Commentary Magazine


Topic: AIPAC

Obama Lobby Smear in Iran Deal Debate Cannot Go Unanswered

The debate over the Iran nuclear deal signed last week is just beginning but the willingness of the administration to smear its opponents is already clear. Both in his speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pittsburgh and then later on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama cast the divide on the issue as one between warmongers and peacemakers, linking opponents to the Iraq War. Having won the presidency twice by running against George W. Bush, it is hardly surprising that he would return to that familiar theme. Nor is it any shock that he would, as he has throughout a period in which he systematically abandoned his past stands on what a deal with Iran should look like, claimed that the only alternative to surrendering to Tehran’s demands was war. But there was one line in his softball interview with Stewart that should have set off alarm bells throughout the pro-Israel community, including among those who are loyal Democrats and inclined to support the White House on this and any other issue. By urging citizens to contact Congress to counteract the influence of “the money, the lobbyists,” Obama was smearing the pro-Israel community and AIPAC as seeking to involve the country in a war where “they would not going to be making sacrifices.” In doing so, he conjured up memories of both President George H.W. Bush’s controversial stand against AIPAC during the 1991 debate about loan guarantees to Israel but also writer Pat Buchanan’s claim that Jews were pushing for wars in which they wouldn’t fight.

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The debate over the Iran nuclear deal signed last week is just beginning but the willingness of the administration to smear its opponents is already clear. Both in his speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pittsburgh and then later on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama cast the divide on the issue as one between warmongers and peacemakers, linking opponents to the Iraq War. Having won the presidency twice by running against George W. Bush, it is hardly surprising that he would return to that familiar theme. Nor is it any shock that he would, as he has throughout a period in which he systematically abandoned his past stands on what a deal with Iran should look like, claimed that the only alternative to surrendering to Tehran’s demands was war. But there was one line in his softball interview with Stewart that should have set off alarm bells throughout the pro-Israel community, including among those who are loyal Democrats and inclined to support the White House on this and any other issue. By urging citizens to contact Congress to counteract the influence of “the money, the lobbyists,” Obama was smearing the pro-Israel community and AIPAC as seeking to involve the country in a war where “they would not going to be making sacrifices.” In doing so, he conjured up memories of both President George H.W. Bush’s controversial stand against AIPAC during the 1991 debate about loan guarantees to Israel but also writer Pat Buchanan’s claim that Jews were pushing for wars in which they wouldn’t fight.

Obama’s claims that the only alternative to his appeasement of Iran would be war have always been a false choice. Having cornered Iran into negotiations after being forced by Congress to accept harsher sanctions than he wanted, Obama immediately discarded all the West’s political and military leverage by agreeing to Iranian demands about allowing them to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear infrastructure in secret talks in 2013. This came only a year after he had pledged in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney that any Iran deal would require them to give up their nuclear program. Over the course of the next two years, he systematically abandoned nearly every previous U.S. on the issue and eventually agreed to a pact that expired after ten years and even guaranteed the Iranians the right to continue nuclear research and with an inspections program that gave them 24 days notice. Having undermined the international consensus in favor of isolating Iran, he now accuses critics of wanting war. But all they have been asking for is the sort of tough diplomacy that would have avoided the kind of proliferation that his deal makes inevitable.

The analogies with Iraq and the invocation of the name of former Vice President Dick Cheney is a punch line, not a coherent argument. There is no comparison between a willingness to allow Iran to become a threshold nuclear state and to enrich the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. But it is an attempt to signal to Democrats that Obama sees Iran appeasement as a core partisan issue on which no dissent should be tolerated. And that is the context in which Obama’s cracks about money and lobbyists and who makes the sacrifices should be viewed.

In 1991, when the elder President Bush was seeking to undermine support for Israel, he let loose with a memorable rant to the White House press corps about being “one lonely little guy” fighting a big powerful AIPAC. That was a gross distortion of reality, especially since AIPAC’s power could not be compared to the influence of the oil industry and the pro-Arab lobby with which the president was apparently more comfortable. Pro-Israel and Jewish groups that saw him as invoking arguments that smacked of traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes rightly excoriated Bush. Buchanan was similarly criticized for the same kind of sleight of hand when he falsely tried to cast the argument about the first Gulf War as one in which Jews were pushing other Americans to fight a war they would sit out.

Though the case for the Iran deal is weak, it is one on which a civil debate is possible. But the administration’s line that opponents want war is not only misleading, it is an attempt to avoid rational debate and to demonize the president’s critics. Yet the fact that Obama is now using the same sort of language that once was clearly labeled as out of bounds when they were employed by Republicans is not only reprehensible. It is a challenge to pro-Israel and Jewish Democrats that they cannot ignore.

Jewish Republicans and other pro-Israel conservatives never forgave George H.W. Bush for his slur about AIPAC and he paid a heavy political price for it in his 1992 re-election bid. It is too late to hold Obama accountable in a similar manner but that does not relieve Jewish liberals and Democrats from warning Obama to stand down on his attempt to employ the same kinds of smears against supporters of Israel on the Iran deal. While Obama’s goal is to make Iran a partisan issue on which pro-Israel Democrats will choose loyalty to the president over principle, it does not excuse members of his party from their obligation to stand up against these sort of vile tactics. If they fail to speak out against the Obama lobby smear, they will not merely be acquiescing amid the marginalization of the pro-Israel community, they will be giving a seal of approval to the sort of behavior that they were quick to denounce when Republicans were the offenders.

 

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Congress Must Draw the Line at BDS

While Democrats are fighting a civil war over the Fast Track trade promotion authority bill that is growing increasingly nasty, a sidebar squabble over amendments to the legislation involving efforts to discourage boycotts of Israel is also starting to draw attention. As Politico reports, there is a bipartisan effort to include provisions that seek to prevent American trading partners from boycotting, divesting or sanctioning (BDS) commercial activity with Israel or “Israeli-controlled territories.” That last phrase is the sticking point for many on the left who are using it to label the measures “pro-settlement” and “anti-peace.” But while some in Israel and even those who believe they are friends of Israel draw a broad distinction between boycotts of all of Israel and those targeting business within Jewish communities in the West Bank, this is a false distinction that shouldn’t confuse the issue. What is at stake here is a vicious international BDS movement that dovetails with the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe is making rapid strides to isolate the Jewish state while assisting an economic war whose ultimate goal is its destruction.

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While Democrats are fighting a civil war over the Fast Track trade promotion authority bill that is growing increasingly nasty, a sidebar squabble over amendments to the legislation involving efforts to discourage boycotts of Israel is also starting to draw attention. As Politico reports, there is a bipartisan effort to include provisions that seek to prevent American trading partners from boycotting, divesting or sanctioning (BDS) commercial activity with Israel or “Israeli-controlled territories.” That last phrase is the sticking point for many on the left who are using it to label the measures “pro-settlement” and “anti-peace.” But while some in Israel and even those who believe they are friends of Israel draw a broad distinction between boycotts of all of Israel and those targeting business within Jewish communities in the West Bank, this is a false distinction that shouldn’t confuse the issue. What is at stake here is a vicious international BDS movement that dovetails with the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe is making rapid strides to isolate the Jewish state while assisting an economic war whose ultimate goal is its destruction.

Some of the amendment’s critics claim that any effort to oppose the BDS movement is, in effect, an effort to use trade to suppress speech that is critical of either Israel or the settlements. But it’s useful to put this issue in historical perspective. A generation ago, the pro-Israel community, with the help of both Democrats and Republicans, successfully used America’s economic power as well as its diplomatic influence to combat the Arab boycott of Israel. The point was that the boycotters had achieved great success by intimidating business in the Third World, Europe and even the United States. They were warned that any company that did business in Israel could not do so in the Arab world. But legislation put the world on notice that companies that observed the boycott faced penalties in the United States. That helped break the economic blockade of Israel.

The BDS movement is just another variation of the same discriminatory theme. Its object is not just to isolate Israel but also to bully foreign institutions and businesses into shunning the Jewish state. Since it seeks to subject the one Jewish state in the world and its people to a standard that is not applied to any other nation, it is a form of discrimination that is indistinguishable from anti-Semitism. That is a point that has recently been made clear when pro-BDS advocates targeted Jewish students who opposed their position.

Seen in that light, Congressional efforts to both oppose and penalize those who engage in BDS efforts is in keeping with American values and our foreign policy interests that rest in part on preservation of the nation’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East.

In reply, so-called pro-peace groups on the left like J Street as well as open supporters of BDS like Jewish Voices for Peace, say that by including “Israeli-controlled territories” as an area that should not be boycotted, Congress will be legitimizing settlements and harming the cause of peace. But this is another false argument.

The first problem with this argument is that while it is possible for some on the Jewish left to draw a line between the Israeli Jews they want to boycott and others they wish to leave alone, that is a distinction that is lost on Israel’s numerous enemies and anti-Semites either in the Middle East or in Europe. While there is a vigorous debate in Israel and elsewhere about whether the settlements can or should retained by Israel, treating Israeli citizens who are in their homes and businesses with the permission of their country’s government as lawbreaking pariahs is both inappropriate as well as an invitation to boycott all Israelis wherever they live. When one takes into account that the overwhelming majority of “settlers” live in communities near the 1967 lines or in Jerusalem — places that would be retained in any peace deal with the Palestinians — that makes the discrimination even more prejudicial. When one considers that Israel has offered the Palestinians peace and independence (including possession of most of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem) only to be turned down each time, the insistence that the settlements is the obstacle to peace must be seen as nothing more than a canard.

Boycotting settlements won’t bring peace closer by one day nor will it facilitate a two-state solution that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected. In fact the boycotts make peace less likely because they encourage the Palestinians not to negotiate and prejudges the outcome of talks that should be resolved by the parties, not foreign governments, institutions or businesses. The focus on settlements (that Israel has already proved that it is willing to give up for peace as they did in Gaza in 2005) is nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from the real obstacle that is Palestinian intransigence and unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

It is telling that those on the left that would like to speak for American Jews are opposing this legislative effort to defend Israel against BDS while AIPAC — the true voice of the pro-Israel community that embraces both Democrats and Republicans — is championing the amendments.

To the credit of Congress and both parties, bipartisan majorities in committees in the House and the Senate have already approved the anti-BDS amendments. They should not be stripped out of the final trade bill through the machinations of left-wing critics of Israel. Nor should the unions and their allies, who oppose the trade bill, altogether, collude with the left or the Obama administration (which rightly supports the trade bill but is always happy to take a shot at Israel) to undermine the effort to stop boycotts of Israel. While it is not surprising that those who seek to oppose Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself would oppose anti-BDS efforts, those who support those principles should not be misled into opposing this effort.

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Baker Creating J Street Challenge for Jeb

The announcement that former Secretary of State James Baker was one of the advisors to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign created a minor stir a few weeks ago. As our Michael Rubin noted at the time, Baker’s long record of hostility to Israel and consistent backing for engagement with rogue regimes ought to make him radioactive for a candidate seeking to brand himself as a supporter of the Jewish state and a critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. But Baker’s status as a faithful family retainer for the Bush family might have given Jeb a pass, especially since, as Michael wrote, another far wiser former secretary of state — George P. Schultz — is considered to be Jeb’s top foreign policy advisor. But the news that Baker will serve as a keynote speaker at the upcoming annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby ought to change the conversation about this topic. Coming as it does hard on the heels of the president’s open threats to isolate Israel, having someone so closely associated with his campaign serve in that role at an event dedicated to support for Obama’s hostile attitude toward Israel obligates Jeb to not let this happen without saying or doing something to disassociate himself from Baker.

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The announcement that former Secretary of State James Baker was one of the advisors to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign created a minor stir a few weeks ago. As our Michael Rubin noted at the time, Baker’s long record of hostility to Israel and consistent backing for engagement with rogue regimes ought to make him radioactive for a candidate seeking to brand himself as a supporter of the Jewish state and a critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. But Baker’s status as a faithful family retainer for the Bush family might have given Jeb a pass, especially since, as Michael wrote, another far wiser former secretary of state — George P. Schultz — is considered to be Jeb’s top foreign policy advisor. But the news that Baker will serve as a keynote speaker at the upcoming annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby ought to change the conversation about this topic. Coming as it does hard on the heels of the president’s open threats to isolate Israel, having someone so closely associated with his campaign serve in that role at an event dedicated to support for Obama’s hostile attitude toward Israel obligates Jeb to not let this happen without saying or doing something to disassociate himself from Baker.

Baker won’t be the only celebrity in attendance at the conference. White House chief of staff James McDonough will also be there signaling the president’s approval for his faithful liberal fans. That’s an encouraging development for a group that, despite its boasts about supplanting AIPAC as the voice of American Jewry on Israel, has struggled for influence even during the administration of a president they ardently support. J Street has little juice on Capitol Hill, as only hard-core left-wingers tend to endorse their proposals with the overwhelming majority of members of both political parties rightly understanding that AIPAC remains the address for the pro-Israel community.

Even the Obama administration has often bitterly disappointed J Street, especially during the president’s re-election campaign, when the White House made clear that its focus was on appeal to the mainstream pro-Israel community, not its left-wing base. In 2012, the president not only addressed the AIPAC conference but also went farther toward the pro-Israel community on the Iran nuclear issue than ever before.

But in recent months as Obama openly feuded with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the president’s pursuit of détente with Iran, J Street has been feeling more love from the administration. After the White House responded to Netanyahu’s re-election with petulance and threats, J Street is thrilled with a president who seems to have finally decided that he need not hide his disdain for the Jewish state’s electorate.

Baker served the last president before Obama who engaged in feuds with Israeli leaders. Though rightly considered egregious at the time, George H.W. Bush’s provocations against the Shamir government seem tame when compared to Obama’s stunts. But as the moving force behind the elder Bush’s attacks on AIPAC as well as a policy of pressure against the Jewish state, Baker is rightly remembered as a foe of Israel.

