Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

AIPAC Conference Pushes for Sanctions on Iran

Last week’s annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee provided a stark reminder that although the lobby has come under increasing fire in recent years, it remains a force to be reckoned with.

Print Friendly

(Inter Press Service)

The annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful and hawkish pro-Israel lobby, wrapped up on May 5 with a speech from Vice President Joe Biden, capping three days primarily devoted to the threat of a nuclear Iran.

Discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East peace process took a back seat to the Iran issue at the conference, which ended with attendees heading to Capitol Hill to lobby for a bill that would impose sanctions targeting the Iranian energy sector.

While representatives of the Barack Obama administration, the Benjamin Netanyahu government, and AIPAC itself all sought to emphasize points of consensus and cooperation, it’s unclear whether the various parties will be on the same page going forward.

The Obama administration has given high priority to diplomacy with Iran and a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine, but the Netanyahu government has shown distinctly less enthusiasm for these goals, and the mood at the AIPAC conference suggested that most attendees shared Netanyahu’s skepticism.

The conference drew an estimated 6,500 attendees, as well as many members of the U.S. Congress and numerous U.S. and Israeli political luminaries. It was a stark reminder that although AIPAC may have come under increasing fire in recent years, the group remains a force to be reckoned with.

Speakers included Biden, Israeli President Shimon Peres, U.S. Senator John Kerry, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and several top Congressional leaders. Netanyahu addressed the conference via satellite, and other notables such as Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel also participated.

Attendees had their choice of numerous panels and information sessions. Iran loomed large, with six separate panels devoted to it; by contrast, only two panels focused on Palestine.

There were also a number of private, off-the-record panels and master classes that were closed to the press, with titles like “The Palestinians Never Miss an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity: The History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”

The conference’s rhetorical focus on the Iranian menace was in line with AIPAC’s current top legislative priority, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA).

On  the last day of the conference, attendees lobbied their representatives on Capitol Hill, asking them to support the bill, which would require President Obama to impose sanctions on foreign firms exporting refined petroleum products to Iran.

AIPAC argues that the bill will strengthen Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran by providing him additional leverage, but other pro-Israel groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now have oppose the proposed legislation on the grounds that it would send mixed messages and undercut the administration’s diplomacy.

Most speakers at the conference expressed cautious support for Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Tehran, but warned that if it did not bear fruit quickly, harsher measures would have to be taken. Sen. Jon Kyl, one of the lead sponsors of the sanctions bill, called for a “short and hard end date” for diplomacy. He and others suggested the summer as a deadline.

The Obama administration has not taken a public position on the legislation. In his AIPAC speech, Biden alluded to the need to examine “other options” should diplomacy fail, but did not mention the word “sanctions,” which had been a constant refrain during most of the conference.

In the conference’s final two speeches, Biden and Kerry reaffirmed  the administration’s commitment to a two-state solution, and called on the Israeli government to halt or reverse settlement construction.

“You’re not going to like me saying this, but [do] not build those settlements. Dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement,” Biden said.

Biden’s prediction about the audience’s reaction appeared to be correct. While the crowd had welcomed him warmly and gave him several standing ovations, his statements about Israeli obligations garnered only scattered applause.

Similarly, Kerry’s calls to freeze settlements, strengthen the Palestinian Authority, and provide a “light at the end of the tunnel” for children in Gaza received a tepid reaction.

The lukewarm response to Biden’s and Kerry’s statements about the peace process was a reminder that a gulf may remain between AIPAC and the Obama administration.

AIPAC has traditionally been aligned with Netanyahu and his Likud party, and in the 1990s joined him in working behind the scenes to bring down the Oslo peace process, according to a March article by former AIPAC chief lobbyist Douglas Bloomfield.

Although AIPAC has broken with Netanyahu in supporting a two-state solution, like him, the group has made dealing with Iran’s nuclear program a higher priority than the peace progress. The Obama administration, by contrast, has insisted that the two issues must go hand-in-hand.

For his part, Netanyahu told the conference that he supported a “triple track toward peace,” consisting of political, security, and economic measures.  He also asserted he was ready to resume peace negotiations without precondition. But he stopped short of endorsing a Palestinian state.

