Enfeebled Israel lobby strikes back on military aid

Man gesticulates

ZOA President Morton Klein has leveled an anti-Semitic attack against Senator Bernie Sanders over the presidential candidate’s talk of conditioning aid to Israel.

Michael Brochstein SIPA USA

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), is furious with US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has demonstrated the nerve to call not just for conditioning military aid to Israel, but for sending some of it – in the form of humanitarian aid – to Palestinians in Gaza living under Israeli siege and enduring the consequences of decades of dispossession.

The ZOA leader can’t stand the idea.

Klein claimed in late October on Twitter that Sanders is “an anti-Semitic Israelophobe who insanely demands taking defense money from Israel.”

He, along with many others, then falsely maintained that Sanders wants to give that money to Hamas.
There’s not an iota of evidence for Klein’s claim. US aid money could readily be directed through non-governmental organizations to people needing humanitarian assistance in Gaza.

Moving from false rhetoric to vicious, Klein then added that Sanders has “learned nothing from the lessons of the Holocaust during his 79 years on earth.”

In fact, Sanders, who is 78, has spoken movingly about his father’s family being “wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust” and has explicitly written, “We vow never to forget the lessons of that tragedy and to stand up to all forms of hate.”

Klein, for his part, has also spoken powerfully against the horrors of the Holocaust against Jews, other groups and his own family. He has asserted his organization will “speak out against prejudice, and irrational hatred and violence against any people in all corners of the world.”

Yet, he has built a career out of vilifying Palestinians and Arabs in strongly racist language.

Klein even seems to think he and a right-wing Twitter friend get to make the rules on what sort of Jews are really Jews. Picking up on a response to his tweet against Sanders, Klein was the one person as of publication to retweet a claim from “Sam” that Sanders is “a Jew genetically, but it ends there. That’s the worst kind.”
This sort of anti-Semitism presumably will do very little to lead Republicans to think twice about inviting Klein back to testify on Capitol Hill.

For all those piling on to Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for how they voice concerns about the lack of equal rights for Palestinians and the role of the Israel lobby in promoting discrimination against Palestinians, there hasn’t been a peep against Klein for his outburst.

Many are so busy scouring social media for signs of anti-Semitism from the left that they fail to take note when a member of the Israel lobby tweets outrageous slurs against a man who would be the first Jewish president of the United States — and is the most outspoken candidate on behalf of the rights of Palestinians.

Policy fight

Sanders voiced the strongest support of any candidate for conditioning US military aid to Israel when he spoke last week at J Street’s annual conference.

But so have candidates Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and (minimally) Julian Castro, notwithstanding profound limitations in their perspectives on how to advance Palestinian rights.
With Sanders leading the way, Democratic candidates are at long last engaging the party in a fight over US military aid to Israel following over 50 years of occupation and 70 years of dispossession of Palestinians.

Pushback against these nascent efforts did not take long to emerge.

Joe Biden, for months the Democratic presidential front-runner, is hitting back and arguing for business as usual.

The Democratic establishment favorite, Biden told Sabrina Siddiqui of The Wall Street Journal that leveraging military aid to Israel would be “absolutely outrageous” and a “gigantic mistake.”

He is not alone in defending an arrangement that for decades has contributed to the ongoing subjugation of Palestinians.

Forward opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon retweeted a lengthy Twitter thread from Dan Shapiro, an Obama administration ambassador to Israel.

Touting his commentary as a “really important thread,” she claimed Shapiro “corrects some of the misinformation out there about aid to Israel.”

In fact, Shapiro simply argues for more of the same when he writes: “The US has provided Israel with military assistance for decades” before adding that the aid “reflects both a moral commitment between allies and a shared strategic interest.”

He ignores the immorality of bombing Palestinian civilians with American weaponry when he asserts that “Much of the assistance dollars flow back to the US economy, by funding Israeli purchases of major US-origin military systems like F-15s, F-16s, F-35s, helicopters and other air platforms, munitions, etc.”

Nevertheless, and despite the protestations of Biden, Shapiro and Bungar-Sargon, Democrats such as Sanders are now seeking to move the party away from long-existing policies that deny Palestinians their rights. Democratic politicians questioning aid to Israel over Gaza, settlements and/or annexation are showing they are attuned to change at the grassroots level.

A September poll from Data for Progress found that 41 percent of Democrats “strongly support” the idea of “reducing military aid to Israel based on human rights violations” and another 22 percent of Democrats “somewhat support” this approach

AIPAC, evidently alarmed by the new Democratic Party debate, tweeted a defense of aid:

And Democratic Majority for Israel has shown that in this fight it favors the regressive stance of Biden.
Yet the organization seems incapable of stopping the Democratic rush for the door. The antiquated tendency to show greater concern for protecting military aid than ending myriad Israeli injustices against Palestinians simply doesn’t fly with progressive Democrats.


Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.