Israel's role in American politics


Let’s stop pretending Israel isn’t a partisan issue
By Paul Waldman
Washington Post "Plum Line", 2015-01-22

When House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress without bothering to let the White House know, as is normal practice when dealing with foreign leaders, he no doubt thought he was getting a little sauce for the gander. You want to find ways to get Republicans mad, President Obama? Okay, how about if I invite the leader of one of our closest allies here to basically lobby against your position on Iran? How do you like that?

Boehner was right on that score: President Obama doesn’t like it very much. Neither did Nancy Pelosi, who blasted Boehner’s move this morning as “inappropriate,” adding: “It’s out of the ordinary that the Speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to a joint session without any bipartisan consultation.”

[One of the few things Nancy Pelosi says whose sense I agree with.]

But maybe this skirmish over diplomatic protocol is a good thing for everyone. Maybe we can stop pretending that Americans and Israelis are nothing more than loving and committed allies offering unwavering support to one another, when the truth is that parties in both countries are active participants in each other’s partisan politics.

The current disagreement is about negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. There’s a bill in the Senate, sponsored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, to impose new sanctions on Iran if a deal isn’t struck by June 30. The administration says that passing such legislation now, while the negotiations are at a sensitive point, would guarantee failure: the Iranians would pull out, then ramp up their nuclear program.

Republicans, and some Democrats like Menendez, don’t think so. They seem to believe that the only thing that produces results is being “tough,” and that even in diplomacy there are no carrots, only sticks. This also happens to be the position of the Netanyahu administration, which supports the sanctions bill. But not all in the Israeli government agree. Josh Rogin and Eli Lake report that the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, has been telling both the Obama administration and whatever American senators will listen that “if legislation that imposed a trigger leading to future sanctions on Iran was signed into law, it would cause the talks to collapse.”

So the Republicans have asked Netanyahu to come join them in this debate,
and he is more than willing.
Which shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
For years we’ve had
one party (the Republicans) that is fervently committed to
the right-wing Likud’s vision for Israel,
and another party (the Democrats) that is much more committed to
the Israeli Labor party’s vision.

When each holds the White House, they put those beliefs into policy.
But both will say only that we all have a bipartisan commitment
to “support” the Jewish state,
as though what “support” means is always simple and clear.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has done what he can to help Republicans. In 2012, his all-but-explicit advocacy for Mitt Romney ended up getting him in trouble back home. The current Israeli ambassador to the U.S. is American-born political operative Ron Dermer; as Josh Marshall says: “His relationship with Netanyahu has been compared to Karl Rove’s with George W. Bush. And a main reason for his being Ambassador is his ties to DC Republicans.”

And here’s a colorful illustration of the symbiotic relationship between the GOP and Netanyahu’s Likud.
The Republican Party’s greatest patron is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson,
who spent somewhere between $100 and $150 million
trying to unseat Barack Obama in 2012.
And who is Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest patron?
None other than Sheldon Adelson,
who a few years ago created a free daily newspaper, Israel Hayom,
whose primary purpose is to blanket the country with news favorable to Netanyahu.

It has long been true that the debate about what Israel should do —
with regard to the Palestinians or anything else —
is infinitely more varied and robust in Israel itself
than here in the United States,
where the only allowable public position for a politician to take is
that we support whatever the Israeli government wants to do.

This unanimity is maintained by a variety of forces,
most notably the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC),
which calls itself “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,”
but in practice has for decades been not the Israel lobby
but the Likud lobby,
representing one particular faction in Israeli politics.

[How much more evidence do you need that
Israel controls America,
through, in large part, the agency of
the rich and powerful American Jewish community?
How about some free speech about that?]

Benjamin Netanyahu is the leader of his country, but he’s also the leader of that faction, and at the moment he’s in the midst of an election campaign (one the Obama administration would be all too happy to see him lose). If Congressional Republicans want him to come be a spokesperson for the Republican position in the debate over Iran, that’s fine. But we should use the occasion to allow ourselves a little honestly. Yes, the United States and Israel are close allies whose core interests are aligned. But in neither country is there agreement about how to serve those interests. There’s no such thing as a “pro-Israel” position on this issue, because Israelis themselves have a profound dispute about it, just as there’s no such thing as one “pro-America” position on anything we argue about.

