Here’s a media trend just about everyone can applaud. Mainstream outlets are publishing stories about the defeat of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, on the Iran Deal. The pieces are likely to cut AIPAC’s power even more.
National Public Radio did the story last week. So did Bloomberg News. You’ve rarely seen such frank descriptions of AIPAC’s power as offered in the Bloomberg piece. The very first paragraph cites Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s dis to AIPAC in order to support the Iran deal:
Richard Durbin… owes his political career to Aipac. In 1982, Aipac members supported Durbin, then an obscure college professor, against Paul Findley’s campaign for reelection to the House as retribution for Findley’s outspoken advocacy on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization
Paul Findley has many times told this story; I’ve rarely seen it picked up by the mainstream media.
In The New Yorker, Bernard Avishai relates another AIPAC legend, the time it knocked off Illinois Senator Charles Percy.
Ever since AIPAC managed to coördinate the defeat of Republican Senator Charles Percy, in 1984 (Percy was then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and had argued that Jewish settlements preëmpt Palestinian rights), AIPAC has been able to present itself as a powerhouse, flush with money, focussed on Congress, and with strong claims on both Republican hawks and evangelicals and the Democratic center. Tom Dine and Steven Grossman, AIPAC leaders in the eighties and nineties, were Democratic operatives; Grossman went on to become the chairman of the Democratic National Committee under Bill Clinton. President Obama courted AIPAC’s support in 2008, assuring attendees of its yearly conference that Jerusalem would be “undivided.”
Avishai says that AIPAC miscalculated badly, that Democrats were going to oppose Obama. And he suggests that AIPAC and Senator Chuck Schumer coordinated their opposition to the deal, and that as a result Schumer has been hurt.
Schumer’s opposition to the Iran deal was supposed to signal that AIPAC remained influential among Democratic principals and fund-raisers, and that the man who chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2005 to 2009, and is now the favorite to lead Senate Democrats when Harry Reid retires, could still fend off challenges to Israeli policy
The reason the media can run these pieces is that AIPAC’s power is now in eclipse. It is no longer the bully-tyrant giant that could deliver a vote overnight on Capitol Hill. The Israel issue has become politicized at last; and AIPAC finds itself walled off within the Republican Party, with the result something AIPAC has always worked against: broad daylight between the Israeli government and the White House.
It’s kind of sad that the New Yorker finally runs an attack on Schumer for calling himself the “Shomer” of Israel (or Guardian of Israel in Hebrew), but he’s been saying as much for years. As it is, Avishai says that sort of self-definition has been killed off in the Jewish community and U.S. politics: “the extraordinary identity Schumer was claiming—to be a ‘guardian of Israel,’ without apparent fear of being at odds with American foreign policy or the Democratic Party… may be the greater loss.”
Avishai’s raised eyebrow is a reminder: When Zionists say angrily that the anti-semitic charge of dual loyalty was leveled against Deal opponents, it’s because of such direct appeals to American Jews to support Israel over the U.S. president (including from Netanyahu, Natan Sharansky, and Michael Oren). American Jews overwhelmingly rejected those appeals.
The liberal Zionist group J Street is the white knight of the NPR piece and the New Yorker piece; but as the head of J Street makes clear in NPR’s story, he doesn’t want aid to Israel politicized. Jeremy Ben-Ami is all for more aid to Israel.
At least the Bloomberg piece touches on the broader coalition that helped the White House in its hour of need.
The pro-deal lobbyists were more vocal and much more explicit in turning this into a loyalty-to-Obama issue. While the White House didn’t make threats directly, a litany of groups did. Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, two Democrats who oppose the deal, were featured on a truck-mounted billboard in New York City sponsored by MoveOn.org calling them “Most Likely to Start a War.” A pro-deal group known as Credo-Action derided Schumer as “warmonger Chuck” and called for blocking his path to becoming the party’s leader in the Senate upon the retirement of Harry Reid.
In yet another sign of AIPAC’s vulnerability, the Hill has a piece by a longtime AIPAC member, Steve Sheffey, attacking the organization’s Republican drift. Sheffey says the partisanship is undermining Israel and that AIPAC should have found a creative way to throw Netanyahu under the bus.
The flaws in the deal could have been addressed through constructive legislation, without needlessly dividing the community and playing into the hands of Republicans willing to turn Israel into a partisan issue for short-term political gain. Instead, AIPAC alienated the president, alienated members of Congress, and for what?…
AIPAC needs to find a way to distinguish between Israel the nation and Israel’s current leadership and to support the U.S.-Israel relationship based on principles that transcend any particular government.
Yes, this is emotional. It’s hard to watch an organization you’ve enthusiastically supported for 30 years be so wrong on such an important issue and not know whether it is an aberration or the continuation of a trend you’d like to deny.
Finally, not the mainstream media, but part of the trend. The Institute for Research Middle East Policy has filed a request with the Justice Department to regulate AIPAC as a foreign agent.
According to Grant F. Smith, director of IRmep, the case for reregulating AIPAC as a foreign agent immediately is compelling. “AIPAC was designed to supplant the American Zionist Council as the arm of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the United States after the DOJ ordered the AZC to register as a foreign agent. As such, Americans should have full public access to biannual FARA registrations detailing AIPAC’s publicity campaigns, lobbying expenditures, funding flows, activities of its offices in Israel and internal consultations with its foreign principals – particularly over such controversial issues as illegal settlements and US foreign aid.”
Thanks to Annie Robbins.