Analysis: AIPAC pulling out all the stops in battle against deal

The lobby has planned a multi-million dollar campaign against the president’s chief foreign policy achievement and seeks to peel off support from his own party.

July 20, 2015 07:11
3 minute read.
A man waits for the start of the evening's speeches at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee

A man waits for the start of the evening's speeches at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington. (photo credit: REUTERS)

If the American Israel Public Affairs Committee hopes to kill the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, it is going to have to pull out all the stops.

The largest pro-Israel lobby in Washington is not shying away from the fight, despite the fact that, according to White House officials, their actions amount to overt partisanship.

AIPAC runs the risk of brandishing that image as it enters the fray. But its leadership is well aware of that risk as it moves toward a historic vote on Capitol Hill.

They believe that, on the contrary, this is a principled policy position that many Democrats hold and that a “bad deal” with Iran over its nuclear program has nothing to do with the sitting president’s party affiliation.

AIPAC officials have long believed the secret to their success is in maintaining bipartisan, ironclad support. Their fights are rarely national headlines: Visa-waiver programs between Israel and the US, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and of course, sanctions legislation against Iran for its nuclear work have all been AIPAC priorities that received near-unanimous congressional support.

And the lobby has not always pitted itself against US President Barack Obama’s White House. Preceding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran, AIPAC stressed its respect for the administration and largely stayed out of the public debate. And the White House called on AIPAC to help it whip support for a resolution for the use of force against Syrian President Bashar Assad after he used chemical weapons on his own people in August 2013.

But this coming fight will have no equivalent, as the lobby has planned a multi-million dollar campaign against the president’s chief foreign policy achievement. AIPAC seeks to peel off support from his own party such that it can secure a veto-proof majority against the deal.

In order to succeed, AIPAC may go nuclear: The group may identify vulnerable Democrats approaching elections, and lobby to deny them campaign dollars from Jewish donors that are otherwise crucial. Or it may go further, and lobby to direct funds to the opponents of Democrats who vote with the president.

This sort of political warfare is entirely inconsistent with the way Jewish-American organizations typically operate in Washington – in large part, because consensus on issues pertaining to Israel is so reliable. But these tactics are commonly used by other lobbies, on topics of particular importance to them, such as the National Rifle Association’s fight with the president over gun control after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.

These fights become public when the president is involved, and especially public when the president prioritizes a policy. But the tactics themselves are not uncommon in Washington.

Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, Congress has 60 days to review and to vote on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The president can then veto the measure, and Congress has the opportunity to vote to override that veto.

AIPAC will not operate alone. But it will lead the fight publicly, insisting on a “better deal” that requires Iran dismantle its nuclear infrastructure and that it keep its commitments for far longer than a decade. It has laid out five distinct points that it believes are weaknesses in the deal, and has openly said it will call on Democrats to vote to disapprove of it.

J Street, a Washington-based lobby that is primarily concerned with the two-state solution, has raised money to defend the Obama administration and the deal.
J Street to JPost: Netanyahu 'is wrong'

An AIPAC victory would be unprecedented. The last foreign policy legislation to pass through Congress, receive a presidential veto and then break through that veto with two-thirds support was in 1986, when Ronald Reagan tried to stop passage of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, which sanctioned South Africa

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