Last Media Matters Column

April 06, 2012 2:21 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

This is my last column for Media Matters. As of Monday, I'm striking out on my own with a brand new website and blog:

The reason for this step is that it disturbed me greatly to see an organization to which I am devoted facing possible harm because of my critical writings about Israel. I have no doubt that the crowd that opposes any and all criticism of Israeli government policies will continue to turn its guns on Media Matters if I am associated with it.

I could not live with myself if that happened — not only because I care deeply about the organization and my colleagues, but also because Media Matters does such important work confronting the lies that emanate from the far right and especially Fox News.

My presence here is being used in an effort to shut Media Matters up. That won't happen, of course. This is an incredibly successful organization. (Just ask Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh — or Rupert Murdoch, for that matter — about its impact). But the last thing I want to do is allow the right to use my support for a reinvigorated Middle East peace process to distract Media Matters from its primary mission: fighting for truth in the media.

So I am moving on, although my readers won't notice the difference. The twice-a-week email columns will continue to be sent to the same list. (If you aren't on it, just click here). My columns will continue to appear on Huffington Post, Al-Jazeera and dozens, if not hundreds, of other outlets where they tend to be reposted. And then there is my twitter account: @mjayrosenberg.

Additionally, there will be the new blog, which will not be limited to Middle East issues and which will be continuously updated. And there may be a book in the works too. More on that later.

A final word of thanks to Media Matters, which is a great organization. I started here at 62 years old, and it's the best job I've ever had.

Richard Nixon famously said to the press after his failed attempt to become governor of California, "just think how much you're going to be missing. You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore." I, however, will most definitely be around. More than ever.

The blog goes "live" tonight!

The First Amendment Does Not Apply To Israel

April 03, 2012 3:27 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

It would be funny if it wasn't so creepy. An author or journalist can write anything he wants about the United States — or, in fact, about any foreign country — without causing legions of critics to question the propriety of his doing so. That is, unless the subject of the author's work is Israel.

Think about it. Books have accused FDR of having advance knowledge of Pearl Harbor while others argue that the U.S. government — in the form of the FBI, CIA or even Vice President Lyndon Johnson — had President Kennedy killed. In other words, books that accuse U.S. presidents and U.S. government agencies of high treason are okay. This is America, and authors, journalists and bloggers can write what they like. (So long as it isn't libelous.)

But Israel is in a class of its own. This is not to say that it is impossible to get a book critical of Israel's policies published without setting off a firestorm among neocons and virtually the entire "pro-Israel" establishment. That isn't true.

It is only when the author has considerable prestige, is backed by a major publisher and is thus likely to get his message across to large numbers of readers, listeners and, most important, opinion leaders, that the "we'll crush him like a bug" dynamic sets in.

That is what is happening to Peter Beinart right now. Largely because he is highly credentialed (he was editor of the New Republic in his 20's), and because his pro-Israel bona fides are unassailable, he has aroused the fury of the pro-Netanyahu, pro-occupation crowd as few of those who went before him have.

Take a look at what the New Republic's former owner and Beinart's old boss and mentor, Martin Peretz, had to say about Beinart's "The Crisis of Zionism" (or more precisely, about Beinart himself) in comments to the Jewish Tablet:

It's a narcissistic book, and the narcissism of privileged and haughty people is never particularly attractive...I always knew he [Beinart] was a very vain man, but a lot of us are vain, and if you had his mother, or if I had his mother, I'd be even more vain than I am." Peretz put on a mocking falsetto — "this is the most brilliant boy, he's so smart, he's so touching" — before going on: "It's a Jewish mother situation. You can use that — even if it makes me sound a little bitchy."

Imagine Peretz, a major figure in the "pro-Israel" camp and in U.S. politics from 1968 to 2010 when he self-destructed, actually attacks Beinart's mother for producing a son who has written a book criticizing Israel.

Suffice it to say that Peretz's "review" is typical of what we'll be seeing from the "pro-Israel" establishment. It is Beinart's temerity in writing such a book that drives them crazy, much more than the book itself — so much so that the Israel-can-do-no-wrong types like Peretz, would rather impugn Beinart personally than actually review the substance of the book.

Peretz's hysteria is unique, but his allusion to Beinart's "narcissism" is not. The essence of that charge also appears in Sunday's Washington Post review  of the book.

Alana Newhouse accuses Beinart of trying to "elevate himself as the standard-bearer" for liberal critics of Israel and that his "obvious politicking" to be leader of the Jews is one of the book's major flaws.

Brett Stephens, a Wall Street Journal columnist (and a former editor of the Jerusalem Post) begins his truly vicious review in the Tablet by mocking Beinart for writing that one of the things that motivated him to write the book was watching the abuse of a 10-year old Palestinian boy by the IDF and thinking that the boy "Khaled Jaber could have been my son."

Stephens finds that hilarious: "The real question is: Someone named Khaled Jaber could have been Beinart's son?"

In other words, to Stephens, Beinart is just a self-involved fool for seeing his son in a child who is "named Khaled Jaber" (i.e., an Arab, not a Jew). True, that says something ugly about Stephens, rather than Beinart, but the point remains. In Stephens's view, Beinart is naïve for being empathetic to the suffering of non-Jews and for, in part, viewing the Palestinian experience through the prism of his own life and experiences.

Andrew Sullivan, the author and blogger, says that he was taken aback by the attacks on Beinart from the same people who once were his friends, allies and colleagues in the "pro-Israel" establishment.  But now he understands that the normal rules of criticism do not apply when the subject is Israel.

I've been through my share of personal vilification over the years...But this level of vicious personal obloquy from people who once advanced and supported him? It beggars belief.

There is something rotten here. And something utterly bankrupt. You want to know why these people have become so unhinged? Read the book. They're terrified of its truth.

