The battle for Washington’s foreign policy has begun

Progressive organizations have embarked on a well-funded and organized campaign to turn the U.S. ship of state toward Iran and the Palestinians and away from Israel and Arab states that seek to normalize relations with it.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Credit: Andrew Bossi via Wikimedia Commons.
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Credit: Andrew Bossi via Wikimedia Commons.
Lenny Ben-David

American pundits, lobbyists and commentators are busy forecasting the Biden administration’s foreign policy and submitting names of candidates to fill positions of influence in the new government.

An outline of the new administration’s Middle East policies can already be ascertained by President-elect Joe Biden’s own decades-long record of support for Israel. Two of his senior appointees, Secretary of State-to-be Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, nominated to be the National Security Advisor, also have proven track records of support. Their role in promoting the 2015 Iran deal was given a fresh perspective when they condemned the regime on Dec. 14 for the abduction and execution of journalist Ruhollah Zam.

The U.S. Congress plays a significant role in Middle East policy, setting levels of financial assistance, approving arms sales, legislating sanctions and expressing the sense of Congress on myriad issues of human rights, anti-Semitism, Jerusalem and more. Regardless of the Jan. 5 Senate races in Georgia that will determine which party controls the Senate, Congress will maintain its solid bipartisan, pro-Israel reputation. For sure, strident detractors of the Jewish state will exploit the media outlets, but when all is said and done, Congress represents the pro-Israel American people. Congressional leaders from both sides of the political aisle will protect the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The battle to take back Washington

In recent weeks, progressive groups and think tanks have presented their own Middle East policy platforms to “take back” Washington and undo or reverse Trump policies, specifically regarding the Iranian and Palestinian issues. These groups include the International Crisis Group, the U.S. Middle East Project and the Center for a New American Security (in conjunction with the Israel Policy Forum and the Brookings Institution).

Considerable funding for these organizations’ activities, as well as those of the pro-Iran and pro-Palestinian Quincy Institute (headed by Iranian-Swiss Trita Parsi), J Street and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), comes from the Ploughshares Fund, which ostensibly claims to be dedicated to “confront[ing] the existential threat and immorality of nuclear weapons,” but spends considerable efforts and funds to support Israel’s detractors. Ploughshares’ former president and paymaster was Joe Cirincione, who also served in executive posts in the Center for American Progress and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as an authority on nuclear non-proliferation.

For the political observer, it is vital to survey the current broad, organized and coordinated effort to “reshape U.S. foreign policy and revive the United States’ sense of purpose in the world,” to use the words of Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s principal policy adviser in the White House, in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs.

The target: “Reshape and reorient” U.S. policy

Rhodes, who created the media “echo chamber” during the Iran deal controversy in 2015, urged one year later a “sense of urgency of radically reorienting American policy in the Middle East.”

To help meet this goal of changing U.S. policy, a group of liberal organizations has gathered a roster of 100 progressive candidates to staff senior posts in the Biden administration. “This is the first comprehensive and coordinated effort by the Left to influence the transition to appoint progressives to national security and foreign policy positions,” explained Yasmine Taeb of the Center for International Policy. Taeb is the first Muslim woman elected to the Democratic National Committee.

Among the 100 are Trita Parsi, the founder of the National Iranian American Council and a non-American; Matt Duss, foreign affairs adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders; Sarah Leah Whitson, who headed the Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division; and Joe Cirincione, to name a few.

During the Democratic nomination process, Sanders supporters believed that they would have influence in policy-making in return for Sanders’ endorsement of Biden. “Biden has tried to appease Sanders supporters in the wake of his endorsement,” CNBC reported in April. “Biden and Sanders are forming task forces to address issues, including the economy, education, climate, criminal justice, immigration reform, and health care.”

The progressive policy platform

The progressive advocates, many of whom are Obama acolytes, former administration officials or Bernie Sanders supporters, push these common themes and policies:

• Restore the nuclear “Iran Deal” and cancel sanctions against the Iranian regime.

