Foxman takes a swing at Petraeus

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) blasted General David Petraeus today, calling his Senate testimony, “dangerous and counterproductive.”

(Spencer Ackerman called our attention to Foxman’s attack in a blog post earlier today.)

ADL director Abe Foxman was quoted in the press release.

The assumptions Gen. Petraeus presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee wrongly attribute “insufficient progress” in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and “a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel” as significantly impeding the U.S. military mission in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and in dealing with the Iranian influences in the region.   It is that much more of a concern to hear this coming from such a great American patriot and hero.

The General’s assertions lead to the illusory conclusion that if only there was a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. could successfully complete its mission in the region.

Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism for Israel.  This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive.

Whenever the Israeli-Arab conflict is made a focal point, Israel comes to be seen as the problem.  If only Israel would stop settlements, if only Israel would talk with Hamas, if only Israel would make concessions on refugees, if only it would share Jerusalem, everything in the region would then fall into line.

Foxman’s decision to criticize Petraeus’s testimony seems foolhardy in two ways.First, it throws down a gauntlet for American supporters of Netanyahu.  Foxman is forcing them to choose between a highly decorated U.S. General who, until recently, was a darling of neoconservatives for his “Surge” in Iraq and, on the other hand, AIPAC and the ADL’s belligerent condemnations of the Obama administration for taking offense at Netanyahu’s snubbing of Biden.  An interesting strategy indeed!

Second, Foxman’s assertion that Petraeus, “erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism of Israel,” is simply not supported by recent polling data and news reports.

“The 2009 Arab Public Opinion Poll” (PowerPoint) found that 39% of respondents in the Arab world believe that “Israel decides its own interests and influences the U.S.” Twenty-five-percent believe that, “Israel is a tool of American foreign policy,” and 32-percent believe that, “The U.S. and Israel have mutual interests.”

Thirty-eight percent of respondents said the Palestinian issue was the most important issue for them, while another 38-percent said it was in their top three priorities and 23-percent said it was in their top-five.

The polling appears to corroborate Petraeus’s assertions that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very important in the region and that the U.S., all too often, is seen as exhibiting favoritism towards Israel.

If hard statistics fail to illustrate the causality sufficiently, then one only has to look back to the Khost bombing in December 2009, for gruesome, anecdotal evidence.

Daniel Luban called attention in January to the role of last year’s Gaza War in radicalizing Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian doctor who killed 7 CIA agents (as well as his Jordanian handler) in Afghanistan in December, 2009.

According to the New York Times:

He [Balawi’s brother] described Mr. Balawi as a “very good brother” and a “brilliant doctor,” saying that the family knew nothing of Mr. Balawi’s writings under a pseudonym on jihadi Web sites. He said, however, that his brother had been “changed” by last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians.

The brother said that Mr. Balawi was arrested by the Jordanian authorities after volunteering with medical organizations to treat wounded Palestinians in Gaza. The family is itself of Palestinian origin, from a tribe in the Beersheba region.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. Funny, you opined on Foxman’s strategy in attacking the General. He has only one strategy, he’s a barking dog.

  2. The concerns of the Arab street are not the same as threats to US forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or even Iraq. Petraeus’ larger point has merit: without the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we would have fewer problems in the region. Indeed, one can make a case that absent the Israeli-Arab problem, the second Iraq war would never have been fought.

    Still, Foxman has a point as well. The main front for US forces now is Afghanistan-Pakistan. The enemy there is not fighting because the Palestinians are oppressed. Your argument in my view is overdrawn. You’re coming darn close to making Procrustes’ bed.

    The interesting point here (for me at least) is: who wins, Foxman or Petraeus? Is the Lobby able to master even the US military? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t bet against the Lobby.

  3. I doubt Petraeus would agree with Foxman’s hyperbole offered in the last paragraph quoted above. Petraeus strikes me as much more of a realist, taking stock of the finer points of objective analysis than the broad brush exaggerations Foxman puts forward there. Of course to claim to have a better grasp of a strategic analysis of Petraeus’ region of command is what one might say, presumptuous, if not, foolhardy? A barker, indeed.

  4. RE: “If hard statistics fail to illustrate the causality sufficiently…” – Eli Clifton
    MY CONTRIBUTION: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but facts will never sway us.” ~ Neocon Creed

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