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Published on December 3rd, 2010 | by Marsha B. Cohen

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Noah’s Bark, No Bite: RJC’s Chanuka START Attack Falls Flat

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There’s no better way to commemorate a civil war among Jews 2,275 years ago, memorialized by the Jewish festival of Chanuka, than by a little intra-tribe squabbling.

Perhaps that’s why, just in time for the holidays, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) launched a scathing attack on some of the most prominent — and pro-Israel– Jewish Senators and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Noah Silverman, RJC’s Congressional Affairs Director since 2006, may have been moved by the sight of boiling oil when he made his debut as an official RJC blogger. No sooner writ than said, Silverman’s pontifications splattered over to RJC’s e-mail list on Thursday night.

Silverman attacks Jews and Jewish organizations who have come out in support of the immediate ratification of the New START Treaty. Picking up where the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) and JINSA left off, Silverman’s rails against “an unprecedented effort to ‘make START a Jewish issue‘ by pressuring Jewish communal organizations to advocate for the treaty’s ratification.”

He’s irate with the ADL and the American Council of World Jewry, both of whom  objected when Senate Republicans made it known that they would use member prerogative to block ratification: “We are deeply concerned that failure to ratify the new START treaty will have national security consequences far beyond the subject of the treaty itself,” a Nov. 19 letter from the ADL to all members of the Senate asserted. “The U.S. diplomatic strategy to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons requires a U.S.-Russia relationship of trust and cooperation.”

Granted that the ADL was speaking from the perspective of its anti-Iran agenda. Nonetheless — and perhaps especially so — it’s bizarre to hear the RJC’s Silverman challenging the right of Jewish organizations to weigh in on issues other than Israel. And Silverman is livid that Senate Democrats would dare to use an argument about Israel’s security to enlist AIPAC in the effort to get START ratified.

MJ Rosenberg — citing Nathan Guttman in the Forward and Ron Kampeas at the Jewish Telegraphic Agencysuggests that

AIPAC is in agony. It desperately wants to support the US-Russia START treaty aimed at limiting nuclear warheads because the treaty would greatly advance Israel’s security.

But it is afraid of defying right-wing Republicans in the Senate. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), in particular, is telling AIPAC “don’t you dare.” His reason is simple: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has ordered Republicans to block anything the President submits to the Senate except, of course, tax cuts for millionaires. That includes START.

Tight-with-the-right Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin is Silverman’s source that the involvement of AIPAC in a non-Israel issue is shocking. Rubin writes,  “An experienced Israel hand tells me, ‘Well, they of course claim there is a direct link to Israeli security. But, no, this must be very rare.’ A Capitol Hill adviser from another office says ‘I’ve never seen this done with AIPAC on a non-Israel issue.’”

But it’s not all that rare, according to Rosenberg:

AIPAC argues that it does not get involved in congressional battles that do not directly involve Israel. Of course, they do. They always have. Even when I worked at AIPAC decades ago, they put their full lobbying weight behind a then-controversial plan to establish a military base on the Pacific island of Diego Garcia.

Why? Because the Republican President at the time asked them to. More recently, AIPAC made sure that its friends in Congress knew that the “right vote” for Israel was supporting both Iraq wars. (Had AIPAC not indicated its support for war, far fewer Democrats would have voted for the second Iraq war.)

Silverman frames the effort to pass START as evidence of  “a panicked White House is scrambling to salvage what it can of its legislative agenda before its influence in Congress is diminished next year.” But the letter to AIPAC which so outrages Silverman was written by two longtime senators who supported arms control long before Barack Obama was elected president.

Michigan Democrat Carl Levin was first elected to the Senate in 1978, where he’s Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He’s been consistently supportive of conventional forces and basic, reliable weapons systems to protect national security. His support for START is anything but last minute. In a column in the Niles Daily Star on July 9, Levin wrote:

As Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described it, New START will “make our country more secure and advance our core national security interests.” This treaty is in keeping with a long tradition of bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements with Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, and it strengthens the U.S. commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

Silverman not only ignores Mullen’s endorsement of START, he seems completely oblivious to the support expressed by Republicans for “resetting” the Treaty. They include what Jim Lobe calls are the “big guns in what remains of the Republican foreign policy Establishment, including five former secretaries of state whose service spanned the last five Republican administrations.” They include Colin Powell, James Baker, Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Lawrence Eagleburger, who wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that there are “compelling reasons” for Republicans to approve ratification of START.

Bloomberg News reports that several Republican senators — among them Richard Lugar, Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander, Bob Bennett, John McCain, and Kyl himself, are hinting they could support the reset of START in the lame-duck Senate session if (and perhaps only if) the Senate voted to extend the expiring Bush-era tax cuts to cover Americans in all income groups. So it’s domestic politics, not national security, that may determine the fate of START, JINSA notwithstanding. MJ Rosenberg also thinks that “Kyl may come around and then AIPAC can too.”

Silverman, who worked for seven years as a legislative aide in Kyl’s office, also uses his first blogpost to defend Kyl against what he deems to be assaults on his former boss’s reputation. He is no doubt bristling at the thought that his former boss will give in on START out of political expediency. Although the RJC launched some of the most vicious ad hominem attack ads against Obama before the 2008 election, Silverman huffs that “Pro-Obama commentators attacked Kyl in the most demeaning and personal terms — including calling him unpatriotic.”

The “demeaning” attack on Kyl to which Silverman links is a Huffington Post rhymed rant by self-described Ranting Political Poet Jim Parry. The personal attack: a single Tweet by Washington Monthly contributor and blogger Steve Benen. And the accusation of Kyl’s being “unpatriotic”? A tweet by actress Elizabeth Banks, co-star of the frat-boy comedy film Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Does Silverman really consider two tweets and a rant “pro-Obama news commentary”? If so, it explains alot.

Like why, after 25 years of Republican Jewish Coalition activism, there is only one single Jewish Republican to be found in the U.S. Congress — in either the upper or lower chamber.

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About the Author

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Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.



2 Responses to Noah’s Bark, No Bite: RJC’s Chanuka START Attack Falls Flat

  1. avatar Jon Harrison says:

    There’s actually something called the Jewish Telegraphic Agency? It sounds like something out of Monty Python.

    AIPAC is supporting START — gee, for once they’re in favor of something that advances American interests. But the idea that START promotes Israel’s security seems rather tenuous. Do they really think Russia will be more helpful on Iran if the Senate ratifies the treaty?

  2. Sho far as I know, Joe Lieberman… oh, I looked it up, it’s Eric Cantor.

    Everything our enemies do to try to have their own way is unprecedented and shocking, while our brave efforts to thwart their plans are bold and inspired.

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