So we can call this speech what it is:
an effort by one conservative politician
to help a bunch of other conservative politicians
achieve their preferred policy.
Maybe afterward, John Boehner can return the favor and cut some ads advocating Netanyahu’s reelection.
Though I’m not sure how well that would go over in Israel.

Paul Waldman is a contributor to The Plum Line blog, and a senior writer at The American Prospect.

U.S. rift with Israel roils the 2016 presidential field
By Anne Gearan and Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post, 2015-03-24

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush on Tuesday
disavowed criticism of Israel levied by
longtime family counselor and former secretary of state James A. Baker —
laying bare a problem faced by the entire 2016 presidential field.

Israel, and U.S. policy toward it,
has become an intensely partisan issue with serious implications for
Jewish voters, campaign fundraising and foreign policy.

For Republicans seeking office,
almost any critique of Israel has become taboo.

That doesn’t leave much leverage for diplomacy
if a Republican wins the White House.

And for presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton,
the tough line that President Obama is taking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
forces her hand.
Clinton is in the awkward spot of
appearing to side against Netanyahu
or against the president she served as secretary of state.

“Frankly, I have been disappointed with
the lack of progress regarding a lasting peace —
and I have been for some time,”
[Geez, who can disagree with that?]
Baker told a left-leaning audience [J Street] Monday night,
according to news reports of his speech.

He added that
“in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s recent election victory,
the chance of a two-state solution seems even slimmer,
given his reversal on the issue.”
[Again, who can disagree with that?
We know the Israelis in power:
always looking for some excuse
to not engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians,
to not make the 1967 border the starting point for the negotiations.]

That put Baker — a longtime friend of the Bush family
and an unpaid adviser to Jeb Bush’s expected presidential campaign —
alongside Obama and firmly outside the Republican wagon circle.

Baker was notably critical of comments Netanyahu made
in the closing hours of his reelection campaign last week,
when the prime minister suggested that
he no longer supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu has since backtracked, with limited effect.

Obama on Tuesday said he took Netanyahu “at his word”
and was openly skeptical that the Israeli leader would support
an independent state for Palestinians.

Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East Security Program
at the Center for a New American Security
and a former Obama administration Mideast policy aide,
said Netanyahu’s speech to Congress earlier this month
crystallized the growing partisan divide.

Republicans invited Netanyahu over White House disapproval,
and Democrats accused Republicans of colluding with Netanyahu
to sabotage nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

“The fact that Netanyahu has become such a hero to them,
and that the whole confrontation has such a partisan tinge to it,
just exacerbates a division that was not there” to the same degree in past elections,
Goldenberg said.

Clinton has not addressed Netanyahu’s remarks
or the White House reaction to them.
She is on record supporting the diplomatic outreach to Iran
that undergirds the current U.S.-Israeli tension.

As Obama sought to do Tuesday,
candidate Clinton will no doubt stress
the ongoing strength of U.S. support for Israel
despite policy differences with its leader.
In the short term,
she will probably try to avoid criticizing Netanyahu directly,
according to analysts and Democrats involved in outreach to Jewish voters.

“Hillary Clinton as both a candidate and as president
would put serious effort into healing the rift between the United states and Israel,”
[And for the Palestinians?
Lip service only.
There can be no doubt that that's exactly what that means.]

said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If the rift continues,
Clinton may seek to distance herself from Obama’s hard line.
That is because
any tension with Israel makes many Jewish Democrats squeamish
and because she would want to pave the way toward better relations with Netanyahu if she wins.

Baker has been an outspoken advocate
for the former Florida governor’s likely White House bid.
Bush touted Baker’s support last month
when he announced a 21-member foreign policy advisory team
that is counseling him as he prepares to run for president.

Baker has also long supported peace negotiations
that would require concessions from Israel and the Palestinians.
As secretary of state to Jeb Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, in 1990,
Baker famously told Israel off for stiff-arming U.S. efforts to broker talks.

“When you’re serious about peace, call us,” Baker said,
addressing the Israeli leadership from afar at a congressional hearing.
“The phone number is 202-456-1414,” he added.
Then and now, the number reaches the White House switchboard.

