by Eli Clifton
Last week, Politico published an audio recording of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) accusing President Barack Obama of orchestrating the prosecution of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for bribery last year as retaliation for Menendez’s opposition to the White House’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran, a surprisingly common theory among Menendez’s neoconservative supporters. Kirk, who had worked closely with Menendez to counter the White House’s efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, admitted to Politico that he didn’t have any evidence to back up the claim. But the crowd loudly applauded the comments, revealing the popularity of such conspiracy theories.
Kirk’s fundraiser was hosted by To Protect Our Heritage PAC on April 3 and featured John Bolton as a special guest. To Protect our Heritage describes itself as “the Midwest’s largest and oldest pro-Israel Political Action Committee” and is co-chaired by Peggy Shapiro, the Midwest community director of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group with a particular focus on opposing the boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) campaign on college campuses. The Forward described the group as having “close relations with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a constantly growing budget.”
Over the past eight years, Kirk’s host, in both the pages of the right-wing American Thinker blog and at public events for StandWithUs, has questioned the motives driving Obama’s foreign policy, embraced Geert Wilders (one of Europe’s anti-immigrant, right-wing politicians), and claimed that Palestinians referred to themselves as “Arabs” until the 1967 war between Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
The Sayings of Peggy Shapiro
In a blog post published in May, 2008, Shapiro expressed her skepticism of Obama’s efforts to “reassure Jewish voters in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic.” She quipped, “Maybe he even likes bagels and lox when waffles aren’t available.”
In a November 2008 post, Shapiro wrote, “I cannot watch television as the world is turned upside down in a religious frenzy over the new ‘Messiah.’ On banners, signs, tee shirts, and pins are the single word slogans of ‘Hope’ and ‘Change.’” She went on to compare the support for Obama among Jewish Americans to the following garnered by Sabbetai Zevi, a 17th-century Sephardic Rabbi and kabbalist who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah.
With bands of wildly enthusiastic followers never questioning his mortal limits, and immense contributions (Maybe equal to a $600 million-dollar campaign budget) of his wealthy supporters. Sabbatai, assisted by his wife, became the sole ruler of the community and used his power to crush all opposition. (If the analogy seems stretched, note the future of conservative radio talk shows.) On a journey to Constantinople, he was advised that his interests, and perhaps his life, were in danger because of his beliefs, so without much hesitation, Sabbatai donned a turban and converted to Islam and thereafter lived most of his life in wealth and comfort. At the first test of his courage and conviction, his own welfare and advancement always preceded the well-being of his community. For his adherents, the illusion of false hope turned into decades of despair and misery from within the community and scorn and ridicule from outside.
We Jews should know better than to dance like wild worshippers in the Grant Park orgy of self-delusion.
And she celebrated the Capitol Hill screening of Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders’ documentary Fitna, at an event organized by then-Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in 2009. The film compared “Islamic ideology” to Nazism and Communism. “Our gratitude goes to Wilders and to Kyl and a strong message to those who are sacrificing freedom for political correctness,” she wrote.
But Shapiro’s oddest comments came at a StandWithUs rally in Joliet, Illinois in June 2013, in which she seemed to deny the existence of Palestinians. “Prior to 1967, there are no news headlines ever referring to Arabs as Palestinians,” said Shapiro.
Mark Kirk is increasingly associating himself with extreme positions as he engages in a heated campaign against a challenger for his Senate seat, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
Duckworth supported the resettlement of 200,000 refugees to the United States, including 100,000 from Syria. In response, Kirk ran attack ads against Duckworth in which he pledged to oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees and accused her of “[wanting] to bring 200,000 Syrian refugees to America.”
The race has also emerged as a showdown between the J Street PAC, the political wing of the liberal pro-Israel group, which endorsed Duckworth, and the lobby groups supporting Kirk, one of the Senate’s most active opponents of the Iran deal. In the past, Kirk has garnered support from NORPAC, a PAC affiliated with AIPAC, and appears to have lined up the support of a newly formed super PAC, “Independent Voice for Illinois PAC,” which received $100,000 from hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer. Singer is a director at the hawkish Republican Jewish Coalition and a major bankroller of groups opposing the Iran nuclear agreement.
Taking hawkish pro-Israel positions and working to derail diplomatic overtures with Iran have become a recurring theme in Kirk’s interactions with donors. Ali Gharib and I obtained an invitation to a conference call between Kirk and major donors in 2013. In the call, Kirk launched a verbal attack on U.S. diplomats negotiating with the P5+1 and Iran in Geneva, touted his efforts to introduce new sanctions legislation against Iran, and told his donors, “It’s the reason why I ran for the Senate, [it] is all wrapped up in this battle. I am totally dedicated to the survival of the state of Israel in the 21st century.”
Kirk’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment about his host’s comparison of Obama to a false messiah, suggesting that Obama “likes bagels and lox when waffles aren’t available,” equating a freeze on Israeli settlement construction with ethnic cleansing, and denying the historical existence of Palestinians.
Photo: Peggy Shapiro