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Schumer and Dershowitz vs. Obama

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Chuck Schumer is a Democrat who, it is reported, would love to become Senate Majority Leader someday.

That makes it especially odd that he would choose to royally bash a Democratic President for his Middle East policies. But that is what he what he did yesterday during an interview on a New York radio station, according to Politico's Ben Smith. Senator Schumer not only attacked the President's policy, he seemed to suggest that Obama will pay a political price for challenging Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

SCHUMER: ...When Biden was in Israel and there was this kerfuffle over settlements which is in Israeli Jerusalem 20 minutes from downtown and should never have been an issue to begin with, but they probably shouldn't have made the announcement when Biden was there. But Israel apologized and when Biden left, and Biden is the best friend of Israel in the administration everything was fine.

But then what happened is the next day Hillary Clinton called up Netanyahu and talked very tough to him, and worse they made it public through this spokesperson, a guy named Crowley. And Crowley said something I have never heard before, which is, the relationship of Israel and the United States depends on the pace of the negotiations. That is terrible. That is the dagger because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans -- Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew -- would feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, "If you don't retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this."

Of course they did retract it. Now what's happened, and many of us are pushing back, some of the Jewish members will be meeting with the President next week or the week after, and we are saying that this has to stop. You have to have, in terms of the negotiations, you have to show Israel that it's not going to be forced to do things it doesn't want to do and can't do. At the same time you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel. And right now there is a battle going on inside the administration, one side agrees with us, one side doesn't, and we're pushing hard to make sure the right side wins and if not we'll have to take it to the next step.

Wow!

There is nothing wrong with criticizing a President's foreign policy (although Schumer went out of his way to support former President George W. Bush on Iraq), but the words he uses in talking about Obama's policies are utterly inappropriate.

I am not saying that Schumer, in any way, puts Israel's interests above those of his own country. On the contrary, his main concerns are domestic and, with a few notable exceptions, he has been a strong progressive force.

Given the nature of American politics and the need to fill one's political war chest, a certain amount of pandering is to be expected. But this time he went too far. Does he really believe that what happens in Brooklyn stays in Brooklyn? He owes the President an apology. And, by undermining an effort that could bring security to Israel, he owes the Israeli people an apology too.

Dershowitz Lies About J Street

A few weeks ago, an Arab-American, active in efforts to achieve the two-state solution, told me he was upset by the occasional appearances on cable of some obscure professor who, he said, "makes all Arabs look bad."

I told him that I had to agree about this particular fellow. He is, I said, pretty obnoxious, but I added that I don't think he is viewed as representing the opinions of Arab-Americans.

He disagreed. "No, people don't know one Arab from another. So when they see this guy spewing this hateful stuff, people just have their worst prejudices confirmed. He's our Alan Dershowitz, except he's not on every other day."

He had me there. Pro-Israel people -- and many Jews in general -- feel like running from their televisions or computer screens when Dershowitz appears. On the other hand, Israel's real enemies cheer.

Dershowitz is the opposite of Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. Even when Oren is wrong, he looks and sounds reasonable. But Dershowitz sounds like he's jamming propaganda points down your throat even when he is telling the truth. Every time he appears he scores points for the other team (whichever "other team" he's playing against that day).

The good news is that few people take him seriously anymore. The bad news is that the people who do take him seriously are filling my inbox (and maybe yours) with anonymous screeds about President Obama, the "selling out" of Israel, Iranians who would happily die in order to kill Jews, and the imminent loss of Jerusalem to Hamas.

Today, I received a new one in which Dershowitz blasts J Street -- the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby -- as an enemy of the Jewish people.

Dershowitz really hates J Street, and not because he disagrees with its positions. Dershowitz, in his more lucid moments, claims to support the two-state solution and direct negotiations to achieve them. So does J Street.

Dershowitz, in his more lucid moments, claims to favor strong US leadership to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table. So does J Street.

Dershowitz supports tough sanctions to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Again, so does J Street.

My guess is that he despises J Street for precisely the reason younger Jews, members of Congress, frustrated Israelis, and the Obama administration welcome it. It represents a new kind of pro-Israel activism -- activism built on the premise that the best way Americans can help Israel achieve security is by using our influence to encourage our government to push hard for negotiations.