Baker’s views are now out of step with Republican primary campaign orthodoxy,
if not with many actual Republican general-election voters.

Baker spoke Monday night at a conference hosted by J Street,
an advocacy group focused on U.S.-Israel relations
and support of negotiations toward a Palestinian state.

Spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said in a statement that
Bush “respects Secretary Baker,
he disagrees with the sentiments he expressed last night
and opposes J Street’s advocacy.
Governor Bush’s support for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu is unwavering,
and he believes it’s critically important
our two nations work seamlessly to achieve peace in the region.”

[Another leading politician in the tank for Israel's right wing.
Seems almost like a job requirement.
The statement above makes it clear that he is a stooge of Netanyahu.]

Bush, who said he has visited Israel five times,
has repeatedly expressed support for Netanyahu and for Israel generally.
He tweeted congratulations last week to Netanyahu on his reelection.

Other Republicans see the current division as a way to criticize Obama
and burnish their own pro-Israel credentials.
Announcing his presidential bid at Liberty University on Monday,
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) drew long applause criticizing Obama on Israel.

“Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu,
imagine a president who stands unapologetically with Israel,”
Cruz said.

Another possible Republican contender, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.),
said on the Senate floor last week that
Obama is making a “historic mistake.”

“Allies have differences, but allies like Israel,
when you have a difference with them and it is public,
it emboldens their enemies,”
Rubio said.

The sharp critiques could help Republican contenders
win over some of the party’s most influential donors.

Many top contributors will assemble in Las Vegas next month
for the annual spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition,
which touted Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress last month.
former Texas governor Rick Perry,
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and
Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana
are scheduled to address the gathering,
as is former president George W. Bush.

Staunch support for Israel is a prime motivator
for major GOP donors such as Sheldon Adelson and Norman Braman.

Rubio visited Israel with Braman, a wealthy car dealer
who is expected to give a Rubio-aligned super PAC as much as $10 million
if the fundraising group is formed.

G.O.P.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift
New York Times, 2014-04-05


As the proposed agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is debated in coming weeks,
President Obama will make his case to a Congress
controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever,
partly a result of ideology,
but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf
by a small group of wealthy donors.


Republicans currently in the Senate raised more money during the 2014 election cycle in direct, federally regulated campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees deemed pro-Israel
than their Democratic counterparts,
according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and analyzed for The New York Times by a second nonprofit, MapLight.
The Republican advantage was the first in more than a decade.


Donors say the trend toward Republicans among wealthy, hawkish contributors
is at least partly responsible for
inspiring stronger support for Israel among party lawmakers who already had pro-Israel views.

“Absolutely, it is a factor,” said Marc Felgoise,
who manages the Philadelphia Israel Network, a campaign fund-raising group,
and whose own contributions have shifted to Republicans,
though he still supports many Democrats.
“They are trying to cater to people who are ultimately going to support them.”


The Emergency Committee for Israel, led by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, spent $960,000 to support Mr. Cotton. In that same race, Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire from New York and a leading donor to pro-Israel causes, contributed $250,000 to Arkansas Horizon, another independent expenditure group supporting Mr. Cotton. Seth Klarman, a Boston-based pro-Israel billionaire, contributed $100,000.

The political action committee run by John Bolton, the United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush and an outspoken supporter of Israel, spent at least $825,000 to support Mr. Cotton. That PAC is in part financed by other major pro-Israel donors, including Irving and Cherna Moskowitz of Miami, who contributed 99 percent of their $1.1 million in 2012 races to Republican candidates and causes.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said this relatively small group of very wealthy Jewish-Americans distorted the views among Jews nationwide who remain supportive of the Democratic Party and a more nuanced relationship with Israel.

“The very, very limited set of people who do their politics simply through the lens of Israel — that small group is tilting more heavily Republican now,” he said, adding, “But it is dangerous for American politics as too many people do not understand that of the six million American Jews, this is only a handful.”

The deepening support for Israel among congressional Republicans reflects a significant shift for the party that has been playing out for several decades, said Geoffrey Kabaservice, a Republican Party historian.

