Is AIPAC Waging A Shadow War On Hagel?
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In June 2012, Block was hired as CEO of The Israel Project, a major pro-Israel advocacy group that focuses on influencing journalists, politicians, and other cultural elites free trips to Israel, lavish seminars, and aggressive lobbying. When Hagel’s name was floated as the likely Defense Secretary nominee in December, Block opened up a series of harsh attacks on Hagel, reportedly disseminating anti-Hagel talking points to sympathetic reporters and neoconservative activists. Block’s Twitter feed has become a clearinghouse for attacks on the former senator, including those that baselessly portray him as anti-American and anti-Semitic, and the former AIPAC spokesman has been quoted in publications ranging from the Daily Beast to Politico disparaging Hagel.
On January 8, I attended an Israeli national election debate sponsored by The Israel Project at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. On a stage before virtually the entire foreign press corps stationed in Jerusalem were candidates from the four leading Israeli political parties. Bombarded with questions from reporters about their opinion of the Hagel nomination, each candidate studiously refused to issue any criticism. Tzachi Hanegbi, a close ally of Prime Minister Netanyahu from the Likud Party, emphasized that it would be inappropriate for any Israeli official to publicly question the judgment of the American president.
Outside the auditorium, I interviewed the Executive Director of the Israel Project, Marcus Sheff. A well-practiced media professional, Sheff grew visibly uncomfortable when I asked him about Block’s attacks on Hagel. “Josh Block has clearly made those statements about Chuck Hagel,” he said haltingly, “and you are free to look at those statements, and you would have to ask Josh about that.”
When I asked Sheff if the The Israel Project would formally adopt Block’s position as its own – if it officially opposed Hagel – he refused to provide a direct answer. He stuttered: “Uh, again, it’s a subject which is being discussed vociferously in Washington… I would ask you to ask our Washington office about that.”
It was clear that The Israel Project’s directors, like those from AIPAC, were deeply concerned about being identified with the attacks on Hagel. Indeed, Sheff was anything but thrilled to be put on the spot about Block’s activities. But The Israel Project’s staff did not have the luxury of waging political warfare under the cover of darkness as AIPAC did. After all, it was their own CEO who was helping orchestrate a campaign to smear a popular three term former senator and Vietnam War hero as an anti-Semitic radical.
Block may have made himself a liability to The Israel Project, but as long as he is employed there, Rosenberg believes he provides AIPAC with a key asset. “The whole anti-Hagel effort is coordinated by AIPAC,” claimed Rosenberg. “If it didn't want Hagel to be smeared as anti-Israel, he wouldn’t have been. So he is being smeared nonstop and if the effort fails [AIPAC] can say, ‘It wasn't us. We are neutral. These attacks came independently.’ “That’s why they use cutouts,” he added. “I know because I used to be one of them.”