Saturday, July 14, 2012

Joe Walsh Should Be Pro-Israel PAC's Public Enemy #1

There is one member of Congress who is a loud-and-proud supporter of a one-state solution. His name is Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), a Tea Party extremist who came to Washington on the crest of the 2010 GOP wave. His opponent is decorated war hero Tammy Duckworth, who lost both her legs in combat (Walsh is sick of hearing about that).

Walsh's extremist views have made Israel a surprisingly large issue in his suburban Illinois race. Walsh's district isn't very Jewish (good thing too, because he views most Jews with contempt), but by being so clear in opposing one of the bedrock principles of American pro-Israel advocacy, he has put himself in the crosshairs.

Or he should be. I've already noted the deafening silence that has met the rise of one-stateism on the American right. And as The Forward reports, many of the middle-of-the-road pro-Israel groups are ducking this race entirely (Walsh is getting support from some fringe right-wing groups and is under heavy fire from J Street).

As de Talleyrand famously put it: "This is worse than a crime, it's a blunder." We'll put aside the part where pro-Israel groups should oppose Walsh because Walsh's views are fundamentally dangerous for Israel by the terms of these own groups' statements. Taking out Walsh is in these groups' best interest on a host of levels.

First of all, if Walsh stays in Congress he is showing that one can defy the American pro-Israel consensus with impunity. Obviously, part of being an effective advocate is showing that opposition comes with political costs -- a reputation that takes a hit when a first-term Congressman appears to have the big bad Israel Lobby running scared. And in a sense, Walsh is more dangerous to the pro-Israel establishment than most because he's at the vanguard of a movement seeking to strip "pro-Israel" away from mainstream Jewish groups and turn it into an evangelical Christian construct which doesn't care a whit about Jewish lives or Jewish values. Does anyone think Walsh actually has a use for groups like AJC in directing the future of pro-Israel? Of course not. The more the power of people like Walsh waxes, the more that of the mainstream Jewish community wanes.

Second, a critical element of the pro-Israel community's Washington strategy is to maintain support for Israel as a bipartisan value. Yet that image is increasingly under threat as the heavy pro-Israel hitters are beginning to be seen as essentially arms of the right. There are left-wing politicians they will attack for insufficient support of Israel (sometimes rightly, sometimes not), but there is no way one can be anti-Israel from the right (save Pat Buchanan-esque crpyto-conservatism). Given that, liberal organizations are naturally going to wonder if the supposed bipartisanship of the pro-Israel community, really is. Taking on Congressman Walsh -- demonstrating that they're willing to police their right flank as well as their left one -- would do much to reestablish the fraying centrist credibility of these groups.

And finally -- taking on Walsh is likely a freebie. Walsh is a far, far right-wing Republican who was elected in a wave year and whose seat got even more liberal in redistricting. Most prognosticators think he's going down anyway. So why not line up on the winning side? Even if one is misguided enough to think Walsh is anything other than a massive liability, there's no reason to not jump on the bandwagon here, given the benefits outlined above. If pro-Israel groups can't challenge right-wing Republicans even when the odds are stacked in their favor, what good are they?

Joe Walsh is, almost without a doubt, the single most anti-Israel Congressman serving in Washington today. He needs to be taken down, and hard. And it is a disappointing commentary on the state of the American pro-Israel lobby that they seem unable to muster the balls to take him on.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Maine Gov. LePage Calls IRS "Gestapo" -- Twice

I had vaguely heard of this before reading LePage had apologized, but I didn't really look into the specifics -- I just figured it was yet another case of embarrassingly overheated Tea Party rhetoric. But The Forward's more comprehensive coverage manages to shock even me.

Generally, casual Nazi references are done pretty thoughtlessly -- the speaker tends not to flesh things out too much because doing so would pretty rapidly demonstrate the absurdity (and moral depravity) of the comparison. But LePage was hardly being casual or off-the-cuff -- here are his remarks to a Vermont alternative paper after the original firestorm from the first time he called the IRS the Gestapo:
“What I am trying to say is the Holocaust was a horrific crime against humanity and, frankly, I would never want to see that repeated. Maybe the IRS is not quite as bad - yet,” LePage said.

Asked if the IRS was headed in that direction, LePage responded, “They’re headed in that direction.”

Asked if he knew what Adolf Hitler’s secret police did during World War Two, including the imprisonment and murder of millions of Jews, LePage said, “Yeah, they killed a lot of people.” Asked whether the IRS “was headed in the direction of killing a lot of people,” LePage answered: “Yeah.”

If I can have a moment of levity before I return to outrage -- "frankly", the Governor doesn't want the Holocaust to repeat itself? Why thank you -- I'm so glad you can be frank with us. It's so rare to have someone willing to boldly stand up for unpopular positions like "I don't want mass genocides to reoccur."

But anyway, Gov. LePage makes it very clear that when he is talking about the IRS-as-Gestapo, he is talking about mass slaughter, and that he does think that the IRS is "headed in that direction". The warrant for that is, naturally, the ACA -- I wouldn't say I was joking when I called the GOP's perspective on the ACA "taxing the rich to exterminate the poor", but I didn't expect a state governor to come out and say it so directly.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Keeping Things On the Table

I nominate "off the table" as the dumbest concept in foreign policy. It's why Alan Dershowitz says J Street isn't "pro-Israel" -- they allegedly demand that the military option be "off the table" with respect to Iran (J Street denies that's their position, they simply think a sanctions-based approach makes more sense).