“Israel did not traditionally represent that kind of emotional focus for any element of the Republican Party,” he said. “But the feeling now is that it is a winning issue, as it helps them to appear strong on foreign policy.”


The scope of the alliance was evident last month when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, at the invitation of Speaker John A. Boehner, spoke to a joint meeting of Congress, over Mr. Obama’s objections.

After the speech, some of the nation’s most important pro-Israel donors, including Mr. Adelson, gathered with more than a dozen Republican members of Congress at the nearby Capitol Hill Club. “It was a love fest,” said Kenneth J. Bialkin, a corporate lawyer and donor who attended.


The shift has also meant the Republican Party today accepts little dissent on the topic of Israel, said Scott McConnell, a founding editor of The American Conservative, an outcome he believes is in part driven by the demands of financial supporters.

“Republicans interested in foreign policy used to understand that it was not in America’s national interest to ignore entirely Arab claims against Israel,” he said. “Now, there is a fanatical feeling of one-sidedness.”


What is clear is that pro-Israel leaders have developed close relationships with some of the Republican champions like Mr. Cotton. It is highly unusual for a freshman senator to take a bold step like his Iran letter, and then persuade dozens of colleagues to endorse it. A spokesman for Mr. Cotton said the senator had written the letter himself, though Mr. Kristol said he had had a conversation with him about it.

“I know there has been all this fervent speculation that Tom Cotton and Bill Kristol and Sheldon Adelson were at some private room at the Venetian cooking this up,” said Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, referring to Mr. Adelson’s casino in Las Vegas, where many prominent Republicans and Jewish leaders will gather this month. “But Tom is a smart guy and has a long record of thinking about the Middle East, and he is entrepreneurial. Tom wrote this letter.”


‘NYT’ addresses pro-Israel donors’ influence over Congress
by Philip Weiss
Mondoweiss, 2015-04-05

The New York Times has finally done it: an honest piece about the Israel lobby’s financial influence over Congress. The Republican side of the aisle, anyway.


Headlined “G.O.P.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift,” the piece follows Eli Clifton’s reporting in highlighting several wealthy Jewish donors: Paul Singer, Seth Klarman, Irving Moskowitz. And it quotes Scott McConnell, the former editor of the American Conservative, who says that Republicans have abandoned their traditional sympathy to “Arab claims against Israel” for one-sided “fanaticism.”

The piece treats Benjamin Netanyahu’s hero tour of Congress last month as part of the financial sweepstakes for Republican presidential candidates conducted by Sheldon Adelson (who has called on Obama to nuke Iran).


The Times’s honesty about the rightwing Jewish donors is possible because the lobby split over Netanyahu, and big Jewish donors are no longer perceived as monolithic. So long as they were perceived as monolithic, this kind of story was regarded as anti-Semitic. But remember that just two years ago the Democrats were indistinguishable from the Republicans, the White House abandoned its opposition to settlements, and when delegates at the Democratic Party convention wanted to come out for a divided Jerusalem, they were shut down by a president who was reportedly “livid” that the platform had failed to include the Netanyahu party line.

Jeremy Ben-Ami of the liberal Zionist group J Street addresses the monolith when he tells Lipton that the rightwing donors “distorted” politicians’ views of the Jewish community. I.e., The pols were afraid to take a step because they thought all American Jews are for the settlements.

The obvious questions that arise from the Times piece are: How supportive of Israel are the Democrats’ big Jewish donors? Will those donors demonstrate greater diversity of opinion than Klarman and Adelson? I believe they will; but the test will take place when Democrats in next year’s primary process are able to run against US aid to Israel (and against the occupation, the settlements, even the two-state solution). They will be able to do so because the Jewish community is openly fracturing over the occupation, and the leftwing view is gaining adherents. We are approaching the time when Ben-Ami will find himself on the right inside the Democratic Party because he will be for continued aid to Israel. While some big Jewish Democratic givers will be against that aid.


How the GOP Became the Israel Party
by Scott McConnell
The American Conservative, 2015-04-08

Bill Kristol and John McCain have replaced Robert Novak and Pat Buchanan in Republican foreign policy influence.

