The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged israellobby
Israel won't stop spying on US, which won't stop it

Some interesting reporting on Israel's extensive spying on the US in two pieces by Newsweek's Jeff Stein this week - Israel Won’t Stop Spying on the U.S. and Israel’s Aggressive Spying in the U.S. Mostly Hushed Up. From the first piece:

“I don’t think anyone was surprised by these revelations,” the former aide said. “But when you step back and hear…that there are no other countries taking advantage of our security relationship the way the Israelis are for espionage purposes, it is quite shocking. I mean, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that after all the hand-wringing over [Jonathan] Pollard, it’s still going on.”

And this anecdote from the second, follow-up report:

When White House national security advisor Susan Rice’s security detail cleared her Jerusalem hotel suite for bugs and intruders Tuesday night, they might’ve had in mind a surprise visitor to Vice President Al Gore’s room 16 years ago this week: a spy in an air duct.

According to a senior former U.S. intelligence operative, a Secret Service agent who was enjoying a moment of solitude in Gore’s bathroom before the Veep arrived heard a metallic scraping sound. “The Secret Service had secured [Gore’s] room in advance and they all left except for one agent, who decided to take a long, slow time on the pot,” the operative recalled for Newsweek. “So the room was all quiet, he was just meditating on his toes, and he hears a noise in the vent. And he sees the vent clips being moved from the inside. And then he sees a guy starting to exit the vent into the room.”

Did the agent scramble for his gun? No, the former operative said with a chuckle. “He kind of coughed and the guy went back into the vents.”

To some, the incident stands as an apt metaphor for the behind-closed-doors relations between Israel and America, “frenemies” even in the best of times. The brazen air-duct caper “crossed the line” of acceptable behavior between friendly intelligence services – but because it was done by Israel, it was quickly hushed up by U.S. officials.

And the reason it goes on unchecked, of course, is that American lawmakers are protecting Israel:

Always lurking, former intelligence officials say, was the powerful “Israeli lobby,” the network of Israel’s friends in Congress, industry and successive administrations, Republican and Democratic, ready to protest any perceived slight on the part of U.S. security officials. A former counterintelligence specialist told Newsweek he risked Israel’s wrath merely by providing routine security briefings to American officials, businessmen and scientists heading to Israel for meetings and conferences.

“We had to be very careful how we warned American officials,” he said. “We regularly got calls from members of Congress outraged by security warnings about going to Israel. And they had our budget. When ... the director of the CIA gets a call from an outraged congressman–’What are these security briefings you're giving? What are these high-level threat warnings about travel to Tel Aviv you're giving? This is outrageous’ – he has to pay close attention. There was always this political delicacy that you had to be aware of.”

Weddady's Free Arabs, American Islamic Congress and the pro-Israel funders who helped them rise

Max Blumenthal has this investigative piece on the American Islamic Congress in Electronic Intifada. I was shocked to read about the funding behind AIC that Max uncovers, I had simply no idea, having thought AIC was funded by Muslim Americans or, perhaps, Gulf countries. It turns out the most fanatic wing of the Israel lobby has a big role in it:

According to Internal Revenue Service 990 information filings, the AIC is funded largely by a pool of right-wing donors responsible for bankrolling key players in America’s Islamophobia industry, from Charles Jacobs to Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism and Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum. These same donors have pumped millions into major pro-Israel organizations, including groups involved in settlement activity and the Friends of the IDF, which provides assistance to the Israeli army.
Among the AIC’s most reliable supporters is the Donors Capital Fund, which has provided at least $85,000 in funding since 2008. Donors Capital was among the seven foundations identified in the Center for American Progress’s 2011 report Fear Inc. as “the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America.” Another foundation singled out in the report, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, has donated $325,000 to the AIC between 2005 and 2011.

There's a lot more there.

