How White House Push to Jews Spurred Shift on Syria

Forced Israel Lobby's Hand With Demand for Clear Stand

Push for Action: As Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel pushed Congress with a hawkish message on Syria, aides were calling pro-Israel groups to demand an open message of support.
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Push for Action: As Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel pushed Congress with a hawkish message on Syria, aides were calling pro-Israel groups to demand an open message of support.

By Nathan Guttman

Published September 04, 2013.
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The message from the two senior administration officials to Jewish leaders during a large conference call September 3 was clear: The Obama administration, said deputy national security advisors Ben Rhodes and Tony Blinken, believed that congressional approval of military action would send an important message to Iran, Israel’s most feared rival in the region.

“It is very important for us that we achieve a supportive vote in Congress,” said Blinken.

The two officials stopped short of directly calling on the Jewish community to put its weight behind President Obama’s request to authorize the use of military power against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. But the message was loud and clear, and at the call’s conclusion, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, promised his umbrella group would issue a supportive statement.

But he also cautioned the two advisors: “We don’t want to turn this into an Israel-centric issue.”

Hoenlein asked his fellow Jewish leaders, who had for the most part up to then avoided taking official stands, to back the administration’s congressional resolution authorizing military force in Syria in terms of American national security and not “to tie it to Israel.”

A statement put out by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, shortly after made this point clear. “Simply put, barbarism on a mass scale must not be given a free pass,” the statement said.

The AIPAC statement emphasized that the lobby’s decision to support the resolution was based on the need to respond to the use of chemical weapons and on the importance of maintaining America’s credibility especially with Iran watching. Israel was not mentioned even once in AIPAC’s statement.

Other Jewish groups also quickly fell in line with the new consensus supporting an attack against Syria. The Anti Defamation League issued its own strong statement of support for Obama and urged Congress to “act swiftly” to approve the resolution. The Republican Jewish coalition, in a rare show of support for the president, issued a call to its members to reach out to their elected officials and “ask them to support the upcoming resolution.”


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