Ilhan Omar: Anatomy Of A Smear

Attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) are escalating. The big splash over the weekend came when a poster appeared in a display case at the West Virginia state capitol during Republican Party Day. It was an image of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center ablaze after the 9/11 attacks. Superimposed in front of them was a picture of Omar, with the meme “’Never Forget’ – you said…I am the proof…you have forgotten.”

After the wave of outrage rolled through social media, the West Virginia GOP issued a statement disavowing the poster, saying someone had hung it up without their knowledge and calling it hate speech. But the GOP stopped short of condemning it, only saying that the party “do not support it.” Since the poster was in a display case in the capitol, it is difficult to believe that those arranging the event were unaware of the poster until after it became a national controversy.

Either way, this attack from the right followed on the heels of the latest criticism of Omar from largely liberal and centrist quarters. Almost on cue, the West Virginia controversy—with its blatant, indisputably hateful message—gave those centrist and liberal critics the perfect cover, as they could comfortably, if cynically, condemn the Republican attack on Omar while once again spuriously accusing her of anti-Semitism. Read more at LobeLog

Radio Appearances Discussing Rep. Ilhan Omar

I did two radio spots this week which my readers might find interesting. Both were devoted largely, but not entirely, to discussion of Ilhan Omar’s tweets and the outrageous backlash to them. My piece on the matter is at LobeLog, at this link.

Yesterday, I spoke with Ian Masters on KPFK in Los Angeles. You can hear that segment at this page.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon about Rep. Omar, Israeli elections, and a little on Iran. You can listen to that at this link.

U.S. Opinion On Israel Doesn’t Match The Politics

The new report from the Chicago Council on Public Affairs on U.S. public opinion toward the Israel-Palestine conflict rings a familiar tone. It tells us that Americans support a two-state solution, see Israel as an important U.S. ally, and believe the United States should not take sides in the conflict. It fails to drill down on many of these questions, leaving many responses ambiguous, but it does provide a few interesting nuggets about the views of U.S. citizens.

As one would expect, the survey found that Americans valued the relationship with Israel: 73 percent said the economic relationship with Israel was important and 78 percent said the security relationship was important. But in neither case was Israel particularly special in the affection it got from the public. Read more at LobeLog

An Early Look at Bibi’s Surprise Victory

It’s been about six hours since the polls closed in Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has scored a obama-netanyahu-300x200dramatic victory, far outpacing the pre-election and exit polls. The consequences for Israelis, Palestinians, and the rest of the world could be very grave.

This surprising result undoubtedly came about because of some combination of the pollsters simply being wrong and Netanyahu’s last minute tactics, which included some blatant racism as well as an appeal to voters to block the possibility of a government led by the Zionist Union. But the why is less important than the results.

Although coalition negotiations could drag on for days, they could also conclude fairly quickly, as it seems clear what the composition of the next governing coalition will be. Likud will dominate, with almost as many Knesset seats as they won in the last election along with Israel Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman’s party). In order to seal the deal, Netanyahu will need Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu party, which will be the most moderate party in the new government.

Kahlon may hold Netanyahu hostage for a while, but he is almost certain to eventually agree to join. Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home party have already connected with Netanyahu. Bennett was the big loser in this race, largely because Netanyahu went even further right, occupying a lot of Bennett’s political terrain (pun intended). Add in the two ultra-orthodox parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism) and Lieberman’s party, which also lost big due to a massive wave of scandals that hit them over the past months, and Netanyahu looks to have 66 or 67 seats. His majority will be composed entirely of the right and center-right.

Despite one blunder after another in this campaign, Netanyahu scored a smashing victory that no one saw coming. In the end, his strategy of fighting off his right flank and believing that Israel would not vote the center-left into power paid off. He gutted Bennett’s party as right wing voters, surely panicked at the thought of Isaac Herzog in the Prime Minister’s Office, voted Likud instead of Jewish Home.

So, with a right-wing coalition in place, will Netanyahu no longer have to prove his ultra-right, tough-guy bona fides? Some may be hoping so, but it seems unlikely.

The election surely proved to Bibi, once and for all, that his future challengers will come from the right, not the current opposition. His coalition will not only support his belligerence but will push him to sustain it. That is not going to sit well in Washington or Brussels.

Iran

Netanyahu is likely to quit pulling the flashier stunts to try to torpedo a nuclear deal with Iran, but he is likely to continue his efforts. He will encourage congressional Republicans from afar, with statements to the press and in speeches in Israel, rather than on Capitol Hill. Although it may be too late to rally enough Democrats to overcome a veto by President Obama of a new sanctions bill, the real fight for Obama is going to be selling a deal to the American public.

That’s where the more hawkish Democrats will come to the fore. Netanyahu will certainly keep up his anti-deal rhetoric, and he will not let up for a moment. There will be no significant voice in Israel expressing concern about the continuing rupture with the White House. The opposition is likely to be even quieter than it has been up until now.

None of this represents a real change from conditions before the election, of course. The only lingering question for Netanyahu is whether the sharp drop in the polls he experienced reflects real public concern about his handling of the controversy over his speech before Congress. It very likely did, so Netanyahu will opt for less dramatic tactics.

The Palestinians

If things looked hopeless before for any kind of diplomacy, they are absolutely dismal now. Netanyahu is sure to come up with some sort of double-talk to “explain” that he didn’t really mean to disavow the two-state solution, as he clearly did during the campaign. But he won’t walk it back too far, as even the parties in his likely new coalition who want to see talks resume (Kulanu, and to a lesser extent, Israel Beiteinu and possibly Shas) don’t necessarily support a two-state solution that anyone but them would recognize as one.