When the unexpectedly detailed P5+1 framework agreement with Iran was announced last Thursday, Illinois Republican Mark Kirk made a bizarre comment. “We all know” said the senator, that this is going to end with “a mushroom cloud somewhere near Tehran”—a result of Israel having to go to war to “clean up the mess” made by American and European negotiators. A few days earlier John McCain had expressed the wish that Israel “go rogue” and attack Iran in order to upend the Iran negotiations.

It would have been one thing if such comments had come from backbench congressmen. But McCain is a former GOP presidential nominee, one of his party’s most prominent foreign policy spokesmen. Kirk is the co-sponsor of what was, until recently, the major Senate legislation intended to scuttle the Iran negotiations—a leader in GOP “pro-Israel” circles. Yet neither remark sparked a repudiation, or even any reaction at all. They were what one expects from the GOP these days, recklessness about war and peace fused with a passion for Israel. It was if all the diffuse sentiments which once fueled American nationalism and militarism were concentrated into a tight stream and displaced onto Israel, turning the country into the fantasy surrogate of American hawks. The conservative belief in American exceptionalism is like Zionism, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol boasted. Kirk and McCain may know that Americans have little enthusiasm for another Mideast war; the U.S. Army understands perfectly well that no occupation of Iran could be sustained, and America would have zero international support if it tried. But no matter, they have Israel.

Even 20 years ago some Republican senator would have signaled some collegial disagreement with Kirk and McCain. A Bob Dole or Dick Lugar or a Mark Hatfield would have let on that this sentiment wasn’t the only opinion in the party. Now if there are any who dissent, they dare not speak. Benjamin Netanyahu has become the symbolic leader of the GOP, and even he is probably not as aggressive as most in the party would like him to be.

How did this transformation occur? How did the party of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan come to this? The New York Times published two recent pieces exploring this subject. The first, by Peter Baker, takes off from observing Jeb Bush very quickly disassociating himself from former Secretary of State James Baker’s moderate speech at J Street; the second, by Eric Lipton, explored the rapid growth in ties between hawkish pro-Israel donors and the Republican Party.

Baker’s piece fills out the basics: the top realist foreign policy voices of the 1980s and ‘90s GOP, Baker, and Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft have no influence anymore. Jeb Bush threw James Baker under the bus at the first squawk from Sheldon Adelson; support for the Israeli right has become a Republican litmus test. To explain this, Baker mentions the new donors, the rise of right-wing evangelicals within the party, the vague sense emerging from 9/11 that Israel and the United States faced the same enemy in Islamic terrorism, and the pro-Israeli leadership of George W. Bush, who repudiated the foreign policy realism of his father.

Lipton focuses on the new money stream. He shows that Adelson, Paul Singer, and other right-wing, pro-Israel donors, their spending unleashed by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, have pushed the GOP past the Democrats as recipients of “pro-Israel” PAC money. He uncovers some fairly shocking facts, such as the rapid infusion of “pro-Israel” funds into Arkansas freshman senator Tom Cotton’s campaigns.
This detailed reporting about Israel-related money in a widely read centrist publication
is an important and welcome development:
until recently, it was subject hidden in whisper and awkward euphemism,
as when two election cycles ago,
retired general and possible presidential candidate Wesley Clark referred to
“New York money people” pushing for war with Iran.
Clark had to be walked through an apology with the assistance of Abe Foxman.

But important as the finance angle is, the subject has other important dimensions.
If Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer had tried to purchase the Mideast policy of the Republican Party 20 or 30 years ago,
they would have failed, even under the new campaign finance rules.

I am not persuaded by the evangelical argument:
my rough sense is that Christan Zionism may have peaked 15 years ago within the evangelical movement;
increasingly there are prominent evangelical voices calling for justice in Israel and Palestine.
In any case, evangelicals hardly make up a decisive segment of the Republican electorate.

But the ground for Singer and Adelson and their cohorts has been prepared over 20 years.
Several events from the 1990s were critical in the process.
During the Reaganite 1980s,
Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak were probably America’s most popular media conservatives.
Neither was a big Israel backer (though Buchanan had been earlier in his career).
Both saw Mideast conflicts through the lens of
those in the American foreign policy establishment who knew the region:
Israel had done deep wrongs to the Palestinians,
which could and should be practically addressed;
American had profound strategic needs to get along with the Arab world.

