The power of the mythical ‘Israel lobby’ on Michael Cohen’s political imagination

‘Comment is Free’ analyst Michael Cohen seems to be cut out of the same ideological cloth as Glenn Greenwald, imputing enormous power to the ‘Israel lobby’ – an evidently quite dangerous network of Americans who are more concerned about the interests of a foreign country than those of the United States.

The lobby’s use of smears and intimidation to coerce the US Congress into towing the pro-Israel line explains, for Cohen and his fellow political travelers at the Guardian, the difficulties Chuck Hagel has experienced during confirmation hearings in the Senate over his nomination to be Defense Secretary. 

Cohen, who’s been contributing to CiF since December, 2012, has already penned two pieces at CiF on the Hagel nomination, and the alleged hold the pro-Israel lobby has exerted on the process.  And, in his most recent post, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation and the orthodoxy of US debate on Israel‘, Feb. 14, Cohen positively cites the sage analysis of Stephen Walt, who noted that the Hagel row proved ‘the lobby’s iron grip on Congress – an influence which grossly distorts the debate over important foreign policy debates.

Cohen writes the following:

“Part of what is going on here is obviously politics. As Harvard Professor Stephen Walt has repeatedly argued, this is demonstrative of the extraordinary power that the Israel lobby holds over Congress and official Washington.”

Walt, in the Feb. 1 post linked to by Cohen, crows that the Hagel debate proves the wisdom of what he wrote – in a book on the ‘Israel Lobby’ –  when he warned “that AIPAC…has an almost unchallenged hold on Congress“.

So, is it true that Hagel’s troubles during the confirmation hearings prove AIPAC’s suffocating control over congress?

Interestingly, Cohen, in the very next line of his CiF essay, does a 180.

“But in the case of Hagel, the strongest pro-Israel lobby, Aipac, has been silent on the nomination.”

So, Cohen, over the course of two consecutive sentences in the same passage, approvingly cites Walt’s argument on AIPAC’s power over the Hagel process, and then makes an admission which completely contradicts Walt’s thesis.

How can an organization which has been “silent on the [Hagel] nomination” concurrently be exercising an “unchallenged hold” on the process?

Since it is uncertain, based on the passage, whether Cohen thoroughly read the short blog post which he cited, my guess is that he’s likely also unaware that Walt has defended John Mearsheimer, the co-author of his book on the Israel lobby, from charges of endorsing antisemitism.

Of course, the “smears” against Mearsheimer are based largely on his endorsement of a quite well-known Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier:

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Perhaps critics of the ‘Israel lobby’ would cause pro-Israel Jews a bit less “anguish” if they would not impute such a farcical degree of power to Americans who support the Jewish state and, at the very least, studiously avoid associating with those so clearly compromised by such deep-seated Judeophobic antipathies.  

Chas Freeman, “Fifth Columnists” and the ‘Guardian Left’

chasWhile observing the commentary at ‘Comment is Free’ over Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Defense Secretary, it’s difficult not to marvel at the dynamics at play by which a conservative Republican has engendered support from the Guardian Left due primarily, it seems, to the (pro-Israel) political orientation of some of the nominee’s opponents.

Indeed, for some on the Guardian Left, the narrative advanced about many political debates in Washington could be reduced to ‘the enemy of the ‘Israel lobby’ is necessarily a progressive political protagonist’.

To CiF’s Michael Cohen, for instance, the fact that the largest pro-Israel lobbying groups (most notably AIPAC) have stayed away from the Hagel row is no obstacle to framing the debate along this binary lobby/anti-lobby paradigm, and condemning Hagel’s opponents – in a manner similar to Glenn Greenwald - for engaging in a “McCarthyite” smear campaign.  (Chuck Hagel’s Senate hearings: A discredit to all concerned, ‘Comment is Free’, Feb. 1)

Cohen – whose views towards Israel are such that he recently suggested that more Israeli fatalities as the result of terrorist attacks would actually help the peace process – criticizes the control the “Jewish lobby” has over the process, thus:

“As we saw during the GOP primaries last year, the new apparent litmus test for being a foreign policy-maker in the US government appears to be the extent to which you offer unconditional support for basically everything that Israel does,

Ted Cruz tried to link Hagel to a speech given by Chas Freeman, a former US diplomat who has been publicly critical of American support for the Jewish state, and in particular, the domestic lobbyists that defend Israel.

