As we move closer to next month’s vote on the Iran nuclear deal, I wanted to note some parts of the story that are not getting sufficient attention in the mainstream press. Even in Israel, where the the P5+1 deal is quite unpopular, there is increasing concern, at least among elites, at just how far Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to go in damaging US-Israel ties in his war against the Obama administration over the Iran deal. As JJ Goldberg aptly puts it, the campaign of incitement and maliciously phony charges of anti-Semitism against the White House are “effectively turning American Jews into Netanyahu’s cannon fodder” in war against Obama.
As Goldberg notes, charges that the President is a crypto-Muslim or an anti-Semite have remained until now at the very fringes of American political discourse. But as the anti-deal forces have struggled to make their case on the merits, they have now resorted to pulling the anti-Semitism canard deep into the mainstream, with almost comically tendentious claims that the President is “dog whistling” or Jew-baiting in his campaign to win support for the deal in Congress.
Here’s Goldberg on the almost surreal level of bile emerging from, of all places, The Tablet along with other, more clearly right-wing, publications.
Stateside, the Obama-as-anti-Semite theme seems familiar, but it actually surfaced suddenly. It happened July 22, right after the president appeared on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” The president said that if people favoring the deal contacted their representatives, they’d be heard. Indeed, he said, “the same is true on every single issue. If people are engaged, eventually the political system responds. Despite the money, despite the lobbyists, it still responds.”
A neutral observer might read this as a comment on America’s current debate over money in politics and citizens’ feeling of powerlessness in shaping policy. But some Jewish conservatives read it differently.
Lee Smith, right-wing political columnist for the online magazine Tablet, called it a “dog-whistle.” He claimed Obama was “hinting broadly at anti-Semitic conceits — like dual loyalties, moneyed interests, Jewish lobbies — to scare off Democrats tempted to vote against” the deal. He predicted that if any Democrats did oppose it, Obama was “going to tar them as dual loyalists who are willing to send Americans out to make war on behalf of Jewish causes.” That’s a dramatic prediction, based on rather slim evidence. But it’s classic Smith.
The willfully dishonest nature of this charge is bad enough. But as longtime TPM Reader PF notes, it’s nonsensical even on its own terms ..
I’ve noticed that many people are saying that POTUS is dog-whistling about anti-semitism in connection with the Iran deal. That makes no sense – because for him to dog-whistle, there have to be lots of dogs around… and there simply is not a large (or really any) anti-semitic block of US Senators or Representatives to whom a dog-whistle attack would be appealing. Seriously – does anyone believe that there is upside to even deeply coded anti-Semitic attacks among possible candidates to vote uphold a presidential veto ? To the contrary, the President is trying to portray the Iran deal as actually good for Jews to make it easier for Jewish Democrats to support him.
The dog-whistle argument is so senseless – and yet appears to be taken seriously. Will you please demolish it ?
It is not too much to say that war over the deal is tearing the US Jewish community apart. Though polling of the US population in general is ambiguous on support and opposition to the deal (greatly depends on how the question is posed), there is no ambiguity on the position of American Jews. American Jews support the deal by significant margins. It’s the organizational apparatus, increasingly dominated by more right-leaning funders, who are more clearly against. But even here the story isn’t quite as clear cut as you might think. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Ron Kampeas has been keeping a running tabulation of statements from Jewish federations and regional communal groups on the deal. So far they have 19 of 51 groups opposing the deal, none endorsing the deal and the remaining 32 with a range of ‘serious concerns,’ ‘scrutinize the deal carefully’ and so on. It is a difficult spot for the leadership of these groups since traditionally they have shied away from deeply partisanized issues and ones on which their memberships are deeply divided. But here standing aside has proven all but impossible.
It is worth remembering in all of this that Israel’s military and intelligence services are not on the same page on all this with the Prime Minister. That’s not to say they support the deal. Far from it. But their institutional positions – codified in official reports, which Netanyahu has ignored – are far more balanced and nuanced about the dangers of the deal, possible advantages, chances for scuttling it, the importance of securing further security guarantees/assistance from the US in light of the agreement, the importance of maintaining close ties with the US leadership, and so forth.
To give you some flavor of all this, let me quote at some length from the latest column from Nahum Barnea of Yedioth Ahronoth, perhaps Israel’s premier political and national security columnist …
At this point in the crisis, Israel has no cabinet, no government, no defense establishment, no Knesset, no free media. Everything is determined and run based on the desires of one person – Benjamin Netanyahu. The IDF prepared, as is expected of it, official opinions about the agreement and its consequences. These opinions are balanced – they analyze the downsides of the agreement, along with its advantages. No one delayed the arrival of these opinions to the top. The cabinet ministers are aware of them. They also know what the head of Army Intelligence thinks and what the Chief of Staff thinks, and whether there is a gap between their conclusions and those of the prime minister. But there was no serious discussion in the cabinet about the day after the US Congress vote.
Unlike the Gulf States, which are fighting against the agreement while at the same time negotiating with the American administration about their security on the day after, Israel, under Netanyahu’s orders, has stopped cooperating with Washington. Talks over a memo of understandings between the two states were due to start in April. These understandings were to make up a framework for the next ten years, determining, among other things, guidelines for security aid. It’s important to the Israeli defense establishment to know what to expect. Nevertheless, there are no talks. There are also no negotiations over the compensation Israel is supposed to get over the deal with Iran and the new security benefits given to the Gulf States.
The American administration is convinced it is fighting on the same side as Israel against Islamic terrorism, including against the aid Iran provides Hezbollah and Hamas. Washington is prepared to expand and deepen this cooperation. Israel, meanwhile, refuses to discuss these issues on the diplomatic level. When US Secretary of State John Kerry has recently traveled to the Gulf States to promote the talks about the day after, he skipped Israel. In the past, ignoring Israel would create uproar. This time, Netanyahu said that “Really, there’s no point for him to come.”
The fight in Congress is so important to Netanyahu that he is willing to divide the Jewish community and turn AIPAC into a single-party organization. Democratic Congressmen are torn between their loyalty to their president and their party, and their fear of losing Jewish voters and donors. All of the Democrats who announced they would oppose the agreement so far are Jewish: Chuck Schumer, Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey – all from New York. Jews from other districts are conflicted between the concern they could be accused of having a double loyalty – primarily to Israel and only then to the United States – and the claim made by Jewish voters that they were sacrificing Israel for their career.
Netanyahu managed to convince many Jews that the threat is that of another Holocaust. The residue of guilt left from the world war – how could we be silent? Why did we allow the American administration to look away from the extermination camps? – all came back to the surface. Khamenei’s comments and the calls from the crowds in Tehran only serve to bolster that feeling. Obama and Kerry’s half-hearted acceptance of these comments only adds to the feeling of betrayal.
Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer is, according to American accounts, making the rounds from one room to the next in Congress, from one office to another, trying to convince the members of Congress to vote against the deal. From their perspective, this is an intolerable interference in the internal affairs of another nation. You could only imagine what Israel would think if the American ambassador was working to lobby members of the Likud party to vote against Netanyahu. The American administration will have a hard time letting this go after the crisis passes; Obama, despite his aversion to mixing personal feelings with politics, will not forgive this.
It’s all a dark, ugly business. Bibi’s mix of myopia and megalomania, the campaign of incitement here at home, American Jews – easily manipulated and inflamed because of a dark, brutal history – really are cannon fodder in Bibi’s war.