At this point, I could write about Beinart's Jewish and pro-Israel credentials. But I won't. Beinart's views would be equally worthy of merit even if he wasn't an observant Jew or a Jew at all. The Crisis of Zionism is not Beinart's autobiography. It is a serious, heavily researched and documented book that makes a powerful case that the post-'67 occupation is destroying Israel as a democracy and ultimately could destroy it as a state. It also argues that Israel is treating the Palestinians under occupation with cold brutality while simultaneously denying Palestinians with Israeli citizenship (inside the '67 lines) the full rights Israeli Jews are granted.   

Beinart also demonstrates that the "pro-Israel" organizational establishment in the U.S. (the people trying to shut Beinart down) are representative of no one except the multi-millionaire and billionaire donors who keep their organizations going.  

Beinart exposes AIPAC as utterly uninterested in any value other than power itself, particularly the power to intimidate Congress. He demonstrates how the Holocaust is blatantly exploited to build support for Netanyahu and the occupation even by organizations (like the American Jewish Committee) which were close to indifferent to anti-Semitism in Europe when it was occurring. (It is always shocking to read that the now  Holocaust-obsessed organizations like the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC rarely brought up the subject until after the 1967 Six Day War when it could be used to build support for the occupation).  

For me, the best part of Beinart's book is the section I refer to as "Myths & Facts." He takes every major propaganda point that is used by the right to support the status quo and demonstrates that it is based on distortions, if not out-and-out lies.

These distortions include the myth that Israel has "no partner" with whom to negotiate, the myth that Israel has offered the hand of peace since its founding, the myth that the Palestinians want the West Bank to be free of all Jews, the myth that Israel needs the West Bank for security purposes, the myth that Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza as a step toward peace rather than as a device to permanently prevent the creation of a Palestinian state, the myth that Israel will not be transformed into an apartheid state if it continues to maintain the occupation without granting the Palestinians the franchise and equal rights, and the myth that Hamas initiated the 2008-09 Gaza war without provocation from Israel.

Beinart is not arguing that the Palestinians are always right. Instead, he proves that Israel isn't either — and that almost all the information put out by the lobby and the Israeli government is propaganda.

You doubt that? How many people do you know who believe that Israel offered the Palestinians virtually everything at Camp David in 2000, only to have the Palestinians walk away? As Beinart demonstrates and was proven by Clayton Swisher in "The Truth About Camp David", and in a half-dozen other volumes, there was no "generous offer" and the Palestinians didn't walk away either.

None of this makes for much comfort for either side. (If the right is furious at Beinart for exposing the lies of the "pro-Israel" right, the left cannot stand his commitment to the two-state solution which it considers not only naïve but no more just than the right-wing maximalism of Netanyahu and company).

Accordingly, do not be fooled by the reviews from the left, which argue that because Beinart is a self-described "liberal Zionist" he has nothing to say, or those from the right that say that the book is nothing but self-indulgent pieties. It is neither. It is a book that unravels the lies, unspins the spinners, and gets at the truth.

Passover is the holiday that celebrates freedom from bondage. In the case of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it is myths and lies that are among the tightest shackles of that bondage. This is the bondage Beinart goes far toward breaking.

Why Peter Beinart Is Driving The "Pro-Israel" Organizational Establishment Crazy

March 29, 2012 3:28 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

Almost all the criticism of (and controversy about) Peter Beinart's "The Crisis of Zionism" comes down to two major complaints:

The first is that he is a "liberal Zionist" which, by some definitions, means he is just as indifferent to Palestinian rights as a rightwing Zionist. For example, he believes in the idea and reality of a Jewish state and is primarily motivated by his sense of urgency about preserving it. He also does not support granting the right to return to Israel to all the Palestinian refugees (dating back to 1947) and their millions of descendants, — viewing full return as a means to ending Israel's existence. And, worst of all to some on the left, Beinart favors the so-called "two-state solution" which, although repeatedly thwarted primarily by settler-supporting Israeli governments, Beinart sees as the only means to achieve a solution fair to both peoples.

The second source of disapproval (fury, actually) toward Beinart's book emanates from the "pro-Israel" right — and the intensity of their condemnation dwarfs the criticism of those who attack from the left. 

After all, the anti-Zionists primarily view Beinart as misguided and naïve, still a prisoner of the Zionist ideology on which he was raised. But the "pro-Israel" right (and that includes virtually the entire "pro-Israel" organizational establishment) views Beinart as evil, as a traitor and, as ridiculous as this sounds, an enemy of the Jewish people. No matter that his goal is a secure Israel living side by side next to a secure Palestine and that his love for Israel suffuses his entire book or that he is an observant Jew; for the "pro-Israel" right, Beinart is the enemy.

Understanding the American Right's feelings about Beinart may be more the job of a psychologist than a pundit, because the sentiment is so irrational that it cannot be addressed by merely citing facts. It is a mark of how crazy the debate over Israel has become in this country that the vitriol exceeds anything that goes on in Israel, which itself has more than its fair share of right-wingers.

For instance, take a look at this video from the top-rated Israeli show "Big Brother," a television reality show in which a group of young people move into an apartment and live their lives on camera. These shows are popular worldwide, but the brilliant exposition of the evils of the occupation that one character made on the Israeli show last week is unimaginable here. (U.S. reality shows avoid politics like the plague. But this is Israel).

There is one other striking thing about this video (besides the fact not even a Jewish Community Center would dare show it in the U.S). It is that the young man making the case against the occupation is the kind of person Zionism was supposed to produce: a proud Israeli afraid of nothing. These are the kind of Israelis we don't see much of in the United States anymore (in contrast to the period before Israel became obsessed with maintaining the occupation and confronting Iran). You know, the Paul Newman ("Exodus") kind of Israelis who — although a stereotype —  are rooted in reality. The reason we don't see them is because an Israeli government that is always making the case for the status quo based on fear would be ill-served by proud, unafraid Israelis speaking to Americans.

