By Logan Heller
How the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) missed a critical opportunity to rehabilitate its weakened influence surrounding the Iran Deal and what it means for future lobbying efforts
Congressional staffers often remark in passing that the fourth branch of the U.S. Government is lobbyists. Of the many groups that wrestle for influence, none are as powerful – despite, or maybe because of their vast minority – as the Jewish lobbying groups. These groups ensure their voice in policies ranging from health care reform to foreign policy is heard on Capitol Hill. When one of the most prominent of these groups, the nonpartisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), faltered despite an unprecedented lobbying effort they led against congressional approval of the 2015 Iran Deal, their perceived power drastically decreased.
AIPAC’s political blunder surrounding the Iran Deal was repeated in 2018 when the lobbying group endorsed the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal. The move from the White House unleashed a battery of economic sanctions targeting Iran and removed the hold on Iran’s nuclear development. The justifications for this were primarily rooted in Iran’s continuing to fund terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, which pose a substantial threat to Israel. AIPAC also pointed to concerns with the inspection process and the duration of the pause in nuclear development as further justifications for leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); however, the test of time largely refutes these concerns or mitigates their impacts entirely.
While Iran does continue to fund terror networks, the JCPOA was never intended to counter this funding. The Brookings Institute, a leading think tank, explains that Iran considers its nuclear program a deterrence policy solely against America: if Iran no longer feels threatened by the U.S., it will cease its nuclear program. In contrast, Iran’s funding of terrorism is a core, offensive program central to its national security strategy, so the Iran Deal did not even try to address this. If anything, the recent spread of COVID-19 reveals that, despite the rhetoric that AIPAC clung to these past years, during times of economic devastation Iran still prioritizes its military spending over all else. This is significant because it counters the narrative that continuing sanctions will drive Iran back to the table to make a deal friendlier to the West. The current chaos shows no matter how bad Iran’s fiscal situation becomes, due to sanctions or a global pandemic, economic pressure will not give way to a better deal. In terms of the inspection process, it was clear to all nations signing into the agreement that legitimate concerns were inherent in the inspection process. Leading experts estimated that Iran could still secure a bomb within six months of inspections; that said, the delayed timeline is still a far better alternative than the world with no deal, and no time between an aggressive Iran launching a warhead at Tel Aviv.
Despite the clear miscalculations in their presumptions made nearly half a decade ago, the leading Jewish lobbyist group has conceded next to nothing. The real damage, beyond the concerns of a desperate Iran with the capacity to wage nuclear war undeterred by the international community, comes in the form of the growing dichotomy between many Jewish Americans and the AIPAC lobbyists that claim to represent them.
According to The Mellman Group, Inc, a leading political analysis company, in 2018 70% of Jewish Americans surveyed strongly disapproved of Trump’s policy on the Nuclear Iran Deal. In other words, nearly ¾ of the Jewish Americans surveyed would prefer a flawed, Iran Deal over none. It must be said that firm support is a relatively new change since 2015, but it is a change that has already affected Congress. Jewish politicians have recognized the move and have adapted appropriately.
Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL), widely considered one of the de facto leaders of American Jewry, released the following statement about the Trump White House leaving the JCPOA: “I regret the President’s decision to weaken American leadership around the globe.” He is not alone. Many other Jewish leaders, academics, and laymen have all come to the same conclusion. Now, AIPAC primarily stands alone in dissent, choosing to cut itself off from the group that gave so much to empower it in the first place: The Jewish People.
Logan is a junior government and politics major with minors in global terrorism and international development & conflict resolution. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org