How AIPAC Is Losing

Chuck Hagel will be secretary of Defense, and Iran will go nuclear. So much for an all-powerful Israel Lobby.

By Lee Smith, Tablet Magazine

This weekend, more than 10,000 pro-Israel activists, Jews and non-Jews alike, will gather at the Washington convention center for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. These friends and supporters of the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship will hear from members of Congress and the executive branch who will all testify to the singular influence that AIPAC, as the pillar of the pro-Israel community, wields in the capital of the free world.

But just how powerful is AIPAC if a man who refers to it as the “Jewish lobby” and has defiantly claimed that he is not an “Israeli senator” is slated to be our next secretary of Defense? And, most significantly, how much influence does the lobbying organization actually exercise if it can’t carry the day on the single issue that’s been at the very top of its agenda for over a decade: stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Despite an operating budget of more than $60 million, on the most crucial issue facing Israel’s security, AIPAC has lost the policy debate. The winners include those who believe you can’t stop a nation from getting the bomb if it’s determined to do so, those who think the Iranians have a right to nuclear weapons, and those who argue the Iranians can be contained—among them, our new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
For the past two months, those invested in the Israel-U.S. relationship have been fixated on whether or not Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would fundamentally alter U.S. policy toward Israel. In addition to his revealing statements about Jews, the former senator from Nebraska voted against sanctioning Iran and against designating the Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization.

Yet AIPAC has remained totally mum. The group says it focuses its energies on matters of policy rather than personnel. If it campaigned against Hagel, where would it stop? The organization would potentially have to take a position on every Cabinet nominee. Meantime, in the absence of AIPAC, other pro-Israel organizations have come out publicly against Hagel, like the Emergency Committee for Israel. For taking the lead on this issue, they have been labeled partisans, while AIPAC has preserved its bipartisan status.
But it’s not clear how much that label matters when a very influential segment of the Democratic party has made it plain that supporting Israel isn’t a top priority. I’m not just referring to the delegates who booed pro-Israel changes to the party platform on the floor of the convention in Charlotte last summer. I’m talking about the White House.

Pro-Israel Obama supporters on the Hill and in the press keep trying to make the case that in spite of how it might look on the surface, the administration cares deeply about the U.S.-Israel relationship. They point to the success of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense batteries as evidence that the security and military cooperation between the United States and Israel has reached unprecedented highs under Obama’s stewardship. But politics is mostly about how things look. And if the administration really cared that much about Israel, it wouldn’t nominate a secretary of defense who referred to defenders of the U.S.-Israel relationship as “the Jewish lobby.”
The paradox is that by giving personnel a pass, AIPAC has lost the policy debate. Policy is made by people who believe in certain ideas, principles, and even fantasies. What Hagel seems to have learned from his tours of combat in Vietnam is that it is a fantasy to imagine that you can bomb a country into submitting to the will of the United States. Presumably, this is why he also opposed the war in Iraq. The problem is that deconstructing such a fantasy does not necessarily leave you with reality. In Hagel’s case it has left him only with an equally dangerous fantasy: that instead of waging war, it is possible to reach an accommodation, if not an amicable understanding, with nations that have clearly identified themselves as adversaries.

This fantasy is shared by much of the U.S. policymaking elite, including Obama. Indeed, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution every White House has sought comity with the Iranians. The fact that all, including Obama, have failed, is proof that the endeavor is not possible. From this perspective, it is also clear that Western sanctions against Iran and the secret war conducted against Iranian scientists and installations are intended less to destroy the nuclear program than to prolong the fantasy that at some point the Iranians will come to their senses and abandon their search for a bomb. It is noteworthy that the majority of the American electorate does not share this fantasy, with a Pew poll last year showing that 58 percent support U.S. military action against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

But AIPAC—and this 58 percent majority—lost the debate to a host of adversaries. Some on the winning side argued for engagement. Among these were the stars of the policy pantheon, like former Secretary of State Jim Baker, and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who argued that a combination of incentives and pressures might get the Iranians to the table.
And if Iran didn’t want to negotiate, some claimed that wasn’t such a big deal anyway. As Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has said, it’s no problem containing Iran. Journalists like Fareed Zakaria agreed. Some went even further, arguing that Iran was in fact a natural American ally. More extreme yet in their efforts were the single-minded obsessives, the creeps, like Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, and Trita Parsi, who argued that in fact the problem was not with Iran but with the United States.