For instance, take Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose mind seems to be in 1938 Europe. In 2006, speaking of Iran, Netanyahu told an audience in Los Angeles. "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany." He said that the Iranian president who "denies the Holocaust" is "preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state."

Note: Netanyahu's warning of the imminent danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon was delivered six year ago and it was far from the first Netanyahu warning that Iran was on the brink of achieving a nuclear bomb.  It was also not the first time he said that the present day was reminiscent of 1938 although he has sometimes he invoked 1942 or 1944.

The difference between Netanyahu and the young Israeli in the video (and most Israelis, I believe) is that for them the situation today is nothing like the situation in the 1940's. If it is, then who needs Israel, which justifies its very existence as the ultimate guarantee that "Never Again" is more than a slogan? It is a reality backed up by one of the most effective militaries in the world and 200 nuclear weapons. Israel is not the Warsaw Ghetto, a comparison that insults both the memory of the Holocaust and Israel itself.

And Netanyahu is far from the only person in a leadership position to make that comparison. Beinart reminds us that:

Jews "tell ourselves that we are still history's victims whose primary responsibility is merely to survive. Consider the language of prominent Jewish leaders. In 2009, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, declared that "anti-Semitism (is)...reaching a peak this year that we haven't seen since the tragic days of World War II." In 2010 House Majority Leader Eric Cantor devoted his entire speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference to an extended analogy with the Nazi era. That December, Malcolm Hoenlein, the powerful executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, gave a speech entitled," Is It 1939?" (In a 2007 speech, subtitled "Is it 1938 Again."

Beinart then offers this chilling image that sums up the Holocaust fixation and how it affects attitudes toward Israel today:

A few years ago, a journalist reported that Malcolm Hoenlein...had a photo in his conference room of Israeli F-15s flying over Auschwitz. It is a photo of a fantasy. Israeli jets never bombed Auschwitz and never will. What they have bombed, in recent years, is the Gaza Strip, a fenced in, hideously overcrowded, desperately poor slum from which terrorist groups sometimes shell Israel. Hoenlein, in other words, has decorated his conference room not with an image of the reality that he helps perpetuate, but with an image of the fantasy he superimposes on that reality.

It is that fantasy that is producing such vitriol against Beinart in the "pro-Israel" organizations and among their cutouts. Beinart, born in 1971 in Massachusetts and brought up on stories about Israeli pioneers and heroes, absolutely refuses to accept the idea that Israel is some helpless little ghetto on the verge of extinction. He does not see the existence of Israel as an extension of the Holocaust but as the guarantee that there will never be another one. His Israel is one of daylight while the "pro-Israel" establishment sees only night and fog.

Add to that that his belief that the secure Israel of his dreams can only exist if Palestinians are secure and it becomes clear why he produces such rage. To put it simply, the "pro-Israel" establishment is so invested in the dark past that it will not tolerate the image of a bright future — especially if that future can only be achieved by compromising with a people they have decided are German Nazis. It is pathological. Fortunately, I think it is Beinart who represents the future.

Who Speaks For Iranian-Americans?

March 27, 2012 6:07 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

The schedule for the American Jewish Committee conference in Washington coming up in May highlights that Sohrab Ahmari, an Iranian-American, will be addressing the question: "Can Iran's nuclear program be stopped?" Ahmari has been popping up more and more these days, especially at neoconservative organizations like the AJC. 

The AJC, established in 1906 to combat anti-Semitism and advance human rights both at home and abroad, is now obsessed with Iran. (Check out its website). In recent years, AJC has dumped much of its domestic agenda in favor of supporting rightwing policies on Israel and especially to war monger on the issue of Iran.

Ahmari, the neocons' favorite Iranian, is very much in the mold of the neocons' favorite Iraqi. During the run-up to the 2003 invasion Ahmed Chalabi was their darling because, as an Iraqi émigré, he was thought to have unique credibility. Neocons loved hearing an Iraqi say that invading Iraq would not only prove successful but would be welcomed by his fellow Iraqis. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a fake, whose agenda was almost entirely personal. The war he and his friends promoted was an infamous catastrophe. And, to put it mildly, the invasion he told us that Iraqis would welcome was not welcomed.

One difference between Chalabi and Ahmari is that Ahmari is a prominent neoconservative, rather than someone who merely courts them. He is, in fact, a fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a neocon think tank in London.

Henry Jackson was a United States Senator from Washington and a proud champion of the original neoconservatives. Known as the "Senator from Boeing," he was a consistent supporter of increased weapons spending, the Vietnam War and anything and everything Israel wanted. He died in 1983 and left as his legacy a group of former staff members who still vociferously agitate for war. Among them are Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith. (Feith became infamous for creating and running the war's disinformation shop at the Pentagon.)

The Henry Jackson Society closely reflects the world view of the former Jackson aides. And so does Ahmari who is now traveling the country speaking as, and for, Iranian-Americans. His sidekick is Peter Kohanloo, a law student in Boston and self-described organizer within the Iranian-American community.

However, like Chalabi, neither of these spokesmen have a following, either among Iranian-Americans or Iranians, a fact that  probably makes them deeply resentful of the Iranian-American organization that does, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

NIAC opposes the Iranian regime and supported the 2009 protests against it. But it believes that the most effective, and probably only, way to successfully change Iranian behavior is through diplomacy, not sanctions and war threats.

This drives the Iranian neocons nuts. In a February piece on NIAC in Foreign Policy called "The Diaspora's Conscience," Ahmari and Kohanloo try to make the case that NIAC misrepresents the Iranian diaspora's position; instead, inadvertently, they prove the opposite.