That’s going to present some difficulties for U.S. politicians. Obama is very likely to opt for some kind of pressure, either in the form of presenting an American framework for a two-state solution or, possibly, through a Security Council resolution pushing for an end to the occupation. How will Congress react?

Republicans will have an opening to fully back Netanyahu against Obama once again. But doing so also means joining him in practical opposition to a two-state solution. For Democrats, it will be very nearly impossible to do that, no matter what domestic pressures are brought to bear on them. The mainstream Jewish community continues to back a two-state solution. If its leading institutions try to follow Netanyahu down his path, the schism in the Jewish community will widen, and a lot more mainstream Jews will be raising their voices in opposition to Israeli policies.

In such a case, the Israeli opposition could conceivably rally. Likud’s dramatic and surprising victory overshadows the fact that the second, third, and fourth largest parties in the next Knesset will be in the opposition. But the number three party, the Joint List, is composed entirely of parties with which no mainstream Israeli party—except Meretz, which looks like it will only have four seats—will join forces. That’s because the Joint List is made up of three small Arab parties and one Jewish-Arab communist party.

So, although the opposition controls some 53 seats, they come out of this election weaker than that because of the way the Arab parties are viewed in Israel. That’s going to blunt the opposition’s already weak influence within the Knesset, making it harder to even slow down settlement construction, let alone find an agreement with the Palestinians and end the occupation.

The only, very thin, hope is that the United States and Europe are finally so fed up with Netanyahu and the Israeli right’s adamant refusal of peace that they are finally willing to exert significant pressure. Although it seems likely that the U.S. and E.U. will do something, it is far less likely that they will do anywhere near enough for either the Israeli government to feel the pressure or for the Israeli populace to grow concerned enough to take action.

Israel’s Next Ambassador to the US: A Jewish Karl Rove

Ron Dermer, the man who is rumored to be the replacement for Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren (who resigned today), has been compared to Karl Rove. The comparison is an apt one.

Oren, an academic who easily slipped into the role of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lead US propagandist, projected an image that was a bit friendlier in its Americanism. His academic stature, his experience of having written a best-selling book on the 1967 war that was very well-received in popular circles (less so in more critical academic environments) and his general demeanor was meant to soften the hardline Israeli leader’s image while still representing the Likud’s hawkish views in the US.

Dermer, whose experience is much more imbued in politics, will likely cast a different, more Machiavellian shadow. He is steeped with neoconservative connections, comes from a family that was heavily involved in politics and is undoubtedly reflective of the more hawkish strains even among the Likud. When rumors of his likely appointment first surfaced at the end of 2012, Marsha Cohen wrote this excellent and concise profile of Dermer for LobeLog.

Unlike Oren, Dermer is opposed to a two-state solution, having referred to it as a “childish matter,” though he later backed off the statement. But Dermer, who has long been a political adviser to Netanyahu and his lead speech writer, was also a key figure in arranging the controversial trip to Israel taken by then-Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney prior to last year’s election. In fact, despite his father having been a Democratic mayor in Florida, Dermer’s Republican and neoconservative roots run very deep.

But Dermer understands very well the need to work in a bipartisan fashion as an Israeli representative in Washington. “I haven’t encountered [ideology] as being much of an obstacle. We don’t get into deep conversations about our world views,” Dermer told the Washington newspaper, Politico. “Did Churchill and Roosevelt have a good relationship? You have foreign affairs, and you work together on issues where you agree.”

Also unlike Oren, Dermer is prone to more direct language. When New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about the self-evident truth that the US Congress is “bought and paid for” by Israel’s lobby, Oren said that “…Unintentionally, perhaps, Friedman has strengthened a dangerous myth.” Dermer, on the other hand, went on the warpath against the Times as a whole, saying the paper, well-known for its long-standing editorial support of Israel but not necessarily its settlements, “…consistently distort(s) the positions of our government and ignore the steps it has taken to advance peace. They cavalierly defame our country by suggesting that marginal phenomena condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu and virtually every Israeli official somehow reflects government policy or Israeli society as a whole.”

That is likely to be a good snapshot of the differing styles of Oren and Dermer, the latter being much less inclined to diplo-speak, but with a much keener knowledge of conservative US politics. This will likely to serve him well as Israel becomes more and more a right-wing issue, a shift that Netanyahu embraces. While bi-partisanship remains the byword for pro-Israel lobbying, the money from the Jewish community, which is key and which continues to pour into the political coffers of Democrats, is increasingly coming from Jews who are either Republicans or whose views on Israel break with those of many Democrats. This split among Democrats was laughably visible during the spat at the Democratic National Convention last year over the forced inclusion of a plank in the party platform opposing the division of Jerusalem.

Oren was certainly no bridge-builder. He was sharply critical of the centrist group J Street and feuded with them off and on during his tenure. Dermer will likely be even more disdainful of even the tepid criticism of Israeli policies that J Street offers, much less groups that are more forthright.

But Netanyahu is well aware that the Palestinian issue, despite John Kerry’s many travels, is dropping farther and farther down on the list of US priorities. And the likely appointment of someone like Dermer is further evidence that Netanyahu also is willing to see the US right-wing take more ownership of the pro-Israel agenda, while campaign contributions and the continuing illusion that Jewish money is closely tied to a pro-Israel agenda keeps the Democrats toeing the line.

In the long run, this sort of characterization of the Israeli image is likely to alienate more and more US citizens, including a majority of Jews. But Bibi has never cared much about the long-term view, as the comeuppance will hit Israel long after he has left office. Ron Dermer, who shares a similar outlook, is Bibi’s kind of guy.