Malley’s back in town!

Or not.

The Zionist Organization of America, citing conservative blogs that cite Arab newspapers that cite … I dunno, I’m getting kind of lost here … anyway, according to the ZOA, Robert Malley — the former Clinton administration peace negotiator who has argued that Israeli bad faith was as much at fault in botching the 2000 Camp David peace summit as was Yasser Arafat’s recalcitrance (whew!) — really IS working for Barack Obama!

Except not. No one in this conga line of like-thinkers bothered, you know, to actually ask the Obama transition team about claims that Obama dispatched Malley to the Middle East to calm folks over there by telling them that the president-elect will commit himself to enhancing relations with Egypt and Syria.

So, over here at JTA, we did. And, according to a senior Obama transition aide, the story is bogus. "Mr. Malley has had no connection to the campaign since May, or to the transition," the Obama aide told us. "In the past, Mr. Malley was a member of a foreign policy team and never directly advised Mr. Obama."

Dennis Ross, who actually was a senior Middle East adviser to Obama has also described Malley’s participation in the panel as the extent of his campaign role. Apparently, the panel dealt with Iraq issues.

Three interesting things:

A) Around the time that Malley is said to have been booted from that role, he participated in an American Enterprise Institute panel on Iraq. And if he’s good enough for the neocons…

B) Malley was bumped from whatever role he had with the campaign when it was "revealed" that he met Hamas figures as part of his work as the Middle East and North Africa Program Director for the International Crisis Group, a think-tank-cum-activist forum that promotes conflict prevention. The thing is… I’ve heard Malley, in public forums, openly refer to his contacts with Hamas — i.e., it’s part of his job and he never exactly made a secret of it.

C) An assistant to Malley told me in May that in fact he had never played any role in the Obama campaign. The official campaign statement at the time was: "Rob Malley has, like hundreds of other experts, provided informal advice to the campaign in the past. He has no formal role in the campaign and he will not play any role in the future." Now, Obama’s people now seem to be acknowledging that he did have a formal connection, albeit a marginal one.

UPDATE: This has apparently been circulating for a while; Malley’s office denied it on Monday to Josh Landis, a respected Syria scholar. It’s not clear from  the statement whether Malley was in the region, but the statement makes clear that if he was there, Malley was not representing Obama:

A quick word to stress that the story about Rob Malley visiting Egypt and Syria to deliver a message from the president-elect are a pure fabrication. The “aides” quoted in the piece are equally fictional. I would greatly appreciate if you could post this to correct the record.

UPDATE II: The ZOA’s Mort Klein called to note that Middle East Newsline, the source cited first in the ZOA’s release, is not accurately described as a conservative blog, which is true; I would add, however, that the designation is accurate regarding his secondary source, FrontPageMag. (And as Mort says, nothing’s wrong with quoting conservative blogs in general; it’s just that in both these cases, the sourcing is vague, at several removes, and begs for a reply from Malley and from the Obama team.)

Regarding Middle East Newsline’s anonymous sourcing ("Malley’s aides"), see Malley’s dismissal of the sources as "fictional" in my earlier update above; additionally, this morning I received this denial directly from Andrew Stroehlein, the ICG spokesman:

Robert Malley did not work for the Obama campaign, nor is he working for the transition team. His work on the Middle East in recent years has been in his role as the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director.

The claim that Rob is "anti-Israel" is a completely unwarranted attack given Rob’s dedicated efforts to achieve Middle East peace over the years. I think the best reply to this claim came in a letter to the New York Review of Books from a group of other heavyweights in Arab–Israeli affairs. See that letter here.

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