Baker did help the campaign of George W. Bush, especially during the Florida recount. But he was a consistent critic of Bush 43’s foreign policy. While it is to be expected that he would rally to support the third member of the Bush clan to seek the presidency, for someone so publicly identified with Jeb’s campaign to be the keynoter at J Street’s conclave creates a much bigger problem for the candidate than even Michael Rubin thought a few weeks ago.

Simply put, Bush can’t let Baker’s appearance at the J Street event go unremarked upon. He must either explicitly distance himself from Baker’s appearance and from J Street’s support for Obama’s threats against Israel or ask Baker to formally disassociate himself from his presidential effort. That will be hard for Jeb as, like the rest of this family, he prizes loyalty and Baker has been the most faithful soldier in their family retinue for decades. But if he allows this to pass without telling the world that he condemns J Street’s activities and Baker’s support for Obama’s policies, it will taint him and his campaign. The man who would be Bush 45 has a strong record of personal support for Israel and was rightly among the first to congratulate Netanyahu on his decisive victory in Tuesday’s election. But if he keeps Baker on now, it will be difficult to argue that he can be counted upon to stand with Israel against Obama.

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The Incoherence of Netanyahu’s Most Strident Critics

Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

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Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

One of the regular critiques from the administration and its spokesmen in the media of tomorrow’s speech by Netanyahu is that Bibi just wants to use the speech as a prop in his own reelection campaign. As Axelrod’s book demonstrates, catering to voters and representing their interests in the government is borderline incomprehensible to Obama. His disdain for other world leaders who follow the wishes of their employers–the taxpayers–instead of doing what Obama wants is especially strange, considering its undisguised imperialist overtones.

And Netanyahu, of late, has found himself the world leader who values democratic elections far too much for Obama’s taste. When Netanyahu pressed ahead with giving the speech to a joint session of Congress, the Obama administration said they’d hit back, and suggested one way of doing so would be for them to bash Bibi through the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, as they often do when they want to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel. They did so; here is how Goldberg delivers the talking point:

It would be reassuring—sort of—to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu decided to set the U.S.-Israel relationship on fire mainly because he fears that President Obama is selling out Israel. But Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3—a speech arranged without Obama’s knowledge by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and by Obama’s chief Republican rival, House Speaker John Boehner—is motivated by another powerful fear: the fear of unemployment. The message Bibi is preparing to deliver on Tuesday (a “statesmanlike message,” according to an official close to him) has as its actual target not Congress but, instead, Israeli voters who need reminding, in Netanyahu’s view, that he is the only leader strong enough to face down both the genocidal regime in Tehran and the Israel-loathing regime in Washington.

You can set aside the obviously false characterization of Netanyahu’s culpability. According to Goldberg–and the administration–Netanyahu’s “main” concern is not Israel’s perceived existential threats or a bad Iran deal or President Obama’s repeated insistence on selling out Israel (sometimes during wartime).

Now, obviously Netanyahu cares about reelection. He’s a politician in a democracy, and is acting as one, not as a tyrant or a religious cult figure. His decision to accept the speech without the president’s support was also clearly a mistake. He compounded that mistake by not backing out or rescheduling when he had ample opportunity to do so. And his mistake has already had tangible effects: the speech has almost certainly destroyed the possibility of the very veto-proof sanctions he hoped to inspire, at least for now.

But sufferers of Bibi Derangement Syndrome don’t see “mistakes”; they see arson. They violate the cardinal rule of democratic politics in a free society: Don’t attribute to malice what can be more easily explained by incompetence.

And the Obama-Axelrod-Goldberg line is strange for another reason: the belief that Bibi doesn’t take the long view but instead focuses on near-term electoral fortunes is pretty much the opposite of what the administration’s critique of him had previously been. In May 2011, the consensus was that Netanyahu was practically obsessed with incorporating the grand sweep of history into his dialogue with Obama. “Like many of you, I watched the Prime Minister of Israel publicly lecture the President of the United States on Jewish history with a mixture of shock, amusement and bewilderment,” Goldberg wrote in a post titled “Netanyahu Continues to Needlessly Alienate.”

(It was a common framing. ABC News: “In Oval Office, Bibi Offers History Lessons to Obama.” Chicago Sun-Times: “Obama gets Netanyahu Israeli history lecture.”)

Netanyahu has also come in for criticism for saying “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs… preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state.” And the press has taken a couple swings at him for referencing Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of Israel against the wishes of the State Department and other governmental agencies in his speeches, as he did this morning at AIPAC.

Also in his speech this morning, the prime minister returned to the long view of Jewish history:

For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless. We were utterly powerless against our enemies who swore to destroy us. We suffered relentless persecution and horrific attacks. We could never speak in our own behalf, and we could not defend ourselves. Well, no more. No more. The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us–those days are over.

It’s no surprise the recitation of history makes Obama uncomfortable. As we’ve seen, the president’s ignorance of history is comprehensive, but he is especially unknowledgeable on Israeli and Jewish history. It doesn’t seem to interest him, and it shows.

So it’s always been a bit rich for the president who thinks history started with his own presidential election to accuse others of not thinking about the big picture. What Obama means by this is actually that these other politicians and world leaders aren’t thinking enough about Obama’s legacy, which he’d like them to prioritize over the needs and wants of their citizens, Israel being no exception.

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AIPAC Focuses on Iran, Not Israel

The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

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The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

This morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the conference, a day before he addresses a joint meeting of Congress, and it is beginning to dawn on those who spent the last month lambasting him for his alleged breach of protocol that a very bad deal is in the works–now the focus of attention primarily because the Israeli prime minister decided that calling it out was more important than his (non-existent) personal relationship with the U.S. president.

Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote last month that Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress made “absolutely no sense” and was a “tone deaf ploy” that left Goldberg “unable to understand his thinking,” yesterday wrote that he expects a strong speech to Congress, because:

Netanyahu has a credible case to make. Any nuclear agreement that allows Iran to maintain a native uranium-enrichment capability is a dicey proposition; in fact, any agreement at all with an empire-building, Assad-sponsoring, Yemen-conquering, Israel-loathing, theocratic terror regime is a dicey proposition. [Emphasis added.]

Goldberg is not only worried about the “sunset” clause that would permit Iran to become a nuclear power once the agreement expires, but worried even more “that the Iranians will find a way to cheat their way out of the agreement even before the sun is scheduled to set.”

In a panel yesterday at the AIPAC conference, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who has supported Netanyahu’s speech from the time it was announced, told a large audience “why the speech has to be given now, despite the consequences that will go down for the next 22 months”:

Number one, a deal is about to be signed and so this is the last opportunity just before an election the timing of which Bibi did not set [and] an election that Bibi didn’t want … and this isn’t timed for politics–although God forbid a politician should be guilty of committing politics. It was timed in connection to the negotiating timetable which was, in fact, established by John Kerry and his partners.

Secondly, representatives and senators ought to hear directly from the prime minister why this deal, which is terrible for the United States, is potentially fatal for Israel. And all these members of the House who pat themselves on the back as they vote for Iron Dome funding–as if that is the sole credential for being pro-Israel–ought to be put on record that this is the moment that counts … a final opportunity for Israel to make a case to the United States to act before Israel, I fear, will have to act irrespective of what the United States wants …

And, by the way, what is Bibi doing? He is giving a speech. He’s not hurling thunderbolts from Congress. He’s giving a speech! I would hope that in the spirit of democracy, civility, and–by the way–congressional self-respect for a co-equal branch of government, that every Democratic member, whether they agree with Bibi or not, will do him the courtesy of hearing him out.

Stephens noted that the administration is not only “not checking Iranian moves throughout the region–we are facilitating the rise of Iranian power”:

And I say this–I’m almost shocked to hear myself say this–but the deal we are going to strike isn’t that we’ve moved from a policy of prevention to containment: we are actively facilitating Iran’s bid to become a regular nuclear state … By the way, South Korea: we deny them the right to enrich. So, the South Koreans can’t enrich, according to this administration–we’re pressuring them not to enrich–but Iran, because it’s such a marvelous, wonderful regime, in 10 or 15 years, they’re going to get the bomb. We are facilitating this. We have facilitated their ability to maintain client regimes around the Middle East.

It is one of the reasons why we have not fulfilled the president’s other unmet promise of going after the Assad regime, and we now have a de facto pro-Assad policy in Syria. It’s one of the reasons why we have no strategy to speak of to prevent the Houti militia, who are not some tribal militia–they’re the Hezbollah of Yemen–from seizing [Yemen’s capital] Sana’a and then throwing out our client government. …

So, now the Iranians makes the boast–I’m sure all of you are familiar with this–that they have four Arab capitals in their hands: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a, and you might add Gaza City, if you consider that one. And that’s correct, and we have done nothing to stop it. We have no strategy to speak of, except accepting a new status quo on the hope that one day, the Iranians will change the nature of their regime and they’ll be nice to us. Good luck.

A “bad deal” does not begin to describe the strategic disaster the administration is attempting to conclude in secret, without informing Congress of the details and allowing a free and open democratic debate. The administration opposes even the new Corker-Menendez bill, introduced on Friday, which would prevent any deal from taking effect for 60 days, after Congress finds out what it is.

After AIPAC members listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, its thousands of delegates will lobby their representatives to urge them to support Corker-Menendez–bolstered by the speech of a prime minister who decided an existential threat to his country (the principal U.S. ally in the region) deserves to be fully considered by the representatives of the American people, before it is too late, not only for Israel but the United States.

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Obama Sabotaged AIPAC, Not Netanyahu

The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

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The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

Whatever the motivations of those who published the piece — and the website is quite hostile to Israel’s government — the answer is clearly no. The current dustup is obviously a disaster as far as AIPAC is concerned. But as much as Netanyahu deserves some of the blame for their dilemma, the second story was just as true. Whatever their feelings about the wisdom of the decision to go to Congress in this manner, AIPAC activists who will be descending on Washington next week aren’t in any doubt about who’s the one who is working to undermine the alliance and the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus: President Obama.

Those inclined to defend both AIPAC and Netanyahu should concede that the basic conceit of the AL Monitor article actually captured a basic truth about the lobby’s purpose and the way it operates. Contrary to the allegations that have been hurled against it by its critics and the left-wing J Street lobby, AIPAC isn’t a creature of the right or slanted toward Republicans. It backs all Israeli governments, whether led by figures of the right or those of the left. And its great achievement over the course of the last 40 years is to have created a truly bipartisan, across-the-board coalition in favor of Israel in Congress and the nation.

So it is hardly surprising that the perception that the Netanyahu speech was a plot cooked up with Republicans to embarrass or insult a Democratic president would create a problem for AIPAC. That’s the way the speech has been treated by most of the mainstream media and the incessant and increasingly bitter attacks on Netanyahu by senior figures in the Obama administration has made AIPAC’s task of smoothing the way for support for both the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill much more difficult.

It’s also true that, as AL Monitor gleefully reported, leading American Jews have tried to persuade Netanyahu to back off on his plans and that figures in Israel’s defense establishment — many of whom have always disliked and tried to undermine the prime minister’s stands on security issues like Iran for political motivations of their own — have been not so quiet about their dismay about his decision.

Much as those who are rightly up in arms about President Obama’s dangerous concessions to Iran in the nuclear talks are eager to hear Netanyahu, there’s no getting around the fact the speech gave the White House the opportunity to change the subject from the administration’s push for détente with Iran to that of an alleged breach of protocol and the injection of partisanship into the discussion of the issue. This was nothing more than transparent political spin but that doesn’t mean that Netanyahu and his advisers didn’t make a mistake. For weeks, even as news broke about astonishing concessions being offered Iran in the form of a sunset clause that would give Tehran carte blanche to gain a weapon after ten years, Washington has been debating Netanyahu’s chutzpah and the president’s hurt feelings instead of the negotiations or the need for more sanctions. As a result, the odds of a veto-proof majority in both Houses of Congress in favor of a sanctions bill that would have had a chance to hold the administration accountable on the issue is far less likely than it was before the announcement of the speech. That’s because the White House has been able to pick off Democrats who don’t feel comfortable taking sides with Netanyahu against Obama. Can anyone blame AIPAC officials for being frustrated about the Israeli government’s unwillingness to listen to their advice about the consequences of the speech?

But the focus on AIPAC is a sidebar to the real story here.

Though Netanyahu deserves to be criticized for walking into Obama’s trap, the only player in this drama who has consistently sought to inject partisanship or to sabotage the U.S.-Israel alliance has been the president.

It was Obama who discarded his 2012 campaign promises (repeated in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney) about ensuring the end of Iran’s nuclear program and instead embarked on a path of appeasement whose goal is a misguided effort to make the Islamist regime a partner on a whole range of political and economic issues. The price for this entente cordial with the ayatollahs is acquiescence to their long-term nuclear ambitions as well as their plan for regional hegemony that is scaring the daylights out of America’s moderate Arab allies.

The decision to turn the Netanyahu speech into a cause célèbre was rooted in the White House’s belief that the only way to derail a new sanctions bill that already could count on massive bipartisan support was to turn Iran into a partisan football. And that’s just what the administration has done by piling on Netanyahu while disingenuously claiming to be defending the alliance.

At this point friends of Israel understand the argument about Netanyahu’s speech is now largely irrelevant. With an Iran nuclear deal that would sink any chance of stopping the Islamist regime from becoming a threshold nuclear power and eventually the owners of a bomb now perhaps only weeks away, the time has ended for recriminations about the way the invitation to Congress was handled. The only thing worth discussing now is what, if anything, Congress and the pro-Israel community can do to derail Obama’s betrayal of principle.

The number of those who boycott the speech will be a barometer of how much success the White House has had in undermining the pro-Israel consensus. Democrats who claim to be friends of the Jewish state and opposed to an Iranian nuclear weapon need to forget about false arguments about partisanship and join with fellow Democrats as well as Republicans in listening to Netanyahu. More importantly, they must help pass the Iran sanctions bill before it is too late to stop the president’s plans for détente with a terror-supporting, anti-Semitic Islamist regime.

