By Arab News
By Jamal Doumani
You want yet another glimpse of the immense reach by the Israeli lobby into the workings of US foreign policy in the Middle East? Then consider the battle royal — traditionally a fight between two combatants that is fought until only one fighter is left standing — between the White House and the leaders and foot soldiers of that lobby over the Iran nuclear deal.
The lobby may yet succeed in scuttling that deal, which Republican leaders in the House and the Senate have promised to bring to a vote in September. And Republicans are virtually unanimous in their opposition, as they are responsive to the demands — some will say, dictates — of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential pro-Israel lobbying organization in the US, with 100,000 members, seventeen regional offices and a vast pool of doors.
The kind and degree of influence that this group has exerted since its founding in 1951 is now the stuff of legend.
This group is so powerful, and so self-confident that, since the brouhaha over the Iran nuclear deal erupted, it has picked a fight with no less a figure than the American president and no less an august institution than the White House. The chief executive and the boys soldiering on at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue moved hurriedly to meet with AIPAC representatives in an effort to appease them. Late last week, President Obama, who regards the deal as a landmark achievement of his administration, found time to meet with two of its leaders to reassure them that, well, as they say in some circles, honest, “it’s good for the Jews.”
Those leaders, reportedly, were neither impressed nor reassured. They made it clear that they were going to be out there raising hell, leaning even on Democrats in Congress to tear the deal to shreds. Their first victory was to gain Sen. Chuck Schumer, the legislator who hopes to lead Senate Democrats in the next Congress, to their side.
How did they do it? By wily means. The group sent 60 pro-Israel activists to the senator’s office to lobby him, while Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, an off-shoot AIPAC outfit formed to launch a $25 million advertising campaign against the deal, ran television spots in New York, the state he represents. (Maybe they didn’t have to try that hard, for the Jewish Schumer is already an ardent, perhaps even fanatic, supporter of Israel.)
Then look at the, well, chutzpah of the group. Last week, after White House officials learned that AIPAC would fly 700 of its members from across the country to Washington to pressure their members of Congress individually to reject the deal, Obama’s officials reached out in turn to the group and invited them to a briefing at the White House. The officials were told, no. You want to address us, send your people over to the downtown hotel where we are gathered.
The White House ate humble pie, took it all on the chin and agreed to do just that. Several of these government officials, including the White House Chief of Staff and a high Treasury official who handles sanctions, all gave presentations to the Jewish activists, except they were prevented from taking questions.
Have all these shenanigans enraged the president? According to news reports, they have indeed. But you want to lock horns with the lobby, go ahead. Do so at your own peril. President George H. W. Bush did that in 1992 when he tried to hold up $10 billion in loan guarantees that Israel needed to build housing for newly arrived Russian immigrants till the US government got assurances that the money would not fund the building of colonies in the occupied Palestinian territories. He lost the election, which many analysts attributed to the influence of AIPAC.
An exaggerated view of the Jewish community’s influence in the US? Not at all, when you look the facts — and the figures.
Jews, who live predominantly in urban centers, such as (in that order) New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, have the highest percentage voter turnout of any ethnic group in the country. Roughly 94 percent live in 13 key electoral college states, worth enough electoral votes to elect a president.
The issue of support for Israel by a candidate — how ardent that support for Israel is — could result in a sizable number of Jews, many of whom are one-issue voters, to switch parties, in large enough numbers to tip the scale in national or state-wide elections. Former AIPAC President Howard Friedman was quoted by John Meirheimer and Stephen Walt, in their seminal 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, as saying this: “AIPAC meets with every candidate running for Congress. These candidates receive in-depth briefings to help them understand the complexities of Israel’s predicament and that of the Middle East as a whole. We even ask each candidate to author a position paper on their views of the US-Israel relationship, so it’s clear where they stand on the subject.”
How could a minority, you ask, representing a niggardly 2 percent of the population (the Pew Research Center puts the figure at just under 7 million), exert such disproportionate influence in a country of 300 million, a country recognized as a big power with immense wealth and unmatched global reach? Search me. But it’s all food for thought for Arab Americans.