Can AIPAC Get Its Groove Back?

Israel Lobby Struggles To Bounce Back From Iran Debacle

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 Reuters

Published February 28, 2014.
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“I’ve spoken quite directly to AIPAC. I’ve met with AIPAC,” Sherman told a roundtable of Israeli journalists in Jerusalem last weekend when asked about the group’s role.

“We need to create the space for this diplomacy. And I would urge AIPAC to create this space.”

Despite such appeals, AIPAC appears intent on keeping the heat on the administration over Iran.

AIPAC leaders, in a New York Times op-ed last weekend, denied suggestions that those pushing for further sanctions were “warmongers” and urged Congress to take back the initiative on Iran.

The group believes that while now is not the time for a Senate vote, Iranian intransigence will soften Obama’s resistance and generate broader bipartisan support for legislation that could be introduced before the end-of-July deadline for the talks, the AIPAC source said.

Sanctions could then be triggered if diplomacy fails, the source said.

The White House has made clear that it would oppose any vote on new sanctions during the negotiating process but would be open to such measures if diplomacy breaks down.

COMPLICATIONS

While Netanyahu will certainly try to rally the AIPAC faithful when he addresses the group on Tuesday, heated rhetoric on Iran could add to tensions with the administration.

In talks with Obama on Monday, an Israeli official said, Netanyahu intends to stand firm on his demand that any final nuclear deal must eliminate Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, in contrast to the president’s view that Tehran could be allowed to do so on a small scale for civilian purposes.

Though billing itself as strictly bipartisan, AIPAC faces complaints on the left that it has not worked harder to accommodate a Democratic administration. J Street, a smaller, liberal alternative to AIPAC in the American Jewish community, has made modest inroads in its six years of existence.

Still, in a U.S. mid-term election year, there is little interest in picking a fight with AIPAC. Opinion polls show Americans’ overwhelmingly supportive of the Jewish state.

AIPAC officials also readily acknowledge a deepening of U.S.-Israeli security ties during Obama’s tenure, including funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket shield.


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