The Israel lobby has been running into a few problems lately, but it’s nothing they don’t think they can handle: a charge of treason, a strong suspicion of obstructing justice, and a gathering storm of criticism from a few dissident intellectuals and policy types. Nothing to get too exercised about. Having felled Charles "Chas" Freeman, smitten Gen. Zinni, and sidelined those in the Obama administration who question the nature and utility of America’s "special relationship" with Israel, the Lobby’s flagship organization, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is primed to hold their national conference in Washington next week, with Jane "This Conversation Doesn’t Exist" Harman slated to address the gathering.
The focus of the conference, and the legislative centerpiece of the event, will be passage of the Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act, which would ban US companies from providing Iran with refined petroleum products, and seeks to punish European companies — particularly the Swiss, who come in for two specific mentions in the text of the bill — for doing so.
To begin with, the name affixed to this piece of legislative legerdemain is a prime example of congressional doublethink: will it really enhance diplomatic relations with Iran to impose draconian sanctions, the equivalent of an economic chokehold and a prelude to a military blockade? Hardly, and that is very far from its clear intent.
This bill is all about provoking the Iranians, effectively sabotaging efforts to engage in a mutual dialogue with Tehran. Why the egregious packaging? Well, it seems the American people are sick and tired of war, and preparations for war, and so it is far less incriminating if a member of Congress can say he (or she) voted for "the Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act" than it is to admit they supported isolating Iran economically.
While it’s true that the Swiss provide up to 80 percent of the Iranians’ refined petroleum imports, as stated in the bill, what’s really at stake here is a spat between the Israelis and the government of Switzerland over a recent meeting between Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of the UN’s recent anti-racism conference held in Geneva.
Reflecting the new hysteria that’s been injected into the Jewish state’s relations with the rest of the world, Israel recalled its ambassador to Switzerland in protest. Even talking to the Iranians, in any context, is considered by the Israelis to be an "existential" threat to the Jewish state, and anyone who engages in such conversation is considered an enemy — thus the clauses of the bill that target the Swiss. The message this is sending is clear: if you cross the Israelis, you cross the Americans, too — yes, even under the Obama administration.
Speaking of Obama, this campaign to isolate Iran is aimed at him just as much as it is at the Iranians, and the Swiss — it is a shot across the bow, a flexing of legislative muscle on the part of the Lobby that shows the newly-elected American president even he can’t stand up to the Lobby’s power. If he tries to reach out to the Iranians, and short-circuit the march to war, he’ll be subverted, opposed, and reined in by the American Congress, which is, as Pat Buchanan famously — and accurately — observed, "Israeli-occupied territory."
The main "argument" in favor of this bill, which enjoys wide bipartisan support, is that it will supposedly be an aid to the diplomatic initiative promised by President Obama, and it quotes the President during the campaign when he said: "Iran right now imports gasoline… if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need… that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them."
With the introduction of this bill in the House, and a similar one introduced in the Senate by (who else?) Sen. Joe Lieberman and Republican John Kyl, the Lobby is putting the squeeze on Obama, displaying its power over the legislative branch and daring the American president to step out of line. In the months leading up to the election, and since, the Obamaites have been eager to avoid an early confrontation with the Lobby, which would use up a good deal of political capital and split the Democrats at a crucial time. Unless he’s agreeable to signing on to a war with Iran, however, Obama can only put this fight off for so long. Eventually, and inevitably, it will come to a showdown, and the Lobby will come to that fight well-prepared — albeit a bit nervous in light of recent developments.
That nervousness is manifested in a new, more aggressive tone and tactics. The leering arrogance of the Lobby and its public spokespersons in the face of mounting public criticism and organized opposition really is a sight to behold: exhibit "A" is their latest response to the recent scandal involving Rep. Jane Harman.
The California Democrat was overheard on an FBI eavesdropping tape offering to help get the charges against two AIPAC officials accused of espionage reduced, in exchange for piles of Haim Saban‘s money and lobbying by AIPAC to get Harman appointed chair of the House intelligence committee. When Jeff Stein of the Congressional Quarterly exposed this fact, Harman went on a one-day media blitz, appearing on cable news outlets and National Public Radio, hysterically (and ineffectively) denying her obvious guilt. The next day she hired Lanny Davis, the well-connected Clintonite lawyer and public relations flack whose specialty is bailing out Democrats in hot water. From that point, the Harman camp’s pushback went from Harman’s screeching denials and her comically self-contradictory "explanations," to dismissive "humor," as Congressional Quarterly reports:
"Embattled California Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., shrugged off woes over a wiretapping controversy Wednesday and claimed ‘Best Team Name Honors’ for this year’s Capital Challenge mini-marathon race.
"’Tapped Out,’ an obvious reference to revelations that Harman was overheard by government wiretappers in conversations with a suspected Israeli intelligence agent in 2005, evidently won the judges’ hearts as best team moniker."
It’s all a joke, nothing to get too excited about — that’s how the Lobby thumbs its nose at the American people, and, with the collusion of our elected officials, continues to get away with fatally distorting American foreign policy and taking us down the road to war.
Whether this strategy will work, or whether the American people will wake up in time to arrest the ongoing corruption of their government and social institutions by a foreign entity, remains to be seen. It is an indication, however, of the deep contempt with which the Lobby views American law and institutions, and, as such, is utterly reprehensible. These are the same people, by the way, who yelp about the alleged increase in anti-Semitism, here as well as in Europe — and then do everything in their power to ensure that their worst fears and direst prophecies are fulfilled.
Harman’s chutzpah knows no bounds. "I am challenging CQ’s Jeff Stein," she brayed in a press release, "who got my age wrong and denigrated my previous race time in a recent blog post, to a road race. Bring it on, Jeff!" She smugly adds: "Clearly, our sense of humor is intact."
Yes, Jane, even if your credibility isn’t. I liked Jeff Stein’s counter-challenge, however:
"To race Harman from her Capitol Hill office to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), on May 3 at the Washington Convention Center, where Harman is giving an address."
Speaking of chutzpah, isn’t that what AIPAC is displaying a surfeit of by not rescinding their invitation to Harman? After all, she stands exposed as having colluded in a corrupt deal to let off two of their top employees who are charged with spying for Israel. Yes, we know they’re a fifth column working on behalf of a foreign power, but do they have to flaunt their disloyalty as if it were a badge of honor?
Chutzpah is one word for it, hubris is another. In any case, the Lobby is riding for a fall, in spite of its political power, its financial resources, its stranglehold on Capitol Hill and the policymaking apparatus of the US government. If the US is drawn into yet another war with the Lobby’s fingerprints all over it, the American people — after having voted for a presidential candidate many thought was intent on reversing the relentless warmongering of the past eight years — are bound to react. As the Lobby jeers at and otherwise disrespects our laws and our nation’s security, sooner or later popular revulsion against this faction of brazen fifth columnists is bound to give AIPAC and its allies a monumental slapping down.