But what, exactly, does "off the table" even mean here? Unless J Street has secretly sabotaged our nation's armed forces, the "military option" is always "on the table". We still have planes! They can still bomb things! That's always available. Even if we decide not to do it now, we can change our mind later -- the military will still be there. Now, of course, at some point it might be too late -- but that could be the case if the military option is "on the table" but ultimately not used.

Compare, for example, if Iran said they were developing nuclear weapons, but using them offensively was "off the table". Would you be comforted? No, of course not -- in part because we might not trust them, but in larger part because even if they're being genuine they can always change their mind instantly. As can we -- military capacity isn't a perishable good. It'll keep.

J Street Attacks Walsh's One-Stateism

J Street has released ads attacking Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) for supporting a one-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (apparently parallel ads are up attacking Rep. Allen West as well). This is a tactic I've been urging for some time now. But while I like the concept, I think the execution needs work -- as the ad language is still too defensive for my tastes.

I don't think the ad emphasizes enough the consensus view amongst mainstream Jews that such plan means the end of Israel -- not a bigger Israel. And at the end, when it says that supporting one state "isn’t pro-Israel", I'd instead have said "is anti-Israel". In general, I think political rhetoric is strongest when it takes as a given the point it is trying to make, rather than make it seem like the point of controversy. The ad here should have acted as if it is simply accepted that to be a one-stater is to be anti-Israel (easy to do, given the plethora of quotes by respected Jewish groups saying just that), and then flambé Rep. Walsh for his anti-Israel views.

Part of the problem is that J Street has been framing this campaign as trying to cut against the norm of "Israel right or wrong". But good project or not, here the Israeli government isn't wrong -- as the ad points out, the Israeli government has consistently stated that the two-state solution is the solution it wants. It's Walsh who has decided to stake out a position critical of the Israeli government and most Israelis and Jews, so why shouldn't he get the (mostly fabled, but still) "classic" treatment that people "critical of Israel" are said to get?

This ad hits Republicans on Israel "from the left", and that's important. But it could have been more visceral about hitting Republicans for being anti-Israel from the left -- thus helping bring back a form of genuine progressive pro-Israel politics as well as documenting the way in which conservative Republican stances on Israel are hostile to many of Israel's core values and security concerns.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Mitt Romney delivers a speech before the NAACP. Mitt Romney promises to repeal "Obamacare". Mitt Romney is met with a chorus of boos.

My favorite part is how the video cuts just as Mitt Romney starts to mention "a survey of the Chamber of Commerce." That'll win 'em back, Mitt!

In any event, I'm curious what the impact of this booing will be. The odds are nothing -- it's no news that Black people disagree with Republican policies. But assuming we do care what Black people think, there is something notable about this. Sometimes a politician can go into a group's backyard, elicit boos, and come out ahead -- spin it as telling "tough truths" or "tough love". But that doesn't quite work here -- the GOP's attack on the ACA hasn't been that it is good for some but ultimately unaffordable. It is that it is a moral catastrophe loathed and despised by everyone. That narrative can't really countenance people booing at eliminating it -- it's predicated off of pretty universal disdain for the program.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Likudnik Policies

Man, I hate when American politicians blindly parrot Likud Party policies. Take this proposal by Likud MK (and Knesset Speaker) Reuven Rivlin:
"I would prefer for the Palestinians to be citizens of this country," he said, "rather than divide the land." This was no slip of the tongue. Rivlin's office gave the statement to the press, thereby making him the highest-ranking political figure to have publicly raised the possibility of a single State of Israel from the Mediterranean to the Jordan.

Rivlin places those comments within the framework of a broader outlook: The land, he says, is not divisible. Jews and Arabs have lived side by side here since the dawn of Zionism and before. His own family arrived in Palestine in the early 19th century. Settlement east of the Green Line is no more moral than settlement to the west of it. And incidentally, the Palestinian claim is as legitimate and just as the Jewish claim.

And the solution? The Knesset Speaker rejects the idea of a "state of all its citizens", i.e. − a binational state. But he is pondering the possibility of some kind of joint sovereignty arrangement in Judea and Samaria under the Jewish state, or even a regime composed of two parliaments, one Jewish and one Arab.

"We're living in a political reality that requires answers. "When people say that the demographic threat necessitates a separation, my reply is that the lesser danger, the lesser evil, is a single state in which there are equal rights for all citizens. Realpolitik requires us to opt for the danger in the demographic threat over the existential threat of separation.

As is noted, this makes Rivlin that highest-ranked Israeli (and, now that I think of it, probably Israeli or Palestinian) to endorse a one-state solution.

Rivlin's has always been relatively iconoclastic and concerned with the rights of Israel's Arab minority. But no matter -- the point is, the next time you see a JVP-sort endorsing a one-state solution, try scuffing at them and calling them a "Likudnik". It'll be fun for everyone!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Younger Jews Care More About Israel

An interesting new survey finds that Jews thirty-five and younger feel more attachment to Israel than the next oldest age cohort (35-45), though still less than those 45 and older. This runs counter to conventional wisdom that Jewish attachment to Israel is declining among the younger generation (and, since the survey explicitly excluded Orthodox Jews and alums of Jewish day schools, it's not a result of expanding numbers of very observant Jews either).

Perhaps equally important is that the rise in this younger cohort runs parallel to a drop in confidence with the Israeli government. This doesn't surprise me -- as I often repeat, caring about something means having opinions about it (this is also why David Bernstein's defense of "pure" Israel advocacy makes little sense) -- but it is demonstrative of the fact that the younger generation's willingness to put pressure on the Israeli government comes from a sense that Israel is important and needs friends -- not a stance of anti-Israel rejectionism.