Knowing both Max and Nasser Weddady, I am a bit uneasy with his attack on Nasser, who after all is not a top dog at AIC. And I think the swipe at Stanford's Program on Arab Reform is a little weak, especially compared to what he reveals about AIC. Much of the last part of the piece focuses on the Free Arabs website, which Nasser co-edits. As far as I know it is more of a personal project for Nasser that secured funding from Stanford and elsewhere by co-editor Ahmed Benchemsi. So the AIC-Free Arabs connection, apart of Weddady, remains unclear. I was critical like many others of Free Arabs's "Horrible 4" feature and the quite scandalous article cited in Max's article about Mizrahi Israelis being the freest Arabs. But there is also good content elsewhere there.

There is a real problem in the funding of secular liberal Arab publishing. Often sources are from neo-con, pro-Israel sources that tend to minimize criticism of Israel (in my view is the only logical position to take on Israel as a liberal is critical, otherwise one is buying into the exceptionalism of "liberal Zionism" and thus into the racial/religious supremacism inherent in Zionism, which is hardly liberal.) In Arabic, they are often from conservative Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, whose princes finance such "liberal" sites as Elaph. This represents almost none of the mainstream, center-left to center-right, liberal/social-democratic thinking in the Arab world. To have institutions like AIC created to supposedly represent "mainstream Muslims" and have them be largely financed by extremists is deeply disturbing.

Update: Free Arabs' Ahmed Benchemsi has a reply to Max Blumenthal.

The lobby that does not intimidate

Transcript of some of the more surreal portions of Chuck Hagel's vetting as Secretary of Defense, courtesy of Americans for Peace Now: 

Wicker versus Hagel re: Jewish Lobby [starting at 03:02:10]
 
Wicker:  What you said was the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. This was in a book -- an interview that you gave to Aaron David Miller. And you said, "I've always argued against some of the dumb things they do, because I don't think it's in the interest of Israel." Here's my problem with -- with your position at this point. You have corrected the term "Jewish lobby." And I assume now the correct term would be "Israel lobby" or "Israeli lobby."
 
Do you still stand by your statement that they succeed in this town because of intimidation, and that it amounts to causing us to do dumb things?  Because I want to say this, Senator, you -- you are here today as a potential secretary of defense, and it would seem to me that however you characterize them, you have suggested that there is an effective lobby out there, whether you call them the "Jewish lobby," the "Israeli lobby" or the "Israel lobby," and that they succeed in doing dumb things through intimidation, and that U.S. policy has been the wrong approach because the intimidation has worked.
 
So when you talked about the Jewish lobby, were you talking about AIPAC? Were you talking about NORPAC? Were you talking about Christians United for Israel? And do you still believe that their success in this town is because of intimidation and that they are, as you stated, "urging upon our government that we do dumb things"?
 
Hagel:  …I've already said I regret referencing the Jewish lobby. I should have said "pro-Israel lobby." I think it's the only time on the record that I've ever said that. Now, you all have done a lot of work with my record, and yes, it's appropriate, by the way. Any  nominee's record, what he or she thinks, says, done, absolutely. I was on your side of the dais for 12 years, so I understand that and that responsibility. So, I don't have any problem with that.  So I've already noted that I -- that I should have used another term and I'm sorry and I regret it.
 
On the use of “intimidation,” I should have used "influence," I think would have been more appropriate. We were talking about in that book, and you've evidently read it, Aaron David Miller's book. And by the way, it's a book, "The Much Too Promised Land." He has spoken out directly over the last few weeks, written an op-ed about my position because it's gotten some attention, as you've noted, and been quite favorable to me, and said much of that was taken out of context, and he was "offended by it." Those were his -- his words. Those of you who know something about Aaron David Miller know that he is Jewish. He is a highly respected individual who was counsel to presidents and secretaries of state.  He also says in that interview, which is a fairly short interview, he mentioned that I am a strong supporter of Israel. That's in the interview.
 
So, I think that says something. I -- I should not have said "dumb" or "stupid," because I understand, appreciate there are different views on these things. We were talking about Israel. We were talking about the Middle East. We weren't talking about Armenia or Turkey or the banking influence or Chamber of Commerce -- Commerce influence. That was what the context of my comments were about…
 
Graham vs. Hagel re: Jewish Lobby [starting at 04:17:20]
 
Graham: … You said “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. I am not an Israeli senator. I am a United States senator. This pressure makes us to do dumb things at times.” You said the Jewish lobby should not have been -- that term shouldn't have been used; it should've been some other term.  Name one person in your opinion who's intimidated by the Israeli lobby in United States Senate?
 
