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
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
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
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.
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.