Senators Menendez, Kirk Receive ZOA’s Defender of Zion Award


Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Photo: Richard Chaitt.

— by Richard Chaitt

About 100 congresspersons and legislative staffers participated in the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)’s Annual Advocacy Mission to Washington, D.C. last week.

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) received the ZOA’s Defender of Zion Award.

ZOA’s national president, Morton A. Klein, said that Menendez “has done tremendous work in the field of security since 9/11, has given extraordinary speeches about Israel and has been leading with the introduction of the Nuclear Free Iran Act of 2013.”

Menendez said that he was “honored to receive this award”:

I have had an unwavering view that it is in the national interest of the United States to have a strong relationship with the state of Israel, an island of democracy. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I reject any call for boycotts, divestment or any statement that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state.

More after the jump.
ZOA’s board member, Jim Pollack, said that “Senator Kirk doesn’t just co-sponsor pro-Israel legislation, he initiates and he authors it. There is no better friend in Washington, D.C. than this gentleman.”

Kirk said to the audience, “When you’re told to ‘temporize’ what you’re doing in support of Israel, or to ‘back off,’ don’t. Defend the State of Israel and do exactly what you believe in.”


Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL). Photo: Richard Chaitt.

Klein said that the delegates “were thrilled to spend a day in their lives to fight for Israel, for strong U.S.-Israel relations, and to educate Members of Congress about the truth about the on-going Arab war against Israel, which seeks Israel’s destruction, not any sort of negotiated settlement.”

Hundreds of activists from 23 states across the country urged the congresspersons to:

  • oppose further U.S. aid to Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) (currently more than $600 million per annum) until it fulfills its signed agreements under Oslo to:
    • arrest and imprison terrorists; dismantle and outlaw terrorist groups;
    • end the incitement to hatred and murder within the PA-controlled media, mosques, schools and youth camps;
    • end the PA alliance with Hamas; and
    • recognize Israel as a Jewish state;

  • impose new, tough sanctions on Iran in the event that it violates the Geneva Interim Agreement with the U.S. and Europe (P5+1) and fails to agree to ending its nuclear weapons program, given that the Iranian regime has called for the destruction of Israel, America and the defeat of the West; and
  • support and understand the legal, historical, religious and political right of Jews to live in Judea/Samaria and to oppose the canard, based on a willful and politicized distortion and intentional misinterpretation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, that Israel’s presence there is unlawful and a war crime.

Another Republican Attempt to Use Iran for Political Gain


Congress can take action against any Iran deal with or without Senator Bob Corker’s amendment.

— by Steve Sheffey

The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), enjoys broad bipartisan support and was on its way to an easy passage.

But last week, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) indicated that he would introduce an amendment requiring Congressional hearings and a vote on a non-binding “joint resolution of disapproval” on any Iran nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration.

This is not a bipartisan effort: Corker does not have a Democratic co-sponsor. This is another Republican attempt to manipulate legitimate concerns about Iran for political gain.

Almost everyone supports the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act. Why not let it pass with strong bipartisan support and vote separately on a bill to authorize a joint resolution of disapproval?

Corker wants all or nothing. He is willing to put the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act at risk to gain a talking point Republicans can use against Democrats who oppose his amendment.

More after the jump.
Boxer pulled the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act from consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to avoid a vote on the Iran amendment. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) also opposes voting on Corker’s Iran amendment.

Corker’s amendment is unnecessary: Congress does and should have a role in the process. But Corker’s amendment does not give Congress any authority to block a deal with Iran; it just creates an opportunity for more grandstanding. As Boxer pointed out, Congress can take action against any deal with or without Corker’s amendment.

Some in Congress want a deal with Iran that is so airtight, so perfect, that it would be impossible to achieve. They do not seem to realize that the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiations table will not by themselves stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The alternative to diplomacy is not more sanctions — although more sanctions will surely be the first response if diplomacy fails — but either war or containment.

That is not to say that opponents of the interim deal process want war: They do not. They sincerely believe that merciless sanctions will stop Iran, even though Iran’s nuclear program had accelerated as sanctions increased, but has slowed down significantly since the interim agreement was put in place and a limited sanctions relief was granted.

The Obama administration’s position is that we need to give diplomacy a chance because:

  • Diplomacy might work (although President Obama, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton all give it a chance of less than 50% to succeed).
  • The case for even tougher sanctions, and if necessary, military action, will be much stronger. We will be much more likely to maintain the international coalition, that is essential if we are to have any chance of success, if we first try diplomacy and thereby convince the world that there really is no alternative to more sanctions or military action.

