Why are some pro-Israel voices speaking out against Jamal Khashoggi?

October 22, 2018

Here is an American journalist who died in recent days who the media are barely mentioning, let alone obsessing about. Jerry Wolkowitz, above left, died Thursday , after sustaining horrendous injuries in a vicious unprovoked beating as he approached his car outside his apartment building in New Jersey at 7.15 am. Police say it was a racially charged hate crime. (At the time of writing neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times have mentioned his death. Fox News and Newsweek are the only two major news outlets to have mentioned it, three days ago.)

Both Wolkowitz’s elderly parents are Holocaust survivors who Wolkowitz, 56, spent much of his time taking care of. The local Jewish community is raising money to ensure his parents continue to receive care. Wolkowitz was unmarried but had a fiancée.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said that Jamil Hubbard (above right), the man charged with the murder, and Wolkowitz, did not know each other.



[Note by Tom Gross]

There have been many hundreds of articles about the murder of Saudi writer-dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey earlier this month.

I attach two below. The first is an interesting analysis by Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency critiquing some American conservatives for providing a more nuanced, but in some cases hostile portrayal of Khashoggi. (This being the JTA and Kampeas, the piece is written with a somewhat leftist slant.)

The second article (“The Kingdom and the Power: How to punish Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman”) is by Elliott Abrams in The Weekly Standard.

(Both Abrams, who is the former US Deputy National Security Advisor responsible for the Middle East, and many of the people mentioned in the JTA piece, are subscribers to this list.)

While Khashoggi’s murder is clearly despicable, some of the media coverage in papers including The New York Times and Washington Post has not, in my view, been helpful in that it seems to be part of a concerted effort to pull the U.S. back into the pro-Iranian and pro-Turkish regime camp.

The Saudi regime is vile but the human rights situation in Turkey and Iran is in many ways worse and it would probably be a strategic mistake once again to move too close to the Iranian regime, as Barack Obama and John Kerry did.

The Saudi, Iranian and Turkish regimes all kill and torture people, including journalists, but unlike the others, the Saudi regime under the young crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is at least undertaking some reform steps in the right direction (allowing women to drive, opening cinemas, and so on). Among the many human rights outrages in Turkey, hundreds of innocent children remain in prison. Video here.

The West should be wary of forcing the king to replace MbS with a more conservative crown prince who won’t take such measures. However, as Elliott Abrams argues, the crown prince needs to broaden his circle of advisors to include persons who would encourage greater reform and curtail the kind of horrendous abuse we have witnessed that led to the murder of Khashoggi.



Why Are Some pro-Israel Voices Speaking Out Against Jamal Khashoggi?
Notably, the mainstream pro-Israel groups, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, were not joining in the attacks, and Israeli officials were silent as well
By Ron Kampeas
October 22, 2018

Two weeks after he disappeared, Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Washington Post columnist, is getting his reputation run through a wringer, and some pro-Israel voices are joining the pile-on.

Even as gruesome allegations emerge that he was tortured, murdered and dismembered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, some Israel supporters have joined other figures on the right in describing Khashoggi as a terrorist sympathizer and fierce opponent of Israel. Their goal appears to be to counter a portrait of Khashoggi as a Saudi reformer and free speech activist, and perhaps derail pressure building on the White House to punish Saudi Arabia for his disappearance and presumed murder.

Notably, the mainstream pro-Israel groups, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, were not joining in the attacks, and Israeli officials were silent as well.

Purveyors of the attacks on Khashoggi said they wanted to set the record straight. Other observers suggested that the public fight over Khashoggi’s reputation has to do with a number of issues central to the latest crisis in U.S.-Saudi relations: cultivating Saudi cooperation in the diplomatic fight against Iran, keeping the Saudis on board the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and maintaining the kingdom as a bulwark against violent forms of radical Islam.


The hits on Khashoggi, deriding him as a radical Islamist and an anti-Semite, have emerged alongside gruesome reports by official Turkish sources about his disappearance: According to the Turkish reports, the U.S.-based columnist entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for some paperwork ahead of his planned wedding to a Turkish national, and a team of 15 Saudi agents was waiting to torture and kill him.