Others at the conference struck a more militant tone. Gingrich, the former Republican leader who remains an influential figure within the party, headlined the first day of the conference with a fiery speech calling for regime change in Tehran; his good-and-evil rhetoric unmistakably recalled George W. Bush.

“We need to break the lawyer’s sophistry that all nations are equal,” Gingrich said. “There are some regimes you will never be able to cut a deal with because they are in fact evil.”

“Talking in good faith and seeking reconciliation with Adolf Hitler would have been a dead end, because he was the personification of evil. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, if he gets the weapons, will be every bit as evil as Hitler.”

Gingrich advocated preemptive military action to take out Iranian and North Korean missiles at their sites, and he supported the petroleum sanctions bill—not in order to strengthen U.S. diplomacy but to “break” the Iranian economy and “oust the ayatollahs.”

His speech drew sustained applause from the audience, but was quickly denounced by J Street and other critics.

The AIPAC conference came only days after prosecutors moved to dismiss charges against Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former AIPAC staffers who were fired and accused of violating the Espionage Act by receiving classified information and passing it to reporters and to the Israeli government.

The story took another turn in late April, when it was reported that Rep. Jane Harman, a powerful Democrat and AIPAC stalwart, had been caught on a government wiretap discussing an alleged “quid pro quo” deal, in which she would intercede with the Justice Department on Rosen and Weissman’s behalf in exchange for help in landing a top congressional intelligence post.

On May 3, Harman made a defiant appearance at the AIPAC conference,  characterizing herself as a “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against the abuse of power.”

Daniel Luban writes for the Inter Press Service and PRA’s Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Although sometimes characterized as a Republican “maverick” for his bipartisan forays into domestic policy, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks.


Former CIA director Michael Hayden, a stalwart advocate of the Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump


The former GOP presidential candidate and Speaker of the House has been a vociferous proponent of the idea that the America faces an existential threat from “Islamofascists.”


David Albright is the founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-proliferation think tank whose influential analyses of nuclear proliferation issues in the Middle East have been the source of intense disagreement and debate.


A right-wing Christian and governor of Kansas, Brownback previously served in the U.S. Senate, where he gained a reputation as a leading social conservative as well as an outspoken “pro-Israel” hawk on U.S. Middle East policy.


Steve Forbes, head of the Forbes magazine empire, is an active supporter of a number of militarist policy organizations that have pushed for aggressive U.S. foreign policies.


Stephen Hadley, an Iraq War hawk and former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, now chairs the U.S. Institute for Peace.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

The Trump administration appears to have been surprised by this breach among its friends in the critical Gulf strategic area. But it is difficult to envision an effective U.S. role in rebuilding this Humpty-Dumpty.


Print Friendly

A recent vote in the European Parliament shows how President Trump’s relentless hostility to Iran is likely to isolate Washington more than Tehran.


Print Friendly

The head of the Institute for Science and International Security—aka “the Good ISIS”—recently demonstrated again his penchant for using sloppy analysis as a basis for politically explosive charges about Iran, in this case using a faulty translation from Persian to misleadingly question whether Tehran is “mass producing advanced gas centrifuges.”


Print Friendly

Trump has exhibited a general preference for authoritarians over democrats, and that preference already has had impact on his foreign policy. Such an inclination has no more to do with realism than does a general preference for democrats over authoritarians.


Print Friendly

The President went to the region as a deal maker and a salesman for American weapon manufacturing. He talked about Islam, terrorism, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the benefit of expert advice in any of these areas. After great showmanship in Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, he and his family left the region without much to show for or to benefit the people of that war-torn region.


Print Friendly

Although the Comey memo scandal may well turn out to be what brings Trump down, this breach of trust may have had more lasting effect than any of Trump’s other numerous misadventures. It was an unprecedented betrayal of Israel’s confidence. Ironically, Trump has now done what even Barack Obama’s biggest detractors never accused him of: seriously compromised Israel’s security relationship with the United States.


Print Friendly

Congress and the public acquiesce in another military intervention or a sharp escalation of one of the U.S. wars already under way, perhaps it’s time to finally consider the true costs of war, American-style — in lives lost, dollars spent, and opportunities squandered. It’s a reasonable bet that never in history has a society spent more on war and gotten less bang for its copious bucks.


RightWeb
share