Obama Sends Lew to AIPAC to Deliver the Bad News

Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew did his best to spin the Obama administration’s stance on Israel at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference on Sunday night. The audience knew they were being treated like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed manure. Among the messages Lew delivered were that the administration remained opposed to new sanctions on Iran, saying they could derail diplomacy.

And yet, he said, the administration has promised new sanctions on Iran if it failed to comply with the terms of the interim six-month deal signed in Geneva. There is no substantive difference between that stance and the sanctions now before Congress, which would only kick in if Iran failed to meet the demands of the international community during the ongoing negotiations. The only difference is whether sanctions are guaranteed, or not.

Lew told a number of fibs to the audience. Right after applauding AIPAC’s traditional bipartisan stance, for example, he touted the Obama administration’s record–and bashed that of George W. Bush, telling AIPAC that when Obama came to office, Iran had been strengthening throughout the region. If anything, it is far stronger now, after Obama’s inaction on Syria, his five years of dithering, and his silence during the 2009 uprising.

In addition, Lew made the truly bizarre claim: “As many of you know, there is no one who appreciates Israel more than I do.” The administration’s speechwriters might have liked that line, since it is a signal to the press to note that Lew is referencing his Jewish heritage, and weigh his arguments more seriously. But to tell that to a room of thousands of grass roots activists who live and breathe Israel every day takes serious chutzpah.

I would not normally mention a speaker’s religion, were it not for the fact that Lew went out of his way to flag it. The appeal to identity politics was not only somewhat offensive but also misjudged the audience. Not everyone in AIPAC is Jewish–and, indeed, many of AIPAC’s Jewish activists are proud that it is not. And those in the room are politically savvy enough to recognize what Lew was trying to do. It made virtually no impact at all.

Lew went on to argue that the sanctions on Iran remain effective despite the interim Iran deal. That stands in stark contrast to what activists were told in the breakout sessions earlier in the day, which is that the Iranian economy has certainly been recovering since the deal started coming together. And the human rights situation–unmentioned by Lew–remains as bad as ever under the Iranian regime, according to the State Department.

It is rare for anyone to boo a speaker at AIPAC. “Check your gloves at the door,” one sign flashed on the display, admonishing attendees against open displays of partisanship. So the audience showed its displeasure by sitting on its hands throughout Lew’s speech. Few people in the hall of thousands stood up at the end to applaud Lew when he was done. They just applauded politely. He was there to do a job. He did it. Farewell, thanks, shalom.