Hagel: Well, first...
Graham: Name one.
Hagel: I do not know.
Graham: Well why would you say it?
Hagel: I didn't have in mind a specific person.
 
Graham: Do you agreed that it is a provocative statement - that I can’t think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel, and the Senate or the Congress than what you said. Name one dumb thing we have been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby?
 
Hagel: I have already stated that I regret the terminology...
 
Graham: But you said, back then, it makes us do dumb things. You can't name one senator intimidated, now give me one example of the dumb things that we're pressure to do up here.
 
Hagel: We were talking in that interview about the Middle East, about positions, about Israel...
 
Graham: So give me an example of where we have been intimidated by the Israeli-Jewish lobby to do something dumb regarding the Middle East, Israel, or anywhere else.
 
Hagel: I cannot give you an example.
Graham: Thank you. Do you agree with me you shouldn't have said something like that?
Hagel: Yes I do, I've already said that.

 

Chuck Hagel in The Onion

Israel Vows To Use Veto Power If Chuck Hagel Confirmed As U.S. Secretary Of Defense | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

JERUSALEM—Top-ranking government officials in Jerusalem confirmed Tuesday that Israel would exercise its longstanding, constitutionally granted veto power over American policy if U.S. lawmakers confirmed retired congressman Chuck Hagel as the United States’ next Secretary of Defense. “In light of Mr. Hagel’s worrying remarks on Israeli-Palestinian relations and questionable classification of Israeli interests as ‘the Jewish lobby,’ we consider him a highly inappropriate choice for Defense Secretary who stands far out of line with our national priorities, and therefore we are prepared to swiftly and resolutely use our official veto power over this U.S. action,” said Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev of the legal maneuver that the small Middle Eastern nation has employed to block U.S. Cabinet nominees, U.S. legislation, U.S. international relations, and U.S. domestic policy over 1,400 times in its 64-year history. “Because congress does not possess the necessary nine-tenths majority to override an Israeli veto, they’ll have no choice but to head back to the drawing board and provide a Defense Secretary whom we find more suitable.” Sources confirmed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sent the White House a list of three individuals the Israeli leader considered appropriate to head the American military from which U.S. President Barack Obama could choose

It's funny because it feels true.

I haven't commented on the Hagel nomination because there's already so much out there. A sample:

U.S. fears Israel-Hamas conflict escalates to ground invasion

U.S. fears Israel-Hamas conflict escalates to ground invasion 

From CNN :

The major concern of the United States in the current Israeli-Hamas conflict is a potential Israeli ground incursion into Gaza, U.S. officials said Friday.

That would be a disastrous escalation that could trigger a larger conflict, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

"Escalation is what we are concerned about. We don't want it to escalate to the point where Israel feels it has to take additional action, specifically ground force action," the official said.

Perhaps US leadership should stop talking like Israel has carte blanche then.

The Left, the Jews and Defenders of Israel

The Left, the Jews and Defenders of Israel

Great new review piece by Joel Beinin on Beinart, Ben-Ami and Wistrich (authors of recent books on the relationship between American Jews and Israel) — and a killer opening:

When Menachem Begin first visited the United States in December 1948, a host of Jewish notables including Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Irma Lindheim (former president of Hadassah), Seymour Melman (former president of the Student Zionist Federation) and the biblical scholar Harry Orlinsky wrote to the New York Times to issue a warning about the Herut (Freedom) Party that Begin led. Herut, they wrote, was “closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.” 

This opinion was not on the fringe. When the Irgun set off a bomb in a Haifa market killing dozens of Arabs in 1938, the future prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, could not believe that Jews would commit such a heinous act. He believed Nazi agents were responsible.

