Iran and the Jewish lobby

In the end, it is the substance of the issues and the opinions Americans form about them that determine US foreign policy decisions – not the lobbying efforts of AIPAC, the AJC, the ADL etc.

November 3, 2013 21:16
3 minute read.
Obama addresses the AIPAC policy conference in Washington.

Obama addresses the AIPAC policy conference in Washington.. (photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS)

Last Tuesday, the White House briefed officials from AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on its efforts to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. The meeting was not just about sharing information. The Obama administration’s main goal was to convince these organizations – known collectively as “the Jewish lobby” – not to pressure the Senate to advance intensified sanctions passed over the summer by the US House of Representatives.

Was the White House successful? According to press reports, it was. Anonymous sources claimed that officials from the four Jewish organizations had agreed to a limited “grace period,” during which lobbying efforts to encourage a stiffening of economic sanctions would be delayed. The White House, for its part, ensured that it would not ease sanctions or release “frozen” Iranian funds.

However, several leading Jewish lobbyists have denied the Haaretz report. “I can tell you, within AJC, no decision has been made to revisit support for the Senate measure,” AJC executive director David Harris told The Jerusalem Post’s Michael Wilner on Friday. “There’s no process in place to reconsider our decision.”

Similarly, an America-Israel Public Affairs Committee official told JTA there would be “no pause, delay or moratorium” on such attempts.

Much has been read into these contradictory versions of precisely what was said and what was promised during the meeting, as if America’s sanctions policy vis-à-vis Iran was basically dictated by “the Jewish lobby.”

While it might be convenient for conspiracy theorists on the Left and on the Right to blame US policies not to their liking on the purported influences of an imaginary Jewish cabal, the reality is very different. But as The Washington Post’s Max Fisher noted recently, if indeed “the Jewish lobby” had such a firm hold on US foreign policy, at least in the Middle East, we would have seen US President Barack Obama receive broad Congressional support for a military strike on Syria. Yet, although AIPAC and other American Jewish organizations that belong to the so-called Jewish lobby seem to have thrown their full weight into generating support for Obama’s Syria plan, they failed miserably.

The reality is that organizations such as AIPAC, which are undoubtedly well-organized and effective lobbyists, can only succeed when they are fighting for a cause that has broad American support, as noted by Michael Koplow, program director for the Israel Institute, on his blog Ottomans and Zionists. A military attack on Syria lacked such support, therefore AIPAC and other Jewish lobbyists failed to sway Congress.

As such, a survey by the German Marshall Fund of the US, published in September, found that 62 percent of Americans were opposed to military intervention in Syria.

In contrast, Americans, rightly recognizing that Iran is the most pressing national security threat facing the US, tend to support military action against the Islamic Republic to stop it from attaining nuclear weapons. In June, a CBS/New York Times poll found that 58% of respondents favored military action against Iran while 37% opposed it.

Other polls have revealed similarly strong support for both military action and stronger sanctions.

Americans seemed to be unconvinced by the Obama administration’s concern that burdening Iran with additional sanctions now might persuade the Iranians to scrap the talks and make a dash for nuclear weapons capability.

They also do not accept the administration’s contention that ratcheting up the sanctions as the P5+1 world powers prepare for a new round of talks on November 7 could unravel the international coalition against Iran.

Instead, they seem to be more convinced by the argument put forward by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that since sanctions were so crucial in pushing Iran to come to the negotiating table, additional sanctions will provide an even greater incentive to take negotiations seriously instead of using them to stall for time. And Congressmen are well aware of this.

Proponents of “the Jewish lobby” canard should give a little more credit to Americans. In the end, it is the substance of the issues and the opinions Americans form about them that determine US foreign policy decisions – not the lobbying efforts of AIPAC, the AJC, the ADL, the Presidents’ Conference or other Jewish organizations.

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