And Now the Real Problem

And Now the Real Problem

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The 180 degree turnaround performed by AIPAC in their decision not to lobby the Senate any longer on the Iran Sanction bill underscored a second, perhaps more important, aspect concerning the U.S.-Israel relationship. This refers to the relationship between American or diaspora Jews and the Government of Israel. Alternatively, it represents the delicate balance with which American Jews have always walked between support of the elected Government in the land in which they live and/or support for the Government of Israel.

AIPAC has always been the pro-Israel voice on Capitol Hill; the spokesperson for the Jewish community in the halls of Congress; and for the past 30 years or so with the Administration as well. The members of AIPAC are the grassroots lobbyist effectively trained by AIPAC’s professional lobbyists who seek to influence their elected officials as to what policy they believe would be in the best interest of both the U.S. and Israel.  For over 65 years those interests usually have coincided. 

As the P5 +1 began to move towards a first round understanding with Iran on its nuclear program, the Israeli Government repeatedly urged the Obama Administration to reconsider its plan to roll back prematurely any of the economic sanctions in place against Iran. It was this position, therefore, which AIPAC was advocating as it aggressively supported the Kirk-Menendez bill in the Senate which sought to increase sanctions against Iran that got totally turned around last week. 

While AIPAC publically argued that it was the excessively partisan (pro-Republican) character that its position had become; it was clear to most observers that Israel no longer saw any constructive gain to be achieved in confronting the Obama Administration in a fight they would lose. As Israel played out its cards with the White House with some face-saving quid pro quos discussed previously, AIPAC was essentially left to squirm out of its untenable lobbying position and to prepare to fight another battle another day.  The difficulty with this tactic, which Israel has used before in previous battles with other Administrations, was that AIPAC and many of its pro-Israel grassroots supporters—on both the left and the right—are growing more annoyed with how Israeli Governments takes American Jews for granted. 

Doing Israel’s bidding and trying to gain U.S. support for a policy position which Israel believes to be in its—as well as America’s—best interest is vital. Congress, however, needs to be assured that their constituent lobbyists do not make the Members of the House and the Senate look foolish trying to advocate for Israel, only to see these same citizens turn around on them after they have gone out on the limb for their cause. Such behavior might well damage the ability of pro-Israel forces to gain support and even access when Israel faces its next critical geopolitical crisis. In this case this was especially true because there were clear pro-Israel advocates on the right who wanted to carry the legislative fight through to its end; and there were pro-Israel supporters who opposed this legislative strategy from its inception and wanted to give the six month arrangement with Iran to run its course. Eventually, Israel will deplete at least some of its support in America on the left or the right or in Washington; something it can ill afford.

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