Josh Block’s Oppo Research Doc Misleads On CAP Bloggers’ Positions

Looking over the document on me and some of my colleagues that, as Salon’s Justin Elliot revealed this week, former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block, now listed as a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, has been sending around under the pretense that it exposes us as being, in his words, “on the side of anti-U.S., anti-Israel, and anti-Western forces,” one has to be impressed at the effort that Block has put into attributing the darkest possible motives to work that, taken on its own and without his misleading editorializing, is not particularly controversial. Yes, I think a strike on Iran would be hugely destabilizing, as does former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and that overly aggressive unilateral U.S. sanctions could undermine more effective multilateral sanctions. Yes, I think Turkey is a very important U.S. partner, and more effort should be put toward resolving its rift with Israel, which is bad for all three countries. Yes, I think the continuing growth of Israeli settlements diminishes the prospects of a negotiated peace, as does Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, as has every U.S. administration since 1968. It’s ridiculous to characterize these views as either anti-U.S. or anti-Israel.

People can make up their own minds, and I’m happy to defend anything I’ve written, but there are few particularly misleading items in the now-public document that I’d like to address.


Josh writes that I “seem ideologically and personally committed to mainstreaming the idea that Israel is a strategic drag on the United States.” As evidence, he cites a June 2010 post in which I note recent statements from Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former Israeli Mossad Chief Meir Dagan warning of Israel becoming a strategic burden on the United States. Here’s the quote from me he uses:

Like Cordesman (for whom, full disclosure, I interned years ago) I’ve always been skeptical of claims about the strategic benefits of the U.S.-Israel partnership. As Cordesman writes, “At the best of times,” Israel “provides some intelligence, some minor advances in military technology, and a potential source of stabilizing military power.”

And here’s the rest:

But I’m also a strong believer in the moral and ethical basis of the U.S.-Israel relationship, in support for Israel as a fellow democracy — an imperfect one, sure, just as the U.S. was and still is in many ways — and as a country that shares many of our values, and holds enormous spiritual significance for many Americans.

Whether one supports or opposes the current U.S.-Israel relationship, on whatever basis, the fact is that the U.S. is deeply implicated in what Israel does. But supporting the relationship on the basis of values means recognizing that the U.S. has a unique responsibility to work toward halting Israel’s violations of those values, most obviously its four decade-old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and creation of illegal settlements throughout occupied territory, rather than providing diplomatic cover for them. One can quibble with the manner in which President Obama has pursued the settlement issue, but the fact that he has made it such a central element of his approach to Israel shows how seriously he takes the relationship, and how he understands the threat that the settlements represent to Israel’s future. Though no two countries’ interests are perfectly aligned, I think that U.S. and Israeli interests in resolving the conflict, seeing Israel integrated into the region (and allowing the region to benefit from Israel’s vibrant culture and enormous economic accomplishments) are about as closely aligned as such interests get.

On the question of “linkage” — the manner in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is linked to other challenges in the Middle East — Josh writes, “CAP’s Middle East people are committed to the idea that Israel is at the core of Middle East instability…CAP constantly pushes the talking point that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the cause rather than the symptom of Middle East pathologies.” Here’s what I actually wrote in the December 2010 Foreign Policy piece Josh cites:

Basically, the “linkage” argument holds that continued irresolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hinders America’s ability to achieve its national security goals in the region, both by serving as a driver of extremism and a source of anti-American sentiment. […]

It is of course true that hostility toward Israel and its U.S. patron will not simply dissipate upon the end of Israel’s occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state — the completeness of that de-occupation, and the contours of that state, matter greatly. There are also problems and pathologies in the Middle East that have nothing to do with Israelis or Palestinians. Securing a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will, however, make addressing some of those problems easier, by sealing up one well of resentment from which demagogues and extremists have for decades drawn freely and profitably.

“We don’t have to like it or even believe it makes sense,” wrote Ken Pollack, director of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, in his book A Path Out of the Desert, “but linkage is a reality and one we are not likely to be able to change in the near term.”

One reason this is particularly interesting is Josh and I discussed this in some detail while sitting together in the press section at the Herzliya Conference in Israel last February. I explained to him my view of linkage in nearly exactly the same terms as above, and explained why his interpretation of linkage is not one I agree with. Yet for some reason he chose to disregard that conversation, and characterize my views differently.


Another interesting thing about the Herzliya conference: In speeches there, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and former national security adviser Gen. Jim Jones all offered variations of the linkage argument. Dennis Ross has done, too, along with many others. Josh may strongly disagree with it, but it is by no means a fringe analysis.

As for Josh’s outrageous anti-Semitism smear, I’m not going to bother responding, because I’m quite confident Josh knows that it isn’t true. I will offer a note, however, on what Josh refers to as my “unprofessional rhetoric” on Twitter. I will admit that in my tweets I do occasionally engage in a level of snark that some might reasonably call unprofessional. So do many, many others. But I hereby commit myself to being more judicious about the deployment of said snark, and to treating these important issues with the seriousness that they deserve.

Cross-posted from Middle East Progress.