To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Friday, November 22, 2013

On Iranian Sanctions Intel, US Senator Mark Kirk Puts Israel's First

In the American debate on Israel, where language police and thought controllers enforce dysfunctionally narrow parameters of acceptable discourse, nothing is as inflammatory as an accusation of being an “Israel-Firster." Many pro-Israel partisans consider the term inherently anti-Semitic, dredging up the canard of “dual loyalty” from fetid historical swamps: The Dreyfus Affair; Henry Ford’s The International Jew.

Back in 2012, when MJ Rosenberg sparked a controversy at Media Matters while using the term, Jeffery Goldberg, then at the Atlantic, wrote its use “connotes someone who puts Israeli interests above America's interests. It plays on an ancient stereotype of Jews, that they are only loyal to their own sectarian cause.”  It was a term “designed to stoke anti-Jewish resentment and prejudice” and “ end an argument, not open a discussion.” It was also, Goldberg maintained, “an inaccurate way to describe American Jews who support Israel and support a strong Israel-U.S. relationship,” precluding “the possibility that the person who supports Israel is doing so precisely because he or she feels that it is in America's best interest to support Israel. “ 

But what are we to call political figures and journalistic enablers who:

1) Consistently put the interests and agenda of the current Israeli government over those of the Obama administration.
2) Are so Israel- centric on defense and foreign policy that they refract almost everything through the lens of Israel, even when the American alliance with the Jewish state is hardly primary.  
3) Give more credibility to the analysis of a foreign intelligence service over the Obama administration involving the effort to curb Iran’s nuclear program weapons. 

In the case of Illinois’ Mark Kirk I guess you call him “Senator.” 

Last week at a classified session of the Senate Banking Committee, Kirk all but said he placed more stock in Israeli intelligence that that of his own country’s on the issue of the "sanctions relief package" that is a key part of Obama’s negotiation strategy with Tehran over reining in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Which was tantamount to announcing an intent to scuttle Obama’s diplomatic solution to the Iran nukes dilemma in favor of the only option Israel favors: a military strike or series of strikes. Such strikes would not provide any lasting solution to the problem posed by Israel’s nuclear program but could quite likely trigger a wider regional conflagration, into which the US would almost inevitably be drawn. 

And Kirk is not alone, as Thomas Friedman observed the other day, noting the number of elected representatives on both sides of the aisle ready to do the bidding of the Israeli government on the sanctions deal.  Never have I seen Israel and America’s core Arab allies working more in concert to stymie a major foreign policy initiative of a sitting U.S. president, and never have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s. I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.”

As Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray and Foreign Policy’s John Hudson reported, Kirk’s performance in the Senate Banking Committee hearing came at the end of a week where an array of Israeli officials, including Ambassador Ron Dermer (a former US citizen) and right wing economy minister Naftali Bennett (who favors Israeli annexation of the Occupied Territories), joined American operatives of AIPAC in quietly storming Capitol Hill to make their case against Obama’s sanctions relief gambit.  At the center of this pro-Israel effort, which included one-on-one briefings, some from unnamed Israeli intelligence operatives, was data that ran counter to US assessments. While, the Obama administration says it’s offer to Iran involves no more than $9 billion in sanctions relief, the Israelis told members of Congress that the concessions would amount to at least $20 billion, maybe more and would only set back Iran’s nuclear program by 24 days.

According to various reports, Kirk had a series of tense exchanges with Secretary of State John Kerry over the financial impact that sanctions would have, citing the Israeli figures that were at least twice as high, and admitting that the figures were supplied to him by a "senior Israeli official” on Wednesday of that week, who Kirk declined to name. After the briefing, Kirk told reporters: "The administration very disappointingly said, 'discount what the Israelis say.' I don't. I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service." Vaguely implying anti Semitism on Kerry’s part, Kirk added that the briefing was “anti-Israeli.” 

Kirk added:  "Today is the day in which I witnessed the future of nuclear war in the Middle East. This administration, like Neville Chamberlain, is yielding large and bloody conflict in the Middle East involving Iranian nuclear weapons. “

By the following Wednesday, Kirk had sponsored an amendment, co sponsored by five other Republican Banking Committee members, including Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio , to a major defense spending bill in order to strengthen existing sanctions, mostly by targeting the remaining money Iran has in overseas bank accounts, largely derived from oil sales.  Key Democrats like Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey and New Jersey’s Bob Menendez have expressed support for further sanctions and are expected to back the bill as well.  

The fact that the Israeli government would be so open about joining AIPAC in lobbying against the negotiating strategy of the Obama administration is one thing, especially as the lobby prefers to do its work “like a night flower” in the infamous words of its former executive director Steve Rosen.  But to have US Senators openly admit to having attended those briefings, and to cite the data supplied to them in those meetings against the data provided by their own government is shocking. It’s yet another reminder how deeply the pro-Israel cause---and its political clout and money---have corrupted our political processes.  

Thomas Friedman’s J’accuse about Washington lawmakers pandering to “Jewish votes and campaign contributions” drew the objections of some “lobby deniers.” These would be the phalanx of pro-Israel political operatives and journalists who, despite massive and vivid evidence, continue to deny the validity of the Israel Lobby, written by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in 2007.  Answering Friedman’s charge, which was more than amply supported by the evidence that Kirk and crowd presented that day with Kerry in the Banking Committee chamber, Jeffrey Goldberg took to twitter. “I disagree with Tom Friedman on this one, Goldberg wrote. “U.S. lawmakers have reasons other than Jewish money to worry about contours of Iran deal.”  

It'll be interesting to read what fine points Goldberg puts on this, aside from this piece on how "Savvy" Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal thinks a naive and overeager Obama is being played.  But by citing Israeli government data over assessments provided by their own government, Kirk and crowd are indeed raising obvious questions about the undue influence of the people in whom they prefer to put their confidence. And last time I looked, those people were not the people who actually voted them into office, at least under current understandings of American sovereignty. How can you say you are putting American interests first when you contradict your own government's case with intelligence estimates from a foreign state, a state not terribly known for its trustworthiness, I might add, as 20 years of mendacity about settlements seems to justly suggest?

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