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Iran Sanctions Can Change History, Not a Netanyahu Speech

The debate about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress next month continues with Democrats continuing to express dismay at what they are wrongly characterizing as an insult to President Obama. The administration’s ability to frame the issue as a conflict between the president and the prime minister has largely succeeded in marginalizing the discussion about Iran’s nuclear program and whether the current negotiations will do much to avert the threat. I have argued that in accepting House Speaker Boehner’s invitation, Netanyahu has walked into a trap and that the net effect of that decision is to lessen the chances that Congress will pass more sanctions. But his supporters and other opponents of Obama’s policies argue that the extreme nature of the danger presented by Iran and a U.S. policy of appeasement require that Netanyahu speak in spite of the controversy over his appearance. These points, made both by Rick Richman and in numerous comments from readers, deserve an answer.

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The debate about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress next month continues with Democrats continuing to express dismay at what they are wrongly characterizing as an insult to President Obama. The administration’s ability to frame the issue as a conflict between the president and the prime minister has largely succeeded in marginalizing the discussion about Iran’s nuclear program and whether the current negotiations will do much to avert the threat. I have argued that in accepting House Speaker Boehner’s invitation, Netanyahu has walked into a trap and that the net effect of that decision is to lessen the chances that Congress will pass more sanctions. But his supporters and other opponents of Obama’s policies argue that the extreme nature of the danger presented by Iran and a U.S. policy of appeasement require that Netanyahu speak in spite of the controversy over his appearance. These points, made both by Rick Richman and in numerous comments from readers, deserve an answer.

Richman and other advocates for Netanyahu sticking to his plans are right when they say the peril presented by a nuclear Iran is grave. At best, President Obama’s current policies seem aimed at tolerating Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state in exchange for Tehran agreeing to some sort of détente with the United States. This is a colossal mistake. Even if Iran were to keep its promises about not building a bomb, which it almost certainly would not, it would mean a U.S. seal of approval for Iranian hegemony over the Middle East in which they could use their allies in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Yemen to destabilize moderate Arab regimes and conduct a two-front war against Israel. Another possible scenario is that while indefinitely dragging out the talks with the United States, Iran is able to break out to a nuclear weapon, a step that would, as the president himself has said, would be a “game changer” that could plunge the region into violent chaos as well as threatening the security of the West.

Presented with these awful choices, Richman and other supporters of the speech say that what is needed is for Netanyahu to come to Washington to warn Congress and the American people about what lies ahead. In making these arguments, there have been many comparisons between the prime minister and Winston Churchill. We are told that Netanyahu’s speech could, like Churchill’s warnings against appeasement of Nazi Germany, turn the tide against Obama’s stand. When stacked against the existential threat presented to the future of Israel, we are told that this “issue goes far beyond politics and protocol” and therefore obligates Netanyahu to go to Congress.

This is a serious argument. But as much as the dangers it speaks of are real, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a Netanyahu speech or any speech at this point will do much about it. It also ignores the fact that to dismiss the impact of politics on this effort is to engage in magical thinking.

Let’s remember that this episode began as part of an effort to rally bipartisan support for the bipartisan Iran sanctions bill proposed by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez. Republicans’ control of the Senate meant that, unlike last year when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid had torpedoed an earlier version of this bill, chances of success were excellent. The only question was if President Obama could persuade enough Democrats to sustain the veto of the bill he threatened in his State of the Union speech, but the odds appeared to be against him as most pro-Israel members of his party were on record as supporting more sanctions.

The Kirk-Menendez bill is not a magic bullet. By itself it cannot derail Obama’s push for appeasement of Iran since the president could use the waivers in the bill to avoid enforcing it even if it became law despite his veto. But it could make it much harder for him to keep negotiating indefinitely if the Iranians do not accept the weak offer currently on the table. And it could force a congressional debate on the terms of a deal that allowed Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure if the Islamist regime took yes for an answer and gave the president the deal he is begging them to sign.

What supporters of the Netanyahu speech steadfastly refuse to acknowledge is the fact that his intervention in the debate has had a disastrous impact on the chances of passing Kirk-Menendez. By giving the White House the distraction it needed, it changed the terms of the discussion from one over Obama’s indefensible opposition to a measure that would strengthen his hand in the negotiations to one about the questionable wisdom of having a foreign leader become a player in an American legislative debate.

That the way this was brought about as the result of underhanded administration tactics and even outright lies about the supposed breach of protocol involved in Boehner’s invitation is beside the point. It doesn’t matter that Netanyahu’s intention was to trump Obama’s stand on Iran and not to become a pawn in the endless struggle between Republicans and Democrats on the Hill. What matters is that this is how the administration and its media allies played the story and that is how a lot of Democrats, a party that has many friends of Israel in its ranks, are interpreting these events.

What the pro-Israel community was hoping to achieve this year was a bipartisan push for an Iran sanctions bill that might hobble Obama’s Iran strategy. What it got instead was something that has been, however unfairly, converted into a duel between Obama and Netanyahu in which Kirk-Menendez and Iran policy have become sidebars to a tussle that is more reminiscent of the fights between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Were a Netanyahu speech on Iran the sort of event that could, by itself, transcend this political mess and change the nature of the discussion about the nuclear issue, it might be justified. But despite the rather profligate comparisons between the prime minister and Churchill, that is an argument that doesn’t hold water.

Netanyahu is a fine speaker and he has the advantage of being right on the issue. But nothing he says, however eloquent, can overcome the baggage that he would be carrying with him into the House chamber. The story will not be so much about the nature of a threat, about which members of both parties are well aware, but the duel with the White House and the absent Democrats. Netanyahu may speak some great truths that may someday be looked back upon as prescient. But he is not the towering figure that his fans think he is. The record number of standing ovations he received during his 2011 speech to Congress was a product of the bipartisan support he had at the time. By allowing himself to be outmaneuvered so badly by Obama, he no longer can count on the same kind of backing. Churchillian rhetoric doesn’t make a speaker a Churchill.

Moreover, despite the obsession by many on the Zionist right with the idea that saying something true is a transcendent value, it is not as important as accomplishing something tangible. Speeches don’t always change the course of history. After all, even Churchill’s brilliant statements in the House of Commons opposing Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler did not prevent the Munich agreement from being signed. What was necessary in 1938 was not a good speech but a parliamentary majority against appeasement that might have averted World War Two and the Holocaust. The same is true today. We don’t need a great clarifying address about Iran. What we need is a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to pass a bill that will undermine Obama’s willingness to give Iran what it wants. If Netanyahu’s speech makes that harder—and that is exactly what it is doing—then friends of Israel should be urging him not to give it.

What is even more troubling about some of the comments from supporters of Netanyahu’s speech is that some of them seem to actually welcome the prospect of the splintering of the bipartisan pro-Israel coalition and view its transformation into a more cohesive and straightforward anti-Obama faction with approbation. That is neither in the interest of Israel or the alliance with the United States. Indeed, such a trend would destroy decades of hard work on the part of AIPAC and its army of activists who have striven to make the case that support for Israel transcends party allegiances.

It is understandable that the existential nature of the threat from Iran should give rise to high emotions and the need to cast anything related to the issue in apocalyptic terms. They see a decision to concentrate on the sanctions and to forget about a counterproductive tactic as surrender and weakness rather than wisdom. When faced with the horrible prospect of an Iranian bomb, some pro-Israel activists seem to embrace the emotional satisfaction of a direct rhetorical challenge to Obama rather than the hard practical political work of passing a bill that might do more to change history for the better than a speech. The prime minister should be smart enough to pass on this sort of immature and magical thinking. So should his American friends.

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J Street Ally Promotes Anti-Semitic Slander

Yesterday on the Sunday morning talk shows, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough attempted to walk back some of the most intemperate off-the-record comments from administration officials about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about Iran sanctions. But even as he reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, some of the president’s supporters continued to not only campaign for Netanyahu to cancel his acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation but to denigrate the Israeli leader. Among the most vocal was Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, who told radio talker Stephanie Miller that the invite was “close to subversion” and accused the bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress of dual loyalty. That should leave the Jewish group that has embraced Yarmouth—the left-wing lobby J Street—with some questions as to whether they are prepared to draw a line between their own campaign against Netanyahu and slander of Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

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Yesterday on the Sunday morning talk shows, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough attempted to walk back some of the most intemperate off-the-record comments from administration officials about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about Iran sanctions. But even as he reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, some of the president’s supporters continued to not only campaign for Netanyahu to cancel his acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation but to denigrate the Israeli leader. Among the most vocal was Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, who told radio talker Stephanie Miller that the invite was “close to subversion” and accused the bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress of dual loyalty. That should leave the Jewish group that has embraced Yarmouth—the left-wing lobby J Street—with some questions as to whether they are prepared to draw a line between their own campaign against Netanyahu and slander of Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

J Street is currently promoting a petition on its website demanding that Congress delay Netanyahu’s speech. They say the problem is timing, coming as it does weeks before the Israeli election in March. But unlike those Israelis and Americans like myself that think Netanyahu is showing poor judgment because the issue of his invitation is aiding the administration’s efforts to fight increased sanctions on Iran, J Street’s concern is just the opposite. They worry that Netanyahu’s speech may help rally Americans behind the new bipartisan sanctions legislation. They probably are also concerned about whether the speech might help Netanyahu’s reelection prospects.

J Street’s priority here is support for Obama and his policy of appeasing Iran in negotiations that are supposed to be aimed at halting Tehran’s nuclear program but which are instead increasingly aimed at promoting detente with the Islamist regime. But as discreditable as those positions are, they are a far cry from Yarmuth’s incitement.

As it turns out, the relationship between Yarmuth and J Street is close. The group’s website is also promoting an effort to get more members of Congress to sign a letter co-authored by the Kentucky congressman urging the administration to put the creation of a Palestinian state at the top of America’s foreign-policy agenda. Though couched in the language of support for a two-state solution, the letter ignores or minimizes the Palestinian rejectionism and culture of intolerance for Zionism and Jews that is the real obstacle to peace and places the onus for a solution to the conflict on Israel. Seen in the context of Yarmuth’s statements, it is hard to see it as anything but the latest effort from the left to promote pressure on the Jewish state.

Yarmuth’s interview laid bare the animus for Israel that lies behind some of the bland “pro-Israel, pro-peace” statements that serve as a cover for some of J Street’s supporters’ true intentions.

Yarmuth starts by claiming that his Jewish identity gives him particular standing to speak on Israel but then proceeds to claim that most of those who do back the Jewish state and those who seek to defend its security are merely in it for the money. Echoing some of the worst elements of the Israel Lobby thesis about support for the Jewish state, Yarmuth says members only back Israel to get campaign donations and accuses its backers of putting its interests above those of the United States:

“And you know, a lot of it has to do with fundraising — I’m sure some of it is sincere support for Israel,” Yarmuth said.

“You know, I’m a Jewish member of Congress, I’m a strong supporter of Israel, but my first obligation is to the Constitution of the United States, not to the Constitution of Israel. And unfortunately, I think, some of the demands that are made of members by AIPAC and some strong Jewish supporters are that we pay more attention — I guess we defer — to Israel more than we defer to the United States.”

Echoing the slanders of the pro-Israel community made by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Yarmuth also said the acclaim with which Netanyahu was greeted during his speech to a joint session in 2011 was bought and paid for by AIPAC:

“And, you know, I was there in the chamber in 2011, when Netanyahu spoke, and there he got I don’t know how many standing ovations. And I was in Israel shortly thereafter, and believe me, the Israelis pay very, very close attention to events like that. And I just — the first thing out of virtually every Israeli’s mouth was: ‘What was with all the standing ovations?’ And I said: ‘Well, AIPAC was meeting in Washington that week, and the gallery was full of AIPAC members, and every one of the members all wanted to see — make sure that their constituents saw them stand up.’

Neither Yarmuth’s faith nor his relationship with J Street can justify these remarks. They are an echo of the worst sort of anti-Semitic stereotypes put about by Israel haters. Like the authors of the Israel Lobby smear and others who seek to discredit the bipartisan across-the-board pro-Israel coalition in Congress, Yarmuth fails to understand that support for Israel is part of this nation’s political DNA. It transcends party politics or region. Members of Congress back Israel because it is both good public policy and good politics. That’s because Israel is beloved by the vast majority of Americans, whether they are Jewish or not.

I understand that rabid Obama supporters like the leaders of J Street will back him in anything he does, even in appeasement of Iran, though doing so endangers Israel. One doesn’t have to think it’s smart for Netanyahu to intervene in a debate that the pro-sanctions side can win without him (in fact, it may be easier without the speech since the alleged breach of protocol gave Obama an issue that could cause some weak-willed Democrats to sustain a veto of sanctions) to understand that this kind of pushback against the speech has nothing to do with what is best for the U.S. or Israel. Yarmuth’s vile accusations show that the motivation here is to marginalize those who whose support for Israel’s safety means more to them than loyalty to Obama. The real “subversion” going on here isn’t an invitation to an allied leader to speak to Congress, but the willingness of a rogue member of Congress and his allies to trash the alliance with the Jewish state in order to promote the presidential agenda.

If J Street is serious about the “pro-Israel” part of its slogan, it must repudiate Yarmuth. If it doesn’t, a group that had little credibility as a backer of the Jewish state will be rightly branded as an ally of its enemies rather than its friends.

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Israel’s Critics Shouldn’t Count on Hillary or the Palestinians

In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

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In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

The Hillary problem is one that every liberal interest group shares with the Jewish critics of Israel. The former secretary of state is a political chameleon who assumes whatever political positions are necessary to advance her agenda. Though a favorite of Wall Street types and someone who is believed to have more moderate and realistic views on foreign policy than President Obama, there are clear signs she will run to the left in the next year in order to steal some of Elizabeth Warren’s thunder and to forestall the liberal favorite from thinking about an insurgent run for the presidency. Though big money contributors will hope that her fake populism (“corporations don’t create jobs”) is just an act, and a poor one at that, they don’t know for sure what will happen if she ever wins the White House. The same is true of the J Street crowd.