When Cruz could not identify an obvious link between the two men, he backed off. But the moment was chilling because the implications of Cruz’s questioning wasn’t hard to deduce: simply having a relationship with Freeman and his controversial views on Israel would have been enough to indict Hagel.

This is quite frankly modern-day McCarthyism: guilt by association with those who hold differing views. It was the low point of the day in which the depths of practically every valley of squalid foreign policy discourse was plumbed. That a hearing on the fitness of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense was dominated by a discussion of a country that is not even a military ally of the United States – and which, in the just the last three months, has taken actions on settlement construction that run precisely counter to US policy – offered compelling evidence of the disproportionate and unhealthy role that Israel plays in US foreign policy debates.”

While the at times comical misuse of the word “McCarthyism” by some on the left to characterize legitimate criticism and debate within a democratic framework is, in itself, an under-explored topic, it’s remarkable that Cohen defends Chas Freeman, who has, himself, engaged in ugly, racist smears of American Jews.

Joe McCarthy – the former US senator whose politics during the Cold War inspired the term ‘McCarthyism’ – is largely known for the fact that, in the 1950s, he led hearings into the “un-American” activities of those who he (often falsely) accused of actively working for the communist party or even being agents of the KGB.  While the threat of Soviet infiltration into the upper echelons of US government during the time was indeed real (as the Venona papers have proved) McCarthy’s notoriety is derived by the fact that he recklessly imputed disloyalty to many who were completely innocent – all of which brings us to Chas Freeman.

Freeman was forced to withdraw his name from consideration to be chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council in the Obama Administration, in March 2009, due to his vitriolic attacks on Israel (which, he had argued, was a “catalyst” for the attacks on 9/11), his close ties with the Saudi government, and comments he made which were sympathetic to China’s bloody crackdown of pro-democracy activists at Tiananmen Square.

After the nomination row, Freeman was even more explicit in his attacks on American Jewish supporters of Israel, and published a postat the extremist anti-Zionist blog, Mondoweiss, where he argued that Zionism was worse than S. Africa.  His post included the following passage:

“[At least] South Africa’s whites did not have a dedicated cadre of coreligionists or ethnic kin abroad who labored to protect them from the consequences of their deviance from the norms of humane behavior as defined by Western civilization at large.  Nor, despite open sympathy for South African whites in the American South and among ardent anti-Communists, did apartheid enjoy international ideological support outside the neo-Nazi fringe.  Israel’s policies are supported morally, politically, and financially by large Jewish communities…”

So, just how dangerous are these “large Jewish communities”?  Helpfully, Freeman further expanded on his concern about the influence of Jews during a speech he delivered in Russia on Dec. 1:

 …I would like to put forward some thoughts about the control of narrative and the manipulation of information as an essential element of modern warfare. The Israelis call this ‘hasbara.’ Since they are without doubt the most skilled contemporary practitioners of the art, it seems appropriate to use the Hebrew word for it. And, since Israel’s most recent war (against the Palestinians in Gaza) sputtered to an end just ten days ago, I’ll cite a few examples from that war to illustrate my main points.

In some countries, like the United States, Israel can rely upon a ‘fifth column’ of activist sympathizers to amplify its messages, to rebut and discredit statements that contradict its arguments, facts, and fabrications, and to impugn the moral standing of those who make such statements.”

In case there was any doubt who Freeman was referring to as “fifth columnists”, he went on to “name names” – imputing guilt to members of several Jewish organizations (and at least one American rabbi).

To be clear, “fifth columnists” refers to a group of people who clandestinely seek to undermine a nation from within.  It declares people “disloyal–enemies of their own country”, often due to their ethnic or race-based loyalties, and the use of such a charge against Jews has represented one of the more popular antisemitic narratives.

Historically, even before the birth of the modern state of Israel, Jews stood accused of not possessing sufficient loyalty to the nations where they resided. One of the earliest examples of this fusion of “excessive” Jewish power with ‘dual loyalty was the suspicion in parts of medieval Christian Europe that Jews were in league with some Muslim powers.  The charge of dual loyalty manifested itself in the Dreyfus Affair through the Nazi’s rise to power – and, indeed, this notion in large measure underlay the failure of European emancipation more broadly.  In the 1920s Henry Ford published The International JewThe World’s Problem where it was asserted, along with other calumnies, that disloyal Jews were pushing the United States towards war – a charge which resurfaced in the political aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, and in the current framing of a possible US war with Iran.