Obama has been clear that diplomacy might not work, and has been equally clear that we will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, repeatedly stating that no option, including the military one, is off the table. He has boxed himself in: He cannot allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons without his presidency being judged a failure by his own standard.

If nevertheless you do not think that Obama will use military force, even if it will be the only way to stop Iran, then you should support diplomacy and oppose congressional initiatives that would complicate diplomatic efforts and make it harder for diplomacy to succeed. If diplomacy does not succeed, military action will be the only option left.

Now is not the time for Congress to upset the apple cart. There is no reason that Corker’s amendment needs to be voted on now — as opposed to later in the process — other than to create an election-year issue for the Republicans.

Senators Boxer and Menendez are good friends of the pro-Israel community. We should commend them for refusing to play Corker’s game.

AIPAC Breaks With GOP on Iran Sanctions


Reps. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

— by Steve Sheffey

The Kirk-Menendez bill started out as a bipartisan effort to increase pressure on Iran. It was introduced in December with 13 Democratic and 13 Republican cosponsors, amidst concerns that the clock was ticking and the interim agreement with Iran had not yet been implemented.

But once the interim agreement took effect, and after the administration shared more details about the plan, support for a vote on Kirk-Menendez began to evaporate, especially among Democrats. It began to look less like a bipartisan effort to do the right thing and more like a vehicle for Republicans to drive a wedge between pro-Israel Democrats and President Obama.

The bottom finally fell out on Thursday, when Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and 41 other Republican senators sent a letter demanding a vote. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the bill’s co-author, responded by warning against making the bill a partisan issue.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released a statement saying that, “We agree with the Chairman [Sen. Menendez] that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.”

More after the jump.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), said that Iran is “a serious, serious situation. For me to receive a totally partisan letter, we should not make this a partisan issue, and that’s what 42 Republicans have done. And I think it’s wrong.”  

One of AIPAC’s core principles is that support for legislation it backs must be bipartisan. This sometimes means compromise, but AIPAC knows that the U.S.-Israel relationship could be irreparably damaged if even the perception exists that congressional policy on Israel and Iran depends on which party is in power.

Forty-two GOP senators, led by “Partisan-in-Chief” Kirk, might want a vote right now, but AIPAC does not. It must have been hard for some AIPAC leaders to stand up to Kirk, but they made the right call. AIPAC stood up against partisanship on Israel, and in favor of its principles. We cannot let anyone turn Israel or Iran into a partisan issue.

AIPAC says it remains strongly committed to the passage of Kirk-Menendez. But unlike Kirk and his Republican partisans, AIPAC opposes an immediate vote on the legislation. No vote means no passage.

There may come a time when legislation like Kirk-Menendez is appropriate, but now is not the time. AIPAC’s position is very similar to the position the National Jewish Democratic Council articulated last month.

Chemi Shalev wrote in Ha’aretz last weekend that Kirk-Menendez “had no legs and no logic to stand on.”

Some of its supporters claimed that it was meant to strengthen Obama’s hand in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, when it was clear that they meant just the opposite: to weaken the President and to sabotage the talks. They couldn’t speak this truth outright, so they surrounded it, as Churchill once said, with a bodyguard of lies.

The bill’s supporters had no rational response to the Administration’s claim that the same conditional sanctions that the bill was pushing could be legislated in a day if the talks collapsed or if Iran reneged on its commitments. They could muster only disingenuous disclaimers to the unequivocal assertion, by both Washington and Tehran, that the legislation, if approved, would contravene the Geneva agreement and bring about an Iranian walkout.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration sent a clear signal that sanctions against Iran remain in place and are enforceable during the talks, by imposing sanctions on more than 30 individuals and entities last week.

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Let Iran Be the Side That Failed the Talks


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stated that under no circumstances would Iran agree to destroy any of its centrifuges.

— by Steve Sheffey

Those who favor the Kirk-Menendez Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act are not warmongers. They favor the bill because, in their view, it will increase the chance for diplomacy to succeed.

Those who oppose the bill are not soft on Iran and are no less concerned about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. They oppose the bill because, in their view, the bill violates the interim agreement, would lessen the likelihood of a diplomatic solution, and weaken the sanctions architecture.