As the Times Magazine article notes, Clinton has given them some reason for hope in the past. There was her famous embrace of Suha Arafat after the terrorist’s wife had just accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary also played a key role in some of the nastiest fights with Israel that Obama picked during his first term over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. But they also remember that Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000 as if she was a member of one of Likud’s right wing factions and stuck to that line throughout her time in Congress. And, as the Times points out, Clinton understands that there are a lot more votes to be won and cash to be raised by supporting the Jewish state than by bashing it with the J Streeters even in a Democratic Party with a growing anti-Israel faction.

Which is the true Hillary? Their guess is as good as yours. Privately, Hillary may be a J Street fan at heart. But it’s hard to imagine her or her husband/consigliere going to war with AIPAC, which despite the misleading slanders about it is peopled with a huge contingent of ardent pro-Israel Democrats as well as Republicans,

A more astute observation would be to point out that there is no real Hillary position on any issue, only momentary political advantages to be won so context-free predictions about her behavior if she is elected president are a waste of time.

But the real dilemma facing these “liberal Zionists” has nothing to do with American political calculations.

The reason why their views are so out of touch with most Israeli voters in the past few elections is that the latter have been paying attention to the decisions and actions of the Palestinians during the last 20 years of the peace process while the “liberal Zionists” have been studiously ignoring them. Israelis know they have repeatedly offered the Palestinians peace and have been turned down every time. They may not like the settlements or even Prime Minister Netanyahu but outside of the far-left, few think the Palestinians will make peace in the foreseeable future because they haven’t given up their anti-Zionist ideology in which their national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Israel’s existence.

That’s why most American politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, are sympathetic to Israel and want no part of J Street plots to pressure it into making concessions that would endanger the Jewish state’s security while not bringing peace any closer.

Though they lament Israel’s turn to the right, their real problem is with a Palestinian political culture and a Palestinian people that won’t play the role assigned them in the liberal morality play in which the Jewish state can make peace happen by themselves. In other words, their focus on getting Obama or Clinton or somebody else to hammer Israel is pointless since even if the ticket of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni defeat Netanyahu in March, there’s no reason to think the Palestinians will be any more likely to make peace than with the current government.

Just as discouraging for J Street supporters is the fact that they are losing ground among Jewish leftists to less agonized critics of Israel such as Jewish Voices for Peace. JVP has little sympathy for Zionism and enamored the BDS — boycott, divest and sanction — movement that seeks to promote economic warfare against Israel. JVP scorns Israel as a colonial apartheid state. That position has more appeal to some segments of the left where Jewish identity and particularism is also viewed with hostility. Instead of supplanting AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community as they hoped when Obama was elected president, J Street finds itself lacking the clout and support of the mainstream group while being squeezed from the left by open Israel-haters.

In other words, Hillary would be a fool to throw in with a group that is divorced from the political realities of the United States, Israel or the American Jewish community. Though the group and its “liberal Zionist” backers grow more out of touch with the facts on the ground in the Middle East as well as within the Democratic Party they will have to comfort themselves with sympathetic coverage in the Times.

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How Lobbyists Reflect Countries They Support

In certain corridors of Washington, in smug discussions in university faculty lounges, and in the fevered conspiracies of the Middle East and Turkey, much is made of the “Israel lobby.” While broadly speaking, figures such as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, or former diplomat Chas Freeman use the term broadly in order to suggest dual loyalty on the part of those with whom they disagree in the policy debate, more narrowly, the idea of an Israel lobby usually surrounds the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which operates under the slogan, “America’s pro-Israel lobby.”

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In certain corridors of Washington, in smug discussions in university faculty lounges, and in the fevered conspiracies of the Middle East and Turkey, much is made of the “Israel lobby.” While broadly speaking, figures such as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, or former diplomat Chas Freeman use the term broadly in order to suggest dual loyalty on the part of those with whom they disagree in the policy debate, more narrowly, the idea of an Israel lobby usually surrounds the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which operates under the slogan, “America’s pro-Israel lobby.”

But AIPAC is hardly the only lobby in Washington. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the de facto lobby of the Islamic Republic of Iran, works tirelessly to reduce sanctions and alleviate pressure on the Iranian regime. Saudi Arabia and Qatar spread money around and successfully tempt many former ambassadors with lucrative golden parachutes. Turkey supports a multitude of organizations such as the American Turkish Council or the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD).

It is easy to demonize lobbying in Washington, but it is not simply about money: many lobbyists truly believe in the cause they espouse and argue, and they advocate for those causes just the same as a paid member of Greenpeace, the Audubon Society, or the Human Rights Campaign might. If someone believes that a strong U.S.-Israel relationship benefits American national security and reflects American values more than, say, a strong U.S.-Iranian relationship or any U.S. relationship with Hamas or Hezbollah, than it makes sense to support AIPAC. If one would rather see normalized ties between Washington and Tehran, regardless of the Islamic Republic’s ideology and sponsorship of insurgencies and militias, then it makes sense to support a group like NIAC.

What is truly interesting about these foreign-policy lobbies, however, is just how much they have come to reflect the countries with which they seek greater U.S. strategic alignment.

Take AIPAC: At present, its president is Bob Cohen, elected in 2013. Before him, it has had well over a dozen presidents and executive directors, most serving just two or three years before the membership elected a new leader. As such, AIPAC has very much reflected the democratic nature of both the United States and Israel. As in Israel and the United States, its audience actively debates issues—there is seldom an easy consensus in AIPAC circles and contrary to the caricatures put out by some in more fringe circles, AIPAC remains a big tent, with its rank-and-file actually leaning toward the liberal and progressive within the American political context.

NIAC is a different animal entirely. Since its inception more than a decade ago, it has been led by a single leader, Trita Parsi, a dual Swedish-Iranian citizen permanently residing in the United States. NIAC has no regularly scheduled elections and so Parsi seems intent to remain his organization’s leader for life. Indeed, it’s a parallel not lost on Iranian-Americans, who often mock Parsi as the “rahbar,” or supreme leader. NIAC reflects Iranian political culture in other ways as well. While AIPAC tends to ignore criticism or simply argue back, NIAC has responded to criticism with ad hominem attack or by seeking to silence those it dislikes. Hence, it sued an Iranian-American journalist for defamation, a suit it ended up losing after also being sanctioned for seeking to surreptitiously alter its record and for failing to uphold discovery orders.

NIAC also reflects the Islamic Republic’s tendency toward conspiracy theories. The group has been fundraising off a non-existent threat of war with Iran for more than a decade, often aligning with fringe groups like Code Pink, Daily Kos, the Institute for Policy Studies, and WarIsACrime.org in joint letters or actions. While Parsi tones down his public rhetoric, his private writing embraces conspiracies. Hence, his comment “It is not unusual that Israelis run their business under the safety of an American flag.” At a time when it is now agreed that Iran was working on nuclear-weapons components, Parsi sought to defend the regime, answering one person raising concerns regarding Iranian activities, “There is no proof what so ever for Iran’s nuclear ambition. the IAEA just cleared Iran’s nuclear programme for the third time this decade last week. You have been reading too much AIPAC propaganda!” And while both members and leaders of AIPAC take pride in their assimilation into the United States, Parsi denigrates those who leave the Islamic Republic’s interests behind:

Our brothers and sisters did not die for us so we could marry an American and call our child Betty-Sue or Joey, they did not die so we could speak English to our children. WE OWE IRAN OUR LIVES…. There is no substitute for Iran!

The Saudi lobby, of course, like the monarchy itself, likes to operate in the shadows. Whereas AIPAC and NIAC seek to influence ordinary constituents, hence their frequent forums in cities across the country, Saudi lobbyists concentrate on those in the White House and Congress or by seeking to buy the support of prominent universities. Saudi lobbyists would no more hold a public forum in Indianapolis than would Saudi royals hold a public forum in Dhahran: The public is something to be tolerated and imposed upon, but not engaged. Those whose influence Saudi Arabia seeks can expect beneficence beyond their wildest imagination; those who Saudi Arabia deems independent or not useful are ignored.

Turkey may once have been an aspiring democracy, but in recent years, it has become hostile to political pluralism. The Turkish embassy in the United States has moved from representing all of Turkish society to instead substituting as an office for President Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and, according to former Turkish diplomats stationed there, actively maintains a blacklist of those critical of the AKP. Such blacklisting—which has become the norm inside Turkey—extends to the Turkish lobby. Groups like the American Turkish Council understand their access depends on the AKP, and so will seek to limit their interactions to those who embrace the AKP. When they cross the line, they know Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian leaders will have no forgiveness. Hence, former Ambassador James Holmes, after long seeking to cozy up to the AKP and downplay changes inside Turkey, found himself ousted merely for the sin of including articles in a regular news roundup from a newspaper associated with groups disliked by Erdoğan. Such behavior has led to greater fracturing: just as Turkish society has divided along political and religious lines, so too have Turkey’s various lobby and business groups to the point where Turkey has dozens of lobbies, each ineffective, with only the president back in Ankara able to speak on Turkey’s behalf.

In recent years, paranoia about various foreign-policy lobbies has grown. And while pay-to-play is always wrong and should certainly be disclosed, many of the actual lobby groups for various countries do less to whitewash the nature of countries with which they wish the United States to partner, and far more to reflect those countries, whether open or closed, tolerant or intolerant, realistic or conspiratorial.

Lobbying will never go away, but let’s hope that one day all lobbies will be open, transparent, and governed democratically. That would be a sure sign that, finally, principle has triumphed over cash, and democracy really has taken root in the dark corners of the world.

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Why AIPAC Matters and Its Critics Don’t

Critiques of AIPAC that predict the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Congress and the nation are old hat. After the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby smear campaign and the subsequent media offensive seeking to prop up the left-wing J Street alternative, one would have thought the well had run dry in this genre. But the editors at The New Yorker thought otherwise and commissioned Connie Bruck to rehash some of the same tired material about an out-of-touch Jewish establishment in service to an extremist Israeli government in a lengthy new article. But the bad timing of the publication of the piece illustrates exactly why Bruck’s thesis about AIPAC’s loss of influence is wrong.

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Critiques of AIPAC that predict the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Congress and the nation are old hat. After the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby smear campaign and the subsequent media offensive seeking to prop up the left-wing J Street alternative, one would have thought the well had run dry in this genre. But the editors at The New Yorker thought otherwise and commissioned Connie Bruck to rehash some of the same tired material about an out-of-touch Jewish establishment in service to an extremist Israeli government in a lengthy new article. But the bad timing of the publication of the piece illustrates exactly why Bruck’s thesis about AIPAC’s loss of influence is wrong.

The pro-Israel lobby has had its ups and downs and as Bruck’s article, which devotes a great deal of space to the history of the organization, demonstrates. The problems generally occur when Israel’s friends run into confrontations with sitting presidents and those stories always end the same way. Whether it was Ronald Reagan and his decision to sell AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia or Barack Obama’s attempts to head off plans for tough sanctions on Iran, no matter how much support AIPAC can amass on Capitol Hill, no lobbying group can beat the occupant of the mansion at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue if they go all in on a specific issue.

But even an attempt to write a critical history of AIPAC must acknowledge that it has helped forge a U.S.-Israel alliance whose enduring strength transcends party loyalties as well as the changing names of presidents and cabinet secretaries. As Bruck is forced to acknowledge in the lede of her piece, this summer’s congressional action to give Israel more funding for its Iron Dome missile defense system in the midst of the ongoing war in Gaza was a triumph for the lobby. It as also a timely rebuke from the leadership of both congressional caucuses to an Obama administration that had gone out of its way to try and delay the delivery of ammunition supplies to the Israel Defense Forces as part of its strategy to pressure the Jewish state into halting its counterattack on Hamas in Gaza and agreeing to unsatisfactory cease-fire terms. That two bitter foes like Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell who normally couldn’t agree to back a resolution saying the sky was blue would unite on behalf of Israel in this manner, with the Senate agreeing to delay its summer recess in order to get the measure passed, shows that AIPAC’s clout is undiminished. The fact that this is so despite the fact that, for all of its reputation as the most powerful lobby in Washington, AIPAC hasn’t nearly the money or the influence of other lobbies such as that of the oil or pharmaceutical industries only makes their achievement even more amazing.

But Bruck’s main point in a piece where she tries hard to work in quotes from the organization’s critics is not so much as to try and make a weak case about it losing ground on Capitol Hill. Rather it is to claim that AIPAC is out of touch with liberal American Jews who are increasingly distancing themselves from the Jewish state and who view Israel’s center-right government with distaste.

This is the same argument put forward over and over again by people like author Peter Beinart, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, and was rehashed in the same newspaper on Sunday in another lengthy rant by British analyst Antony Lerman. They believe Israel’s refusal to make peace and insistence on occupation and rough treatment of the Palestinians disgusts most liberal Jews in the Diaspora, especially the youth that has grown up in an era in which the Jewish state is seen as a regional superpower rather than as the one small, besieged nation in the midst of Arab enemies determined to destroy it.

But the problem with this argument is that no matter how many times liberal critics of Israel tell us how disillusioned they are with the reality of a Jewish state at war, they invariably neglect, as did Lerman and Bruck, to discuss why it is that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews see things differently. The point is, no matter how unsatisfactory the status quo may seem to most Israelis, unlike their Diaspora critics, they have been paying attention to events in the Middle East during the last 20 years since the Oslo Accords ushered in an era of peace negotiations. They know that Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinian Authority peace deals that would have given them an independent Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and that it has been turned down flat every time.

Rather than Israel needing to finally take risks for peace, as liberal critics keep insisting, the Jewish state has done so repeatedly. It brought Yasir Arafat and the PLO back into the territories and empowered them and rather than trading land for peace, it got the terrorism and horror of the second intifada. It withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005 and instead of creating space for a productive and peaceful Palestinian state, it got a Hamas-run Islamist state that has rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and used international aid funds and materials to build tunnels to facilitate terrorism.

