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Down but Not Out

Binyamin Rose, Washington

The annual AIPAC Policy Conference always attracts thousands of delegates who get both their inspiration and their marching orders for lobbying members of US Congress to support Israel’s interests. Last week’s conference was no different in its composition, but recent setbacks have left an impression that AIPAC — one of America’s mightiest lobbies — has lost some of its clout. Mishpacha’s news editor, Binyamin Rose, who made the rounds, formed five impressions of a body that refuses to go down.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lobbying has its inevitable ups and downs. It is highly unlikely that AIPAC, which has built itself into one ofWashington’s most formidable lobbies since it was founded in 1951 to support the interests of the government of Israel on Capitol Hill, is on its deathbed. The organization’s predicament might be more accurately defined as another critical moment in its history.

The lobby has faced at least two such moments before. In 1981, AIPAC backed off its opposition toPresidentReagan’s decision to sell fighter jets equipped with the advanced AWACS radar system to Saudi Arabia. Then, in 1993, when Israel’s Prime Minister Rabin announced the Oslo accords, a badly splintered AIPAC decided that supporting decisions arrived at by Israel’s democratic government would override its concerns about conceding territories to the Palestinians — an issue the lobby had always insisted was vital to Israel’s security.

Undoubtedly, Obama took advantage of AIPAC on the Syrian issue. There is little if any taste in Congress for foreign military adventures of dubious value. As Israel has remained neutral on Syria’s civil war, and AIPAC’s role is to lobby for Israel’s interests, the only motive AIPAC had to leap into the Syrian fray would have been to curry favor with Obama — itself an adventure of doubtful worth in an administration that has bared its teeth to Israel on numerous occasions.

Regarding Iran, AIPAC likely made the wise decision to cuts its losses. For a Democratic senator, in any test of loyalty between a sitting president of his own party and AIPAC, it is a foregone conclusion the president would win.

To say that AIPAC must be ever-more prudent in contending with a politically shrewd White House bent on keeping the lobby’s clout in check is probably true.

To say the Iran issue is proof that AIPAC has lost its power will probably prove to be a gross exaggeration.

Or asJohnMcCainput it in his speech to the policy conference on Monday, after a snowfall shut down Capitol Hill: “The snow may have shut down the government, but it can’t shut down AIPAC.”

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