That was then. Now, both American Jews and Israel are far more secure and powerful than they were in 1948. But influential American Jewish community leaders, in alliance with prominent neo-conservatives (William Kristol, Rachel Abrams and the Emergency Committee for Israel), evangelical Protestants (Gary Bauer, John Hagee and Christians United for Israel), academics in Jewish studies (Edward Alexander, Alvin Rosenfeld, Ruth Wisse) and their Israeli partners, believe that global anti-Semitism is rampant and that Israel is in existential danger. And it is unlikely that prominent American Zionists would so sharply and publicly condemn the leader of Israel’s Likud party -- the organizational and spiritual heir of Herut and the Irgun -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Alexander Cockburn and the Lobby

Interesting tidbit in this obit of Alexander Cockburn by Charles Glass — Crusading reporter and polemicist who was unafraid to espouse unpopular causes - The Independent:

"Ridgeway wrote: 'Rupert Murdoch, when he owned the Voice, was said to gag on some of Alex's pointed epithets, but he never did anything about it. He actually had us both to lunch and offered us a column.' Murdoch's tolerance did not extend to defending Cockburn when the Boston Phoenix disclosed that he had received a grant of $10,000 from the Institute of Arab Studies to research a book on Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Although other journalists had accepted grants from the American Enterprise Institute and similar organisations without attracting protests, He was forced to leave the Voice amid complaints from Zionists. The editors of the Wall Street Journal, unlike those at the ostensibly liberal Voice, went on publishing the column he had been writing since 1980 (until 1990) and defended him in an editorial headlined 'Alexflap.'"

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Also this bit about Elliott Abrams, whose career defending Jewish supremacism spans so many decades:

If he attacked the strong, he defended those whom respectable journalists shunned: hunters, gun owners, Scientologists, Edward Said, Norman Finkelstein, the people of Palestine and East Timor and the disaffected, unemployed men who ended up in armed militias. He also defended Noam Chomsky and the editor of Index on Censorship, George Theiner, from attacks by Elliot Abrams, then Reagan's Assistant Secretary of State, who condemned Theiner for publishing Chomsky at all in 1986.

Cockburn responded: "It is not often that one can find so bizarre a case: Abrams superintending a campaign of mass murder in Central America while finding the time to write to a tiny magazine 3,000 miles away about the folly of efforts to discuss censorship in the coverage of Israel in the press of that country's chief sponsor." His criticisms of Israeli occupation policies earned him accusations of anti-Semitism, which he countered in his essay "My Life as an 'Anti-Semite'" (a title no doubt inspired by Grigor von Rezzori's classic Memoirs of an Anti-Semite).

Romney's stupid pandering to the lobby

Romney outrages Palestinians by saying Jewish culture helps make Israel more successful  - NY Daily News:

"JERUSALEM - Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the nearby Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who called his comments racist and out of touch.

``As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,'' the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted around a U-shaped table at the luxurious King David Hotel.

The reaction of Palestinian leaders to Romney's comments was swift and pointed.

``What is this man doing here?'' said Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official. ``Yesterday, he destroyed negotiations by saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and today he is saying Israeli culture is more advanced than Palestinian culture. Isn't this racism?''"

That's like wondering why blacks are poorer than whites in 1870 America. Or 1990 South Africa.

Why is an American presidential candidate making such obviously stupid comments? Because he's pandering to the Israel lobby, that's why. And that's why his opponent will not call him out on his offensive stupidity, either.

Update: Steve Walt expands on this.

Why I won't bother reading Peter Beinart

For several months now there's been a huge hullabaloo about Peter Beinart, who has gone from establishment Jewish-American golden boy to near-pariah figure for his book, The Crisis of Zionism, which essentially appears to be of the anguished "Israel-is-losing-its-soul" variety but is nonetheless important because it's an insider's rebellion and has ruffled feathers. I think I'll pass reading it, however, not just because much this Jewish-American intramural debate is old news and not particularly interesting anymore (Israelis themselves have had a much more vigorous debate for years, after all.)

It's that the book appears to carry some bizarre arguments. From historian Shaul Magid's review in Religion Dispatches:

While Beinart gestures to his leftist critics that he is aware of the argument that one cannot separate the settlements from the state, he never responds to them. Probably because he can’t. His suggestion that we should boycott the settlements and give that money (and more!) to the state belies the reality that the state funds the settlements, which is why no one I am familiar with ever suggested boycotting the Afrikaner farmers while giving more aid to the South African government.

