After advocating for new sanctions against Iran and attacking members of the United Nations for bias against Israel, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) received more than $100,000 at a March 26 fund-raiser by NORPAC, the pro-Israel political action committee.
Although the meeting at a private home in Englewood was off-the-record, NORPAC president Ben Chouake told NJJN his group supported the bill co-sponsored by Menendez and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). It would reimpose economic penalties on the Iranian government, “based on its sponsorship of terrorism and facilitation of trouble in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria, and its testing of ballistic missiles.”
Chouake said the senator spoke about Iran’s backing of the Lebanese army. Previously the Lebanese government had been considered an enemy of the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, but the NORPAC leader said as of now “they are two arms of the same effort working together. If you arm the Lebanese army, you are functionally arming Hezbollah.”
Chouake said NORPAC and others who are skeptical about the effectiveness of the Iran nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration opposed lifting sanctions in exchange for Iran’s halting its nuclear weapons development.
“You don’t have to violate the treaty to still have bad behavior,” Chouake said.
Although Menendez’s words at the NORPAC meeting were not made public, two days later he discussed Iran in a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The senator said the United States and its allies who signed the nuclear deal “should have pressed for more meaningful concessions, and put more stringent constraints on Iran’s nuclear capability in place.
“We see an Iranian regime that has, in my view quite predictably, been emboldened by sanctions relief and is more committed than ever to destabilizing the Middle East,” the senator said.
Linking Iran and North Korea as “countries with outsized roles in terms of causing mischief and trouble around the world,” Chouake suggested that “other than going to war or bombing the places,” imposing new sanctions might be effective in subduing the two nations’ hostile intentions.
“Iran is much more dangerous than ISIS,” Chouake said. “It is a real country with ballistic missiles, with resources, with trillions of dollars in oil reserves, with real organization, and real reach.”
Menendez was one of only two Democrats in the Senate (the other was Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.) to support David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer, to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman has expressed support of West Bank settlement expansion and is opposed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The group thanked him [Menendez] because we supported the nomination,” said Chouake.
Asked how he viewed the Trump administration, Chouake limited his comments to U.S.-Israel relations.
“Our people are very reassured. United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley has done more for Israel’s prestige in two months than [the U.S. ambassadors to the UN] in the last eight years.”