As reported Friday in The Washington Post, the anti-Khashoggi narrative is emerging among hard-line conservatives and is being circulated in Republican congressional offices.

Donald Trump Jr. retweeted one of the earliest attacks on Khashoggi, from a correspondent for the PJ Media conservative website. The correspondent, Patrick Poole, had posted photos of interviews Khashoggi had conducted in the late 1980s with Osama bin Laden, who went on to found al-Qaeda and to plot the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“I didn’t realize until yesterday that Jamal Khashoggi was the author of this notorious 1988 Arab News article of him tooling around Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam,” Poole tweeted on Oct. 12, 10 days after Khashoggi’s disappearance. “He’s just a democrat reformer journalist holding a RPG with jihadists.” A photo showed Khashoggi posing with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The interview was at a time when the Reagan administration was backing insurgents in Afghanistan. Khashoggi was indeed sympathetic to bin Laden (the Khashoggi and bin Laden families were close). When bin Laden launched terrorism operations against the West, however, Khashoggi disavowed him.

Other joined the fray. FrontPage mag, helmed by right-wing provocateur David Horowitz, ran an article the same day declaring, “Jamal Khashoggi blamed 9/11 on U.S. support for Israel.” The article cites a piece Khashoggi wrote in 2001 after the attacks, published in Arab News and the Guardian, in which Khashoggi sympathetically describes Saudi reactions to the attacks but does not outright endorse them.

Khashoggi’s piece falls short of blaming U.S. support for Israel for the attacks, although he says that Saudis saw the Sept. 11 attacks as of a piece with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians – a posture that would offend Israelis and many Americans. When Khashoggi does express his opinion, it is to condemn bin Laden for targeting civilians.

On Oct. 17, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s European office sent out a release titled “Wiesenthal Centre Exposes Jamal Khashoggi Antisemitic Tweets.”

“The Wiesenthal Centre expresses its horror and revulsion at the presumed gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the release said. “In a search, however, of his official Twitter account, Simon Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, discovered the following tweets of 16 October 2015.” Samuels is a respected analyst who monitors extremism on the left and the right. “If you have a tweet and it is of interest and in the public domain, it shouldn’t be hidden,” Samuels told JTA.

In the tweets, Khashoggi denies any Jewish connection to the land of Israel, and says the Western Wall was a Muslim construction – a false narrative that infuriates Israelis, and is commonplace in the region, particularly among Palestinians.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s Los Angeles-based associate dean, told JTA that Samuels’ post was premature. “It could be that Shimon in Europe is not as sensitive” to the repercussions of Khashoggi’s reported murder, he said. “There’s a lot of appropriate anger” at the Saudis. At a later date, the center might publish a fuller and nuanced account of Khashoggi’s life and influence, Cooper said.

Josh Block, the CEO of The Israel Project has posted multiple tweets implicating Khashoggi in an array of terrorist activities. On Oct. 18, Block quoted a New Yorker article describing Khashoggi as a journalist, and commented, “Uh, U mean frontman for Islamists & paid spook for Qatar, Turkey & Turki al Faisal, whose ‘journalism’ was a cover for his real work, just as he wrapped his Islamist ideas in flowery language of ‘human rights’ as he praised Hamas & called for Israel to be destroyed by violence.” Block declined to comment and his sources are not clear. Following publication of this article, he tweeted: “Noting his anti-Semitic views & close ties 2 radical Islamists (w/whom he spent his final week in London) & his ties to the financiers of Hamas [Al Qaeda] ISIS etc, is about preventing whitewash of history.”

What is motivating the attacks on Khashoggi? Some possibilities:


Some accounts in mainstream media have suggested that Khashoggi was a more complex figure than the reformer that his friends and allies have depicted.

“Several Muslim Brothers said this week that they always felt he was with them,” The New York Times reported, referring to the multinational Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. “Many of his secular friends would not have believed it.”

If Khashoggi was a member of the pre-eminent Islamist organization in the Middle East, his critics charge, whitewashing that affiliation is a disservice to history, and helps elevate a group that should be marginalized.