 Explicit characterizations of Jews as “fifth columnists” has an extremist right pedigree (David Duke highlighted Freeman’s recent charge against Jews on his website, per screenshot below ), so it seems that genuine anti-racists would be troubled that Guardian Left commentators such as Cohen and Greenwald are not only evidently not outraged by Freeman’s antisemitic (and McCarthy-style) attack on Jews, but consider him a victim.

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Increasingly, many on the far left (certainly on the Guardian Left) explain, in a tone of exasperation, that they’re tired of false accusations of antisemitism which, they often add, make people less sensitive to “real” antisemitism.  Yet, it seems, when confronted with a competition for their sympathy, foes of the Israel lobby (no matter how crude, unenlightened and Judeophobic their rhetoric) seem to win out over a historically oppressed Jewish minority every time.

A ‘left’ which can’t condemn, passionately and without qualifications, the hideous charge that American Jews are corrupting the body politic, and are working to undermine the nation, due to an unhealthy ethnic loyalty, are simply not worthy of the progressive mantle to which they so hubristically lay claim.

‘Comment is Free’, “Neocons” and attacks against a much maligned Abrahamic faith

There have been countless reader comments about Jews at ‘Comment is Free’ far more hateful than the following, which appeared  beneath Glenn Greenwald’s latest post, ‘Who paid the Log Cabin Republican anti-Hagel NTY Ad?’, but the language used is quite instructive in several respects.

This reader comment hasn’t been deleted by CiF moderators at the time this post was published.

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The interesting thing about this comment is that, despite its risible rhetorical excesses, much of it is in almost complete alignment with the dominant leftist narrative about the injurious effect of the Israel lobby on American politics.  In fact, the passage concerning the Israel lobby’s power, money and purchase of US politicians pretty much represents conventional wisdom within a segment of the American left, as well as at the Guardian.

Further, the word neocon - which refers to new conservatives who moved right due to a disenchantment with liberalism’s ideological excesses and what was perceived as its domestic policy failures, and now support conservative social policy and a US foreign policy which promotes freedom abroad –  has become one of the more popular forms of polemical abuse.  

Often it is a euphemism for Zionists (and sometimes Jews), and anyone who believe that the US should aggressively oppose the rise Islamism around the world, and (even when not used in a bigoted context) commentators such as Greenwald often use the term to paint a broad brush over all who believe the US should continue to support Israel. 

His characterization of opponents of Chuck Hagel’s possible nomination for Defense Secretary as neocons represents classic Greenwald.  

Typical is this passage from his CiF commentary:  

“…a favorite tactic of neocons - who have led the smear campaign against Hagel – is to cynically exploit liberal causes to generate progressive support for their militaristic agenda.”

As is the case with most bigoted and simplistic commentators who impute ill motives to their political opponents, Greenwald is unburdened by political nuance and thus employs the word neocon to attack Hagel’s opponents even though some of the most prominent groups who opposed the possible nomination are clearly not of the neocon persuasion.

For instance, there was significant opposition to Hagel’s nomination by decidedly liberal Jewish groups such as the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League.  

Similarly, liberal US political leaders such as Congressman Barney Frank (one of the most prominent openly gay members of the House of Representatives) and Senator Chuck Schumer have expressed strong opposition to Hagel.

In addition to Frank, some gay advocacy organizations – which are very liberal on most issues – have similarly expressed opposition to Hagel (or at least have expressed serious reservations).

Fierce opposition to Hagel has also come from the influential liberal activist, and founder of Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas – who has launched a campaign against the nomination.

While much of the Jewish opposition to Hagel has indeed been motivated by concerns over comments he has made thought by some to be antisemitic, and his opposition to aggressively confronting Iran, gay advocates have expressed concern over homophobic comments Hagel has made, while liberal activists like Moulitsas oppose Hagel for the simple reason that he is a staunch conservative whose views are fundamentally at odds with those of liberal Democrats.

