Many Voices Singing One Song

Several weeks ago the redoubtable Charles Schumer of New York announced the Yahweh himself had anointed him Israel’s defender in the US Senate. In a radio interview Schumer explained "You know, my name …. comes from the word shomer, guardian, watcher. My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov. And I believe Hashem (God) actually gave me that name. One of my roles, very important in the United States senate, is to be a shomer — to be the shomer Yisrael. And I will continue to be that with every bone in my body …"

Schumer’s very interesting comments, suggesting that he has a rather narrow view of his responsibility to represent all the people of New York State, were not reported anywhere in the mainstream media.  It was apparently not considered newsworthy that a Senator from the Empire State had pledged love and loyalty to a foreign country.  Schumer’s affections are particularly noteworthy as he is being spoken of as the next Senate Majority leader if Harry Reid takes a well deserved fall in the midterm elections.  Schumer is, of course, not alone in his sentiments.  His colleague from New Jersey Frank Lautenberg, who has traveled to Israel more than 80 times, has also been called Israel’s Senator, though perhaps it should be one of Israel’s Senators as there are clearly multiple candidates.  Who could exclude Joe Lieberman of Connecticut?  If one includes only Schumer, Lieberman, and Lautenberg Israel still has more senators representing its interests than any state in the union.

Both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin effused about their love for Israel during their vice presidential debate in 2008.  Many lower house federal legislators could rightly be termed Congressmen from Israel, including Howard Berman, Eric Cantor, Jerrold Nadler, Anthony Weiner, Shelley Berkley, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.  Eliot Engel recently described Israel as the "best ally the United States has in the Middle East, but I would argue the best ally in the world"…adding that if the US pressures Israel "you’re going to hear it from me." Congresswoman Jane Harman actually agreed to help an Israeli intelligence officer by using her influence to derail the trial of two American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) officials.  Harman is still sitting in her plush office on Capitol Hill instead of in jail, where she belongs.

But there is another category of Israel firster that differs from the homegrown variety.  Has anyone wondered at the large number of foreigners who have somehow made their way into Washington’s think tank and media punditry industry?  They are found most commonly at places like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Hudson Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Saban Center at Brookings, and, of course at the AIPAC-founded Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy (WINEP).  They come from Australia, Europe, and Israel itself but the one thing they all have in common is that they, like Schumer, love and protect Israel.  If one were suspicious, it might be possible to wonder whether there is some kind of mechanism operating whereby advocates of Israel are hand-picked and godfathered through the system.  With unusual persistence and a high level of resiliency, many of them eventually become the dominant voices at the various think tanks so that eventually no dissenting opinions are allowed.  Hollywood billionaire Haim Saban’s money has turned the once moderate Brookings into an Israeli mouthpiece while AEI and Heritage, which used to be traditionally conservative bastions, have now become home bases for the neocon foreign policy. 

A list of the prominent foreigners who attempt to shape opinion in the United States ought to begin with one of the better known, Martin Indyk.  Indyk’s trajectory would appear to be fiction, but it is, alas, true.  He was born in London and educated in Australia.  After a stint working for the Likud Party in Tel Aviv, he came to the United States in 1982 and settled in as a lobbyist for Israel.  He became head of WINEP in 1985 and was increasingly identified advising leading Democratic politicians.  The payback came when George H. W. Bush refused Israeli loan guarantees in 1992 and lost the presidential election.  Bill Clinton’s narrow victory was by many attributed to the help he received from the Israel Lobby and its media friends.  When the new administration moved in it was time to reward Indyk.  Clinton agreed to place him on the National Security Council with the Middle East portfolio with the understanding he would be fast tracked as US Ambassador to Israel. But there was only one problem:  Indyk was not an American citizen.  The White House had Indyk nationalized by act of Congress in 1993 so the appointment could be made.  While in Israel as US Ambassador, Indyk was regarded as extremely close to the Israeli government.  So close that he apparently forgot whom he worked for.  In September 2000 he was detected sharing classified information with Israeli government officials and his clearance was suspended, very unusual for an ambassador.  Indyk is now Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings and appears frequently in the media discussing the Middle East.

Ilan Berman is another media fixture who is promoted as an expert on Iran and, per his official bio, "an expert on regional security in the Middle East."  Berman is a Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, a neocon affiliated group that has run television ads promoting taking a hard line with Iran.  Berman’s has written Tehran Rising:  Iran’s Challenge to the United States and his latest work is Winning the Long War: Retaking the Offensive Against Radical Islam.  Berman’s bio does not indicate where he was born or provide details of his education, but he would appear to be an Israeli and his actual knowledge of either Iran or of "Radical Islam" might well be derivative.  He is a member of the Ariel Center, a Likud-oriented think tank in Israel, which is partially funded by California bingo magnate Irving Moskowitz.