“#Khashoggi did not deserve his fate,” tweeted David Reaboi, an analyst with a conservative think tank, Security Studies Group. “That said, the misrepresentation of his Islamist views as championing ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ is a repulsive whitewash.”

“[U]nless you are rooting for an Islamist Middle East, it seems doubtful that Khashoggi’s vision for the region was a big improvement over the agenda of the autocratic Saudis,” wrote Petra Marquardt-Bigman, a journalist, in an op-ed in Haaretz outlining Khashoggi’s sympathetic views on Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

(Haaretz,October 21: “Jamal Khashoggi Was a Victim of Saudi Terror. He Was Also a Keen Supporter of Palestinian Terrorism” https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-khashoggi-was-a-victim-of-saudi-terror-and-a-supporter-of-palestinian-terrorism-1.6571267 )

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brooking Institution, knew Khashoggi for a decade. She warned against a simplistic take both on Khashoggi’s views and on the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood, she pointed out, is a presence in parliaments of U.S. allies in the region, like Jordan, and in the governments of allies like Morocco.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is in the mainstream,” Wittes said, and noted that Saudi hostility to the group was recent. For decades, Saudis welcomed and promoted the group.

“There was nothing out of the mainstream, nothing oppositional about being sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia until a few years ago,” she said.


White House adviser Jared Kushner sees the Saudis, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular, as key to advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal he hopes to unveil soon.

Right-wing pro-Israel figures have embraced Trump because he has embraced their outlook, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and now they may be returning the favor, said Michael Koplow, the policy director for the Israel Policy Forum, a group that backs the two-state solution.

Kushner has not revealed details of the plan, but right-wingers are hopeful that it rolls back many of the pro-Palestinian orthodoxies of past plans, including statehood as an outcome and a presence in Jerusalem’s Old City.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has touted emerging ties with Saudi Arabia and other countries as validating his strategy of downplaying peace with the Palestinians, believing he can make Israel at home in the region without the Palestinians. Bin Salman was a key figure in this strategy.

“Much of the Israeli argument for the lack of Israel’s isolation hinges on the fact that Saudis are behind the scenes friendly in ways we couldn’t imagine before,” Koplow said.

Wittes was skeptical that Israeli officials have encouraged the efforts to puncture Khashoggi’s reputation. Instead, she said, the attacks seemed to be a result of the polarization on the American political scene, in which allies on the left or the right attack the other side in a way that does not necessarily serve their particular interests.

“What we’ve witnessed in American politics is this intense polarization, and when a stance is taken” by your side, “you tend to echo that without reflection on your interests,” she said.


Israel and the Trump administration see Saudi Arabia as key to containing the influence of Iran in the region. Some of the pundits highlighting Khashoggi’s Muslim Brotherhood past suspect that supporters of the Iran deal are behind an effort to smear the Saudis. Isolating the Saudis, they fear, would undercut support for the Trump administration’s hard line on Iran, and his rejection of the sanctions-relief-for-nuclear-rollback deal negotiated by Trump’s hated predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Khashoggi “made a tactical alliance with former Obama officials who seek to depict Trump’s pro-Saudi and anti-Iranian policy as a disaster,” Mike Doran of the conservative Hudson Institute and Tony Badran of the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies, write this week in the New York Post. “Trump, in this view, is the enabler of a young, impetuous crown prince. Conflicts such as Yemen result from Saudi recklessness rather than Iranian expansionism.” Bin Salman has directed a bombing campaign against Iranian-backed forces in Yemen.

Daniel Shapiro, Obama’s ambassador to Israel, rejects the argument that confronting Iran is more important than dealing with Khashoggi’s murder.

“It has a whiff of trying to say this murder wasn’t as bad as it is because of the investment made in Saudia Arabia under [bin Salman] as a strategic anchor under the anti-Iran coalition,” Shapiro, a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said in an interview.

Groups that want Iran isolated, and quickly, are frustrated by the Khashoggi distraction, Shapiro said.

“If indeed the United States cannot conduct business as usual while this is unresolved, it puts at risk that whole kind of strategic concept Israel has counted on and strong opponents of Iran have counted on,” he said.



