AIPAC in Disarray After Iran Sanctions Setback

Israel Lobby Seeks Path Forward as Annual Conference Looms

All Smiles: Vice President Joe Biden and then-Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak at last years’ AIPAC annual conference.
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All Smiles: Vice President Joe Biden and then-Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak at last years’ AIPAC annual conference.

By Ron Kampeas

Published February 12, 2014.
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(JTA) — The highlight of AIPAC’s year is the final day of its annual policy conference, when thousands of activists ascend Capitol Hill to lobby for the passage of the organization’s legislative priorities.

But just three weeks before the conference, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is facing a dilemma: how to craft a legislative agenda after losing a bruising battle with the Obama administration over Iran sanctions and amid uncertainty stemming from regional turmoil and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

An AIPAC official confirmed that the lobbying group has yet to choose a legislative initiative for the estimated 14,000 activists to support at the March 2-4 conference.

While AIPAC does not unveil the specifics of its favored legislative action until the eve of its conference, what’s unusual is that those close to the group and its Capitol Hill interlocutors say it’s not yet clear even behind closed doors what shape AIPAC’s lobbying will assume.

AIPAC activists typically carry to the Hill requests for legislative initiatives that address Iran’s nuclear program and the security of Israel. The requests can take the form of a bill, a nonbinding resolution or a congressional letter.

A year ago, AIPAC activists asked lawmakers to restore funds that were cut from defense assistance for Israel in across-the-board congressional budget reductions. They also lobbied for four bills — two in each legislative chamber — that would make Israel a “major strategic ally” and enhance Iran sanctions.

Since then, the cuts have been restored, and the major strategic ally bill is advancing in the U.S. House of Representatives but has stalled in the Senate.

The House passed new Iran sanctions last summer, before the announcement of talks between the major powers and Iran. The Senate version of the bill, however, faced strong opposition from the Obama administration and fell short of the two-thirds backing necessary to override a promised presidential veto.

AIPAC, after initially pushing hard for its passage, last week relented and accepted delaying a vote on the measure. A source close to AIPAC and four top congressional staffers from both parties confirmed that the group is now considering a nonbinding resolution addressing its concerns about the nuclear talks now underway between the major world powers and Iran.


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