by Jim Lobe
More evidence that multi-billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has effectively gained control of the Republican Party leadership came today with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s assertion that his “support for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu is unwavering…” (Emphasis added)
This truly remarkable affirmation, which came through a spokeswoman, was part of a longer written statement in which he denounced remarks delivered Monday night by former Secretary of State (and Republican hero Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff) James Baker to the concluding dinner of the annual J Street conference.
As noted in the neocon Weekly Standard, Baker had criticized Bibi for “diplomatic missteps and political gamesmanship.” He also expressed support for a nuclear deal with Iran—a framework agreement for which could be announced this weekend, according to well-informed sources—as well as a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a baseline position for both J Street and the Obama administration.
“Governor Bush consults a wide range of advisors on foreign policy,” Bush spokeswoman Kristi Campbell said. “While he respects Secretary Baker, he disagrees with the sentiments he expressed last night and opposes J Street’s advocacy.” The statement then went on to pledge the putative candidate’s “unwavering” support for both Israel and Bibi as if, presumably, Bibi somehow represents the very embodiment of Israel.
So wdoes this mean that Bush will support Bibi no matter what the Israeli leader says or does? (This is reminiscent of Lindsey Graham’s vow to Netanyahu in Jerusalem last December: “I’m here to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Congress will follow your lead [on Iran].”)
Does it mean that Bush does not support a two-state solution despite his own right-wing brother’s endorsement of it? Is Jeb actually to the right of Dubya on Israel??? Is he renouncing nearly five decades of bipartisan opposition to Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory? Would Jeb as president defer to Bibi on all matters that might affect Israel or Bibi’s political fortunes? Would he join with Israel in a military attack on Iran? And if Bibi (or Adelson) now demands that Baker be dropped from the list of Bush’s foreign policy advisers, will Jeb comply?
“Unwavering” is a hell of a word to apply to support for a mere mortal, especially when you consider that this statement wasn’t made off the cuff (like Romney’s “47%”). It came in a prepared statement, presumably vetted by his top campaign staff.
Now, it may be that Bush feels he has to say such things in order to appeal to the Republican base constituencies, including ardent Christian Zionists who are most likely to vote in the party’s presidential primaries. But I sense that this is more about campaign finance and wooing Adelson and very wealthy colleagues, such as Paul Singer, in the Republican Jewish Coalition. Readers of this blog, of course, remember last year’s so-called “Sheldon Primary” at Adelson’s Venetian casino resort in Las Vegas where a sizable number of presidential hopefuls “kissed the ring” of a man who probably contributed more money to defeating Obama in 2012 than any other. It was also where Chris Christie, that tough guy from New Jersey, felt obliged to personally apologize to Adelson for referring to the West Bank as “occupied territories.” It was at that same event that Jeb Bush himself was the featured speaker at an exclusive dinner at his company’s private airplane hangar at the Las Vegas airport.
Of course, Adelson and his Israeli wife, Miriam, have also long supported Netanyahu. At the Israeli leader’s speech before Congress earlier this month, the couple was seated as House Speaker Boehner’s guests of honor in the front row of the House gallery. Later that night, Adelson co-hosted a fund-raiser for Graham, who, as noted above, had already vowed to follow Bibi wherever he may lead. Indeed, Graham, whose hawkishness on Iran has never flagged, could well emerge as the Newt Gingrich of the 2016 presidential race. Gingrich, whose 2012 presidential campaign was virtually singlehandedly kept afloat by some $15 million contributed to it by the Adelsons, made it clear that, for Adelson, Israel was priority number one.
Jeb’s latest statement of devotion, of course, comes on the eve of Boehner’s trip to Israel, a gracious “thank you” from Bibi for the speaker’s cooperation (possibly lubricated by Adelson’s promises for more campaign funding for Republicans?) in arranging Netanyahu’s address to Congress. It’s yet another rather dramatic illustration of Republican fealty to Bibi. It also reveals that the GOP leadership and its presidential hopefuls— even so-called moderates whose family history with right-wing Israeli leaders has not been particularly smooth—have effectively become fused with Likud.