This cruel reality has destroyed the once dominant left-wing Israeli political parties, but American liberals haven’t paid much attention to it or anything the Palestinians do or say. This is especially instructive this summer as Hamas launched a terror war that illustrated even for those not paying close attention that when it says it wants to end the “occupation,” it is not discussing the future of the West Bank but reasserting its goal to eradicate Israel and slaughter and/or evict its Jewish population.

It is true that American Jewry is changing in ways that may eventually cripple its ability to be a coherent force on behalf of Israel as well as its other vital interests. But, contrary to the liberal critics, that has little to do with the policies of Israeli governments and everything to do with statistics about assimilation and intermarriage that speak to a demographic collapse of non-Orthodox Jewry.

That’s a serious problem as is the ongoing tension with an Obama administration whose barely concealed hostility to the Netanyahu government is making mischief on several fronts, including negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran that seems headed toward appeasement of the ayatollahs rather than a fulfillment of the president’s campaign pledges to prevent Tehran from acquiring a weapon.

But it doesn’t point toward the irrelevance of AIPAC, let alone the ascendance of J Street, its left-wing rival that has gained virtually no ground on Capitol Hill or anywhere else during an administration that should have been their ally.

AIPAC counts because it is connected to the reality of a Middle East where Israel remains the sole democracy and a vital American ally while the Palestinians continue to embrace terror and reject peace. So long as that is the case, Congress and the overwhelming majority of the American people will remain firmly on Israel’s side and, by extension, AIPAC. Though we should expect that its critics will continue to carp away on the sidelines and predict its doom, so long as they ignore what the Palestinians do or say, they will remain irrelevant or sink into the same kind of conspiratorial anti-Semitism that sank Walt and Mearsheimer.

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Was Rand Paul Wrong on Aid to the Palestinians? Not Entirely.

Something interesting happened in the Senate this week. Senator Rand Paul is someone who is not generally considered a great friend of Israel because of his knee-jerk isolationism that has led him as well as his far more extreme father to take stands that are antithetical to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But Paul just proposed something most ardent supporters of the Jewish state generally agree with: an aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority to punish it for the decision to ally itself with Hamas terrorists. Yet AIPAC, the group that is synonymous with the pro-Israel community, wouldn’t support the bill.

That led Paul to go on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax.com TV show yesterday to express his dismay at AIPAC in what must be considered an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope. His gibes had to sting, especially since most AIPAC supporters are also deeply critical of the PA. AIPAC wasn’t talking but was clearly pleased when Paul didn’t get unanimous consent to put forward his bill and it died on the Senate floor. However Jennifer Rubin, our former COMMENTARY colleague, didn’t pull any punches in her Washington Post blog denouncing Paul’s gesture as a “phony pro-Israel bill.”

Who’s right in this confused squabble? As difficult as it may be to unravel this tangle, the correct answer is all of them, at least in part. How is that possible? It’s complicated.

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Something interesting happened in the Senate this week. Senator Rand Paul is someone who is not generally considered a great friend of Israel because of his knee-jerk isolationism that has led him as well as his far more extreme father to take stands that are antithetical to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But Paul just proposed something most ardent supporters of the Jewish state generally agree with: an aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority to punish it for the decision to ally itself with Hamas terrorists. Yet AIPAC, the group that is synonymous with the pro-Israel community, wouldn’t support the bill.

That led Paul to go on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax.com TV show yesterday to express his dismay at AIPAC in what must be considered an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope. His gibes had to sting, especially since most AIPAC supporters are also deeply critical of the PA. AIPAC wasn’t talking but was clearly pleased when Paul didn’t get unanimous consent to put forward his bill and it died on the Senate floor. However Jennifer Rubin, our former COMMENTARY colleague, didn’t pull any punches in her Washington Post blog denouncing Paul’s gesture as a “phony pro-Israel bill.”

Who’s right in this confused squabble? As difficult as it may be to unravel this tangle, the correct answer is all of them, at least in part. How is that possible? It’s complicated.

Let’s state upfront that Paul’s objectives here are to:

a. Seize any opportunity to cut any kind of foreign aid, a cost-effective measure that the isolationist from Kentucky opposes in principle and which enables him to pander to the large group of Americans who also dislike the idea of sending money abroad, especially to unsavory types like Abbas; and

b. Pander to pro-Israel Jewish voters and donors in preparation for his expected 2016 run for president.

Whether one considers Paul to be sincere in his professions of friendship for Israel or not, attacking aid to the PA is an easy way to achieve both objectives and distract Americans from the fact that he also opposes the vital aid that Israel gets to maintain its qualitative military edge over its enemies.

Rubin explains the opposition to the cutoff as something that is both reasonable and linked to Israel’s interests. Quoting the insightful Elliott Abrams, she explains that pulling the plug on all U.S. aid to the Palestinians is not something the Netanyahu government wants. Some of the money goes to help fund the PA security forces that cooperate extensively with the Israelis. Without these funds the PA could collapse and leave the Israelis with the messy job of having to administer the territories as well as depriving them of the assistance that the Palestinians provide in keeping a lid on terror in the West Bank.

Thus, while the Israelis have been denouncing the PA in the last week since Abbas announced the deal with Hamas that put a formal end to the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry, they actually don’t want anyone in Washington to act on those complaints, at least with regard to the money that the U.S. funnels to the PA.

That means Paul’s line about AIPAC being derelict in its job is, at best, a cheap shot, and, at worse, a devious attack on a group that rightly suspects that his overtures toward the Jewish state are not to be trusted.

But before we file this incident away as an incomplete forward pass cynically aimed at Jewish voters by Paul, those who care about Israel and the slim hopes for peace need to acknowledge that the isolationist isn’t completely wrong here.

The security cooperation between the two peace partners/antagonists helps the PA as much if not more than Israel because without it Hamas might have toppled Abbas in the West Bank just as it did in Gaza in 2007. But, like it or not, Israel needs the PA to stay afloat even if it is an untrustworthy, hate fomenting foe as much as a partner.

Yet part of the problem with the PA dating back to its beginnings in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords is that it has exploited Israel’s dependence on it as a shield against accountability. Rather than use aid to the PA as leverage to force it to stand up against terror and to stop broadcasting hate and undermining peace, the U.S., often with Israel’s connivance, has given it a pass. It has been all carrot and no stick, a situation that has allowed the PA to become an institution that works hard to stoke the fires of the conflict even as it is insincerely praised as a force for peace. No matter what it does, up to and including forming a new alliance with a group that is dedicated not just to Israel’s elimination but also to genocide, it knows it can be sure that the spigot of U.S. taxpayer money funneling into the pockets of Abbas’s Fatah cronies will never be turned off. Just as Kerry’s initiative failed in large measure because of the administration’s unwillingness to press the Palestinians while they were also mercilessly bashing Israel, so, too, does the aid perpetuate the conflict as much it helps keep the peace.

While it is true the Israelis are no more interested in cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinians than the administration, Paul is right in the sense that unless something is eventually done to scare the PA straight, it will never stop feeding the anti-Zionist hate that fuels the conflict. This is a sentiment that is shared by most supporters of Israel, including AIPAC members. Nor is it surprising that the Zionist Organization of America formally endorsed Paul’s proposal.

So while Paul’s swipe at AIPAC was wrongheaded and has more to do with his ambition than any love for Israel, his critics shouldn’t be so blithe about spiking his proposal. It’s time to start holding the PA accountable for its behavior. What’s too bad is that Paul, of all people, seems to be the only one ready to do so.

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Breaking Up Conference Won’t Help Israel

The day after J Street failed in its bid for admission to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the backlash about the vote is growing. The group that represents the largest denomination of American Jewry, the Union of Reform Judaism, is demanding that the Conference change its one group, one vote policy while also openly threatening to leave the umbrella group. An official of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly is also demanding changes. Meanwhile liberal commentators are blasting the Conference for its 22-17 vote to deny entry the left-wing lobby and making extravagant claims about this vote symbolizing the growing alienation of the Jewish establishment from the wishes of most of those it purports to represent.

Which means that, all things considered, it was a very good day for J Street. As I predicted yesterday before the vote was held, a defeat at the Conference was the best possible outcome for the left-wing organization that came into existence not to fit in and cooperate with existing Jewish groups and coalitions but to blow them up. The negative vote enables J Street and its various left-wing sympathizers to play the victim and boosts their agenda to first delegitimize groups like the Conference and AIPAC and then to replace them.

But while it is understandable that the Reform and Conservative movements would join the lament about J Street’s defeat in order to assuage some of their liberal constituents who support the left-wing lobby, they should be careful about advancing any agenda that could undermine umbrella groups like the Conference. While such organizations can seem at times to be irrelevant to the day-to-day business of American Jewry, they still serve a vital purpose. If the non-Orthodox denominations help J Street destroy them, they will soon learn that not only will it be difficult to replace them but also they and their constituents will not be well served by the politicized chaos that follows.

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The day after J Street failed in its bid for admission to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the backlash about the vote is growing. The group that represents the largest denomination of American Jewry, the Union of Reform Judaism, is demanding that the Conference change its one group, one vote policy while also openly threatening to leave the umbrella group. An official of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly is also demanding changes. Meanwhile liberal commentators are blasting the Conference for its 22-17 vote to deny entry the left-wing lobby and making extravagant claims about this vote symbolizing the growing alienation of the Jewish establishment from the wishes of most of those it purports to represent.

Which means that, all things considered, it was a very good day for J Street. As I predicted yesterday before the vote was held, a defeat at the Conference was the best possible outcome for the left-wing organization that came into existence not to fit in and cooperate with existing Jewish groups and coalitions but to blow them up. The negative vote enables J Street and its various left-wing sympathizers to play the victim and boosts their agenda to first delegitimize groups like the Conference and AIPAC and then to replace them.

But while it is understandable that the Reform and Conservative movements would join the lament about J Street’s defeat in order to assuage some of their liberal constituents who support the left-wing lobby, they should be careful about advancing any agenda that could undermine umbrella groups like the Conference. While such organizations can seem at times to be irrelevant to the day-to-day business of American Jewry, they still serve a vital purpose. If the non-Orthodox denominations help J Street destroy them, they will soon learn that not only will it be difficult to replace them but also they and their constituents will not be well served by the politicized chaos that follows.

Only hours after their defeat J Street was already attempting to make hay from the vote with a fundraising email sent out to their list. It read, in part:

“Thank you, Malcolm Hoenlein and the Conference of Presidents.”

Yesterday’s rejection of our bid to join the Conference validates the reason for J Street: those claiming to speak for the entire Jewish community don’t in fact represent the full diversity of pro-Israel views in our community—or even its prevailing views.

Thus despite J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami’s public expression of disappointment about the vote, the group was clearly prepared all along to exploit a rejection to further their campaign to brand both AIPAC and the Conference as out of touch. J Street came into existence hoping to do just that, but over the course of the last five years failed miserably to do so. Though J Street’s raison d’être was to serve as a Jewish cheerleader for Obama administration pressure on Israel, it has little influence on Capitol Hill and has even, to its dismay, sometimes been repudiated by a president it supports unconditionally. Thus it hopes to use this incident to gain more traction against mainstream groups.

But those, like Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev, who are using this vote to bash pro-Israel groups should be asking themselves why so many members of the Conference which already includes left-wing organizations like Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu would vote against adding one more to their ranks. The reason is that many centrist groups clearly resented J Street’s unwarranted pretensions to speak for American Jewry and to undermine the broad-based AIPAC.

The Conference was created to provide a way for a diverse and cantankerous Jewish community a single structure with which it could deal with the U.S. government. The point was, though its members have often disagreed and true consensus between left and right is often impossible, the Conference still provides Congress and the executive branch an address through which they can reach a broad and diverse coalition of Jewish organizations. Adding one more on the left wouldn’t have changed that but unlike other left-leaning groups, J Street has never had any interest in playing ball with rivals or allies. Its purpose is not to enrich and broaden that consensus but to destroy it. And that was something that groups that had no real ideological fight with J Street rightly feared.

Moreover, the arguments that only groups like J Street can speak to Jewish youth are also easily debunked. Rather than seek to bolster the efforts of pro-Israel groups on American campuses, J Street’s cohorts seem more interested in making common cause with anti-Zionist and pro-BDS groups than in standing together with the courageous Jews who are resisting the boycotters.

But if the Reform and Conservative movements aid J Street in this effort what follows won’t aid their cause. If the formal structures of American Jewry split between those backed by the centrist establishment and the J Street-led left, this won’t advance the cause of Israel or the interests of American Jews. Dividing the Jews in this manner will only serve the cause of those who wish to wage war on Israel’s democratically elected government and to widen the splits between Jerusalem and Washington. That isn’t something that any group that calls itself “pro-Israel” should want. Non-Orthodox Jews who wish to bolster the position of their members in the Jewish state should also be especially wary of anything that will make it harder to make their voices heard in Jerusalem.

Whatever one may think of the Conference or of its decision to play into J Street’s hands with this rejection, the notion that including the left-wing group would strengthen Jewish unity or the community’s outreach to youth is a myth. J Street may have failed miserably in its effort to defeat AIPAC in Washington, but its campaign to trash the pro-Israel consensus and replace it with one that seeks to undermine the Jewish state is still very much alive.

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No “Special Relationship” Bingo at AIPAC

In anticipation of the AIPAC conference, Yair Rosenberg over at Tablet published a mock bingo card, with all the buzzwords and catch phrases in U.S.-Israeli relations. As you sat listening to the speeches, you could mark your card as each speaker proclaimed Israel a “major strategic ally” or intoned that “no deal is better than a bad deal” (with Iran). In the center square of the card sits this couplet: “Special Relationship.” It’s the most hallowed of all ways to describe U.S.-Israeli ties, dating back John F. Kennedy and Golda Meir. Nothing more reassures Israelis than to hear that phrase, which elevates U.S.-Israel relations to a very select club.

