votes. Not one.

Meanwhile two of its closest allies, Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Henry Waxman changed their position on bombing from “yes” to undecided. Another, Rep. Alan Grayson, is the leader of the “no” forces.

AIPAC should have cancelled its lobbying day when President Obama shifted his position. Its emissaries to Capitol Hill had no message and delivered it badly! They insisted on talking about Al Qaeda as if it was Assad’s ally and not his enemy. And, of course, they kept bringing up Iran.

That is understandable. AIPAC’s entire lobbying effort is about Iran. It cares about the well-being of the Syrian people as much as it does about the people of Gaza. That is, not at all.

No, AIPAC joined the battle to win Congressional approval because resolving the Syria crisis through any means other than war would set a terrible precedent for Iran: resolving the Iran nuclear issue diplomatically.

The American people do not want to militarily engage in the Middle East again. It has had it.

In fact, AIPAC itself created the terrible precedent. It invested itself fully on Syria, promising Obama it could deliver the votes, and failed.

The reason it failed can be described as a shift in the zeitgeist. The American people do not want to militarily engage in the Middle East again. It has had it—which is no surprise after Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and even the democratic collapse in Egypt.

This welcome rejection of military involvement in the Middle East is bipartisan, spanning progressives on the left to the Tea Party on the right, Democrats and Republicans, Jews and non-Jews, pretty much everyone. Even J Street and Israel Policy Forum, which on everything else are in the Obama camp, would not support him on this one.

America is no longer buying what the neocons are selling. As Phil Ochs would say: we aint a marching anymore.

This does not mean a president could not get Americans to support military intervention to defend US interests, including the security of Israel.

What they will not support is the commitment of US military power when there are other alternatives. That is why AIPAC is able to get its various anti-Iran bills and resolutions through Congress.

That is because, right or wrong, Congress views these efforts as alternatives to war. In fact, AIPAC is now pushing new anti-Iran legislation to show that they can still deliver.

And they can deliver. Everything but war. Syria provides the model.

No matter what happens in Syria in the end, no president is going to put it all on the line to thwart a purely theoretical threat from Iran. What he will do is try to eliminate any threat through diplomacy.

Israel should consider doing the same and it might. After all, unlike the lobby, the Israeli people both know war and hate it.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC's newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.


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