mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
AIPAC and its critics
So the Jews Don't Run America After All?

AIPAC, the allegedly omnipotent lobby that nobody dares to fight, appears to be losing the battle over Iran sanctions. As the New York Times reports, AIPAC’s effort to put new sanctions on Iran has stalled after running into stiff resistance from the White House.

The “omnipotent Israel lobby” is one of the hoariest chestnuts of political commentary, but maybe this news will remind people of a few basic facts about American politics. When “pro-Israel” policies are popular, as they usually are, lobbies that advocate for them appear unstoppable. But when the Israel lobby gets on the wrong side of public opinion, the magic goes away.

Most of the time, the managers of groups like AIPAC are smart enough to know this, and they don’t start fights they can’t win. Thus the “all powerful Israel lobby” tends to stay out of fights—like the Hagel confirmation battle—that it understands are lost causes. In the same way, an issue like clemency for the convicted (and egregious) spy Jonathan Pollard stays off the lobby’s official wish list, because it is a no-hoper. Most Americans think spies for Israel who give away important secrets to a foreign government should rot in jail, and it would do the “omnipotent” lobby no good at all to wage a big battle on this issue and suffer humiliating and disempowering defeat.

American public opinion hates and fears the mullahs in Iran and wants their nuclear drive stopped, by force if necessary, but that would be a last, reluctant decision. While a lot of people think the White House diplomacy on this issue is doomed to fail, they don’t want to pre-empt that failure. AIPAC seems to have misjudged how winnable this fight was. That’s the real story: not that the “omnipotent” Israel lobby has had its first setback in a long time, but that the instincts of some normally very shrewd Washington players failed them this time, and that AIPAC jumped in on a loser issue.

AIPAC is now trying to back away from the Iran sanctions bill, claiming it never supported it anyway. But following the meltdown of the campaign to build support for President Obama’s plans to strike Syria, AIPAC has lost some credibility.

As a result, its aura of invincibility has been diminished too. In a place like Washington, where the appearance of power can be as important as the reality of power, that is a setback. We suspect it will strengthen the hands of those inside the group who are calling for a more cautious approach. If those voices prevail and AIPAC returns to the pattern of only putting its prestige on the line when it is sure it can win, weak-brained hot heads, conspiracy theorists, and anti-Semites will be quick to resuscitate their beloved theories of an omnipotent Jewish lobby crushing all opposition and honest discussions of Middle East policy in the United States.

There’s an odd symbiotic relationship between a lobby group like AIPAC and its more hysterical critics. It helps AIPAC when the dimwitted and the easily impressed magnify its importance out of all reason and attribute the general balance of power in American politics on a key issue to its tireless efforts. AIPAC’s critics make it easier for AIPAC to raise money from its backers.

But it would be a big mistake for people to assume that, because AIPAC has misgauged public opinion on some high profile issues, the American people have stopped caring about the future of Israel.

Support for Israel—not necessarily the kind of support the Israeli government or its closest allies want at any particular moment—remains a political priority for scores of millions of non-Jewish Americans. As long as that is the case, the “Israel lobby” will continue to win more than its share of policy battles, and myopic commentators will look at the pattern and think they have discovered the Jewish conspiracy that controls American foreign policy in the Middle East.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Kavanna

    The Iran sanctions will probably return in some form later this year, as Obama’s political capital continues to dissipate. All that’s really happened is that the mainstream American Jewish organizations are in such thrall to the disastrous failure in the White House (a president most American Jews supported, twice) are paying the price for their abject dependency on the Democratic party and failure to get around the media’s news blackout.

    Obama has been able to stymie the Congressional attempt to reimpose sanctions on Iran, even as the administration is slowly letting slip the reality: its Syria and Iran policies are total failures, have materially contributed to the current turmoil in the Middle East, and will make future war more likely.

    Domestically, it’s similar to Obamacare. The administration has been able to temporarily contain the bad news. But it can’t contain the ultimate consequences. Congressional revolt is coming on that issue as well.

    • Kavanna

      BTW, this incident, like many others, demonstrates yet again the Big Lie of JStreet and similar organizations, which have attacked AIPAC and other mainstream Jewish organizations for years as “neocon” or other term of abuse.

      In reality, AIPAC is pretty representative of American Jews, who are Democrats by 60%+ majority.

      Presidents have more leeway with foreign policy than with domestic, and the “Israel lobby” has certainly lost battles before — for example, in Reagan’s first term and under Bush Sr. But these presidents, overall, governed from strength. Never has a sitting president engaged in so many unforced, gratuitous errors — some of which promise disaster.

  • TommyTwo

    American public opinion hates and fears the mullahs in Iran and wants their nuclear drive stopped, by force if necessary, but that would be a last, reluctant decision. While a lot of people think the White House diplomacy on this issue is doomed to fail, they don’t want to pre-empt that failure.

    “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing.”

    • rheddles

      After they’ve tried everything else.

  • free_agent

    Of course in the end, even this realization is dispiriting. “Paranoia is the comforting illusion that there is someone in control of everything.”

  • Beatrix17

    Lee Smith’s idea in Tablet, reprinted in Mosaic is that Obama supports Stephen Walt’s
    idea that special relationships, especially with Israel, hurts America’s standing in the Mideast.

    Walt believes and Obama agrees that launching the Sunnis against the Shiites will
    create a geopolitical equilibrium that breeds animosity, but not war. In this new dialogue Israel just confuses things, and so AIPAC needs to be hobbled so Israel will stay on the sidelines.

    Obama seems to have no intention of interfering with Iran’s attempts to get a bomb. In fact, strengthening Iran aids his new dialogue. I think this is the equivalent of playing with tin soldiers, but most Jews support Obama and so few will interfere.

  • LtcHoward

    Unmentioned are Iran’s extensive and very successful development and testing activities relating to ballistic missile propulsion, ballistic missile guidance, and warheads specifically designed to carry and detonate nuclear weapons.

    Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran:‘The Entire Nuclear Activity of Iran is Going On’ (VIDEO)

    Iran’s nuclear chief, Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, in Tehran, in a two-part interview with semi-official state news television Press TV on Tuesday declared that rather than being dismantled, “The entire nuclear activity of Iran is going on.

    Salehi told the interviewer that the recent Geneva agreement with world powers allows Iran to switch over ALL of its centrifuges working to make 20 percent enriched uranium to produce to the 5 per cent threshold. “The nuclear facilities are functioning; our enrichment is proceeding, it’s doing its work, it’s producing the 5 percent enriched uranium and those centrifuges that stopped producing the 20 percent will be producing 5 percent enriched uranium. In other words our production of 5 percent [uranium] will increase. The entire nuclear activity of Iran is going on.”

    You can come and see whether our nuclear sites, nuclear equipment and nuclear facilities are dismantled or not. The only thing we have stopped and suspended – and that is voluntarily – is the production of 20 percent enriched uranium and that’s it.”

    He said the agreement does not impact Iran’s ability to develop even more efficient centrifuges, which it is working on now, and would test run for two years before putting them into mass production.

    Watch the Press TV interview (part 1 and part 2) below:

    Press TV’s Interview with

    Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, Head of the Atomic Energyganization of Iran

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service