In December, I provided the evidence here at Commentary that John Kerry, as secretary of state, has avoided using the phrase “special relationship” to describe ties with Israel, reserving it exclusively for the United Kingdom. I argued that this constituted a subtle demotion of Israel. Was he saving the magic words for AIPAC?

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In anticipation of the AIPAC conference, Yair Rosenberg over at Tablet published a mock bingo card, with all the buzzwords and catch phrases in U.S.-Israeli relations. As you sat listening to the speeches, you could mark your card as each speaker proclaimed Israel a “major strategic ally” or intoned that “no deal is better than a bad deal” (with Iran). In the center square of the card sits this couplet: “Special Relationship.” It’s the most hallowed of all ways to describe U.S.-Israeli ties, dating back John F. Kennedy and Golda Meir. Nothing more reassures Israelis than to hear that phrase, which elevates U.S.-Israel relations to a very select club.

In December, I provided the evidence here at Commentary that John Kerry, as secretary of state, has avoided using the phrase “special relationship” to describe ties with Israel, reserving it exclusively for the United Kingdom. I argued that this constituted a subtle demotion of Israel. Was he saving the magic words for AIPAC?

Obviously not: he didn’t utter them in his AIPAC speech. Sure, there were all sorts of emotive expressions of support for Israel. But “special relationship?” Kerry seems as reluctant to speak the words, as Mahmoud Abbas is loath to utter “Jewish state.”

I wonder whether even one of the 14,000 Israel supporters in the Washington Convention Center noticed the omission, in the flurry of sweet nothings floated by Kerry. But have no doubt: no words can substitute for “special relationship.” That’s why it stands at the very center of the U.S.-Israeli bingo card. Israelis know it, and you can be sure that John Kerry knows it too.

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Netanyahu Doesn’t Take Obama’s Bait

The last time President Obama ambushed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli gave as good as he got. This time he turned the other cheek. The reason for this turnabout by the normally combative prime minister tells us everything we need to know about the relative strength of the positions of these two leaders.

While the assumption on the part of most pundits was that Obama has Netanyahu in a corner, the latter’s reaction to the assault the president launched at him in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg this past weekend shows us this isn’t true. Though Netanyahu had to be infuriated by the president’s single-minded determination to blame Israel for the lack of peace as well as his obtuse praise for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, he felt no need to publicly respond to it. Far from feeling threatened by Obama’s tirade, Netanyahu’s decision to ignore the president’s attack shows that he understands the dynamics of both the peace process and U.S. foreign policy actually give him the upper hand over the weak and increasingly out-of-touch lame duck in the White House.

Obama’s decision to give his faithful admirer Goldberg an interview in which he blasted Israel was odd since it came at a time when the Israelis have shown their willingness to accept Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework for Middle East peace negotiations and the Palestinians have publicly declared the same document to be unacceptable. More than that, the fact that he chose this particular moment to get in another shot at his least favorite foreign leader just when the world was focused on Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and awaiting an American response to this aggression can only be considered bizarre. Not only did this make his attack on Netanyahu seem both petty and personal, it also guaranteed that the international media that might have otherwise have jumped on the story was distracted elsewhere and diminished its impact. But Netanyahu’s seeming dismissal of this broadside shows that Obama is not in as strong a position vis-à-vis Netanyahu as he thinks.

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The last time President Obama ambushed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli gave as good as he got. This time he turned the other cheek. The reason for this turnabout by the normally combative prime minister tells us everything we need to know about the relative strength of the positions of these two leaders.

While the assumption on the part of most pundits was that Obama has Netanyahu in a corner, the latter’s reaction to the assault the president launched at him in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg this past weekend shows us this isn’t true. Though Netanyahu had to be infuriated by the president’s single-minded determination to blame Israel for the lack of peace as well as his obtuse praise for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, he felt no need to publicly respond to it. Far from feeling threatened by Obama’s tirade, Netanyahu’s decision to ignore the president’s attack shows that he understands the dynamics of both the peace process and U.S. foreign policy actually give him the upper hand over the weak and increasingly out-of-touch lame duck in the White House.

Obama’s decision to give his faithful admirer Goldberg an interview in which he blasted Israel was odd since it came at a time when the Israelis have shown their willingness to accept Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework for Middle East peace negotiations and the Palestinians have publicly declared the same document to be unacceptable. More than that, the fact that he chose this particular moment to get in another shot at his least favorite foreign leader just when the world was focused on Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and awaiting an American response to this aggression can only be considered bizarre. Not only did this make his attack on Netanyahu seem both petty and personal, it also guaranteed that the international media that might have otherwise have jumped on the story was distracted elsewhere and diminished its impact. But Netanyahu’s seeming dismissal of this broadside shows that Obama is not in as strong a position vis-à-vis Netanyahu as he thinks.

Back in May 2011, Obama chose to give a speech attacking Israel’s stand on the peace process and demanding that it accept the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations just as before Netanyahu arrived in Washington. Obama had picked fights with Israel in 2009 and 2010 over Jerusalem and settlements but this was a direct attack on the prime minister. Netanyahu’s response was just as direct. When he met with Obama in the White House, he launched into a lengthy lecture to the president about Israeli security that made it clear to the president that he would not take the insult lying down. Netanyahu doubled down on that the next day when he received more cheers while addressing a joint meeting of Congress than the president had ever gotten.

But this time, Netanyahu chose to ignore the president’s slights. There were no public or even off-the-record remarks from his party expressing anger. And in his speech to AIPAC today, Netanyahu barely mentioned the president.

Though Israel has been squabbling with the U.S. over the direction of the Iran nuclear talks, Netanyahu broke no new ground on the issue in his speech. He restated his concerns about Tehran continuing uranium enrichment during the nuclear talks. But he did not allude to the fact that the U.S. was letting this happen. While he repeated his vow to do anything necessary to defend Israeli security — a veiled threat to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities — he kept his disagreements to a minimum and emphasized the joint concerns of the U.S. and Israel.

With regard to the topic on which Obama had been most critical — the peace process with the Palestinians — there was also no allusion to disagreement with Washington. To the contrary, Netanyahu spoke more about his desire for peace; his willingness to continue engaging in talks with the Palestinians and the advantages that peace would bring to Israel and the entire Middle East. Far from harping on the points where he and Obama disagree about the terms of a theoretical agreement, Netanyahu emphasized a key point where the U.S. had accepted Israel’s position: the need for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, thus signaling their willingness to end the conflict rather than merely pausing it.

While Netanyahu went on to denounce the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement against as both immoral and anti-Semitic, the key here was a disinclination to use his speech to engage in a tit-for-tat battle with the administration. Why was that?

Some Obama loyalists may claim that this shows that Netanyahu got the message from the president. It’s likely that Israel’s future participation in Kerry’s talks will be cited by some in this group as evidence that Obama’s spanking of the prime minister worked. But this is nonsense. Given that Israel had already signaled that it will accept Kerry’s framework for more talks, that explanation won’t hold water.

A better reason for Netanyahu’s decision to turn the other cheek is that, unlike the president, the prime minister has been paying attention to the currents currently roiling Palestinian politics and knows that Abbas’ inability to rally his people behind a peace agreement renders any potential U.S.-Israeli arguments moot.

It should be remembered that the net results of the 2011 dustup between the two men was pointless. Despite Obama’s best efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, Abbas still wouldn’t budge enough to even negotiate, let alone agree to peace terms. The same dynamic is unfolding today with Israel reportedly offering massive territorial withdrawals of up to 90 percent of the West Bank in the secret talks with the PA while the Palestinians are still tying themselves up in knots explaining why they can’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state or give up the right of return.

Far from needing to defend himself on the American stage as he felt it important to do in 2011, Netanyahu now understands that forbearance is the best way to respond to Obama’s provocations. Try as he might to put the onus for the lack of peace on the Jewish state, Netanyahu knows it will always be the Palestinians who say “no” to peace, not the Israelis.

Similarly, as much as he must have been itching to directly take on Obama’s appeasement of Tehran, Netanyahu realizes that it is Iran’s lust for a nuclear weapon that will do more to undermine the administration’s negotiating tactics than anything he can say.

By eschewing any desire to pressure the Palestinians to make peace, the president more or less guaranteed that Kerry must ultimately fail. And by knuckling under the Iranians in the interim agreement signed by Kerry last November, President Obama has also embarked on a path that cannot lead him to the achievement of his stated goals in the current round of talks.

Though Obama’s attacks did real damage to Israel’s position, the prime minister is right to refuse to take the bait. Netanyahu cannot have failed to see that, far from offering him the opportunity to effectively pressure the Israelis, the president is floundering in his second term especially on foreign policy. The most effective answer to Obama’s taunts is patience since events will soon overtake the president’s positions on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts, as well as in other debacles around the globe that have popped up because of Obama’s weak leadership. Though the disparity in the relative power of their positions inevitably means Netanyahu must worry about Obama’s barbs, the bottom line here is that it is the president and not the prime minister who is in big trouble.

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AIPAC Will Survive While Obama Fails

With over 10,000 pro-Israel activists in Washington this week for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and members of both parties lining up as usual to demonstrate their support for the organization and its cause it may seem odd that so many pundits are prepared to bury the group. But given the Obama administration’s recent successful effort to derail Congressional action on Iran sanctions and the president’s own extraordinary attack on the government of the Jewish state this weekend in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, these are hard times for supporters of the umbrella pro-Israel lobby. Indeed, the collapse of the sanctions campaign combined with what our John Podhoretz correctly described as Obama’s threats against the Jewish state delivered in a pre-AIPAC ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu—who was on his way to Washington to meet with the president and speak at the conference—the power of the lobby seems to have been revealed to be a myth.

As Lee Smith writes today in Tablet magazine, AIPAC’s reliance on the bipartisan coalition it has forged in support of the U.S.-Israel alliance has rendered it unable to punish those who cross it. Smith writes persuasively that President Obama has effectively checkmated AIPAC with a series of moves that demonstrated he couldn’t be constrained by its stands on either the Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Iran nuclear threat. Judged by that standard, he’s right to claim the group “flopped” on Iran sanctions this year. Given that the prospects of AIPAC mobilizing sufficient Democratic support in the Senate for a revived effort to pass a new sanctions bill in the face of Obama’s veto threats are poor, it’s hard to argue with Smith’s belief that the group has been isolated and its power exposed as more a figment of the overheated imaginations of anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers than reality.

But before we join Smith’s musings about AIPAC having to do “some hard thinking about its survival,” some perspective is needed. As bad as things look for the pro-Israel community today, the lobby’s business is in taking the long view of both Washington politics and the Middle East. President Obama may have gotten the upper hand over both AIPAC and Netanyahu in recent months, but any assumption that this situation is permanent rests on the idea that the administration’s diplomatic efforts on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts will not falter or that these failures can be blamed on Israel and its supporters. As with the fights Obama has picked with Israel earlier in his administration, events have a way of eclipsing his temper tantrums. While it may be entirely in character for the president to choose the weekend when AIPAC is convening and Russia is invading the Ukraine to be issuing ultimatums to Israel, the collapse of U.S. influence abroad due to Obama’s weakness and delusions will make his victory over the lobby a short-lived triumph.

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With over 10,000 pro-Israel activists in Washington this week for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and members of both parties lining up as usual to demonstrate their support for the organization and its cause it may seem odd that so many pundits are prepared to bury the group. But given the Obama administration’s recent successful effort to derail Congressional action on Iran sanctions and the president’s own extraordinary attack on the government of the Jewish state this weekend in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, these are hard times for supporters of the umbrella pro-Israel lobby. Indeed, the collapse of the sanctions campaign combined with what our John Podhoretz correctly described as Obama’s threats against the Jewish state delivered in a pre-AIPAC ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu—who was on his way to Washington to meet with the president and speak at the conference—the power of the lobby seems to have been revealed to be a myth.

As Lee Smith writes today in Tablet magazine, AIPAC’s reliance on the bipartisan coalition it has forged in support of the U.S.-Israel alliance has rendered it unable to punish those who cross it. Smith writes persuasively that President Obama has effectively checkmated AIPAC with a series of moves that demonstrated he couldn’t be constrained by its stands on either the Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Iran nuclear threat. Judged by that standard, he’s right to claim the group “flopped” on Iran sanctions this year. Given that the prospects of AIPAC mobilizing sufficient Democratic support in the Senate for a revived effort to pass a new sanctions bill in the face of Obama’s veto threats are poor, it’s hard to argue with Smith’s belief that the group has been isolated and its power exposed as more a figment of the overheated imaginations of anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers than reality.

But before we join Smith’s musings about AIPAC having to do “some hard thinking about its survival,” some perspective is needed. As bad as things look for the pro-Israel community today, the lobby’s business is in taking the long view of both Washington politics and the Middle East. President Obama may have gotten the upper hand over both AIPAC and Netanyahu in recent months, but any assumption that this situation is permanent rests on the idea that the administration’s diplomatic efforts on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts will not falter or that these failures can be blamed on Israel and its supporters. As with the fights Obama has picked with Israel earlier in his administration, events have a way of eclipsing his temper tantrums. While it may be entirely in character for the president to choose the weekend when AIPAC is convening and Russia is invading the Ukraine to be issuing ultimatums to Israel, the collapse of U.S. influence abroad due to Obama’s weakness and delusions will make his victory over the lobby a short-lived triumph.

Smith is right to claim that AIPAC was thoroughly outmaneuvered by the administration in the last year. The group’s failure to oppose the nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense was seen as a sign of weakness by the re-elected president. Smith believes AIPAC was set up by the administration when it agreed to lobby on behalf of the president’s efforts to get Congress to authorize the use of force in Syria. The writer believes Obama was never serious about striking the Assad regime in defense of the “red line” he enunciated about the use of chemical weapons and that the administration’s humiliating retreat from those threats was designed to strengthen its ties with Assad’s Iranian ally and to make AIPAC look foolish. That may be giving the president a little too much credit since Obama’s humiliation at the hands of the Russians and Congressional critics was far greater than any experienced by AIPAC. But Smith is correct that the episode damaged the lobby.