The heart of the two neocons' argument is that NIAC distorts the Iranian-American community's view by arguing (using NIAC's own words) that, although they "deeply resent the Iranian regime, [Iranian-Americans] prefer U.S. policies that emphasize engagement and de-escalation."

They continue:       

Widely available survey data belie these anecdotal findings. A 2011 Zogby poll commissioned by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), a nonpartisan organization that refrains from taking positions on foreign-policy issues, asked Iranian-Americans to identify their two top priorities for U.S. policy toward Iran. An overwhelming majority (63 percent) chose "promotion of human rights and democracy," while 30 percent chose "promoting regime change." In contrast, only 14 percent identified "preventing an American military strike against Iran" as one of their top two priorities.

But exactly how do those poll findings contradict NIAC's position? NIAC favors "promotion of human rights and democracy" as a U.S. priority and, like all but the 30% cited in the poll, do not favor "promoting regime change." 

Here are some of the other poll findings confirming that NIAC does indeed represent Iran-American views:

  • Only 3% favor military action against Iran.
  • 44% consider U.S. sanctions to be "burdensome" to their families in Iran.

Most significant of all is this:

A majority (56%) of Iranian Americans now disapprove of President Obama's handling of relations with Iran, while thirty-two percent (32%) approve of how the President addresses this issue.  These numbers have flipped since 2009 when a majority of Iranian Americans viewed President Obama's handling of relations with Iran favorably.

Of course, the difference between 2009 and today is that in 2009 President Obama was pursuing a diplomatic approach toward Iran, while today he relies almost exclusively on sanctions and threats of war. Iranians clearly prefer Obama's original approach — not the one subsequently pushed on him by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the neocons (like Ahmari and Kohanloo).

Ahmari and Kohanloo have every right not to share the views of most Iranian-Americans and they clearly don't. Earlier this month in Commentary, Ahmari made clear that his personal preference, like that of Commentary, is for regime change precipitated by a U.S. bombing campaign:

The likelihood of an all-out Western land invasion aimed at toppling the mullahs is low. But a limited military intervention aimed at destroying their nuclear facilities may nevertheless precipitate regime collapse. Iran's nuclear sites are spread out over a wide geographic area; an intervention aimed at disabling them must be wider in scope than the Israeli strikes that destroyed Iraq's facilities in 1981 and Syria's in 2007. A successful strike will require destroying much of the country's national defense and security architecture. Having invested so much prestige, moreover, in one signature national project — the nuclear program — the regime stands to lose what little legitimacy it has left should a weeklong airstrike rubble its nuclear sites. 

Later he proposes "completely dismantling major state apparatuses," promising that the the Iranian version of de-Ba'athification would not backfire as it did in Iraq. Of course, "dismantling" such state institutions as the Revolutionary Guard and the Basji (Mobilization) forces would require occupying the country — a contingency Ahmari passes over — but which the U.S. military, Iranians, Iranian-Americans and everyone else who knows anything about Iran dismisses as either impossible or insane.

But that is how neocons think. Force works every time. It is, however, definitely not how Iranian-Americans think.

And the two neocons know it too. Asked on a recent podcast how he, as an Iranian-American, can support a war that would hurt Iranians, Kohanloo responded: "I would say the Iranian-American community is not in any position to initiate or prevent a war, that is up to the president and the US government."

In other words, don't pay too much attention to Iranian-Americans who, as they well know, oppose war. If they thought their pro-war views were representative, they would not dismiss the importance of Iranian-American views.

Representative or not, if the Chalabi precedent holds, we are going to see lots more of these two in the coming days. That is why it is of critical importance that these Iranian Chalabis be exposed for what they are before establishing themselves as representing anything larger than themselves and their fellow neocons.

That won't matter to the American Jewish Committee and others who have already enlisted in the anti-Iran crusade. It should — it better, matter to policymakers who might be inclined to believe that Ahmari and Kohanloo actually represent an Iranian-American constituency. They do not.

Robert Gates: "An Attack On Iran Would … Be A Catastrophe"

March 22, 2012 1:10 pm ET by Walid Zafar

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a stern warning to those in Washington beating the drums for war with Iran. In a recent speech before the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Gates said, "If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe."

From the Jewish Exponent:

The Iranians see themselves surrounded by nuclear-armed countries, he said. They also see that the United States easily removed Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who had no nuclear weapons, and that the Moammar Gadhafi regime "fell to a ragtag rebel army with Western air support." In contrast, he said, the Iranians observe that the United States and its allies have been far more cautious dealing with the North Koreans because they have a nuclear capability.


Without naming names, he criticized some politicians' approaches to the Iranian problem as too simplistic. "Make no mistake about it: How to deal with Iran's defiance of international norms and its nuclear program is one of the most difficult and dangerous challenges this country has faced in decades."

It's a challenge, he added, "where I believe the most likely outcomes are all bad. Any decision to act or not to act will be one of the most consequential any president has had to make."

The article goes on to explain that Gates "contradicted recently released U.S. reports citing military and intelligence officials who question whether Iran has decided to pursue a nuclear-weapons capability," quoting him saying that he has "long been convinced that Iran is determined to develop nuclear-weapons capability." But Gates's words do not necessarily contradict intelligence assessments. As Gates's successor, Leon Panetta, as well as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have both said that Iran has not made the decision to build a nuclear weapon, though the country is considered to have a break-out capability. Multinational and unilateral sanctions, which have been ratcheted up in recent years, are aimed at pressuring the Iranians not to take the next step.

Gates adds his voice to a growing list of former military and intelligence officials who have warned of the consequences of war. His recent comments most closely resemble comments made by Ret. General Anthony Zinni, former Commander of CENTCOM, who said in 2009 that "if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you'll love Iran."