• The assassinations of Iranian generals Qassem Soleimani and Mohsen Fakhrizade were illegal and immoral.

• The Palestinian Consulate in Washington and the American Palestinian affairs diplomatic consulate in Jerusalem should be reopened.

• The normalization agreements made between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and others are not peace agreements, but “arms sales.”

• Morocco’s normalization agreement is another case of the abandonment of the Palestinians; granting Western Sahara to Morocco is illegal.

• Israeli settlement activity, including in Jerusalem, is illegal and must be frozen.

• Israeli demolition of temporary Bedouin encampments in the West Bank is illegal.

• Aid to the Palestinian Authority and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) must be resumed.

• Arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE should be blocked.

Ben Rhodes, the former National Security Advisor to Obama, often delivers the “party line” today, as he did in his White House days, and the script is repeated in his patented “echo chamber.” The messages are re-broadcast by the following individuals and organizations:

• Tommy Vietor, who worked for Obama for nine years, including as spokesman in Rhodes’ NSC in the White House. He is the founder of Crooked Media, where he co-hosts the Pod Save America broadcasts with Rhodes. In a recent podcast, the two condemned the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizade, insisting that he was not a military officer. After the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, Vietor tweeted that he was an “Iranian political leader.”

• Rob Malley, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Washington, D.C. He, too, served on the Obama National Security Council, heading its Middle East desk. He is the host of ICG’s “Hold Your Fire” podcast, where he recently disparaged the Morocco-Israel normalization agreement. “Trump’s Morocco-Israel deal means that Israel and Palestinians continue living with an unresolved conflict, and Palestinians continue living under occupation,” Malley’s Crisis Group tweeted.

• Daniel Levy, president of the U.S. Middle East Project and co-founder of J Street. He served in senior posts in the New America Foundation, the Century Foundation and the ICG. Levy is also a trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. In response to the Israel-UAE normalization, he claimed:

“The UAE and Israel in recent years have carried out military strikes, backed or led coups and counterrevolutions, and undermined democratic transitions in the territory of at least ten other states that are recognized as members of the Arab League (Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, and Tunisia, in addition to Bahrain itself and arguably Qatar).”

• The Arab Center in Washington, D.C., is part of the Qatari Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies (ACRPS) in Doha, Qatar, headed by Azmi Bishara, a former Israeli Knesset member who fled Israel while under investigation on suspicion of spying for Hezbollah. The Center’s publications attack Saudi Arabia, Israel, Gulf States, the Abraham Accords and Trump’s Iran policy.

One of the biggest news frauds perpetrated recently is the “Arab Opinion Index on the Israel-Emirates Agreement,” supposedly a scientific poll, which ran in the Washington Post and tightly toed the Qatari line. The poll concluded, “The vast majority of Arabs probably oppose normalization and express a high degree of support for Palestinian statehood and rights.” The Doha-sponsored article in Washington’s premier newspaper declared:

“The UAE and Bahrain … are among the most repressive governments in the Middle East. The UAE and Bahrain were not included in our survey, but we can get a sense of public opinion from how civil society reacted to the news of normalization.”

Beyond the Arab Center in Washington, Qatar also funds American think tanks such as the Brookings Institute and Middle East departments at U.S. universities.

Trita Parsi

Parsi’s citizenship is reported to be Iranian and Swiss. He was a founder of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington organization accused of working for the Iranian regime. When NIAC sued a journalist for claiming that the group lobbied for Iran, a federal judge threw out the case, finding the evidence was “not inconsistent with the idea that he [Parsi] was first and foremost an advocate for the regime.” Court documents showed that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had “worked closely with Parsi and the organization he founded.”

Parsi is the co-founder and executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a “think tank bankrolled by Charles Koch and George Soros,” according to the Washington Free Beacon. A dozen Quincy Institute scholars appeared on the progressive roster of 100 candidates for Biden administration posts.

