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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Within an hour or so of the Menendez floor speech, AIPAC released a statement backing the senator’s approach.

“We agree with the chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure,” the AIPAC statement said.

The next day, AIPAC President Michael Kassen sent a letter to activists referring to “mischaracterizations in the press,” which he said suggested that “by not calling for an immediate vote on the legislation, we have abandoned our support for the bill.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Kassen wrote. “In fact, we remain strongly committed to the passage of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act.”

An AIPAC official told JTA there was no contradiction.

“ While we do not believe there should be an immediate vote, we continue to strongly support the sanctions legislation,” the official said. “The need for further pressure on the Iranian regime will build as we witness the continued irresponsible behavior from Tehran.”

Republicans want action now and are frustrated with AIPAC for backing away from the Senate bill, said a senior GOP Senate staffer, and will not settle for a nonbinding resolution — at least not in the Senate.

“If an organization wants to put its complete faith and confidence in a nonbinding resolution, they will be unpleasantly bound to a very bad outcome in the end,” the staffer said. “If you are for doing nothing or for a nonbinding resolution instead of actual legislation, you are for the president having complete freedom of action to cut whatever deal he wants with Iranians without any approval or disapproval from the Congress.”

Democrats — among them, staffers for lawmakers known for their closeness to AIPAC — also expressed frustration with AIPAC, saying it had untypically pressed the sanctions legislation hard without first assessing whether it had broad support.

Democratic officials said public opposition to the bill was strong and noted that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had come out against it.


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