The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens Dismisses The Intelligence On Iran

March 21, 2012 1:30 pm ET by Walid Zafar

It's becoming clear that the hawks are losing the debate on war with Iran. With negotiations scheduled for the weeks ahead, and President Obama's stern warning that war chatter is "not a game," the hawks have their backs to the wall. After years of having their rhetoric go largely unchallenged by the media, they suddenly must operate in an environment in which the military and the media are ringing the alarm bells.

Since they can't easily challenge the facts (or make up their own, as in the run up to war with Iraq), they're left making inane arguments — such as this one from the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens. Stephens believes the intelligence on Iran's nuclear program is not as important as what his gut tells him about what the Iranians are up to. (Of course, if the intelligence confirmed what he already knows in his heart of hearts, he might be singing a different tune.)

He writes:

...the New York Times reports that U.S. intelligence agencies are sure, or pretty sure, that Iran "still has not decided to pursue a weapon"-a view the paper says is shared by Israel's Mossad. The report echoes the conclusion of a 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Iran put its nuclear-weapons program on the shelf back in 2003.

All this sounds like it matters a whole lot. It doesn't. You may not be able to divine whether a drinker, holding a bottle of Johnnie Walker in one hand and a glass tinkling with ice in the other, actually intends to pour himself a drink. And perhaps he doesn't. But the important thing, at least when it comes to intervention, is not to present him with the opportunity in the first place.

In other words, forget what the intelligence community (both here and in Israel) says about the state of Iran's nuclear program, because the very fact that Iran has a program in the first place is reason enough for war. Stephens seems to go further than even the Israelis, who want the U.S. redline to be nuclear capability, an already tenuous position given that Iran, technically, already has such a capability (hence the debate about Iran's decision to go for the bomb).

But there's more. The meat of Stephen's piece comes toward the end, where he discounts the idea that the Iranians would respond to an Israeli attack by going after U.S. targets. On Monday, the New York Times reported on a classified military simulation exercise that concluded that an Israeli strike "would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead." Stephens' piece is clearly an effort to challenge the Times report. He asks:

Is this outcome likely? Maybe, though it assumes a level of Iranian irrationality-responding to an Israeli attack by bringing the U.S. into the conflict-that top U.S. officials don't otherwise attribute to Iran's leaders.

This is typical of Stephens and the other neoconservatives. In their zeal to get the United States to attack Iran, they will ascribe irrationality to the Iranian regime when they warn that Iran might use a nuclear weapon against Israel, even though such an act would be suicidal (in that it would all but guarantee retaliatory strikes and the destruction of Iran). But when contemplating the possibility that Iran will strike U.S. interests in the event that they are attacked, the Iranians are suddenly too rational to take such dangerous actions.

Stephens's beliefs are contradictory, except for the consistent devotion to war as the solution to our differences with Iran. On the one hand, there is no way that we can live in a world where the Iranians have an enrichment capability (hence the Johnnie Walker reference) and yet, in the event that their country is attacked, the Iranians (most of whom support the nuclear program) would be level-headed enough not to take their anger out on the United States.

That doesn't make sense. But as we learned from the war in Iraq, rationality is the first casualty of selling a preventative war.

The Case For Bombing Iran Is Quickly Collapsing

March 20, 2012 1:45 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

One critical element leads me to the conclusion that the United States will not go to war with Iran, nor allow Israel to do so. It is this: common sense.

It is true, of course, that common sense dictated against invading Iraq. But the very fact that we did invade Iraq, and that the Iraq war is almost universally considered a catastrophe, should add to the weight common sense carries this time.

Then there is the war in Afghanistan, which most Americans are now desperate to see end, especially after the recent massacre of innocent Afghan civilians. The polls show that Americans are sick and tired of both the Iraq war (which has thankfully ended... for us) and the Afghanistan war as well.

And then, on Monday, the New York Times reported on a classified Pentagon simulation exercise which concluded that an Israeli strike on Iran "would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead." On the positive side, the Israeli attack would "set back the Iranian nuclear program by roughly a year." (Emphasis mine.)

It is inconceivable that the United States will get involved in a third Middle East war in a single decade.

That is why the New York Times front page story this weekend titled, "Hawks Steering Debate on How To Take on Iran" was so jarring. It seemed to accept war's inevitability.

(Worth noting. The Times likely changed the title from the original version "Pro-Israel Groups Differing Approaches on Iran" when it realized that most of the sources it cited were not so much "pro-Israel" as right-wing pro-war Republicans.)

In any case, according to the Times:

With Israeli leaders warning of an existential threat from Iran and openly discussing the possibility of attacking its nuclear facilities, pro-Israel groups on all sides have mobilized to make their views known to the Obama administration and to Congress. But it is the most hawkish voices, like the Emergency Committee's, that have dominated the debate, and, in the view of some critics, pushed the United States closer to taking military action against Iran and another war in the Middle East.

The evidence presented could hardly have been weaker. Here, in order, is a list of the luminaries that the Times cited for their conclusion that we are moving closer to war. (Note the absence of business leaders, like former Republican three-term senator Judd Gregg — now a Wall Street analyst — who warned yesterday of the tremendous costs in blood and treasure of another war; this prediction is not surprising given that another war would cause oil prices to skyrocket and kill off economic recovery.)

  • The far-right Emergency Committee for Israel and its vice-chair, the Christian right and GOP leader, Gary Bauer. The ECI's chair is William Kristol, a leading Republican;
  • The House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the GOP's #1 spokesperson in Congress and close ally of Binyamin Netanyahu;
  • Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a hawk in almost all conflict situations and a vehement adversary of President Obama;
  • "The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac; the so-called 'neocons' from the George W. Bush administration who were strong proponents of the war in Iraq...";
  • Sheldon Adelson, the "billionaire casino owner" who is a primary funder of Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign;
  • The Republican candidates for president; and
  • Richard N. Perle, the leading neoconservative who famously started pushing for war with Iraq within 24 hours of the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Talk about your usual suspects.