But in a sustained and fairly well documented strike,
the neoconservative media establishment began a campaign against Buchanan,
who had been far more polemical about Israel than Novak.

Buchanan survived the attacks, but they damaged his standing as a Republican.
Younger activists got the message that
if you were ambitious about advancing in the conservative movement,
better just leave the Israel subject alone—
or better still, become a passionate Zionist.
The attacks took someone who used to be at the core of the conservative polemic industry
and essentially neutralized him.
Buchanan eventually left the GOP, but the party was not better for it.

Another step in setting the stage for Adelson and Singer was Rupert Murdoch’s starting and funding of The Weekly Standard, perhaps the most successful political magazine in history. Before the Standard, National Review was the most important conservative magazine, pro-Israel but hardly obsessively so, and open to an array of perspectives. James Burnham, the magazine’s principal strategic thinker through the 1970s, was highly skeptical of the Israel-U.S. alliance. But by the 1990s, Burnham was dead and NR had a wealthy competitor, one which could count on a reported $3 million annual subsidy from Murdoch (while Buckley had labored for years to keep NR afloat with four- and five-figure donations).
Leading neoconservatives, including editors of the Standard,
played the anti-Semite card against key National Review figures:
aggressively in the case of Joseph Sobran,
with more subtlety in the case of John O’Sullivan and Richard Neuhaus.
By the late 1990s, National Review had capitulated,
becoming indistinguishable from Commentary or The Weekly Standard on the Mideast and most other issues.

One should also mention the proliferation of hawkish pro-Israel conservative think tanks.
There is the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Hudson Institute, AEI, and dozens of others:
if you are conservative, interested in foreign policy, and want a think tank job in D.C.,
being hawkishly pro-Israel is the way to go.
Pro-Israel hawks have done more in 20 years
than create a fundraising apparatus designed to
impose pro-Israel litmus tests upon Republican politicians;
they have forged an entire ideological party inside the Beltway,
comprised of think tank staffers and ideological journalists,
all of whom can be reliably counted on to advocate for some version of a right-wing Israeli perspective whenever circumstances require it.
These forces weren’t in place when George H.W. Bush faced off with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir over Israeli settlements in 1991,
but they rule in Republican circles now.

I am pessimistic about the Republican party’s short term prospects
to overcome and reverse this takeover, but not about the issue overall.
All my senses tell me that President Obama,
and what remains of a centrist and liberal foreign policy establishment,
will succeed in persuading the country that
the deal with Iran is a large net-plus for American interests;
it helps enormously that what was agreed upon in Lausanne seems to have surpassed expectations,
which has been remarked upon by quite a few observers who expected far less.
Republican politicians will move on to other subjects if they sense the public is not with them in opposing the Iran deal,
Sheldon Adelson notwithstanding.
In the medium term, the defeat of Mark Kirk next year—altogether possible—
would signal that blind obeisance to a foreign country can be a loser politically.

Finally, there are underlying dynamics in the Middle East which all of Sheldon Adelson’s money cannot overcome.
Most important is that Iran has clearly become one of the more stable, modern, and democratic countries in the region.
Another is that Israel is becoming a harder sell to Americans.
As David Shulman put it in the New York Review of Books,
“What really counts is that the Israeli electorate
is still dominated by hypernationalist, in some cases protofascist, figures.
It is in no way inclined to make peace.”
Information flows quite freely in the age of the Internet,
and these Mideast realities are slowly seeping into the American consciousness.
The same factors which now make divestment from companies doing business with Israel
an important issue on many American college campuses
cannot forever be ignored by a large political party competing for power in a free society.
The process, however, is going to take a while.

Scott McConnell is a TAC founding editor.

One of Jeb Bush’s top advisers on Israel: George W. Bush
By Robert Costa and Matea Gold
Washington Post, 2015-05-07

After spending months distancing himself from his family’s political legacy, Jeb Bush surprised a group of Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former president George W. Bush, as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy.

“If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it’s him,” Bush said Tuesday, speaking to a crowd of high-powered investors at the Metropolitan Club, according to four people present. The Republicans in the room spoke on the condition of anonymity to divulge information about the private meeting.

