As we reported on Friday, a ham-handed attempt by appeasement-minded liberals to undermine additional sanctions on Iran resulted in a furious push-back from pro-Israel groups. The left-wing Ha’aretz’s story purportedly revealing a 60-day moratorium on further lobbying for sanctions was refuted by the two most prominent Jewish groups, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee. Feeling heat for its inaccurate reporting, Ha’aretz doubled down, running another story insisting a moratorium had been agreed to.
In a virtually unprecedented move, which directly contradicted the administration’s goal of delaying additional sanctions, AIPAC President Michael Kassen released a statement Saturday night:
AIPAC supports diplomatic efforts to achieve an end to Iran’s nuclear program. Diplomatic talks have been made possible because of the strong
sanctions passed by Congress and implemented by the Administration. Until Iran suspends its enrichment program, additional sanctions are vital for
diplomacy to succeed. AIPAC continues to support congressional action to adopt legislation to further strengthen sanctions and there will absolutely
be no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts.
That defiant statement underscores both the seriousness of the Iran sanctions issue for the Jewish community and the community’s exasperation with an administration that has now lost the confidence of many pro-Israel activists in both parties. It is noteworthy that AIPAC, out of deference to the administration, would not publicly take a position or even comment on the nomination for secretary of Defense of Chuck Hagel, who was bitterly criticized for his anti-Israel and anti-sanctions sentiments. Kassen’s blast signals there is no such reticence to publicly engage the Congress and the president when it comes to Iran.
A senior Senate aide involved in sanctions draws an interesting analogy. “Clearly the White House is trying to divide the Jewish community to try to undermine congressional support for a new round of sanctions. Nixon and Kissinger tried the same strategy during detente with the Soviets — urging Jewish leaders to stop lobbying for Jackson-Vanik,” he said. “The strategy failed for Nixon on Soviet Jewry and it will fail again for Obama on Iran.” He added, “The message we’re hearing on Capitol Hill from all communities — Jewish and Christian alike — is loud and clear: go, go, go.”
There is waning confidence in Congress and among pro-Israel groups that administration negotiator Wendy Sherman – who negotiated with North Korea, now known to possess a nuclear weapons capability – will stick to international agreements requiring Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program, destroy facilities in violation of U.N. resolutions and allow complete access for inspectors. Instead, Israel and its allies suspect the administration would dearly love some agreement to show Iran had “suspended” enrichment in exchange for some relief from sanctions. This would be virtually impossible to verify and would, of course, leave Iran still on the cusp of a nuclear weapons capability.
The latest dust up between AIPAC and the administration will likely have repercussions on a number of fronts. First, Congress will feel heat from the Jewish community to move ahead promptly on its next round of sanctions. Second, the move furthers a divide already evident in foreign policy circles between the anti-internationalist far right and left, on one side, and, on the other, mainstream Democrats and Republicans, who insist on further sanctions and, if all else fails, military action. Third, it make it far more difficult for the administration to maintain credibility if it should concoct some interim agreement that would give Iran a break from sanctions. (Indeed the only administration official with less credibility than Sherman these days may be HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.)
In this regard, the Obama administration and Ha’aretz unintentionally caused the Jewish community to draw its own red line on attempts to undermine sanctions and thereby ease the way toward a phony U.S.-Iran deal. Unlike the president, Kassen has now let it be known that pro-Israel advocates don’t intend to erase their own red line.