Is AIPAC Shooting Itself in Foot With Quixotic Iran Sanctions Push?

News Analysis

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By Ron Kampeas

Published January 22, 2014.
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(JTA) — In previous AIPAC-vs.-White House dustups, the pro-Israel lobbying group’s strategy was to speak softly and let Congress carry the big stick.

But in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s face-off with the Obama administration over new Iran sanctions, congressional support may not be so readily available and keeping a low public profile is proving impossible.

According to congressional insiders and some of the pro-Israel lobbying group’s former senior executives, AIPAC may soon face a tough choice: Stick out the battle over sanctions and potentially face a reputation-damaging defeat, or reach out to the White House and find a way for both sides to save face.

“I don’t believe this is sustainable, the confrontational posture,” said Steve Rosen, a former AIPAC foreign policy chief known for his hawkishness on Iran.

The Obama administration has taken a firm line against the sanctions bill backed by AIPAC, warning that the legislation would harm prospects for a achieving a diplomatic solution on the Iranian nuclear issue. Meanwhile, the confrontation has landed AIPAC squarely in the media spotlight and drawn pointed criticism from leading liberal commentators.

AIPAC has been stymied by a critical core of Senate Democrats who have sided with the Obama administration in the fight. While AIPAC’s bid to build a veto-busting majority has reached 59 — eight short of the needed 67 — it has stalled there in part because Democrats have more or less stopped signing on.

Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the bill’s sponsors, rounded up 15 Democrats when the bill was introduced on Dec. 19, just before Congress went on its Christmas recess. Since Congress returned this month, however, they have added just one Democrat, Michael Bennet of Colorado.


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