AIPAC Pushes Tough Line on Iran as Nuclear Thaw Picks Up Pace

Will Abortive Syria Battle Affect Lobby's Effort?

Charmer? AIPAC plans to push back hard in the face of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive. Will the group’s stumble on Syria affect its new effort?
Getty Images
Charmer? AIPAC plans to push back hard in the face of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive. Will the group’s stumble on Syria affect its new effort?

By Nathan Guttman

Published September 27, 2013, issue of October 04, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Emerging from a losing and ultimately aborted congressional battle to win approval of military action against Syria, the mainstream pro-Israel lobby is now launching a new drive to set the terms for a potential nuclear deal between the United States and Iran.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is launching its campaign — one much closer to its core concern — in reaction to the flurry of communiqués that Iranian leaders have unleashed lately. In their diplomatic and media offensive, the Iranians have announced their keenness to negotiate a mutually agreeable solution to the related problems of international sanctions against their country and Western opposition to their nuclear program.

AIPAC’s initial response to Iran’s diplomatic blitz has been less than welcoming: Its lobbyists have initiated an effort in Congress to mandate a new set of tougher sanctions against Iran, while the group has warned publicly against showing too much flexibility before Iran’s newly elected president, Hassan Rowhani, backs up his words with deeds.

“Pleasant rhetoric will not suffice,” the lobby declared in a September 20 memo to its supporters. “If Iran fails to act, sanctions must be increased.”

AIPAC has viewed Iran’s nuclear program as a key concern for the past two decades and has dedicated much of its lobbying activity to the issue. It has, in fact, been the main supporter of most of the U.S. sanctions legislation targeting Iran, and has spoken out about the need to keep a military option prominently on the table when dealing with Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

But the powerful lobby is entering this latest battle in a delicate position. The recent showdown over authorizing military action against Syria highlighted the deep aversion that the administration, Congress and the American public currently harbor toward the use of force in the Middle East, even in response to Syria’s apparent deployment in August of prohibited chemical weapons against civilians. The way the campaign played out made clear the strong preference that all these players now give to diplomacy and compromise.

AIPAC is banking that attitudes will be different when it comes to Iran. Pro-Israel activists say they remain confident that Americans will understand the need for maintaining a tough policy toward that country’s development of its nuclear program, which they argue threatens not just Israel, but also the West. They cite, among other things, a long record of congressional support for a hard-line approach to Iran, and years of public advocacy aimed at explaining the danger of a nuclear Iran to the American public.

“The Iranian issue is different than the Syrian one,” said Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Reich, who favors diplomatic engagement with Iran, believes that the American public will accept the pro-Israel community’s adherence to a policy of “trust but verify,” as formulated at the time by President Ronald Reagan when negotiating with the Soviet Union. The Jewish community’s support for military action against Syria, he added, did not cost it any credibility and will not diminish its ability to advocate now for caution when engaging with Iran. “I haven’t seen any adverse reaction to the Jewish community’s support for the president on Syria,” he said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.