Tidbits: Kirk, Hersh, Dersh, and Bahrain in between


* Talking Points Memo’s Justin Elliott has an excellent rundown here about how U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has become the favored candidate of the establishment pro-Israel community to win Barack Obama’s old Senate seat:

With $108,000 in pro-Israel PAC donations in the current cycle, Kirk is second overall (to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and easily the biggest recipient in the House. He was the second biggest recipient of pro-Israel dollars in 2006. And his career total is $1,025,000, seventh overall of any member of Congress, and behind only prominent senators like Joe Lieberman.

One quibble: Elliott notes that Kirk took a lead role in campaigning against the nomination of Chas Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council, and says that Freeman’s "nomination was killed after a campaign by the pro-Israel community."

This is accurate, but not quite true: It’s true that pro-Israel voices launched the campaign against Freeman, it’s true he pulled out. But: I have it on fairly senior authority that Freeman’s nomination was killed in the House Intelligence Committee because of his China views. (Not that House committees have a vote, but the Intel committee’s say is influential enough that it made the difference.) These views, it is true, might not have emerged had the pro-Israel community not launched its campaign — although his pro-Beijing posture was so pronounced, I think it would have come out. But it was these views that buried him — not his pro-Saudi critiques of Israel.

* What intrigues me most about this Seymour Hersh interview with Bashar Assad is that Hersh even brought up J Street. It’s a little in the weeds for The New Yorker, and for the Syrian president, if you ask me — what next, parsing Iran policy differences between Aguda and the OU? That’s our job, bub.

Assad doesn’t say much else that’s new related to Israel (his apparently censored threat to kill intelligence sharing unless the United States improves ties would be my lede), and he seems to misunderstand what J Street is about:

Criticisms of some Israeli policies at the J-Street founding conference:
Ahh … that is new!… But we should educate them that if they are worried about Israel, then the only thing that can protect Israel is peace, nothing else. No amount of airplanes or weapons could protect Israel, so they have to forget about that.

Bashar, Bashar, Bashar. I think J Street gets the peace thing. I’m not sure they’d want to be associated with a call to disarm, though.

* Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the Bahraini foreign minister, dined with Jewish community leaders Tuesday night. It was supposed to be hush-hush, but, nu, it was tweeted. I’d heard that Khalifa also tweeted it, but unless he’s pulled the tweets from his feed, it doesn’t look like it. (I like his amazement at the spread of "Five Guys" burgers.)

Anyway, if evidence was needed that Iran’s Arab neighbors fear a nuclear Iran as much — or even more — than Israel, read this transcript of his press conference yesterday with Hillary Rodham Clinton real close (I’ve italicized the interesting part):

The Kingdom of Bahrain has always called for a region free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. To that end, we believe that the current situation surrounding the Iranian nuclear file should be resolved in a peaceful manner, in accordance with the Security Council resolutions and in complete adherence to the rules and regulation of the IAEA in a fully transparent manner. Furthermore, we discussed how the Gulf region could benefit from the use of nuclear power for peaceful civilian purposes in a safe, secure, and efficient manner.

I.E. Iran’s not the only country in the region capable of contemplating the uses of nuclear power — there’s one across the Gulf that incidentally hosts the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

* We’ve covered the perception that U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), whose D.C. suburban constituency has a substantial Jewish population, is not responsive to their requests for a hearing. The Baltimore Jewish Times reports this week that she’s ready to talk. It’s not online, but here’s the story:

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) has called on Jewish groups concerned with her votes on congressional resolutions dealing with Israel to meet her in a “dialogue that is far more honest and far more open for the people of the United States and to engage the Arab states that have not always been so helpful, and to engage the Palestinians.”

Her remarks, at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore on Monday, Feb. 1, came at a luncheon coordinated by the Baltimore Jewish Council.
Last year some Jewish groups criticized the congresswoman for failing to meet with them.

She explained her Jan. 10, 2009 “present” vote on a resolution widely seen as favoring Israel’s actions toward the end of the Israel-Hamas War by saying, “It has been quite misinterpreted. I was described by one article as anti-Semitic and that was very hurtful to me. … To express a difference on a policy issue doesn’t mean a disregard for Israelis or for Jews and the same is for the Palestinians.”

