Let me start this post by saying that I support Barack Obama. But when Marty Peretz starts saying nice things about your candidate you know something’s up. Marty Peretz is the worst type of pro-Israel propagandist. He’s so far out in right field when it comes to Israel that there’s only a shade of difference between his views and those of Avigdor Lieberman or Bibi Netanyahu. In fact, if I was a bit more conspiratorial I’d say that an embrace from Marty is sort of like the Don’s giving you that fatal final hug before his henchmen mow you down in a hail of bullets. Maybe Marty knows how people like me would react and has deliberately made nice with Barack to make us hold our noses when we think of voting for him.
But seriously, a Marty Peretz endorsement is very troubling. With friends like him you don’t need enemies.
In the Jerusalem Post column Peretz actually argues with a straight face no support whatsoever that Obama would be more “pro-Israel” (read, pliant) than Clinton. His bile against the latter is astounding. This type of statement makes you wonder what Peretz is smoking:
…Even the most moderate Palestinians now assume that future discussions will start where Clinton left off. It is good to know that Obama understands why that won’t work.
I’m not one to give praise to the New Republic(an) in this blog. But I have to give them credit for publishing Gregory Levey’s story about Obama’s testy relationship with the pro-Israel Jewish community. He begins with the e mail smear campaign recently sweeping the inboxes of Jews throughout the country. Interestingly, an Obama staffer conjectures on the source of both the e mail and the mailing list used to circulate it. This passage begins with an especially telling quotation from Mort Klein which I couldn’t pass up:
A little while ago, I told Mort Klein, president of the influential Zionist Organization of America, that I was writing an article about Barack Obama.
“You mean Barack Mohammed Hussein Obama?” he asked, laughing.
Klein quickly stressed that he was joking, and that he didn’t put any stock in the anonymous e-mail circulating that claims Obama is not only a closet Muslim–and that his middle name is Mohammed–but also that the senator from Illinois is part of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy the U.S. by winning its highest office. He had, however, certainly received the defamatory e-mail, as well as another that alleges that Obama’s church is a racist and anti-Semitic institution that is more committed to Africa than to the United States.
Klein is far from alone. The Internet libel seems to have been directed in part at the Jewish community, and in recent weeks, these two emails have landed in the inboxes of thousands of Jews across the country. In fact, an adviser to the Obama campaign told me that he suspects the emails were originally sent using the mailing list of a Jewish nonprofit in Washington. He added that they may have originated with Middle East hawks skeptical about Obama’s approach to the region, but because the e-mail campaign has ramped up in both intensity and scope following Obama’s victory at the Iowa caucus, he believes that the candidate’s political foes may be pushing it.
“One can draw inferences on who might have interest in this spread,” he said.
Indeed one can. Can we surmise which “Jewish nonprofit in Washington” might’ve been the source of the e mail list? Would its acronym consist of five letters beginning with “A?” I think so. Then the question becomes: how did the spreaders of the smear get AIPAC’s list? Were they given it by staffers or key volunteers? We may never know the answer. But this sure smells of the type of chicanery for which AIPAC is famed/notorious.
Unlike Peretz’s tripe in the Jerusalem Post, Levey’s piece is well-worth reading and thoughtfully articulated. He deftly characterizes AIPAC’s schizoid attitude toward Obama:
Several other people connected to Middle East lobbying in Washington have told me…that they believe there is a rift between the official positions of AIPAC on Obama and the feelings of a good deal of its membership, possibly including some of its major donors. Because AIPAC doesn’t endorse candidates directly, but often encourages its very active membership to get involved in campaigns and fund-raising on their own, how the AIPAC rank-and-file acts is not a matter of diktat; it’s an accurate barometer of how it feels. And according to The Jerusalem Post, “When it comes to the Jewish establishment of campaign donors, fundraisers, and political players, support for Clinton is estimated to be twice that for Obama (except in his home state of Illinois, where he has deep connections with the Jewish community).” With regards to the AIPAC bigwigs, one former AIPAC official recently said to me that he believes that Obama’s stated willingness to diplomatically engage with some of
‘s most avowed enemies makes much of the organization’s leadership “uncomfortable”–though they would never say so publicly because of a reluctance to sour their relationship with a potential future president. Israel
There you have it: Obama’s willingness to entertain dialogue and negotiation is what scares the pants off the AIPAC crowd. They’d much rather a George Bush who does nothing for six years and then scurries around in his final two like a chicken with his head cut off trying to appear to be doing something. That type of lassitude regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel is far preferable in AIPAC’s eyes to a president who actually wants to engage in the issues and resolve the conflict. For AIPAC knows that to resolve the conflict Israel’s interests will have to be compromised (as will the Palestinian’s). Any compromise of Israel’s interests whatsover is treif.