If Beinart tries to establish some kind of separation between the settlements and the state of Israel, which finances them, provides infrastructure, guards them, builds roads to them, etc. — how is anyone supposed to take him seriously?

The Economist on Netanyahu

Israel, Iran and America: Auschwitz complex | The Economist

The American-Israeli relationship now resembles the sort of crazy co-dependency one sometimes finds in doomed marriages, where the more stubborn and unstable partner drags the other into increasingly delusional and dangerous projects whose disastrous results seem only to legitimate their paranoid outlook. If Mr Netanyahu manages to convince America to back an attack on Iran, it is to be hoped that the catastrophic consequences will not be used to justify the attack that led to them.

Mr Netanyahu thinks the Zionist mission was to give the Jewish people control over their destiny. No people has control over its destiny when it is at war with its neighbours. But in any case, that is only one way of thinking of the Zionist mission. Another mission frequently cited by early Zionists was to help Jews grow out of the "Ghetto mentality". Mr Netanyahu's gift to Mr Obama shows he's still in it.

One of the advantages of my injury is that it did not allow me much time on a computer to follow the AIPAC festival of allegiance (strangely reminiscent of allegiance ceremonies in Arab monarchies) in Washington. But this piece nails Netanyahu's responsibility for so much, it's worth reading in full.

The WINEP crusade to discredit the Egyptian revolution

A few days ago I noted a pretty awful piece by WINEP's Robert Satloff and Eric Trager in WSJ. But there is more:

  • WINEP fellow Eric Trager has had more negative pieces on the Egyptian uprising, focusing on how nasty Islamists are, than anyone. His latest, published on the revolution's anniversary, is titled Happy Birthday To Egypt’s Doomed Revolution. I share Trager's concerns over the Islamist ascendency but the entire premise of many his pieces is wrong: he argues that somehow the West was fooled into thinking this was a liberal secular revolution. It was not, and it was obvious from the start. It was a revolution against a dictator and his autocratic system, but joined by all sorts of people — from undemocratic radical leftists and Islamists to mainstream Islamists, liberals, centrists of all shades. And it's amusing he decries that some activists would not meet with Hillary Clinton. Nothing new here, it has been the case for a long time and a completely understandable decision considering US policies in the region and backing Mubarak (and perhaps SCAF). He also is fighting a home game, the one WINEP cares most about, about US foreign policy and the engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood. Why anyone would object with US officials meeting with members of the largest party in Egypt is beyond me, and some sort of policy was necessary to break the ice considering past kowtowing to Mubarak regime restrictions on meeting the Brothers. (Update: The Lounsbury chimes in.)
  • David Pollock, also a WINEP fellow, has a rather trite piece attacking the Muslim Brothers for what they say in English vs. what they in Arabic. He doesn't even provide the best examples, which come from the governorate websites of the Brothers. This kind of argumentation is futile, because the point is no longer what the Brothers say in one language or the other, but what they do. This is precisely why the US is talking to them – to have an impact over what they do. And the real big problem with this piece in meta: its underlying assumption is that the US is "trusting" the MB's "private assurances" and statements. What, in this chaotic situation? No one runs foreign policy like that, as if Obama is saying, but that guy Beltagui of the Brothers assured me this or that. Paul Pillar has more on this piece at National Interest.
  • But the real WINEP Egypt bash-feast took place at one of the organization's "policy forums" which Trager, Egyptian activist Samuel Tadros and old WINEP hand David Schenker. I am quite alarmed by Tadros' phrasing of the Egyptian political scene as what non-Islamists can do in conjunction with the US (of course Tadros was previously a recipient of MEPI funding) – as if the US has historically been a great friend of Egyptian democrats – and I remember his rather nasty attack on Ayman Nour as anti-Semitic (as if anti-Semitism is really Egypt's biggest problem.)