J Street

The self-proclaimed “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization fails on both counts. Its quarterly lobbying reports filed with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate show J Street’s few activities that can be categorized as “pro-Israel”—maybe “even-handed” is a better term.

The agenda J Street presents in recent press releases shows its opposition to weapons for the United Arab Emirates, Israel’s new ally and Iran’s foe; its concerns over the sanctions applied to Iran; J Street’s opposition to the assassination of an Iranian nuclear “scientist,” ignoring that Fakhrizadeh was a brigadier-general in the IRGC; and the organization condemned the building of a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, contiguous to two other Jerusalem neighborhoods. J Street seeks contiguity for Palestinians in Bethlehem (Palestinian “Area A”) with Israeli Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

J Street press releases show adherence to the progressive policies plan

Dec. 7: J Street urges senators to vote in support of four resolutions rejecting the Trump administration’s proposed sale of F-35 aircraft and other advanced weapons systems to the United Arab Emirates.

Nov. 28: in response to the Fakhrizadeh assassination: “The assassination of a senior Iranian nuclear scientist appears to be an attempt to sabotage the ability of the incoming Biden administration to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as well as the chances of further diplomacy, either by limiting the political leeway of Iranian officials who want to restore the deal or by triggering an escalation leading to military confrontation. It seems those who oppose the JCPOA will stop at nothing to kill the agreement once and for all.”

Nov. 16: “Construction in Givat Hamatos [a neighborhood in Jerusalem] is part of a deliberate settlement movement strategy to cut off Palestinian neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem from the West Bank Palestinian city of Bethlehem, in order to further undermine the prospects for a contiguous Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

Oct. 8: “The Trump administration’s decision to impose new sanctions that will sweep Iranian banks facilitating trade in medical supplies and other humanitarian goods is morally reprehensible and harms both ordinary Iranians and U.S. security interests. This is the latest misstep in the president’s belligerent anti-diplomacy campaign that has resulted in Iran being closer to a nuclear weapon, left Iranian hardliners more empowered and placed U.S. troops and allies in the region under greater threat.”


Progressive organizations, some with anti-Israel agendas and some even claiming to be “pro-Israel,” have embarked on a well-funded and organized campaign to turn the U.S. ship of state in a new direction, one that re-embraces Iran and the Palestinians while distancing from Israel and Arab states that seek to normalize relations with Israel.

The campaign will fail.

Even during eight years of a progressive-leaning Democratic presidency between 2001 and 2009, the left’s agenda was unsuccessful. Certainly, there was “daylight” on occasion between the White House and Israel, but the core of U.S. policy remained true to preserving Israel’s security and appropriating record amounts of military aid—with few hiccups.

Congress never flinched from its pro-Israel stand. The recalcitrant Palestinian leadership was as obdurate as ever, despite American pressures on Israel to be generously forthcoming.  Similarly, the Iranian regime was militant, radical and anti-American despite U.S. concessions, including pallets of dollars and loosening sanctions. The Obama administration was so frustrated it left office with one desperate door-slamming act in December 2016: engineering the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 attacking Israel’s settlement and Jerusalem policies. Tant pis!

The last four years have changed the Middle East tableau irreversibly, and not just resulting from White House policy, but that, too. The U.S. embassy went up the hill to Jerusalem, never to come down. Other countries will follow. Many Arab and Muslim countries realized that if they could not beat Israel, it was better to join Israel in economic ventures, intelligence sharing, medical and agricultural cooperation.

Unbeknownst to the progressive cavaliers who have been grounded in America by COVID-19, their Palestinian subjects have also changed. A majority does not want two states. They are fed up with their ossified and corrupt leadership, and they see, especially those under 40, the vibrancy of the relations their Gulf cousins have with Israel.

Lenny Ben-David is the Jerusalem Center’s Director of Publications. Ben-David served 25 years in senior posts in AIPAC in Washington and Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s Deputy Chief of Mission in the Embassy in Washington, D.C. He is the author of the American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs (Urim Publications).

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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