Danielle Pletka, born in Australia, is Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policies at the neocon American Enterprise Institute.  Andrew Sullivan, who once worked for her, has described the integrity of her scholarship in an article she wrote urging Washington to tighten the screws on Iran:  "The form is set by the neoconservative agenda and she mobilizes a narrative that fills in the blanks to serve that agenda.  Unwilling if not incapable of producing an article any other way, she is more than content to reverse engineer her position …  Her final statement is telling.  ‘…Iran neither needs nor wants accommodation with the West,’ and it is clear to me this would have been her conclusion regardless of what the preceding 800 words had been."  Pletka supported the Iraq war, was a leading cheerleader for Ahmed Chalabi, believes in torture, and wants to go to war with Iran.

And then there is Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch.  Itamar resides in Israel but is frequently in the United States advising Americans on what they should think about Palestinians.  Wikipedia reports this concerning him: "In February 2007 together with Sen. Hillary Clinton he released a report on the newest PA schoolbooks at a press conference in Washington. Marcus testified before the Education Subcommittee of the US Senate Committee on Allocations, documenting the Palestinian Authority’s indoctrination of children to seek death as Shahids –Martyrs – for public relations purposes." Marcus is a featured source for the documentary Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West. Some might recall that Obsession was a neocon DVD production mailed free to millions of Americans shortly before the 2008 election by an organization calling itself the Endowment for Middle East Truth.

Good things can sometimes come in pairs as in the case of the Wurmsers.  Meyrav was born in Israel and her husband David was born in Switzerland.  David was most recently the Middle East adviser to Dick Cheney and he also worked for John Bolton and Doug Feith.  He was one of the authors of "A Clean Break," a strategy document provided in 1996 to then and current Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.  Wurmser advocated preemptive strikes against Iran and Syria and abandonment of land for peace deals with the Palestinians.  He also supports US military action against Tehran and Damascus.  In 2004 he was interviewed by the FBI regarding the passage of classified intelligence to Ahmed Chalabi and also to AIPAC.  David’s wife Meyrav was a co-author of "A Clean Break" and founder of Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which assiduously translates all of the "particularly virulent and anti-US and anti-Israel articles" that it can find in the Arabic press.  MEMRI is widely regarded as a front for Israeli intelligence.  Meyrav is currently Director of the Center for Middle East Policy for the Hudson Institute and is a contributing expert at the Ariel Center.

The list goes on and on. There are the Canadians Anne Bayefsky of the Hudson Institute, who called US protests over the decision to announce 1600 new Jewish homes on the West Bank during Vice-President’s Biden’s visit "hysterical", and David Frum, who allegedly coined the phrase "axis of evil" and is now advancing the new Israeli argument that peace talks with the Palestinians are irrelevant. Other prominent Israelis include Yossef Bodansky, author of The High Cost of Peace: How Washington’s Middle East Policy Left America Vulnerable to Terrorism; Yigal Carmon, a colonel in Israeli intelligence and a co-founder of MEMRI; and Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil, who has testified in Europe and the US that the Palestinian Authority uses its money to subsidize terrorism.  Peruvian-born Eleana Benador has been referred to as a "theatrical agent" for a long string of neocons, arranging their generously remunerated speeches and public appearances. Iraqi-born Rita Katz of SITE has turned monitoring of what she describes as Jihadi websites into a big business, though some believe she has hyped the threat.  And there are many more foreign-born neoconservatives at American universities, institutes, and even in government, all helping each other to obtain positions, favorably review each others books, and assiduously move up the ladder.  Most of them connect through associations like the Ariel Center, JINSA, AIPAC, WINEP, the Committee on the Present Danger, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the Hudson Institute, and AEI.  An astonishing number of them wind up at the National Defense University. Curiously, for many of them it is not altogether clear what their qualifications are to discuss the Middle East as "experts."  How many actually speak Arabic and Farsi or have lived in the countries or among the people that they regularly excoriate?

Are these people dangerous?  Well, maybe.  Many foreigners have come to the United States to make their fortunes and there is nothing wrong with that.  But, in this case, there would appear to be a certain unanimity of viewpoint and a marching in lock step that is just a tad disconcerting, particularly as it has helped shape the foreign policy narrative.  There is no deviation from hard right Likud positions, never any criticism of Israel, and always complete agreement on the need to confront Iran militarily.  One might reasonably ask to what extent it is a coordinated effort to steer Washington in a certain direction, not unlike the neocons in the Pentagon under President George W. Bush.  In any event, the presence of so many self-styled agenda-driven "experts" possessing regular media access raises questions about the objectivity of the policy-making process in Washington.  If you seed enough partisans into the system and they are all singing the same tune that is then played and replayed in the media even a whole parcel of lies can eventually seem to be the truth.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.