There’s also no arguing with the verdict that AIPAC was undone in the campaign for new Iran sanctions by its reliance on support from both sides of the aisle. There was never any chance that the group would be able to muscle sanctions through a Democratic-controlled Senate once the president issued a veto threat and falsely framed the debate as one between supporters of diplomacy and those who want war.  Nor can AIPAC seek to punish Democrats who have cowardly retreated in the face of pressure from the White House. Combined with the president’s bizarre attack on Israel and his almost total mischaracterization of the Palestinian position on the peace talks, there’s no disputing that this administration has defied supporters of Israel on their two most important issues and there’s nothing they can do about it at the moment.

But that doesn’t mean that AIPAC has failed or that the president now has carte blanche to force Israel to give in to his demands or to negotiate a deal with Iran that falls short of his promises to halt their nuclear drive.

The problem for this administration today when dealing with Israel and AIPAC is the same as it was in the president’s first term. He can engage in spats with Israel and its supporters as often as he likes and even sometimes gain a tactical advantage over them. But the bottom line in these disputes remains the unwillingness of either the Palestinians or the Iranians to behave in a manner that is compatible with Obama’s delusional view of the world.

Just as Obama’s attacks on Netanyahu on settlements, Jerusalem and the 1967 borders were rendered meaningless by the Palestinians refusal to negotiate, his latest tirade at the prime minister’s expense will also be overshadowed by Mahmoud Abbas’s inability to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or to sign a deal that will give up the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Israel will, as Netanyahu and his predecessors have proved, take risks for peace but the Palestinians will always say no because they remain mired in a culture of rejectionism that is at the core of their national identity.

Similarly, the president’s ability to hold off sanctions won’t mean much if the Iranians don’t do his biding in the P5+1 talks. The idea that he can go on negotiating and keep Congress from passing new sanctions indefinitely while the Iranians continue pushing towards a bomb is a misreading of the situation.

The bottom line is that 12 months from now, the president’s threats to Israel will be mere footnotes in the history of Kerry’s failed initiative and not even Obama will be able to persuade Congress or the American people that this entirely predictable result and any resulting violence in its aftermath was the fault of Israel rather than his hubristic secretary of state and Abbas. Nor will be able to pretend that his “moderate” Iranian interlocutors wish to embrace engagement after they spend the next year playing their usual delaying game that will bring them that much closer to their nuclear ambition that imperils both the U.S. and Israel.

But a year from now AIPAC will still be a strong voice in Washington for the U.S.-Israel alliance and it will have retained allies in the Democratic Party that will enable it to push for sanctions once the Iranians finish duping Obama. That is cold comfort for those who rightly worry about the damage the president is doing to U.S. interests now. But by playing the long game, AIPAC will survive to live to fight and win another day. Rather than worrying about the lobby’s survival, analysts would do better to ponder whether the president’s string of foreign policy disasters is hastening the moment when his lame duck status will make any further insults hurled by him at Israel and AIPAC pointless.

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The Shelved Iran Report and Diplomacy

With the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference starting this weekend in Washington, the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat is back in the headlines. But, as the AIPAC activists know all too well, in their efforts to mobilize Congress to support increased sanctions on Iran the administration has effectively checkmated them on the issue by claiming the measure would derail diplomacy. Opponents of sanctions have falsely sought to frame the issue as being a choice between war and diplomacy even though the new sanctions, which would not go into effect until after the current negotiations with Iran are seen to have failed, would clearly strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks. But the problem with treating the diplomatic process as sacrosanct is that in doing so, the truth about the nature of the threat may be sacrificed without the West getting any closer to its goal of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.

That dilemma was illustrated this week when it was revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency had shelved a new report about Iran’s nuclear project because it was felt its publication would harm the diplomatic process. Sources told Reuters that the report would have been a wider review of the Iranian program including crucial analysis of Tehran’s military research. But the IAEA, whose reports over the last few years have raised awareness of the nuclear threat, ultimately decided that putting out more information about the topic now would, like the sanctions being debated in Washington, harm diplomacy.

After the Reuters report was published, Israel called on the IAEA to release the report. In response, the agency claimed today that it doesn’t exist. But all that tells us is that the decision to spike the report took place before it was formally prepared. The bottom line remains the same. Whatever new information the IAEA has obtained about military dimensions of Iran’s program is not going to be published because the more the Western public knows about the subject the less likely they are to give diplomats the leeway they need to craft a nuclear deal that will fall short of their stated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

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With the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference starting this weekend in Washington, the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat is back in the headlines. But, as the AIPAC activists know all too well, in their efforts to mobilize Congress to support increased sanctions on Iran the administration has effectively checkmated them on the issue by claiming the measure would derail diplomacy. Opponents of sanctions have falsely sought to frame the issue as being a choice between war and diplomacy even though the new sanctions, which would not go into effect until after the current negotiations with Iran are seen to have failed, would clearly strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks. But the problem with treating the diplomatic process as sacrosanct is that in doing so, the truth about the nature of the threat may be sacrificed without the West getting any closer to its goal of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.

That dilemma was illustrated this week when it was revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency had shelved a new report about Iran’s nuclear project because it was felt its publication would harm the diplomatic process. Sources told Reuters that the report would have been a wider review of the Iranian program including crucial analysis of Tehran’s military research. But the IAEA, whose reports over the last few years have raised awareness of the nuclear threat, ultimately decided that putting out more information about the topic now would, like the sanctions being debated in Washington, harm diplomacy.

After the Reuters report was published, Israel called on the IAEA to release the report. In response, the agency claimed today that it doesn’t exist. But all that tells us is that the decision to spike the report took place before it was formally prepared. The bottom line remains the same. Whatever new information the IAEA has obtained about military dimensions of Iran’s program is not going to be published because the more the Western public knows about the subject the less likely they are to give diplomats the leeway they need to craft a nuclear deal that will fall short of their stated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We don’t know what a new IAEA report on Iran would have said. Given that the interim nuclear deal signed by the U.S. in November did not provide for inspections of Iranian facilities where military research is being conducted, it may be that the agency has not learned of any breakthroughs or further evidence of Iran’s clear intent to build a bomb. But past IAEA reports have served an important purpose in clarifying the danger involved in letting Tehran continue to use diplomacy to run out the clock until they reach their nuclear goal. But whether the IAEA acted on its own or if it succumbed to pressure, the effect is the same. The Obama administration and its P5+1 partners understand that the more information is released about the ongoing Iranian efforts to circumvent the diplomatic process, the harder it is to silence criticism of their tactics or to prevent Congress from seeking to put more sanctions in place.

There is no disagreement between the administration and its critics about whether a diplomatic solution is the best way to resolve this issue. No one wants the U.S. to be forced into a position where its only choice really is between the use of force and accepting a situation in which Iran becomes a nuclear power. But the suppression of the free flow of information about the nature of that threat raises suspicions that what is going on now is more about preserving diplomacy for its own sake than anything else.

By agreeing to negotiations that tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and loosened existing sanctions, the administration has allowed Tehran to believe that it will never have to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. Having triumphed in the interim talks, it is little surprise that Iran’s leaders believe they will achieve their nuclear goal either through diplomacy or by stalling the process until the point where their bomb is a fait accompli. It is to be hoped that the administration means what it says about preventing an Iranian bomb. But the more President Obama seeks to suppress the truth about the Iranian threat and to silence debate about sanctions, the harder it is to believe that he will keep his promises. The goal must be to make it impossible for the Islamist regime to build a bomb, not detente. A diplomatic process that aims for anything less than that is not worth the effort or the sacrifices of the truth required for keeping it alive.

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Free Speech and the Left’s War on AIPAC

The failure of the Senate to pass a bill authorizing additional sanctions on Iran if the current nuclear negotiations fail has emboldened some critics of the pro-Israel community. The inability of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to ensure the bill’s passage despite the support of a bipartisan coalition of 59 members of the U.S. Senate has some of the lobby’s detractors smelling blood even though it was unfair to expect it to prevail in the face of President Obama’s veto threats. Author and columnist Peter Beinart called last month for the administration to boycott the group’s annual conference next month and when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio offended his liberal fan base by endorsing the group, the writer was among a host of left-wing celebrities who signed a joint letter warning the mayor that he risked their ire by aligning himself with AIPAC. That letter set off a controversy since two of those who joined with Beinart to denounce AIPAC were prominent Manhattan Rabbis Rolondo Matalon and Felicia Sol. When some of their congregants at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun expressed their outrage at having their house of worship implicated in a scurrilous attack on AIPAC, Beinart, who mocked their support of Israeli democracy, in turn denounced them. Now Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former leader of the American Reform movement, has weighed in on the issue in an honorable attempt to try and put this matter in perspective in a Haaretz column and I believe his thoughtful article deserves a response.

According to Yoffie, both sides are well within their rights in this dispute. The rabbis were expressing a legitimate point of view and so were their congregants. While he sides with those who defend AIPAC, he took issue with my assertion that the claim that rabbis who wish to criticize Israel live in fear for their livelihoods is something of a myth. Yoffie believes such pressures exist and should be resisted. He wants all sides of the debate about Israel and AIPAC to speak up candidly for the sake of building a vibrant community where no one should fear to speak up. To a large extent I agree with that formulation. But the problem with the anti-AIPAC campaign as well as much of the efforts on the left to pressure or boycott Israel is that it is, at its heart, an attempt not to promote democratic discussion but to essentially disenfranchise Israeli voters and silence their American friends. That is why I must dispute Rabbi Yoffie’s effort to assign equal virtue to the positions of Beinart and the rabbis as well as to their critics.

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The failure of the Senate to pass a bill authorizing additional sanctions on Iran if the current nuclear negotiations fail has emboldened some critics of the pro-Israel community. The inability of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to ensure the bill’s passage despite the support of a bipartisan coalition of 59 members of the U.S. Senate has some of the lobby’s detractors smelling blood even though it was unfair to expect it to prevail in the face of President Obama’s veto threats. Author and columnist Peter Beinart called last month for the administration to boycott the group’s annual conference next month and when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio offended his liberal fan base by endorsing the group, the writer was among a host of left-wing celebrities who signed a joint letter warning the mayor that he risked their ire by aligning himself with AIPAC. That letter set off a controversy since two of those who joined with Beinart to denounce AIPAC were prominent Manhattan Rabbis Rolondo Matalon and Felicia Sol. When some of their congregants at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun expressed their outrage at having their house of worship implicated in a scurrilous attack on AIPAC, Beinart, who mocked their support of Israeli democracy, in turn denounced them. Now Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former leader of the American Reform movement, has weighed in on the issue in an honorable attempt to try and put this matter in perspective in a Haaretz column and I believe his thoughtful article deserves a response.

According to Yoffie, both sides are well within their rights in this dispute. The rabbis were expressing a legitimate point of view and so were their congregants. While he sides with those who defend AIPAC, he took issue with my assertion that the claim that rabbis who wish to criticize Israel live in fear for their livelihoods is something of a myth. Yoffie believes such pressures exist and should be resisted. He wants all sides of the debate about Israel and AIPAC to speak up candidly for the sake of building a vibrant community where no one should fear to speak up. To a large extent I agree with that formulation. But the problem with the anti-AIPAC campaign as well as much of the efforts on the left to pressure or boycott Israel is that it is, at its heart, an attempt not to promote democratic discussion but to essentially disenfranchise Israeli voters and silence their American friends. That is why I must dispute Rabbi Yoffie’s effort to assign equal virtue to the positions of Beinart and the rabbis as well as to their critics.

Rabbi Yoffie is right that some liberal rabbis who criticize Israel may worry about offending some of their congregants as do others who are, as he notes, pressured from the left to disassociate themselves from the Jewish state. But my point was not to deny that such rabbis have their critics but to point out that efforts to restrain them are almost universally ineffective, as the continued tenure of the B’nai Jeshurun rabbis illustrates. Moreover, my point was not merely about the way rabbis use their pulpits to undermine Israel but to highlight the fact that, contrary to the myth promoted by the left, such figures, be they clerics or not, are generally richly rewarded by the praise of the secular mainstream media. For a Jew to speak out against Israel and/or AIPAC is to invite praise from a liberal media that is always eager to lionize such critics and to falsely portray them as courageous.

It should also be pointed out that the anti-AIPAC letter signed by Matalon, Sol, and Beinart was not about promoting diversity of views or a debate about the peace process so much as it was an attempt to shun and delegitimize AIPAC and its supporters. Though Rabbi Yoffie believes the signers crossed no “red lines” of offensive conduct, I would insist that by seeking to demonize AIPAC, those letter-writers were reinforcing the offensive and bigoted stereotype about the pro-Israel lobby promoted by those who see it as a conspiratorial group that doesn’t really speak for Jews and manipulates U.S. policy against American interests. No one is saying that AIPAC’s critics don’t have a right to voice their differences with the group, but what they want is not so much to debate it as to destroy it. Much as one would wish to bridge such differences, this is one argument where both sides are not right. One must either defend the right of the pro-Israel community to speak out on behalf of the democratically-elected government of the Jewish state as the BJ congregants have done or one joins with those who wish to isolate and pressure it, whether to save it from itself as Beinart thinks or to destroy it as the open anti-Zionists who signed the anti-AIPAC letter seem to want.

What is at stake here is not a right to speak up against Israel and AIPAC but the ability of the pro-Israel community to survive an all-out attack designed to silence it. As Rabbi Yoffie eloquently states:

I don’t agree with AIPAC on everything, but I agree with them most of the time; and the harsh dismissal of AIPAC by the signatories to the letter troubles me greatly. A Washington without AIPAC would not mean an Israel at peace; it would mean an Israel isolated and vulnerable, lacking the anchor that AIPAC has long provided and without which peace would be impossible.