This is not some kind of a litmus test. There are strong friends of the U.S.-Israel relationship on both sides of this issue. No one should equate support for new sanctions with support, or lack of support, for Israel.

Some people are judging the interim agreement by the standards of what we hope will be the final agreement.

The purpose of the interim agreement is to delay, not end, Iran’s progress, so that Iran cannot run out the clock while we negotiate. It cannot and will not be the final agreement. If Iran does not fulfill its obligations under the interim agreement, it will lose even a limited sanctions relief.

More after the jump.
If talks with Iran fail, the world must know that they failed because of Iran, not because of the U.S.

If talks fail, we will need a unified international community to back us on increased sanctions or military action. If we impose sanctions that might contravene the interim agreement, the world will perceive — with some justification — that we, not Iran, are the intransigent party.

As Steven Spiegel wrote in Roll Call, “if the interim agreement is seen to have been upended by actions of the U.S. Congress, both the potential sanctions and military options will be threatened.”

It will be much more difficult, even almost impossible, to gain international support for sanctions and military action if the talks were seen to have broken down because of a controversial action by the U.S. Congress.

In that sense, voting for sanctions now could create the worst of both worlds: Iran will walk away from the talks as the offended party, and sanctions will be diminished as the Iranians develop an excuse to complete their nuclear ambitions. Congress should not give Tehran an opportunity for such a victory.

In a long but important article in the New York Review (I do not agree with all of it, but I agree with most of it), Jessica Matthews wrote that, “The bill’s authors, Senators Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, argue that it strengthens the president’s hand. It does the reverse by making even more acute Iranian doubts that the president can deliver the relief from sanctions they are negotiating for.”

Its passage, as an act of bad faith on the U.S.’s part after having just agreed not to impose new sanctions during the term of the six-month deal, would probably cause Iran to walk away from the negotiations. Rouhani would risk political suicide at home if he did not.

Alternatively, in the all too familiar pattern of the past decade, he might stay at the negotiating table and match unacceptable American demands with his own so that blame for failure would be muddled.

America’s negotiating partners and others whose support makes the sanctions work would feel the sting of bad faith as well. The sanctions regime that has been so painstakingly built through ten years of effort by determined American leaders of both parties could easily unravel.

Mathews concluded that, “A final agreement is by no means assured, but the opportunity is assuredly here.”

The price of an agreement will be accepting a thoroughly monitored, appropriately sized enrichment program in Iran that does not rise over 5 percent. The alternatives are war or a nuclear-armed Iran. Should this be a hard choice? Astonishingly, too many members of Congress seem to think so.

In Bloomberg, Jeff Goldberg wrote that, “Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has just stated that under no circumstances would Iran agree to destroy any of its centrifuges. I would also like to note that this unequivocal statement, if sincere, means that there is no possibility of a nuclear deal between Iran and the six powers set to resume negotiating with it next month.”

And if that is the case, we will need all the international support we can muster for whatever comes next. Maybe now is not the time to muddy the waters with sanctions legislation that could scuttle the talks and undermine our international coalition.

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Biden: “It’s Beyond My Capacity to Do Justice to Lautenberg”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s funeral was held yesterday at the Park Avenue Synagogue. Among the speakers were Vice President Joe Biden, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). 41 Senators, Gov. Chris Christie and six members of the House of Representatives attended the event.

Menendez said:

Frank Lautenberg was a man for his time. One of the greatest generation. The last of the Senate to have served in World War II. His story was an American story, but from his heart and for his lifetime, he was a kid from Paterson, New Jersey.

More after the jump.

Anyone who knew Frank knew he was destined to make something of himself. And he did.

Clinton said:

Frank always had something to say. It was usually a running commentary of what we were doing and what we weren’t doing. You just couldn’t help but have a smile on your face at least one time during the conversation.

Biden, who gave the longest speech, said:

I realize it’s beyond my capacity to find the words to do justice to Frank Lautenberg.

The Vice President also told that Lautenberg met with him around Christmas and asked his advice about whether he should run for another term in the senate. Biden told him he should. “it was clear that he desperately wanted to run again,” he said. “He never quit anything. He never gave up. He never gave in.”

Biden joked that he often rushed to Union Station to catch the train back to Delaware. One time, he said, he got to the station late and found the conductor waiting on the platform. “I got up to the conductor and he said ‘Hey Joe, don’t worry. You’re Okay. We’re holding it up for Lautenberg.’ They never once held it for me.”

