Americans support the Iran deal overwhelmingly. But US public opinion is not the ball game. As Chris Matthews said last night, the people who care most about this deal don’t support it, and they’re out in force– in a word, the Israel lobby. So the politics of the Iran deal often sound like a strictly-Jewish conversation. Here’s the lay of the land.
The US press is paying a lot of attention to Jewish groups that are against the Iran deal. “Jewish groups gird for ‘epic’ battle over Iran deal,” Steve Mufson in the Washington Post reports; AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group, is expected to spend as much as $40 million to try and nullify Obama’s policy.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is funding a new 501(c)4 group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, that is expected to spend $20 million to $40 million on advertising and campaigns in 30 to 40 states to mobilize opponents of the deal to write or call their members of Congress, say people familiar with the plan who sought anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it…
AIPAC seems to regard its own brand as toxic, and maybe Israel’s brand too. Here’s the ad that “Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran” ran on national television last night. Notice that the ad says not a word about Israel, which is deceptive, and that it has only 1040 or so hits on youtube.
The Anti Defamation League is leaning against the deal, the Washington Post reports, though the liberal Zionist group J Street is going to spend $2-3 million in favor of it. The Israel Project is also hard at work against it, spending tons of money on its own brand that doesn’t mention Israel:
The White House is highly cognizant of the Jewish groups. A thinktank started by AIPAC is central to the White House’s messaging, Mufson reports:
The White House had a list ready Tuesday, the day the agreement was announced, of benchmark concerns issued while talks were still underway by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
JTA’s Ron Kampeas reports that the White House is making special appeals to Jewish politicians and Jewish groups to support the deal:
[Last] Thursday morning, Ben Rhodes, a deputy US national security adviser, convened a meeting at the White House of Jewish lawmakers in the House of Representatives. About 15 of the 18 attended, and some were uncharacteristically silent about how it went.
Jewish sources close to the White House say the Obama administration is “on fire” and ready for the battle. Tony Blinken, the deputy secretary of state, led a call with Jewish organizations on Tuesday just six hours after the deal was announced. There have been more intimate calls with Jewish supporters of the president.
Also within hours of the deal, the White House distributed talking points arguing that the deal hews to and even improves upon five markers laid down by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an influential think tank that has historic ties to the Jewish community.
(By the way, Blinken may well be the adviser maligned in Michael Oren’s new book as a bacon-eating assimilating Jew. Watch out for continuing invective from Israelis who are prideful of their Jewish national identities aimed at US Jews who support the deal.)
The Boston Globe is lobbying Jews for the deal. It has an op-ed saying, “The deal deserves the support of American Jews,” penned by two big Jews, Geoffrey Lewis, an attorney active in a number of Jewish organizations both in Boston and nationally, and Gideon Aronoff, CEO of Ameinu, the liberal Zionist group. They explain why the ante is up for Jews:
Indeed, for American Jews, this issue is becoming a litmus test for one’s support for Israel. This is regrettable. We believe such opposition is misplaced, mired in the past, and is missing an opportunity to shape a more hopeful future.
So the deal is widely seen as an inside game for American Jews. And with my parochial hat on, I reject that litmus test of supporting Israel. So does Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the Iran deal along with a very diverse coalition assembled by the National Iranian American Council. But gosh, how much do non Jewish Americans matter in all this?
Not that much, evidently. Everyone’s playing the inside-Jewish game. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter just went to Israel, to promise Israelis that the military option is still on the table:
“One of the reasons this deal is a good one is that it does nothing to prevent the military option — the U.S. military option, which I’m responsible for.”
The NY Times has an op-ed by Chuck Freilich, a former national security official in Israel, saying the deal is a “good deal for Israel.” And Wolf Blitzer interviewed our National Security Adviser Susan Rice defending the Iran deal, followed by Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer attacking it. Think of the weirdness of that, that this seems a natural thing to do: what is the Israeli ambassador doing first in line to comment? What about the Russian ambassador, the French or the Chinese?
Chris Matthews did an excellent piece last night that was frank about the pressure from the Israel lobby on Democrats. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida “is under pressure from Israeli supporters to vote against the agreement,” Matthews said, and Chuck Schumer won’t be afraid to vote against the deal. Schumer cites his love of Israel:
“So, I’m going to spend a lot of time thinking about it, learning about it, and then I’ll just do the right thing. And I’m not going to let party or pressure, or anything else. What’s good for America, first and foremost, and what’s good for Israel, which, of course, I care a lot about. There are times when I’ve broken with the president before.”
Matthews mentioned Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s rival, Isaac Herzog of Labour, coming to the U.S. to oppose the deal and asked:
If both sides of the political argument in Israel are opposed to the deal, doesn’t that sort of croak the deal here?
Maybe not. But it’s a tough fight, Matthews said:
AIPAC, the American Israel Political Affairs committee is going to drop a ton of money. A lot of people in the Jewish community and elsewhere are nervous about an existential threat coming from Obama at the hands of Iran….
Here’s a number that’s going to mean something, but not a lot. By a margin, a large margin, a majority of the American people approve the Iran nuclear deal. 56 percent support it, only 37 percent oppose it. 56 to 37 is a rare amount of fire power. But it’s not among people that care a lot. Right? It’s general, and it’s very skeptical out there, will it actually work…. There’s been an all-out lobbying assault by pro Israeli groups on both sides of the Iran deal…. The fight is for Democrats.
Jonathan Allen of Vox said most Democrats don’t want to have to vote for the deal.
Even a very liberal Democrat in the House, who’s going to vote for it, told me it would be much easier to vote against it.
I think the ones up for reelection next year will be the ones least likely to vote with the president.
Neocon Bill Kristol turns the screw, saying that the Democrats in Congress have to make Israel part of the deal:
Could Democrats in Congress say this: Given how bad Iran deal is anyway, could only vote for it if Iran first accepts legitimacy of Israel?
And here’s more lobbying from the hardliners. The Jewish Federations in Boston and Miami have come out against the deal. The Times of Israel reports that they’re lobbying US Jews to get them lobby Congress, and to suppress dissent:
“We encourage members of the community to reach out to their elected representatives in the House and the Senate to express their deep concern, and to urge them to vote against this deal,” the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston said in a message Friday to Boston-area Jews.
The message the same day from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation appeared to call on community members who might not oppose the deal to suppress their dissents.
“We acknowledge that there are diverse views within our community, but ultimately this issue must remain above politics and reflect our collective determination to ensure moral clarity and absolute resolve in dealing with one of the world’s most dangerous regimes,” the message said.
You can help the State of Israel by contacting your congressman and senator and requesting that they reject this deal and override President Obama’s veto of their decision. Call their Washington offices and make your voice heard.
To learn more about the Iran Nuclear Program and the Negotiations, check out the great resources from AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
We are all called upon at this moment in history to help Israel. This is a moment for all Birthright Israel alumni to stand with Israel, take action and make your voices heard.
J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami’s comment on the fight in the Washington Post is very revealing:
“The foreign policy fight of a generation… It pits folks who brought us the Iraq war and whole neocon worldview versus the Obama worldview and the concept that we can confront enemies with diplomacy.”
Right: the neoconservative Jewish community, working with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush, pushed the Iraq war out of concern for Israel.
Isn’t it time that more Americans got involved in these issues, and that the press gives them oxygen? That might chase the hardliners from the field at last, and it would be a great help to our foreign policy.