Freedom of speech is not an issue in a community where dissent against Israel is widespread and generally rewarded with praise while supporters are often dismissed as stooges or hypocrites. Those who would destroy what Yoffie rightly called “Israel’s safety net” are not going to be silenced, but they should be held accountable.

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The Attack on Israeli Democracy and AIPAC

One of the most disgraceful conceits of American Jewish life is the pose of martyrdom adopted by critics of Israel. American Jews who publicly berate Israel’s government and those Americans who support the Jewish state never stop telling us that what they are doing is courageous. They claim the Jewish establishment seeks to silence them all the while freely shouting their message from the rooftops to the applause of the mainstream media. To disassociate oneself from Israel is a guarantee of a platform for your views on the op-ed pages of major newspapers like the New York Times if not a lucrative book contract. But if you dare to call out such persons, watch out. You stand a fair chance of being demonized or shunned by the chattering classes.

That’s the lesson to be learned from an exchange centering on the conduct of the rabbis at Manhattan’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. As I wrote on Monday, Rabbis Rolondo Matalon and Felicia Sol joined with other fashionable New York liberals last week to denounce New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his support for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The prominent letter writers were outraged at the ultra-liberal mayor’s willingness to embrace the umbrella pro-Israel group that they maliciously and falsely denounced as a right-wing group that does not speak for American Jews. This was too much for a group of BJ congregants who wrote a letter to their rabbis to express their pain at the spectacle of their synagogue’s spiritual leaders aligning themselves against an organization whose sole mission is to support the democratically-elected government of Israel. For their pains, the group was subjected to a scathing denunciation in today’s Haaretz by writer Peter Beinart, who was himself one of the signatories along with Matalon and Sol, of the letter to de Blasio.

Beinart’s diatribe against the BJ congregants is interesting for two reasons. One, it shows again that while blasting Israel and AIPAC wins you praise in the media, speaking up against such slanders can earn you the sort of opprobrium that can make you very unpopular, especially on New York’s Upper West Side. But just as important was the argument Beinart made. He claimed the congregants were employing Orwellian language when they said it was appropriate for American Jews to back the verdict of Israeli voters. As far as Beinart is concerned the fact that the West Bank is not a democracy renders that argument false. To speak of support for Israeli democracy is therefore in Beinart’s view emblematic of a culture of dishonesty and “euphemism” on which the pro-Israel lobby is built.

But in this case it is Beinart who is playing Orwellian tricks with language. In doing so, this self-proclaimed Zionist is not only seeking to delegitimize the majority of Israelis who have ignored his advice about what to do about the West Bank but also willfully misrepresents the nature of the conflict.

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One of the most disgraceful conceits of American Jewish life is the pose of martyrdom adopted by critics of Israel. American Jews who publicly berate Israel’s government and those Americans who support the Jewish state never stop telling us that what they are doing is courageous. They claim the Jewish establishment seeks to silence them all the while freely shouting their message from the rooftops to the applause of the mainstream media. To disassociate oneself from Israel is a guarantee of a platform for your views on the op-ed pages of major newspapers like the New York Times if not a lucrative book contract. But if you dare to call out such persons, watch out. You stand a fair chance of being demonized or shunned by the chattering classes.

That’s the lesson to be learned from an exchange centering on the conduct of the rabbis at Manhattan’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. As I wrote on Monday, Rabbis Rolondo Matalon and Felicia Sol joined with other fashionable New York liberals last week to denounce New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his support for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The prominent letter writers were outraged at the ultra-liberal mayor’s willingness to embrace the umbrella pro-Israel group that they maliciously and falsely denounced as a right-wing group that does not speak for American Jews. This was too much for a group of BJ congregants who wrote a letter to their rabbis to express their pain at the spectacle of their synagogue’s spiritual leaders aligning themselves against an organization whose sole mission is to support the democratically-elected government of Israel. For their pains, the group was subjected to a scathing denunciation in today’s Haaretz by writer Peter Beinart, who was himself one of the signatories along with Matalon and Sol, of the letter to de Blasio.

Beinart’s diatribe against the BJ congregants is interesting for two reasons. One, it shows again that while blasting Israel and AIPAC wins you praise in the media, speaking up against such slanders can earn you the sort of opprobrium that can make you very unpopular, especially on New York’s Upper West Side. But just as important was the argument Beinart made. He claimed the congregants were employing Orwellian language when they said it was appropriate for American Jews to back the verdict of Israeli voters. As far as Beinart is concerned the fact that the West Bank is not a democracy renders that argument false. To speak of support for Israeli democracy is therefore in Beinart’s view emblematic of a culture of dishonesty and “euphemism” on which the pro-Israel lobby is built.

But in this case it is Beinart who is playing Orwellian tricks with language. In doing so, this self-proclaimed Zionist is not only seeking to delegitimize the majority of Israelis who have ignored his advice about what to do about the West Bank but also willfully misrepresents the nature of the conflict.

AIPAC’s position and that of the overwhelming majority of the American people is that Israel’s people have the right to govern themselves and not have solutions to the conflict with the Palestinians imposed on them from the outside. But in Beinart’s twisted reasoning, backing the verdict of the overwhelming majority of Israeli voters who elected the current government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu—and gave parties that share Beinart’s views only a small percentage of their votes—is somehow anti-democratic. Since Israelis believe they have no choice but to stay in the West Bank until the Palestinians are ready to make peace, Beinart has adopted the ludicrous and hypocritical position that they have no claim on the word democracy.

Attempts to create a Palestinian democracy faltered in the last decade. Gaza fell under the despotic rule of Hamas. In the West Bank, Israel’s supposed peace partner Fatah has as little interest in liberty as their Islamic rivals. Current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected. None of this is Israel’s fault. Israel would welcome the creation of a real democracy as opposed to an Islamist dictatorship or a Fatah kleptocracy posing as one. But, as Beinart knows, that isn’t in the cards, whether or not Israel withdraws from the West Bank.

More to the point, three times in the last generation Israel has offered to withdraw from almost all of the West Bank and even a share of Jerusalem in order to create a Palestinian state. Three times they were turned down because Yasir Arafat and his successor Abbas could not bring themselves to sign a treaty that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn or to renounce the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Even the supposed “right-wing government” that Beinart and his fellow letter-writers so despise is now negotiating with the PA and has reportedly expressed its willingness to withdraw from 90 percent of the West Bank and make territorial swaps to create a Palestinian state. No one, except perhaps Secretary of State John Kerry, expects the Palestinian response to be positive. If Israeli voters have rejected Beinart’s pleas to withdraw from the West Bank regardless of the dangers, it is because they have been paying attention to the events of the last 20 years during which the Jewish state has continually sought to trade land for peace and received only terror in return.

The point here is not so much that Beinart is out of touch with both Israeli opinion and the reality of Palestinian intransigence, but that in order to justify his stand he is willing to trash the idea that Israeli democracy matters. The position of AIPAC is not that it seeks to justify perpetual Israeli rule in all of the West Bank. It is one of support for the right of Israel’s democratic government to wait until the Palestinians are ready to make a genuine peace before risking a repeat of what happened in Gaza when the Jewish state withdrew every settlement and soldier.

Rather than Israel’s defenders engaging in dishonesty, it is Beinart and his colleagues who have twisted the truth in this debate. The question in the Middle East is not whether Israel will let the West Bank become a democracy but whether the one true democracy in the region—Israel—will continue to exist. AIPAC and its supporters stand with the people of Israel in their efforts to defend their country. Those like Beinart, the BJ rabbis, and the assorted anti-Zionists who joined with them to denounce de Blasio have placed themselves in opposition not so much to AIPAC but the people of Israel and echoed the arguments of those in the BDS movement that wage economic war on the Jewish state. If they wish to truly renew and cleanse Jewish life as they claim, they should look in the mirror before casting aspersions on either Israel or its defenders.

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Iran and the Limits of AIPAC’s Power

Supporters of Israel are frustrated. Despite the bipartisan endorsement of 59 members of the U.S. Senate, the effort to enact a new round of tougher sanctions against Iran has stalled. President Obama’s opposition to a measure that would only go into effect after it had been determined that the current negotiations with Iran had failed has effectively spiked the bill. The administration’s misleading effort to portray more sanctions as the moral equivalent of a declaration of war on Iran was enough to stiffen opponents and to spook many of the bill’s Democratic supporters. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid determined not to allow a vote and with prominent pro-Israel Democrats like New York’s Chuck Schumer not wishing to go toe-to-toe with the White House on the issue, the bill is stuck in limbo.

That has angered Republicans as well as pro-Israel activists who are still determined to keep the issue alive and left some of them looking to assess blame for the bill’s failure. The principal target of those recriminations appears to be the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As Eli Lake reports in the Daily Beast today, AIPAC is being blamed for its decision to pull back on advocacy for sanctions earlier this month after it realized the bill could no longer count on bipartisan support. Lake describes the lobby’s on-again, off-again campaign for sanctions as a botched job that has disappointed both Republicans and the Israeli government.

But while it’s clear this episode is far from being AIPAC’s finest moment, any effort to pin the blame on the group is mistaken. Whatever mistakes AIPAC may have made in the last few months, once President Obama decided to go all-out to stop the sanctions bill, the issue was decided. Nothing AIPAC could do or say was going to convince Democrats to stand up to a president that claimed opposition to his position was advocacy of war. Scapegoating AIPAC in this manner not only fails to take into account the limits of even the vaunted lobby’s power but also is a misreading of how the group operates.

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Supporters of Israel are frustrated. Despite the bipartisan endorsement of 59 members of the U.S. Senate, the effort to enact a new round of tougher sanctions against Iran has stalled. President Obama’s opposition to a measure that would only go into effect after it had been determined that the current negotiations with Iran had failed has effectively spiked the bill. The administration’s misleading effort to portray more sanctions as the moral equivalent of a declaration of war on Iran was enough to stiffen opponents and to spook many of the bill’s Democratic supporters. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid determined not to allow a vote and with prominent pro-Israel Democrats like New York’s Chuck Schumer not wishing to go toe-to-toe with the White House on the issue, the bill is stuck in limbo.

That has angered Republicans as well as pro-Israel activists who are still determined to keep the issue alive and left some of them looking to assess blame for the bill’s failure. The principal target of those recriminations appears to be the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As Eli Lake reports in the Daily Beast today, AIPAC is being blamed for its decision to pull back on advocacy for sanctions earlier this month after it realized the bill could no longer count on bipartisan support. Lake describes the lobby’s on-again, off-again campaign for sanctions as a botched job that has disappointed both Republicans and the Israeli government.

But while it’s clear this episode is far from being AIPAC’s finest moment, any effort to pin the blame on the group is mistaken. Whatever mistakes AIPAC may have made in the last few months, once President Obama decided to go all-out to stop the sanctions bill, the issue was decided. Nothing AIPAC could do or say was going to convince Democrats to stand up to a president that claimed opposition to his position was advocacy of war. Scapegoating AIPAC in this manner not only fails to take into account the limits of even the vaunted lobby’s power but also is a misreading of how the group operates.

AIPAC is among the most effective lobbies on Capitol Hill and has, thanks to support from a broad cross-section off American society that cares deeply about the Jewish state, helped build a wall-to-wall consensus in favor of the U.S. alliance with Israel. When AIPAC takes up an issue or seeks supports for a program of joint interest to the U.S. and Israel, it usually gets its way. But thanks to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theory, AIPAC’s reputation as a Washington super lobby has grown out of all proportion to reality. Far from being the pro-Israel tail that wags the American dog, it is, in fact, nothing more than a manifestation of the bipartisan support for the Jewish state that is deeply engrained in the political DNA of the United States.

Though it has, at times, been unfairly labeled as only supportive of Israeli right-wingers or a tool of the Republican Party, it is nothing of the sort. AIPAC loyally supports whomever the Israeli people elect to govern their nation. And it has as many, if not more, Democratic supporters as it does Republicans. It is that bipartisan nature that is key to its ability to produce results. Though it has consistently pushed both Republican and Democratic administrations to give more to Israel or to be more vigilant about threats to Middle East peace such as Iran, its ability to prevail is based on the sort of access to the leaderships of both parties that makes its involvement in partisan disputes impossible.

That is why Obama’s decision to throw down the gauntlet and veto new Iran sanctions even if they passed both Houses of Congress rendered AIPAC’s role in the debate moot. AIPAC can oppose a policy but it can’t go to war with Democrats any more than it could with Republicans. If Senate Democrats like Schumer were unwilling to stand up to the president’s threats, there was never anything AIPAC could do about it.

As for the government of Israel, it, too, may be frustrated with AIPAC over the defeat of sanctions. But if so, that says more about their frustration with Obama than it does about AIPAC’s shortcomings. AIPAC has a specific role to play in the alliance. That role is to work with the administration and the Congress, not to engage in knock-down, drag-out fights that will hamper its ability to keep U.S. aid flowing to the Jewish state and to foster increased cooperation between the two countries.

One may well argue that the Iranian nuclear issue is of such importance that all other considerations should be put aside in favor of advocacy of a tougher U.S. stance. But even here AIPAC—and the State of Israel—must look at the long-term picture rather than vent anger after a momentary defeat. If the administration’s engagement with Iran fails—as it almost certainly will—then AIPAC must be in position to renew the fight for sanctions and more U.S. action to stop the nuclear threat. Burning their bridges with the Democrats now will undermine future efforts along these lines.

The Israeli government is also in no position to decry AIPAC’s current moderation at the moment on Iran sanctions. AIPAC’s retreat on sanctions is no different from the efforts of the Israelis to paper over their differences with Secretary of State John Kerry over the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. They understand only too well that keeping close to the administration is an imperative even when it does—or in Kerry’s case, says—things that undermine the alliance.

AIPAC may have lost a battle in the last month over Iran sanctions but it still is in a position to win the war to hold the administration to its pledge to stop the nuclear threat from Tehran. In order to do that, unfortunately, it must retreat now in order to prevail later.

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