Then, mid-story, the writers decided to lump the congressional supporters of Iran sanctions with those supporting military action, even though many backers of sanctions view them as alternatives to war. Lumping these legislators with William Kristol, Gary Bauer and Sheldon Adelson is ridiculous.

Besides, only one person is going to make the decision about war, and that is President Obama — who has repeatedly said that, for him, war is a last resort. That is certainly the case given that the military is so strongly opposed to it. Retired General (and former CENTCOM commander) Anthony Zinni puts it like this: "If you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you'll love Iran."

As for Congress, even the most hawkish will not likely jeopardize the lives of their constituents in uniform who are already deployed in the Middle East and whose lives would be endangered by a U.S. or Israeli attack. That became obvious when, after announcing at AIPAC that he would immediately introduce a resolution authorizing war, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) subsequently pulled back, understanding that his war resolution would not sail through the Senate with anything like the (sometimes unanimous) support of previous sanction bills.

Come on. Is Barack Obama really going to surrender to the pro-war lobby either in the run-up to November or in a second term, especially when most of the war lobby is comprised of his political opponents who are doing everything they can to deny him re-election?

This is not to flat out predict that war cannot happen. It can and it might. But common sense, political calculations and, above all, the president's commitment to the national security of the United States — and to the brave men and women who keep us safe — dictate against a war with Iran.

In short, the Times gets the story all wrong. Except for this one thing (which we need to worry about):

In the standoff with Iran, it is the hawkish groups supporting military action that wield more money, political clout and high-profile names than do the advocates of a diplomatic solution.

In all, pro-Israel political action committees and donors affiliated with them have given more than $47 million directly to federal candidates since 2000, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group. They rank among the top contributors to a number of prominent Democrats and Republicans, and pro-Israel groups have hosted many lawmakers on expense-paid trips to Israel. When Aipac featured Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu at its conference this month, more than half the members of Congress attended.

That is alarming. But it does not outweigh other considerations, prime among them that Americans want to extricate themselves from Middle East wars. Neither Sheldon Adelson, John McCain, Gary Bauer, nor William Kristol (and their neocon network) can change that, especially if the rest of us make clear that the very thought of a another war in the Middle East is intolerable.

And that this time, we won't take it lying down.

Making Sense Of Jennifer Rubin’s Iran “Engagement” Rhetoric

March 16, 2012 11:10 am ET by Walid Zafar

In what seems like her thousandth post attacking President Obama's policy toward Iran, Romney surrogate and Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin illustrates — yet again — her ignorance of the nuclear standoff with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Rubin, like so many other misinformed commentators on the president's foreign policy, relies on the claim — frequently made by Romney and other GOP contenders — that "the administration wasted almost two years on 'engagement.'"

Unfortunately, the facts don't back up Rubin's claim. Aside from the late-2009 effort at trying to get Iran to export its enriched uranium to a regional ally, there has been little momentum to engage the Iranian government at all, let alone offer Iran a face-saving path out of the impasse.

As one government official told Trita Parsi, the administration's diplomatic outreach amounted to "a single roll of the dice," meaning that the we tried diplomacy, didn't get the result we were hoping for, and decided to pursue sanctions instead. When Brazil and Turkey were able to secure a deal with Iran that resembled the deal the U.S. was trying to make, the administration rebuffed Ankara and Brasilia and went ahead with stinging U.N. sanctions and, later, unilateral sanctions. (Parsi's new book, titled A Single Roll of the Dice, tracks the Obama administration's efforts at diplomacy with Iran.)

Rubin complains that Obama's engagement, which again, hasn't occurred in any serious and sustained way post-2009, allowed the Iranians to continue their nuclear program unabated. She believes what he should have done from the get-go was implement strong and crippling sanctions.

But she seems more interested in bashing the president than in making a coherent argument one way or another. Rubin relies on Josh Block, a former spokesman for AIPAC, and John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador under the Bush administration, to buttress what she believes is a really good argument against the president's strategy. Unfortunately, her two sources contradict each other on the effectiveness of sanctions.

Block says that, "if people in Europe and elsewhere want to avoid kinetic action," they should "put their money where their mouth is." In other words, we need more, tougher, tighter sanctions on the Iranians. To Block, the fact that sanctions have yet to yield results is evidence that more are needed immediately.

Bolton, who believes the president "just doesn't care about national security issues," and advocates for a destabilizing Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, tells Rubin that "focusing on sanctions simply provides the comforting illusion of stopping or slowing Iran's nuclear-weapons program, without actually changing the end result." For Bolton, sanctions will not work and are of no use. Fire up the engines and let the bombs drop.

Reality, of course, is far more complex.

The Obama administration's diplomatic outreach with everyone but Iran has isolated the regime in Tehran, and has been far more effective at creating an international consensus against the Iranian government than the Bush administration. However, sanctions have not produced the outcome of pressuring the Iranians to end their program because, as Iran expert Valy Nasr reminds us, "Iran will not drop its nuclear ambitions unless it feels secure in the region." So yes, sanctions have isolated Iran, but that same isolation is precisely why the Iranians feel they need a powerful deterrent.

The last paragraph of her post gives us tremendous insight into the sort of information Rubin chooses to ignore about a subject that she insists is more important than anything else. She writes:

In any event, the president — having dismissed a robust policy of regime change, repeatedly talked down the prospect of military action, tolerated Iran's killing of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, taken no action in response to Iran's attempted assassination of a Saudi diplomat on U.S. soil and signaled by withdrawal from Iraq and a rush to the exits in Afghanistan our willingness to cede ground to our foes — now faces an Iranian regime that is emboldened and on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. He will soon be confronted with the choice: military action (by Israel or the United States) or acceptance of Iran as a nuclear power, something he said he would never do. It's a Hobson's choice, largely of his own making due to his unserious and delusional foreign policy.