The Kingdom and the Power
How to punish Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
By Elliott Abrams
The Weekly Standard
October 20, 2018

While the details of Jamal Khashoggi’s death have not fully emerged, we know the essentials. He died at the hands of Saudi agents in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and the decision to kidnap or kill him must have been taken at the top of the Saudi political structure. Whether crown prince Mohammed bin Salman asked “will no one rid me of this meddlesome journalist” or specified the methods to be used, he is responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

The Saudi decision to name several senior intelligence officials as sacrificial lambs will fool no one, and the official description – that Khashoggi died in a brawl with the 15 thugs surrounding him – beggars belief. On Friday night I (and no doubt thousands of others) received no less than five emails in English from the Saudi embassy explaining the new official line on Khashoggi, which is that “the discussions that took place between him and the persons with whom he met him during his visit to the Kingdom’s Consulate in Istanbul led to quarrels and an altercation, which tragically resulted in his death.” The official way forward, in addition to prosecuting some intelligence officials and agents, was naming a committee in response to the “urgent need to restructure the General Intelligence Presidency, and overhaul its rules and regulations, as well as, to determine its authorities and assess its procedures and powers within its administrative and ordered organizational sequence to ensure the proper functioning of its work and the determination of responsibilities.” Its chairman: Mohammed bin Salman.

In a cold assessment of this entire incident what leaps forward first is its dangerous stupidity. Khashoggi was a legal permanent resident of the United States, a Washington figure with a huge network of contacts, and a Washington Post columnist. Any harm to him – including “merely” his kidnapping and disappearance into prison or the holding of a show trial – would inevitably become a cause celebre and damage relations with the United States. It would also inevitably damage Mohammed bin Salman’s own reputation. So the decision to act against Khashoggi was a revelation of ignorance about the United States, impulsiveness, brutality, or all three. In the shadow of the Khashoggi killing we can now see the forcible detention of Lebanon’s prime minister, Sa’ad Hariri, last year as a prelude. It too revealed a thuggish approach and a remarkable lack of understanding of how such events would be viewed in the outside world. It is perhaps not coincidental that MbS, rare among Saudi princes, has spent his entire life in the kingdom and never lived or attended school in the West.

But even after the Hariri debacle, it seems that at the top of the Saudi pyramid there was no one with sufficient knowledge to advise against the assault on Khashoggi, sufficient power to stop it if MbS wanted it, or sufficient courage to disagree with him. So the decision was made and Khashoggi is dead. Now what?

The financiers and businessmen who canceled their trips to Riyadh were acting in part out of hypocrisy: They would all happily get on a plane to Beijing tomorrow. But their professional business judgment about investing in Saudi Arabia today is another matter, and they appear to share the conclusion of many diplomats and Western governments: What happened to Khashoggi is shocking not only in its brutality but because it reveals important facts about the Saudi government. MbS had told an attractive story: that under his leadership the Saudi regime was fast on the road to becoming modern and fully rationalized. Many of the steps he took fit very well in that official Saudi line. He has fully understood for example that they must become less dependent on oil, that their economy cannot prosper without a role for women, that the Wahhabi clergy are a menace to Saudi development, that royal family members must stop stealing the kingdom’s patrimony, and that Iran and not Israel is their enemy. All that was true a month ago and remains true. He is in many important ways a modernizer.

But the image that MbS so carefully built has been smashed. Everyone has been reminded there is no modernizing of the Saudi government, just the sometimes praiseworthy and sometimes disgraceful efforts of one 33-year-old man. Moreover, that man has decided that criticism is tantamount to treason. He has decided that to force the pace of change in the kingdom as he believes he must, all opposition must be crushed – whether it comes from within the royal family or elements of broader Saudi society. No doubt he sees himself as an enlightened despot who must seize all the reins of power or see the brighter future slip away.

