Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Open Letter to Alaska Sen. Mark Begich

(image via Mondoweiss)

Dear Sen. Begich,

Both you and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, along with 74 0ther U.S. Senators, are signatories of a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, dated Tuesday. In that letter, originated by Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Johnny Isakson, you make a series of statements that beg definition or clarification. I would appreciate your response on these specific statements:

1. You state, "We write to urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israeli administrations over the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem do not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or harm U.S.-Israel relations."

What evidence do you have that this is actually the case? President Obama stated the same day as your letter that, regarding this same process you reference, "The truth is in some of these conflicts the United States can't impose solutions unless the participants in these conflicts are willing to break out of old patterns of antagonism."

It appears to me that your open-ended criticism of the president on this makes it more difficult for him "to break out of old patterns" when it comes to negotiating.

2. You write "[I]n a reversal of 16 years of policy, Palestinian leaders are refusing to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, they have put forward a growing list of unprecedented preconditions."

Could it be that Palestinian leaders' concern about a range of issues help fuel their reluctance to regard the Netanyahu government as honest brokers? Just in the past few weeks:

Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank are becoming increasingly militant, even jailing without charges dozens of the most articulate Palestinian advocates for peace.

Word has come out that Israeli assassination squads have been targeting outspoken and articulate Palestinian "Ghandis," in direct violation of decisions by Israeli courts, all the way up to their highest judiciary. The reporters who have disclosed these violations of Israeli law and international law are faced with life sentences for their disclosure of these ongoing crimes.

Several settlements outside of the East Jerusalem area that your letter seems to consider important have also expanded over the past few weeks, illegally seizing or destroying Palestinian property. Surely this complicates what Palestinian negotiators feel they must face. By not addressing the brazen illegality of the East Jerusalem expansion that spurred "the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem," and the other West Bank illegal seizings, your letter seems hopelessly biased.

All of these activities are against international law and the stated policies of the U.S. government. Don't you think President Obama is obligated to base his decisions upon those laws and policies? You letter seems to purport he brush these continuing serious violations aside - for the sake of what?

3. You state "We also urge you to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds that tie the United States and Israel together."

Could you describe to me what those bonds are? Is President Obama merely supposed to take what looks to me like an oath to a foreign government, as you appear to be doing here, or is he supposed to go further?

And who wrote your letter, Senator? Was it vetted by any organizations partially staffed by people who are not U.S. citizens?

Senator Begich, could you please provide a list of other countries to which you think American presidents need to publicly affirm or reaffirm the unbreakable bonds that tie that foreign nation and the USA together?

Is Canada one? Mexico? The United Kingdom? South Korea? Please provide a full list of other countries you feel meet that bill, Senator.

During one of our talks during your 2008 senatorial campaign, you expressed your lack of knowledge about issues concerning Israel and Palestine, and hoped to learn more. I have some suggestions for a tutorial:

Would you like to visit the Gaza Strip or Hebron as part of a Senatorial delegation? Sen. Kerry, who is not a signator of your letter has visited Gaza.

Would you like to meet the parents of U.S. citizens Rachel Corrie or Tristan Anderson?

Would you like to meet the survivors of the U.S.S. Liberty, whose skipper won the Congressional Medal of Honor defending his ship and crew from a hostile attack that killed dozens of their shipmates?

If you would like to do any of the above, I can help, Senator.

Although your letter doesn't go nearly as far in its obsequiousness to a foreign government as did Sarah Palin's reference to the problem that spurred your unfortunate letter, as a "zoning dispute," your letter undermines what may be the best hope for peace in Palestine and Israel in more than a generation.


your constituent, former volunteer and donor,

Philip Munger


freeper said...

AIPAC writes a letter every few months and the Congressional members who are afraid they'll lose out on some money sign on.

(most of the time without even bothering to check to see if the letter's content is conceivably consistent with what the Congressperson has previously stated for the record on the issues.)

In Murkowski's case, there's not any question that she's likely to endorse anything AIPAC sets in front of her for her signature.

In Begich's case, it's not quite so cut and dried.

But having not yet found his legs, insecure about the depth of his support, and not yet feeling he can declare his complete independence from right wing pressures, his signing goes hand in hand with some of his other appeasement moves that don't appear to be very well thought out when viewed on a longer time scale than he appears to be concerned with at times.

The important thing to remember about these regularly scheduled letters from AIPAC, they all basically repeat the same doctrines and precepts.

I have grave doubts that this 'letter' is going to be taken very critically by the administration, I doubt it's going to have as much impact as AIPAC might wish to have people think.

It's business as usual, regrettable as that is in Begich's case.

More letters telling him to stop pandering to every right wing lobby that comes knocking on his door couldn't hurt to improve his future actions.

I have no qualms about asking him to withdraw his unconditional support for this kind of propagandizing. I have no qualms about asking him to refuse to deal with foreign government lobby groups.

AIPAC is a good example of why we ought to reform campaign financing to an alternative publicly funded system.

Let these lobbies attempt to sway opinions or policies with their ideas if they want to and if their ideas are desirable enough,

.......but refuse all the lobbies the opportunity they have now to purchase blind co-operation through the size of their payoffs.

Philip Munger said...


good analysis. glad you put aipac's case into context with lobbying in general, too.

Anonymous said...


You have referenced an article that does not appear to be entirely correct.

yuval says:
April 7, 2010 at 1:02 am
Thank you for retelling the story of Anat Kam.
Telling this story again and again is important for the freedom of press in Israel. However I disagree with some of the points in the presentation.

“Imagine that an American federal court issued a gag order threatening journalists and bloggers with criminal charges for reporting on the now-notorious video depicting US soldiers mowing down two Reuters journalists and a crowd of innocent Iraqis. ”

This dramatization is wrong. The Haaretz article with the documents was published and cleared through the Israeli censor. The gag isn’t on reporting the article itself.

“Perhaps the most outrageous aspect of the Kam case is not the media blackout, but the fact that Kam is being prosecuted in the first place.”

As far as anyone can tell Anat Kam is accused of stealing top secret documents, an accusation that should be brought for a court to decide (of whether there was a greater cover-up).

The blackout is the issue!
It is dangerous for a country to allow people to be secretly taken to house arrests. It seems like the only reason is to prevent political inconvenience. Most bloggers removed their post due to direct requests from Anat. This does not excuse the removal of the posts – because it allows a 1984 approach for hushing the story. (I don’t know if I could hold ground to a direct request from her either).

Chris said...


I don't know exactly what the solution is but I agree that the money sloshing around in the political system is part of the problem!

I like OpenSecrets for seeing where the money comes from:

I don't see a lot of obvious pro-Israel donors on the top donors list for Sen Begich in a quick review, but AIPAC isn't known for contributing directly. As I understand it they help with "networking" candidates with potential donors, so their influence might be harder to trace then some other PACs. It could easily be tucked in there. I haven't researched the associations of all the top contributors either so that could be an interesting project.


Philip Munger said...


A good place to start, should you be more interested in AIPAC and its influence, is the recent book by Mearsheimer & Walt, titled "The Israel Lobby." After reading that, if you live in Alaska, you might consider making an appointment with David Gottstein, the head of AIPAC in Alaska. I'm sure he'd be happy to discuss the book and the overall issue of how Israel is supported, with you.