Rubin ignore some very important facts:

1) Current and former military leaders have warned that a strike on Iran would jeopardize our interests throughout the Middle East, most importantly American military personnel;

2) Even hawks like Max Boot admit that military strikes would at best delay the nuclear program by a few years;

3) The Bush administration ignored a serious Iranian proposal to negotiate back in 2003;

4) There is widespread agreement that Iran has not yet made the decision to build a nuclear weapon;

5) Sanctions have thus far hurt ordinary Iranian people while enriching the government by raising global oil prices;

6) And the Iraq war — which conservatives like Romney, Rubin, and Bolton all supported — increased Iran's influence in Iraq.

That's just a start. But don't tell Rubin. She has a presidential campaign to win.

Misuse Of Anti-Semitism Charge Is Repulsive

March 15, 2012 5:39 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

A couple of years ago my wife and I made the first of three trips to Poland to visit her family's ancestral home. As far as anyone knows, the Gruenbaum/Ellenbogen family had been living in the Galicia area of Poland for centuries.

That long sojourn ended with the German invasion of 1939. There is no need to describe what happened subsequently, except to note that the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Maidanek death camps were each about 90 minutes from the family's home in Rozwadow.

The family members who survived the Holocaust ended up in the United States, Israel, Canada, and Australia. Some remained in Poland until after the 1967 Six Day War when the Communist regime there drove them out as "Zionists." A few remained in Poland long enough to rejoice in the downfall of the Communist regime.

Our visits to Poland are always emotional. Next year, we will return to visit the Museum of the History of Polish Jews for its opening. The museum, a joint project of the Polish and Israeli governments, focuses not on how the Jews of Poland died, but rather on how they lived. They will be memorialized not just as three million victims, but celebrated as Jews and Poles: as people.

Nonetheless, it is impossible to forget how they were killed. Nor should we try to forget. Although recalling the Holocaust does nothing for the victims, remembrance is a weapon against other acts of genocide (although, as is obvious, only a limited one). It also serves of a reminder of where hate — in this case anti-Semitism — can lead.

That is why so-called Holocaust deniers insist that it never happened. If it didn't, they believe, then the nexus between racial/ethnic hate and murder is broken and it is easier for them to openly hate Jews, African-Americans, gays or whoever. If no one can say, "you know where that kind of thinking can lead, don't you," then they are more comfortable promulgating their hate.

Fortunately, Holocaust denial is no more successful than Civil War denial (which, to my knowledge, does not exist). Yes, a few nutty people could assert that no civil war occurred in America between 1861 and 1865. But only crazy people would ever believe it.

No one can make the memory of the Holocaust or its use as an antidote to hatred disappear.

But people do succeed in trivializing the Holocaust.

Until recently, that did not happen very often. The memory of the Six Million or the single face of Anne Frank, or the little boy with his hands held in the air, in front of a Nazi soldier, prevent people from disrespecting the victims.

No more. Today anyone can be called an anti-Semite and any event can be likened to the Holocaust. I don't know when that started, but it reached a new height when Glenn Beck, the former Fox commentator, decided that the best way to destroy the reputation of liberal philanthropist George Soros was to lie and say that this Holocaust victim was, in fact, a Nazi accomplice.

Since then, the right has utilized Nazi horrors as a tool against every progressive cause they don't like including the president's signature health care law and his call for Congress to raise the debt ceiling.

Even worse is the name-calling. If the right does not like someone, there is a good chance he will be likened to Nazis or called an anti-Semite. That applies to Jews, even Israelis, who oppose bombing Iran or want to end the occupation.

This week's target of choice is CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien who had the temerity to challenge (and essentially eviscerate) a editor for saying that President Obama's friendship with professor Derrick Bell (the first tenured African-American professor at the Harvard Law School) is evidence that Obama is a radical anti-white leftist.

I won't describe the controversy here, allowing Eli Clifton to describe it in Think Progress. It is enough to say that the absurdity of the whole manufactured brouhaha was made manifest when Sarah Palin jumped in to say that Obama's friendship with Bell was evidence that these two African-Americans wanted to return America to the days before the Emancipation Proclamation. The bottom line is that and the "editor" who tried to debate the Harvard-educated O'Brien looked ridiculous. A laughing stock.

And then, sure as clockwork, came the charge that Soledad O'Brien is an anti-Semite. In an exchange of public tweets, Chris Loesch, the husband of CNN commentator Dana Loesch, wrote that O'Brien's denial of Obama's radicalism was dictated by the fact that "it's cool and edgy to be an anti-Semitic leftist right now."

Say what? The whole rightist case against Obama and Bell is that they were two incredibly accomplished African-Americans who happened to be friends and who agreed that American racism was a deep-seated problem that had to be addressed. Also relevant, no doubt, is that the two men broke down the doors of white privilege — in Obama's case, the ultimate such door.

But anti-Semitism? Anti-Semitism has as much to do with this phony controversy as the number of points Jeremy Lin scored in the Knicks' last game.

The only reason it is only being employed to discredit O'Brien is because she, on national television, so successfully tore apart the arguments of a Breitbart fantasist, who happens to be Jewish.

Far more relevant is that this is a classic right-wing tactic: attack the opponent's strength. Call war hero John Kerry a war shirker. Call George Soros, the leading funder of anti-Communist movements, a Communist. And label liberalism, the political ideology to which 80% of Jews adhere, as "anti-Semitic."

All this would be funny if it wasn't so hateful and calculated. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Jews are liberal Democrats. (Had Jews been the only people voting, history would record the landslide victories of presidents named McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry.) To call liberals and progressives anti-Semitic is to call Jews anti-Semitic.

Perhaps even worse is the revolting disrespect to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust demonstrated by the slam at O'Brien. Six million Jews were murdered in the name of anti-Semitism. A million and a half of them were children. They were gassed and their bodies were burned in crematoria.