Despite the fact that much of the opposition to Hagel’s nomination has come from those who would never identify with the values of neo-conservationism, decrying an alleged “neocon smear campaign” is an easy way of imputing sinister motivations to such opponents – by suggesting that they’re motivated not by what’s best for the US, but, rather what’s best for Israel, and that such “Israel-firsters” are willing to defame anyone who stands in their way.

Finally, the following passage in Greenwald’s essay is especially illustrative of the anti-neocon persuasion. 

“As it so often does, the [neocon] tactic has worked magically…as numerous progressives who do actually care about gay issues – from Rachel Maddow to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - dutifully popped up to attack the neocons‘ number one public enemy. Andrew Sullivan is right that this is a classic technique of the neocon smear campaign - recruit progressives to their cause with exploitation of unrelated issues.” 

To commentators such as Greenwald, even those opposing Hagel who clearly aren’t neocons simply could not have reached their conclusions independently but, rather, as the result of being cynically manipulated by neocon trickery.    

Guardian-Left anti-neocons such as Greenwald – and their army of supporters below the line – are increasingly identified as much by their intellectual laziness, convoluted casuistry and a remarkably facile understanding of the world as they are by a willingness to trade in antisemitic calumnies. 

The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald again smears pro-Israel American Jews

While the baffling support given to a far-right conservative (deemed hostile to women’s rights, gay rights and civil rights) named Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary by many on the far-left represents an interesting topic, the narrative advanced by Hagel defender Glenn Greenwald is especially worth exploring.

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Greenwald’s latest post, titled ‘Who paid for the Log Cabin Republicans’ anti-Hagel NYT ad?‘, primarily focuses on the question of who’s funding an anti-Hagel ad published by a well-known gay Republican group in the US (the Log Cabin Republicans), but also touches on one of Greenwald’s favorite themes: the alleged “stifling of debate” by the Israel lobby.

After floating the theory that a pro-Israeli lobby group may have funded the Log Cabin Republican ad, Greenwald pivots to one of his favorite targets:

While I agree with those who insist that a Hagel nomination would not meaningfully change administration policy, the goal of the anti-Hagel smear campaign is to ensure that there can be no debate and no diversity of views on Israel when it comes to top government officials.

As we noted, Greenwald similarly complained last week, on MSNBC, about the supposed “smear” campaign against Hagel by the pro-Israel lobby, and accused such activists of having a “stranglehold” over the American debate about Israel.

More importantly, it’s impossible to properly contextualize Greenwald’s complaint about the injurious effect of the Israel lobby on the US body politic without recalling previous comments by Greenwald which evoke the same theme.

Here are a few examples from his old blog at Salon.com:

“So absolute has the Israel-centric stranglehold on American policy been that the US Government has made it illegal to broadcast Hezbollah television stations.” 

Not even our Constitution’s First Amendment has been a match for the endless exploitation of American policy, law and resources [by the Israel lobby] to target and punish Israel’s enemies.”

The real goal [of the Israel lobby], as always, was to ensure that there is no debate over America’s indescribably self-destructive, blind support for Israeli actions. [Charles] Freeman’s critics may have scored a short-term victory in that regard, but the more obvious it becomes what is really driving these scandals, the more difficult it will be to maintain this suffocating control over American debates and American policy.”

“The point is that the power the [Israel lobby] exercises [is] harmful in the extreme. They use it to squelch debate, destroy the careers and reputations of those who deviate from their orthodoxies, and compel both political parties to maintain strict adherence to an agenda that is held by a minority of Americans; that is principally concerned with the interests of a foreign country.”

I have written previously about the dark history of the broader narrative Greenwald advances about the undue influence of the pro-Israeli/Jewish lobby, but beyond the odiousness of imputing such malevolence, and ill motives, to such (largely Jewish) pro-Israel activists, there is a fatal flaw in his argument.

When pro-Israel advocates in the US contact the media to make their voice heard, lobby for or against congressional legislation, or contact their representatives to express their concerns about a nominee for an important position, they are merely exercising their First Amendment rights as all Americans have the right to do.  

They aren’t “stifling”, squelching, or exercising a stranglehold over debate – and, despite the dark, conspiratorial musings of some, don’t possess the power to do so – but, rather, are participating in the political process, confident in their freedom to do so as citizens who are equal under the law.

