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The Limits of a Coalition Without AIPAC

The Obama administration is still in full-court-press mode on the ratification of the New START treaty, still hoping to get a vote during the lame duck congressional session. The treaty has broadbased support in the U.S. and abroad, and passage is a top priority for President Obama, but a conservative minority opposing it is digging in its heels — with the support of the American Israel Political Action Committee.

Attempts to pressure AIPAC to lobby in favor of the ratification of the nuclear arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia have hit a brick wall and gotten some pushback from the right wing of the Jewish community. The Emergency Committee for Israel took aim at Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Carl Levin of Michigan, who wrote a letter asking AIPAC to support START. “We’ve rarely seen Senators stoop to this kind of public bullying,” ECI chairman William Kristol wrote.

On the other end of the political map, some liberal-leaning Jewish groups have voiced their support, joining the National Jewish Democratic Committee and the Anti-Defamation League that had led the way on this issue. J Street wrote to House members asking them to sign on to a congressional letter urging their colleagues in the Senate to ratify the treaty. Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, sent his own letter to senators asking them to ratify the New START treaty for a “safer America and a safer world,” and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs also sent senators another letter making the case for approving the treaty.

So here is where the administration’s efforts to engage the Jewish community on START stand: On the one hand, the White House and congressional Democrats were successful in creating a remarkable Jewish coalition in support of the treaty, which spans from J Street to ADL. On the other hand, without the lobbying power of AIPAC, this coalition isn’t even close to showing lawmakers what Jewish power really means.

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