It's not that there aren't real foreign policy conundrums towards Egypt – there are plenty. But WINEP's entire approach, focused mostly on bashing the Obama administration's cautious engagement of Islamists who are sen by most Egyptians (despite the elections' many flaws) as democratically elected and constant return to the question of Israel is neither helpful nor analytically interesting. What it amounts to, in other words, is another Israel lobby initiative to ensure that one of the worst aspect of US foreign policy in the region – seeing everything through an Israeli prism – continues. In Egypt, as I've argued in the past, the best way to calm regional tensions may be precisely to decouple US-Egypt relations from the Camp David framework. It's not the propaganda of an outfit dedicated to furthering Israel's interests in the US that's going to provide much insight into how Egypt can make it through the tremendously difficult road ahead, or credibly give advice  about promoting democracy when it spent so many years defending Mubarak when he backed Israeli interests (such as the blockade of Gaza) and bashing him after 2004 when it became politically fashionable.

Dennis Ross's hotline to Obama

Haaretz's Barak David asks, Why did the White House install a secure phone in Dennis Ross’ office in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy?

Apparently, a short while after Ross left his position in the Obama administration, the White House made an unusual request to install a secure phone line in Ross' office at the Washington Institute. The secure line is known in Israel as a "red phone", which could be used to discuss confidential information without the risk of wiretapping.

In America, the term “red telephone” brings back memories of the Cold War and apocalyptic films such as of Dr. Strangelove. Guarded telephones in the U.S. Department of State as well as those in the White House are mostly white or gray. One of them sits in Dennis Ross’ office in his research institute, through which Ross receives updates regarding classified government information connected to his profession. There aren’t many independent researchers that receive such privileges.

I'm glad to provide an answer: because Dennis Ross is the Obama administration's chief interlocutor with the Israel lobby and Israel officials. Name me another country that has such power in the United States, or another (kind-of-former) official that has such influence despite having publicly adopted positions that are the opposite of those of the administration that he advises (on Iran, on settlements, on Jerusalem). That's because Ross is not the Obama administration's advisor on Middle East policy – he's one of the main conduits for the Israel lobby's to the administration.

The Arab Spring, US foreign policy, the Status-Quo Lobby and the Dream Palace of the Zionists

I'd like to touch upon America and Egypt, because I've seen a lot of hand-wringing in American newspapers about the future of that relationship and a sense of misplaced buyers' remorse about the Egyptian revolution – misplaced because the US had little to do with the revolution, and because it is wrong-headed thinking about an unstoppable, irreversible event.

Generally speaking, the American foreign policy establishment is stuck on Egypt. It is having a hard time imagining a different Middle East. Its path of least resistance is banking on their financial and political relationship with the generals now in charge and maintaining the ability to project power in the region that it has had since 1945 to some extent and since 1990 in particular. If it continues on this path, which is unfortunately likely, because of the dearth of imagination in a foreign policy elite that has grown lazy in its imperial thinking, and because of the dire state of American politics, it will fail. 

The most important thing you can do about Egypt right now is be patient and not try to force things or maintain a system that Egyptians clearly want to change. This is what worries me the most: that the US will choose to encourage the perpetuation of military rule in Egypt, as people like Jon Alterman have already subtly advocated and many others in Washington are discreetly but more vigorously doing in games of "armchair generals". They are the Status Quo Lobby.

America is a country that has grown complacent in its assumptions about the Middle East and its politics, and too wedded to the idea of having an imperial role in the region (of which CENTCOM is the embodiment) and the world more generally. For several years I have advocated an American withdrawal from the Arab world. The Arab uprisings have made this all the more urgent, although it is a delicate, difficult, and potentially dangerous matter. But that's a debate for another day.

Let me focus now on a few pieces by people who have written very unwise things, and who are the other bigpart of the problem with American foreign policy in the region: those who primarily see US Middle East policy through the lens of Israel. 

Robert Satloff, a leading hack of the Israel lobby think tank WINEP, and Eric Trager have a piece in the WSJ you can read here. A few years ago Satloff was all into pressuring Egypt on democracy issues, but now has buyer's remorse – confirming my long-held suspicion that people like him and Elliott Abrams (and many others) were only tactically interested in democracy promotion as a manner to wield greater influence over the Mubarak regime. Now that Islamists have won a majority in Egypt's parliament, they are shitting their proverbial pants.