Noting the progress in economics and governance amongst West Bank Palestinians as opposed to those in the Gaza Strip, she said, “Surely it should be in all of our interests — the U.S., the Palestinians and the Israelis — to create a border that’s not dangerous. As a mother, I get that. We also have to be concerned about the children running through the streets of Gaza who are under 18 and have an entire lifetime defined by this moment. If America is not transformational at this point, we’ll have at least another generation of frustration.”

Mrs. Edwards, who represents parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery County, visited Israel and the Palestinian areas this past June.

* Alan Dershowitz now tells the Forward that he doesn’t believe Richard Goldstone is a "moser," i.e., a Jewish traitor deserving of death, but he may (or may not?) be a monster – i.e., a tall guy with a flat head deserving of pursuit by a torch-bearing mob. Dershowitz had told Israel Army Radio’s Razi Barkai that Goldstone was "evil" and "evil" (he said it twice) and an "absolute traitor" and when Barkai got specific — is he a moser? — Dershowitz replied "Absolutely!"

Now he says there was a miscommunication:

Dershowitz claims that the audio clip is based on a miscommunication.“I thought he said ‘monster.’ And I didn’t say yes, because I wouldn’t ever characterize anybody as a monster.” Dershowitz says that Barkai asked him the question multiple times, and only after Barkai added the explanatory phrase “someone who betrays his own people” did Dershowitz answer in the affirmative.

So he didn’t hear moser, he heard monster, but he didn’t mean monster, he meant moser, at least when it was explained to him by Barkai.

If one were generous, one might allow that Barkai did not explain the term fully, and that Dershowitz was embracing the term "traitor" but not in the sense of "traitor" as someone who should be put to death. That’s quite a parse: Liberal societies have historically preserved treason as one of the few — if not the only — capital crimes. Israel has formally executed only two men: One was mistakenly identified, in the chaos of the Independence War, as a traitor; the other was Adolf Eichmann.

Dershowitz seems a little over the map here — he wrote the radio station to retract the term "traitor", but in noting this to the Forward, reaffirms it:

“I wrote to the broadcaster, retracting my word ‘traitor,’” Dershowitz told the Forward. “But if you’re asking me deep in my heart and soul do I believe that the word fairly characterizes him, in light of the way he’s used his Jewishness, both as a shield and a sword? You know, if the shoe fits.”

In a comment below the article, Dershowitz claims the term would be understood differently in Israel than in the United States:

That is why I retracted the term “traitor,” which carries a somewhat different connotation in Israel than in the United States, even though I think its meaning suits him perfectly.

The difference, as far as I can tell, is that in the United States, treason is a capital offense, period, whereas in Israel, it is a capital offense only in "actual warfare."

Yosef Blau, a Yeshiva University spiritual counselor who went to Jewish day school with Dershowitz, isn’t buying his schoolmate’s claim that he had never heard the term:

"Moser was a term that was certainly used. He must have heard it as a child,” said Blau, who grew up with Dershowitz and attended religious elementary and high schools with him. “I don’t recall it coming up in the schools we went to, but it certainly was out there.”

Neither is Debra Delee, Americans for Peace Now‘s chairwoman:

Dershowitz now claims that he was not familiar with the word "moser," and that instead he thought he was agreeing with the characterization of Goldstone as a "monster." Similarly, his retraction of the word "traitor" left something to be desired.

I love that "similarly." Delee continues:

Dershowitz could have – and should have – aired substantive disagreements about the report that Judge Goldstone authored following the Gaza War. Instead he chose to demean, to insult, and to incite.

For his part, Dershowitz says in his comment in the Forward:

Rabbi Yosef Blau suggests that I might have learned the word moser in the Yeshiva we both attended, but he didn’t tell your reporter what a terrible Yeshiva student I was!

UPDATE: Dershowitz also sent a letter to JTA with his explanation, which has been posted to our new letters blog.

Recommended from JTA