Pro-Israel activists (and Jews as such) in America who legally use the levers of democracy to express their concerns about Chuck Hagel – regardless of the merits of their argument – are not denying the rights of Glenn Greenwald, Peter Beinart, Andrew Sullivan, Richard Silverstein, and others, to advocate on behalf of Hagel.

In short, free speech isn’t a zero-sum game.

Moreover, plain decency – and, it would seem, a liberal sense of fairness – would at the very least demand that Hagel’s defenders debate the issue on its merits, and avoid engaging in what amounts to nothing more than a vicious ad hominem attack on the Jewish community.

The stranglehold on the US by one lobby: One minute with Glenn Greenwald

The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald is evidently traveling and has been unable to write over the last couple of days, but was decent enough to post a few clips from his appearance on MSNBC’s “Up With Chris Hayes, ‘The Israel Lobby’s smear campaign and Dark Zero Thirty, Dec. 22.

Greenwald was on the show to discuss (among other issues) the possible nomination of Chuck Hagel as US Defense Secretary.  Talk of Hagel’s nomination has come under fire due to the Nebraska Senator’s views on Israel and the Middle East. 

In this brief clip which follows (which I edited from a longer segment on the MSNBC show) Greenwald is seen reacting to a speech Hagel gave about the 2nd Lebanon War on the Senate floor (on July 31, 2006), in which he demanded that “the sickening slaughter on both sides must end”.  

Though it’s arguably true that Israel’s supporters in the US have indeed over-reacted to the possible Hagel nomination, MSNBC’s  Hayes framed the row in a manner which allowed Greenwald the opportunity to denounce the Israel lobby, and he didn’t disappoint.

What you’re “allowed” to say:

In the first 15 seconds, Greenwald claims that you’re “allowed” to criticize Israeli policy more in Israel than you are in the United States, representing one of the central conceits of such critics: that pro-Israel lobbyists stifle debate.  

Of course, Greenwald, MJ Rosenberg, Andrew Sullivan as with Chuck Hagel, Congressman Keith Ellison and Dennis Kucinich, and academics like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, are “allowed” to be as critical as they’d like about Israel.

However, defenders of Israel are equally entitled to voice their views and use the democratic process in hopes that their side prevails over US policy decisions.  

The fact that critics of Israel face moral opprobrium doesn’t mean their voice is being silence. Freedom of speech does not require that such speech be immune from criticism.

Israel bombs ‘a longstanding ally’ of the US.

At the 25 second mark Greenwald complains how unfair it is that Senator Hagel wasn’t “allowed” to criticize Israel for bombing “a longstanding ally of the United States” – which refers to Lebanon (in the context of the 2nd Lebanon War) and conveniently ignores that Israel was at war, not with the government of Lebanon, but with the Iranian backed Islamist terror movement, Hezbollah.  

US public opinion was overwhelmingly supportive of Israel’s action, which was prompted by Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel, as well as a cross-border raid in which they killed eight Israeli soldiers and abducted two others.

Israel wasn’t bombing an ally. The citizens of an ally, Lebanon, were being held hostage to the terror committed on its soil by an illegal militia funded, armed and trained by Iran.

Israel lobby has a “stranglehold” over the American debate about Israel 

At the 40 second mark he goes even further, claiming there is a “stranglehold” over US debate about Israel.  In fact, Greenwald has used the term “stranglehold” before in the same context.

“So absolute has the Israel-centric stranglehold on American policy been that the US Government has made it illegal to broadcast Hezbollah television stations.” – Greenwald, Salon.com, 2009

Greenwald, in the 2009 quote, is referring to Hezbollah’s TV station, Al-Manar, which was banned by the US in 2006 – labelled a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity.  

Greenwald believes not only that the Israel lobby controls the debate about Israel in the US, but, evidently, that is also controls much of US national security policy as well.

Interestingly, Al-Manar has also been banned in France and Germany, and to varying extents in the UK, Canada, Netherlands, and Australia, which would evidently suggest, per Greenwald’s logic, that the Israel lobby has pulled off a feat that Hezbollah could not – achieving a truly global penetration.  

In fairness, Greenwald likely would not buy into theories about Zionist global conspiracies.  

However, when you carelessly use the language and tropes of those who do, you further legitimize their toxic narratives about the dangers of Jewish control.