Their piece, however, is weak in its argumentation and is a transparent attempt at scaremongering for Israel's sake.

They worry that Camp David will be submitted by the MB to a popular referendum, which not certain at all. the real issue is how Egyptian politics react the next time – and that time will soon come – Israel decides to commit atrocities like the Gaza war of 2009 or the Lebanon war of 2006. And the honest answer is no one knows, and the honest solution is that the US can no longer sanction such atrocities as it did in 2006 and 2009.

They make a big deal of the Gamaa Islamiya joining the MB's coalition, even though the reconciliation process by which Gamaa members recanted the use of violence was backed by the US and followed closely by the CIA in Cairo over the past decade and heralded as a deradicalization model (despite the human rights costs of the Egyptian government's campaign against the Gamaa). I can't stand the Gamaa and their call for Omar Abdel Rahman's release (basically because the Gamaa sees mostly composed of his sons these days) but it's rather disingenuous to point this out when you have Kahanists in the Knesset they never mention.

They then turn to the frivolous lawsuits against Naguib Sawiris (brought forward, among others, by a Salafist MP) and talk about the future of the Coptic minority – a real cause for concern, but one that WINEP was hardly vocal about under Mubarak. The Muslim Brothers and others could worsen the situation, true, but they're not even really in power yet. I don't remember Satloff & co. calling for a freeze of US military aid to SCAF after the Maspero massacre.  

One thing I agree with them on is the need for Egypt to carry out robust policing and deradicalization in Sinai, for many reasons including to prevent armed groups operating from there to carry out attacks against Israel. But I would add to that the urgent need for Egypt's policy towards Gaza to change, by opening the border for goods and people, and to vocally push back against the current framework of the Middle East peace process (the Quartet and its conditions).

Overall, though, this piece is so telling of the mainstream American Zionist mindset: it's all about Israel, and about maintaining the status quo – even in a region where everything is pointing towards change. These are the same people (like Martin Indyk, like Dennis Ross) who spent the 1990s massaging Israel's violations of the letter and spirit of the Oslo process and rendered it meaningless.

This piece by Elliott Abrams, defending the neo-con push for Arab democracy under the Bush administration, is self-serving bullshit. People like Abrams were only interested in Arab democracy when it suited their plan to remodel the region, and as a pressure tool to secure Israeli regional dominance. The Arab Spring is partly a reaction to their plans, not a result of it. Abrams might be credited with being more consistent than Satloff, though, but he's also more cynical. 

A more radical, and barely coherent rumination on the Arab Spring can be found in this long TNR essay by Marty Peretz, who in any case doesn't like Arabs much. Peretz has rejoined the ranks of the essentialist theorists of the Arab world like Lee Smith – in other words, he's dropped the politically correct niceties he would adopt when he was closely involved with his magazine's liberal (on everything except Palestine!) writers. The piece is so meandering, so pettily sullen about the rise of Islamists (and, although he does not acknowledge it, secularists) who don't like Israel, or ignorant of the realities of the region's history (it's full of mistakes about what women wear in the region, confuses the UAR and UAE, etc.) that I won't even excerpt it. One of the early commenters has it right:

People who want an informed opinion about Arabs and seek out Martin Peretz must be the same people who seek out David Duke for his views on African-Americans.

Peretz calls his piece "The failure of the Arab Spring" – but he never considers to ask: failure by whose standards? Those Zionists who initially cheered for the Arab Spring were so caught up in their illusions – to borrow from Fouad Ajami their "dream-palace".  They never stop to try to see things from an Arab perspective.

The world has entered a dangerous transition, which the Arab Spring is part of. There are many risks ahead, for the possibility of Arab democracy, for American policy and interests in the region, and the possibility of a regional conflict. The biggest mistake, the biggest delusion, outsiders can make is to think that, even as everything around them is changing, that they can stay the same. The Status Quo Lobby and the Zionist Lobby are the biggest problem for American foreign policy because they will create friction by resisting change.