AIPAC's Tough Talk Is Not Fooling Anyone

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) published an op-ed in the New York Times Saturday in which its leaders made a passionate and well-argued case for continued pressure on Iran, and also for the role of Congress in setting foreign policy. The organization, the op-ed made clear, supports the Kirk-Menendez bill, i.e. the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act,” which would apply new sanctions “if, and only if, the talks fail.”

The op-ed notes that Iranian leaders have proudly declared that they do not intend to dismantle their nuclear program, and even includes what might be considered a little dig at the administration and its hostile attitude towards Congress in general: “At this moment, we must not allow Iran to dictate the appropriate role of Congress…..America’s elected representatives are not the problem; the unelected theocrats of Iran are.”

It is tough talk, and sets the agenda for AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference next week, which will bring many thousands of pro-Israel volunteers to Capitol Hill to lobby their respective members of Congress. But no one takes AIPAC’s tough talk seriously. That is because AIPAC sheepishly backed away from the Kirk-Menedez bill earlier this month, when it was clear that Democrats would not fight President Barack Obama’s veto threat.

The authors of the op-ed attempt to deal with that problem–rather unconvincingly: “Earlier this month, we agreed with Mr. Menendez on delaying a vote in the Senate, but we remain committed to the bill’s passage.” Delaying–until when? Committed–how? There are no good answers. The bill already has nearly sixty Senate co-sponsors, and could likely override a veto. The problem is Democrats lack the guts to take the first step.

And–crucially–AIPAC lacks the courage to put the Democrats on the spot. At its Policy Conference dinner, it will perform the absurd “roll call” ritual in which it introduces all the members of Congress present, as if to signal to the volunteers that these elected representatives really do care about Israel. Members of Congress have realized that they need only endure a big crowd and some overcooked chicken to check the “pro-Israel” box.

It is not just that AIPAC is afraid of losing it’s “bipartisan” label. The problem is also that AIPAC’s membership and donors are largely Democrat, reflecting the partisan leanings of the American Jewish community. It does not want to make its members face an uncomfortable political choice. So it will try to adopt a strong position, without taking any action necessary to shame Democrats into following through. Tough talk–but talk is cheap.