The remark came as part of an answer to a question about Bush’s political aides and their policy views, and whether he relies on the guidance of former secretary of state James Baker, guests said. Baker’s role in Bush’s orbit has been the source of consternation for some major GOP donors, who were upset that the 85-year-old ex-diplomat spoke to a left- leaning Israeli advocacy group in March.

Jeb Bush said that Baker is not one of his close advisers and that he leans on his brother for insights when it comes to Israel and the Middle East.

Embracing George W. Bush as a foreign-policy confidant is a risky and unexpected move for the former Florida governor as he readies for a likely presidential bid. While the former president’s approval ratings have improved since he left office in 2009, his foreign-policy legacy — particularly the long war in Iraq — remains deeply unpopular. He has also become anathema to some conservative activists for presiding over an increase in the federal debt, among other policies.

Jeb Bush has surrounded himself with many of his brother’s advisers and has endorsed many foreign-policy positions that mirror those of the former president. At the same time, Bush has repeatedly stressed that he has his own worldview.

“I love my brother. I love my dad,” he told an audience in Chicago in February. “I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions that they had to make. But I am my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences.”

For his part, George W. Bush said last month that he planned to stay away from the campaign trail because voters do not like political dynasties.

Jeb Bush’s revelation that he seeks out his brother about Israel and the Middle East indicates that the siblings may be closer than portrayed. The relationship is often described as cordial and warm but distant on policy matters.

Tim Miller, a spokesman, played down the significance of Bush’s comment.

“Governor Bush has said before that his brother is the greatest ally to Israel in presidential history, he admires his stalwart support for our ally, and that is in line with his commitment to standing with Israel in the face of great threats to their security and our own,” Miller said in a statement Thursday.

Tuesday’s session was organized by GOP mega-donor Paul Singer and his advisers so their associates could hear from Bush. Similar meetings have been held with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, three of Bush’s potential Republican rivals in the 2016 race.

The question that led to Bush’s response was about how much he relied on Baker, a respected party figure and longtime Bush family friend. During his speech in March to the group J Street, Baker criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not backing a two-state solution.

Bush said that he respected Baker but maintained that he is not part of his foreign-policy team.

Bush also expressed regret for the way he has unveiled his staff hires and advisers and said the lengthy list he made public in February, which included Baker, was not an accurate representation of whom he reaches out to when he’s considering Israel- related issues.

Participants said the reception at the club was mostly encouraging, but one attendee said he was “stunned” to hear Jeb Bush specifically mention George W. Bush as his go-to adviser. “I started looking around and wondering if people were recording it. It was jarring,” the attendee said. “If video of it got out, it’d be devastating.”

Others saw it differently.

“It was a very positive response, just based on faces around the room,” a second attendee said. “There didn’t seem to be any sort of negative reaction.”

Jeb Bush’s comments were widely interpreted as an effort to dispel lingering concerns among Israel hawks that Baker’s comments were indicative of Bush’s own views. Singer, a billionaire hedge fund manager, is one of many top GOP money players who fund conservative pro-Israel groups and candidates who favor a hard-line stance against Iran.

A majority of registered voters still have unfavorable views of how George W. Bush handled his job as president, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll in March. Nevertheless, there remains deep affection within the GOP for George W. Bush, with 87 percent approving of his presidential tenure.

“For all of the negatives in how George W. Bush is remembered in foreign policy, people who are supportive of Israel remember him as supportive of Israel,” said Danielle Pletka, who studies national security at the American Enterprise Institute. “For Bush, he has to find a way to deflect the festering question of his relationship with James Baker.”

George W. Bush drew enthusiastic reviews for his appearance last month before the Republican Jewish Coalition, where he answered questions about his time in the White House and his post-presidency.

But during that appearance, he said he planned to stay away from the 2016 fray, noting that voters have an aversion to the idea of political royalty.

The former president underscored the same point during a speech to a conference of health-care technology experts in April.

“The role of family is not to be a political adviser or a policy adviser — there are plenty of those around,” said George W. Bush, according to Politico. “The role is to say, ‘Hey man, I love you.’ ”

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