If, as Hagel has said, the Jewish lobby truly intimidated “a lot of people up here,” you’d expect to see Washington all humming the same tune on Iran. Instead, it’s the Iranians calling the shots. “You must raise the level of your tolerance,” the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization recently told the West. “Try to find ways for cooperation with a country that is moving towards technological progress.”

The Iranian negotiating team meeting with its Western counterparts in Kazakhstan this week has earned the right to its smugness. The Iranians are installing equipment that will allow it to accelerate the production of nuclear fuel. And then there was North Korea’s nuclear test two weeks ago. At the very least, it signalled to the Iranians that in the end, despite all of the tough talk coming from the White House, the Americans are not going to stop the Iranians from acquiring the bomb.

Tehran has the upper hand in negotiations because it recognizes that all the White House wants is some sort of deal it can sell as a victory. And the all-powerful pro-Israel lobby has no choice but to swallow it and smile.

February 27, 2013 | 5 Comments »

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  1. The so called Jewish democrats are in conflict with Israeli Jews. It was bluntly obvious during the democratic convention. Il must increase her independence from American Jews and accept the fact that the EU has more interests with the Arabs than with philosophy of democracy. Interests supersede friendship. It is a two way street and Il must apply similar principles. It may take for ever before the Muslims control their self-destructive behavior and become rational (the western way).

  2. @ yamit82:
    It is a bad idea for AIPAC to tie its positions closely to corrupt Israeli leadership. AIPAC should be positioned to offer an INDEPENDENT position that is both pro American and pro Israel. If this means opposing the Israeli government at times and the U.S government at times then so be it. The consistency should be based on truth and Judaic principles over politics.

    Also U.S. funding always comes at too high a price. It is time for Israel to forgo some of the funding for a policy that is more independent of the U.S and also more independent of the U.S. Jewish establishment which is not all that supportive.

  3. When AIPAC is run by Obama sycophants like Lee “Rosy” Rosenberg, it is going to do diddly squat in opposing Obama. The self-haters and moral-equalists won out this time. Elections DO have consequences, and do remember that, Liberal JINOs when the mushroom clouds appear over BOTH Tel-Aviv and Tehran…and perhaps New York City too.

    p.s. and for once I have to agree with Yamit. When Bibi stops being a “Romney” or “Boehner” and chooses to get truly tough with our Jew-hating occupant of the White House, then consistency will help. But nothing will change unless we get a GOP President and get rid of worthless KAPOs like Schumer, Boxer and Levin who once and for all have proven they’d support a Hitler were he a Democrat – and by then it may very well be too late.

  4. To be fair much of the reticence of AIPAC must stem from all the mixed messages coming from Jerusalem and lack of apparent leadership both in Israel and within the America Jewish community. If Israel has no direction and if no directives are given to the Lobby what can one expect from activists and supporters?

    The Blame lies mostly with Israel. Israel and World Jewry seem to be paralyzed by fear at the worst possible time. Unless BB gets his act together quickly things are going to get a lot worse for all of us.

    Note!… Re: IRON DOME, I personally am not in favor but neither do we owe America a thing. They paid us a lot of money but also for the last $600 million extracted in payment all of Israels indigenous patents. They bought the system essentially for peanuts. That gives America control and veto power over Israeli military sales of the Iron Dome to third parties. This was not a demand by Obama but by so-called pro Israel congressman.

    No free lunches when dealing with America and they never give something for nothing and Israel would receive Zip from America if they didn’t think it was in their interests first and foremost.