By Larry Gordon
I attended an American Israel Public Affairs Committee event the other day but I cannot tell you where or who else was there or what they said. Those are the rules and I obviously will abide by them. But let me address the value and importance of a group like AIPAC and why I came away persuaded that it is vitally important, particularly today, to be involved with the organization.
Too many of us view AIPAC as something way out there operating in and around the Washington Beltway—involved in issues and items that are often difficult to fathom. The group is not simply about presenting to members of Congress issues of strategic importance to Israel. More than anything, it is about the vital alliance that exists on multiple levels between the U.S. and Israel.
AIPAC is most commonly referred to as the “Jewish lobby,” and it is that, but at the same time it is so much more. It is important to understand what makes AIPAC what it is. And that is people like you and me, our friends, our neighbors, and so on. It is the everyday citizens and voters in the mostly Jewish community that form the AIPAC core.
Now that there is a tentative agreement in place between the P5+1 and Iran, the work of AIPAC on Capitol Hill becomes perhaps more important than ever before. Prime Minister Netanyahu is opposed to the construction of the current deal with Iran. He and his government see the agreement as giving Iran too much flexibility and latitude, which in the past they have been known to exploit.
The position of Israel, as well as the Persian Gulf states, was that at this juncture, with Iran forced to come to the table because of the debilitating effect of sanctions, it was now time to rev up and increase sanctions so that the world could finally place the errant and aggressive government in Iran under control.
President Obama and most of the Europeans do not see the situation exactly that way. It is not just the existence of a different approach or strategy on Iran; it is a completely different orientation and philosophy. Stated plainly, Iran has proven that it cannot be trusted. That is just who they are and who they are satisfied being.
While President Obama’s heart might be in the right place on not wanting the U.S. to once again become militarily engaged in the Middle East, he is also sorely in need of some kind of diplomatic or policy victory. As with so many other foreign policy situations, the president seems to be way over his head.
Prime Minister Netanyahu says that this tentative agreement with Iran is a “historic mistake.” The failure here is that Iran just has to freeze progress in the direction of building a nuclear bomb while they receive some relief from what were increasingly blistering sanctions.
And this is where an organization like AIPAC is so vital to the ongoing process. Even New York’s Senator Chuck Schumer said on Sunday that he was unhappy with the deal. Schumer, after quietly reserving judgment for too long, spoke up about his displeasure with the deal. Interestingly, Schumer said that this agreement with Iran would create a bipartisan approach that will induce Congress to pass legislation that increases sanctions on Iran.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that if Congress does impose new sanctions on Iran, then the Iranians will consider the new temporary agreement voided. At the same time, Israel’s former intelligence chief, Amos Yadlin, said that he did not think that the deal struck by the P5+1 was so bad. He said that if this were a final deal, then it would be correct to indeed consider it a historic mistake. He said that what the deal does is simply test Iran’s intentions going forward.
So there are a lot of us here and it’s not just centrifuges that are doing all the spinning. The politicians are not doing such a bad job themselves turning phrases and interpreting what took place to their own political advantage.
All this just reiterates how vital the unified voice of American Jewry is when it makes its case to Congress. The relationship between American Jews and Congress is dominated by a remarkable dynamic. Congress places a high priority on its sense of what is best for Israel. And when you consider that Jews are barely 2.7% of the American population and that over 200 of the 435 congressmen hardly have any Jews, shuls, or Jewish schools in their districts, this across-the-board and almost unanimous support of Israel is a miraculous thing.
And this is mostly as a result of the work of AIPAC. Officials in DC will tell you that they are being overrun with lobbying groups from numerous directions but that AIPAC is considered a significant cut above the rest. That is all I can really say about that, but that is just the way it is.
Almost no one wants to see war in the Middle East—that is pretty clear. But no one wants to see Iran crawl out of this desperate economic situation they have only themselves to blame for. And some of the most formidable leadership voices in Washington feel that Mr. Obama is affording Iran an easy way out of a tough situation.
It seems that, thanks to the Iran situation, bipartisanship in Washington has had life breathed back into it. That Secretary John Kerry says on the Sunday news shows that, as a result of the deal, countries like Israel will be better off than they were for at least the next six months, is absurd. It reminds me of the story about the person who jumped off the 50th floor of a building and reported that the trip down past the first 49 floors was just fine.
And then there was the political cartoon making the rounds during the week with a picture of Iranian leader Al Khomeini telling an audience, “If you like your nuke agreement, you can keep your nuke agreement.”
Is there good news anywhere in this new temporary scenario? Well, most assuredly, there is and that is on the Israeli-Palestinian track. Up until this new agreement was hatched, it seemed that there was a tradeoff of sorts in the works that included the U.S. restricting Iran’s nuclear advancement in exchange for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The pressure seems to be fizzling on that deal—which is a good thing.
So where does it go from here? Democrats are suddenly talking about Ronald Reagan’s famous reference to the Soviet Union and their nuclear arms reduction. Reagan said about the cagey Soviets that it was important to “Trust but verify.”
Regarding Iran, a Democratic senator said last week that it is important that the U.S. be able to verify first, then the idea of possibly trusting may come into the picture. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.