Dershowitz is old school (not in a good way). He thinks that Israel advocacy should be left to the organizations which, although nominally supportive of the two-state solution, would prefer the United States to advocate peace rhetorically but not do much of anything to make it happen.

He also would prefer that the White House, the media, and the Israeli government not engage with upstarts like J Street but rather stick with the tried-and-not-so-true leadership of the "American Israel..." this, and the "American Jewish..." that. The last thing he wants to see is a whole new generation of pro-Israel activists moving on up, especially if it is dedicated to ending a status quo that it considers bad for Israelis, Palestinians, and American interests.

Actually, it is precisely those American interests that Dershowitz is quoted talking about in the latest scare e-mail I received from some anonymous "friend." It quotes Dershowitz saying that merely by discussing American interests in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "J Street has gone over to the dark side. It claims to be 'a pro-Israel, pro peace lobby.' It has now become neither."

And how, pray tell, has it done that?

By invoking US interests, Dershowitz says, J Street has "joined the off key chorus of those who falsely claim that Israel, by refusing to make peace with the Palestinians, is placing the lives of American soldiers at risk."

His evidence is the following words that Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street's Executive Director, wrote in the New York Times. Ben Ami said "many in the Jewish community recognize that resolving the conflict is not only necessary to secure Israel's future, but also critical to regional stability and American strategic interests."

Say what?

Here it is again.

According to Dershowitz, J Street crossed to the "dark side" when Ben Ami wrote "resolving the conflict is not only necessary to secure Israel's future, but is also critical to regional stability and American strategic interests."

And that is wrong? How?

Speaking at the nuclear summit in Washington on April 13, President Obama himself explained exactly how US strategic interests are affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and why he believes it is critical that America do what it can to end it.

"It is a vital national security interest of the United States to reduce these conflicts because whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower, and when conflicts break out, one way or another we get pulled into them. And that ends up costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure," he said.

Obama's statement came after General David Petraeus said essentially the same thing from his vantage point as commander of US forces in the Middle East. Petraeus' primary concern is the safety of the soldiers under his command and he believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict threatens it.

Obama's statement echoed Petraeus but, because he is President and Commander-in-Chief, his re-statement amplified the general's warning and made it policy.

The suggestion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could affect Americans drives Dershowitz into incoherency.

Of course, everyone knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict imperils US interests in the entire Muslim world. It is, after all, the only issue about which all Muslims -- Arab and Persian, Sunni and Shiite, from Algeria to Indonesia -- agree. All of them are outraged by the 43-year occupation. Of course, US policymakers understand that blowback from the conflict could jeopardize the security of Americans based in the heart of that region (and, in fact, even here at home).

But Dershowitz intentionally misreads Ben Ami (and Obama and Petraeus). He writes that when Ben Ami says that resolving the conflict is critical to US interests, he is encouraging "Islamic extremists to target American interests in the hope that American casualties will be blamed on Israel," which will "encourage the Palestinian leadership to harden its position, in the expectation that lack of progress toward peace will result in Israel being blamed for American casualties."

Of course, Ben Ami (or Obama or Petraeus) would never say anything like that. The closest any of them come to Dershowitz's almost treasonous conclusion is when the President said that "when conflicts break out, one way or another we get pulled into them. And that ends up costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure."

There is nothing remotely controversial about that. Even Dershowitz cannot actually believe that Ben Ami (or Obama or Petraeus) was encouraging "Islamic extremists to target American interests in the hope that American casualties will be blamed on Israel."

But Dershowitz will say anything in the effort to smear anyone he does not like.

For him, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just fun and games. It's a courtroom battle he wants to win because...he likes wining.

I suppose he cares about Israel, in his own way. But his main concern is always the game. He seems to view the Israeli government as his client and, as in the courtroom, "truth" is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is destroying the other side.

In this case, he fails. He has no case. As for the other side, J Street isn't even that. It is simply a new player in an arena that Dershowitz believes belongs exclusively to him and his friends. Alan needs a new toy.