Lautenberg’s wife, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg gave the final speech. She said the only thing that would have made her husband more happy than seeing all his friends there was to see them at a campaign fundraiser for him. “He taught us how to think at a much deeper level,” she said.

Dept. of Treasury Announces New Sanctions Against Iran

— by Jacob Miller, Jason Berger

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced new sanctions against Iran, as instructed in President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 13382, which targets those that assist with the proliferation of or support in the development of weapons of mass destruction. Those targeted are part of a global network that are responsible for acquiring important components for Iran’s nuclear program. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said:

As long as Iran continues to pursue a nuclear and ballistic missile program in defiance of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions, the U.S. will target and disrupt those involved in Iran’s illicit activities.

After the jump: Senate Passes Resolution 65 by Unanimous Consent

We will continue to work with our international partners to intensify this pressure and tighten sanctions on Iran’s energy sector as it provides much needed financial support for the Iranian regime’s proliferation activity.

Treasury’s announcement further detailed those being targeted:

The designations focus on entities and individuals supporting previously designated entities within Iran’s proliferation network as well as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), and Iran’s Ministry of Defense for Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL).  These organizations are at the center of Iran’s continued proliferation activities.  

Last Wednesday, by a vote of 99 to 0, the Senate passed a resolution condemning Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The resolution also supports Israel’s right to exist and reaffirms our country’s close relationship with the Jewish state. After the votes were cast, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez said in a press release:

Iran’s provocative actions threaten not just regional stability, but pose an existential threat to our ally Israel, and clearly are a very real threat to U.S. national security. Iran’s leaders must understand, that unless they change course their situation will only get worse. Their economic struggles and international isolation will only grow. While this resolution makes absolutely clear that we are not authorizing the use of force, it does make clear that we have Israel’s back. If Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear program, we should stand with Israel — using all the tools of our national power — to assist Israel in defense of its territory, people and existence.

Sen. Paul Call to End “Welfare” to Israel Rejected by Senate Dems

— David Streeter and David A. Harris

A group of Senate Democrats has sent a letter to Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, rejecting Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) proposal to cut foreign aid to Israel. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Robert Casey (D-PA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) proclaimed in the letter that Paul’s “remarks are alarming and aim to weaken the decades-long bipartisan consensus on U.S. support for Israel.”

This is the second time in as many weeks that Paul has advocated this dangerous and irresponsible policy. This time though, Paul went further and ludicrously claimed that American assistance to Israel is nothing more than ‘welfare.’

American assistance to Israel is certainly not welfare. For decades, the U.S.-Israel relationship has paid significant dividends for America’s national security and has helped Israel to become America’s greatest democratic ally in a difficult and dangerous neighborhood. This is not welfare; helping our democratic ally Israel helps America on so many levels.

Some may claim that Paul speaks only for himself. But if that truly is the case, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republican leaders must immediately speak out loudly and clearly to condemn the reversal in U.S. foreign policy that Senator Paul continues to advocate. They must do so before Paul’s disturbing and now weekly appeals for an end to American assistance to Israel become dogma among certain segments of the Republican Party’s base, threatening the bipartisan nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The text of the letter from Senate Democrats follows the jump.
February 1, 2011

Dear Chairman Rogers and Chairman Ryan:

We write in light of recent statements that demonstrate the intent of certain Senators to eliminate foreign aid funding to the nation of Israel. Recently, Republican Senator Rand Paul suggested that the United States should “halt all foreign aid including its financial aid to Israel.” These remarks are alarming and aim to weaken the decades-long bipartisan consensus on U.S. support for Israel. Both Republicans and Democrats are committed to reining in the federal deficit, but assistance to Israel is not a matter of “pork barrel spending” – rather U.S. foreign aid to Israel demonstrates America’s rock-solid commitment to ensuring Israel’s right to exist.

Israel is the only democratic nation in the Middle East and one of our most trusted allies. A stable and secure Israel is strongly in our national security interest and has been a cornerstone of our foreign policy for over half-a-century. Using Congress’s bipartisan commitment to reining in government spending as a reason to abandon Israel is unacceptable and should be immediately rejected.

At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being utilized to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to commit to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel.  As members of the United States Senate, we will work aggressively to prevent any attempts to abandon one of our most trusted allies. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Senator Stabenow

Senator Nelson

Senator Menendez

Senator Cardin

Senator Brown

Senator Casey

Senator Whitehouse