Michael Lerner has also dealt with this “war for Obama’s soul” over I-P policy in a recent e mail which he sent to his Tikkun supporters:
Obams’s problem is that his spiritual progressive worldview is in conflict with the demands of the older generation of Jews who control the Jewish institutions and define what it is to be pro-Jewish, while his base consists of many young Jews who support him precisely because he is willing to publicly stand for the values that they hold. We can expect that this tension will be central should Obama win the nomination. But once in office, whether Obama actually pursues policies that are in accord with his highest beliefs as a spiritual progressive, or whether he finds it “too unrealistic” to try to buck the spineless Democrats who will bow to the Israel Lobby automatically, depends on whether we can build a powerful enough movement of ordinary citizens to push for a peace that provides security for Israel and justice for the Palestinian people. Obama has made it clear he would want to do that.
Justin Elliot at Mother Jones writes a column that treads similar ground to Levey’s but with a decidedly more downbeat take on the prospects for Obama actually standing up to the Lobby should he ever become president.
Could you please explain to me why you use the term “pro-Israel” as a harsh epithet, something like “fascist”, when you identify yourself as a “Zionist”?
Bar_kochba132, I’ve been reading Tikun Olam long enough to know that one of its ‘themes’ is that the right wing does NOT hold a monopoly on what is and is not “pro-Israel”. Richard is skewering Martin Peretz’s bogus conception of “pro-Israel” and is not saying that “pro-Israel” is necessarily a “harsh epithet”.
yeah, the seeming embrace of Obama by some pro-Israel zealots makes one wonder (do they know something us progressive/liberal universalists don’t?). It’s true that I don’t see Obama unabashedly bucking the Israel lobby, but I hold out hope that he can effect change in that special Obama way he has that does seem to overcome differences and opposition. My sense is that Peretz’s embrace of Obama over Hillary is a little bit of a ‘don’t throw me in the briar patch’ Machiavellian move. He sees this transcendent national momentum gathering behind Obama and probably wants to co-opt or neuter it through acceptance and praise–hoping that by defining Obama as “pro-Israel” (according to Peretz’s debased definition, of course) he can help establish that frame when people look at Obama. So I hanker there’s a bit of desperation and strategic calculation behind the praise of a candidate who has the much-dreaded-among-the-AIPAC-crowd Brzezinski as a foreign policy advisor. I still give Obama the benefit of the doubt, here.
Norman Weinstein says
The little I know of Peretz is quite enough for me not to want to know more. It amazes me, the number of people who would willingly ply their alcoholic friend with a fifth of whiskey before he turns the ignition key and goes careening off to Lord knows where. Thus do they send Israel along a rocky road to more of the same. Even though I have little hope that Obama, should he become President, will seriously buck the prevailing American addiction, Jewish and otherwise, regarding Israel, the fact that he has made a few gestures indicating a modicum of independence from AIPAC and others who would give whiskey to their drunken friend about to drive is at least one of several reasons I am supporting his candidacy. And talk about more of the same, today’s Haaretz has a major article dealing with housing construction in East Jerusalem, which everyone from Jewsih right-wing nuts to Christian right-wing nuts knows belongs to the Jews a la God:
“Housing Minister Ze’ev Boim denied Tuesday reports that the government is barring new housing construction for Jews in East Jerusalem, saying Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s order to freeze all construction that does not have his personal approval applies only to the West Bank.
“On Monday, Jerusalem city manager Yair Ma’ayan told the Knesset Economics Committee that the government was holding up construction of hundreds of apartments in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem due to the negotiations with the Palestinians.
“There is no delay, limitation, or suspension of the construction of Jewish neigbhorhoods in East Jerusalem,” Boim told Israel Radio.
“Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky also weighed in on the issue Tuesday, saying he “won’t allow Jerusalem to be turned into an illegal outpost.”
Richard Silverstein says
I did not use the term “pro-Israel” here in any way that was close to meaning “fascist.” Marty Peretz is interested in a presidential candidate he can call “pro-Israel.” He thinks Obama’s his man, though I’m hoping Peretz is sorely disappointed. I try to use the term “pro-Israel” along w. other terms like “militant” or “extremist” or “right-wing” to differentiate bet. someone (like myself) who considers him or herself pro-Israel & those whose views are radically diff.