This cannot work, for us or for Saudi Arabia. That conclusion is not based only on sentiment or on moral revulsion at what was done to Jamal Khashoggi, whom I knew, but on a realist view of Riyadh. It would not be fair to say that the current Saudi arrangements inevitably led to the gruesome scene in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but that denouement was more a logical byproduct than an accident. The non-lethal versions were the detention of Hariri and more recently MbS’s bizarre assault on Canada when that nation’s foreign minister published one tweet criticizing Saudi human rights practices. MbS pushed the Canadian ambassador out, stopped flights between the two countries, pulled Saudi investments, and ordered all the thousands of Saudi students in Canada to leave immediately. Both times his reactions were impulsive and excessive, but nobody died – until now.

No single 33-year-old raised entirely inside the kingdom can possibly possess the knowledge of the world his government needs, any more than such a person can combine in himself all the elements needed for sound decisions – including the ability to discern the occasions when morality itself must determine a government’s decisions. But MbS has brutally made it clear that contrary opinions are unwanted and indeed will be punished.

Contrast the governance situation in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is no more democratic than the kingdom and its human rights record leaves plenty to be desired. But Abu Dhabi is ruled by a group of full brothers in what amounts to a collective leadership, not governed by one young man. Those brothers are able to confer and debate, and one can say to another “that’s the dumbest damn idea I’ve ever heard” perhaps even as impolitely as that. And because the UAE is a federation, there are several ruling families whose interests and opinions must be taken into account before important decisions are made.

This leads us back to “now what?” An instant decision to cut off all arms sales to the kingdom, being pushed now by many Democrats in Congress, would not be sensible. The main beneficiaries of weakening U.S.-Saudi defense ties would be the regime in Iran, which is the enemy of both Saudi Arabia and the United States, and those who would happily sell whatever arms we do not – China and Russia, for example. Similarly, weakening intelligence ties will hurt not only the Saudis but the United States and our allies in dealing with terrorism. Steps that harm the Saudi economy are equally senseless as reactions to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

Instead, the United States should be demanding the kinds of changes that will prevent any future incident like the Khashoggi killing. Such changes would themselves be a punishment for MbS because they would mean his brief period of absolute power is over. Saudi Arabia is and will remain for some time an “absolute monarchy” but that does not mean that all power must be concentrated in one individual with zero checks and balances. Over the last 65 years (since the death of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, in 1953) that was not the Saudi system. The experiment with one-man rule by the crown prince has failed; along with Jamal Khashoggi it died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

MbS is today crown prince, deputy prime minister (the king always has the additional title of prime minister), defense minister, head of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, head of the Council on Security and Political Affairs, and more. That arrangement is unprecedented for Saudi Arabia and is alien to every other Arab monarchy. Patterns vary: In Jordan and Morocco commoners serve as prime minister and the king fires them whenever he sees the need; in Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain, other members of the royal family but not the emirs and crown princes serve as prime minster. In Saudi Arabia the concentration of all power in the hands of one young man has very quietly been debated, but now the debate should be over. Whatever MbS loses in his ability to force through beneficial changes must be given up now, because unrestrained, unlimited power has too often been used badly.

The replacement of MbS as crown prince is a separate matter of royal politics. If the king has lost confidence in MbS, which I doubt, he will choose another son for that post now. Or possibly there is enough rebelliousness in the wider House of Saud to demand that the king take that step, or even to push the king himself aside on grounds of ill health. It has happened before: King Saud was forced out in 1964 in a power struggle with his brothers. The United States should not engage in the royal succession sweepstakes but we should state that our interests require a Saudi government with which we can work.

This is not a call for a coup but for a combination of American pressure and reasoning with the king – whose views will be crucial – and with the crown prince himself. The king chose him above three older sons and wants him to succeed to the throne and keep it for decades. We must tell him that that won’t happen unless Saudi Arabia replaces whims and ukases with something that looks like a government. (The king may have reached that conclusion himself; we won’t know until we try.) Nor will the kingdom attract the investment that it desperately requires unless the rule of law replaces the crown prince’s fiat. We must tell both of them that even in the cold world of business and international politics, the vicious murder of a journalist can change the image of a nation and a prince overnight. We should clearly express our moral outrage. And then we should then harness it – not to abandon Saudi Arabia, but to insist that Saudi Arabia move further away from gruesome violence, and start to create a system of governance and law that can truly modernize the country and sustain the alliance with it that we have had since 1945.


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