I don't know what the proper response is to that, except the old, but still true, mantra: Never Again. That and, as Elie Wiesel says, respectful silence.

To trivialize anti-Semitism (and by extension the Holocaust) by tossing the "anti-Semite" charge around with joyful recklessness is ugly, disrespectful, and obscene.

Is it too much to ask the right to show a little respect for the dead?

Not Blindly, Not Arbitrarily

March 12, 2012 8:50 am ET by MJ Rosenberg

Writing in the Jewish Daily Forward, JJ Goldberg reminded me of words I wrote 43 years ago in the Village Voice:

I shall always choose the Jewish cause. Not blindly, not arbitrarily, but with full knowledge of who I am and where I must be.

My views on Israel have not changed very much since then. Then as now I opposed Arab radicals who refused to accept Israel's right to sovereignty and security. Then as now I opposed Israeli radicals and their allies here who pretend that Palestinians don't exist or, if they do, don't have the rights granted to every other people.

One monumental thing has changed in 43 years. In 1969, neither any Arab country nor the Palestinians accepted Israel's right to exist. Since then, Israel, Jordan and Egypt have signed bilateral peace agreements, and remain committed to their terms. The PLO recognizes Israel's right to exist securely within the '67 lines. The entire Arab League (every single Arab state) is offering Israel peace, normalization and security in exchange for ending the occupation. As Shimon Peres says, Israel now has "partners for peace."

But then there is Iran. Watching the AIPAC conference, I was horrified to see an ostensibly pro-Israel organization promoting a war that presents an existential threat to Israel's survival. I vehemently oppose the very idea of war with Iran and am appalled by the right-wing Israeli government  but, even more, by its supporters here at home who are trying to push the president to either bomb or support the bombing of Iran.   

Not surprisingly, I have been under assault by various people on the right for my vigorous criticism of AIPAC and its role in promoting confrontation with Iran. My critics are particularly irked that I use the term Israel Firster to describe people who, in my opinion, put the interests of the Israeli right above everything else. This includes politicians such as Newt Gingrich, who as far as I know, is not Jewish. Watching the AIPAC conference convinced me that I must recommit myself to fighting those who are working to lead this country and/or Israel to war in Iran.

But I will do so without using the term "Israel Firster." The term was coined in 1960 by the late Abram Leon Sachar, founding President of Brandeis University, and a renowned Jewish historian (his son Howard Morley Sachar remains the greatest historian of contemporary Jewry) and was first used by the elder Sachar in a speech he delivered that year to a Zionist organization.

It has proven to be a distraction, allowing the pro-war lobby to focus on my choice of words rather than the substance of my arguments. I will not be using it again, for many reasons including the fact that some good people were genuinely offended by it. That was not my intention. My intention is to focus like the proverbial laser on the threat posed by war with Iran and the 45 year occupation.

Perhaps I feel that threat more than some. My wife was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany to Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust. Many in the family didn't including my wife's uncle, for whom our oldest son is named, who was caught by the Nazis putting up posters in Warsaw urging resistance. He was gassed in Maidanek along with his young sister, just engaged to be married. They were both Zionists who dreamed of living in Israel. How amazed and happy they would be to know that a vibrant Israel exists. How horrified they would be to know that its existence is jeopardized by an unnecessary war, one that can be avoided by diplomacy.

Just yesterday on 60 Minutes Meir Dagan, the recently retired Mossad director, said that in his opinion, Iran is "rational" and not suicidal and that war would be an unending disaster for his country. He implies that following a retaliatory attack by Hezbollah, which has tens of thousands of missiles on Israel's northern border, the Jewish state would not even survive as a functioning society. The blowback from an attack on Iran "will have a devastating impact on our ability to continue with our daily life."

Here is Jeff Goldberg, the Atlantic writer, on what the ramifications would be if Israel or the United States begin to bomb Iran, regardless of whether the attack succeeds or "fail[s] miserably to even make a dent in Iran's nuclear program:

[The Israelis] stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel's only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel's conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.

It gets worse, at a recent meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organization, New York Republican activist, Jeff Weisenfeld said he thought Israel could well be destroyed in a war. This piece by the brilliant Larry Derfner appears in the absolute best Israeli (and Jewish) internet publication +972.

He starts telling me that it's not enough for Israel, or America, or Israel and America to bomb Iran's nukes. "Israel can't go on living with 200,000 missiles pointing at it," he said - they had to be destroyed, too. I saw no use in mentioning Israel's deterrent power, or questioning the morality of war as a means of arms control, so I asked Wiesenfeld how Israel could survive the wars that would follow its attacks on Iran, and Syria, and Lebanon, and Gaza, and the other countries that have missiles aimed our way.

"It's going to happen sooner or later," he replied.

And when the missiles are falling on Israel, would he come here with his family and sit it out?

"At that point," he said, "Jews will be targets all over the world. There won't be any difference being in Tel Aviv or Times Square."


My message is this.

Many of the same people who pushed us into Iraq are doing the same thing with Iran. They are pressuring Congress to prevent the president of the United States from negotiating with the Iranian government. They are banning diplomatic contacts. They are (as they have for a decade) hyping the Iranian threat, in part because they want a war and, in part, because they want to use President Obama's reluctance to jeopardize lives as a tool to defeat him In November. And they are demanding that should Iran develop a nuclear bomb, we must not contain the threat (as we did with the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Pakistan, etc) but should immediately go to war.

I have been fighting to help achieve a secure Israel, at peace with its neighbors, for more than 43 years.  I continue to do that by fighting against a war that could eradicate Israel and endanger Jewish security in the United States and throughout the world. This war has to be prevented. The issue must not be what label I use to describe the war agitators. It is what the Iran war agitators are doing. They must be stopped.

The first step is continuing to shine a light on their activities. That is what I do.

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