It's high time we learned a thing or two from AIPAC
March 22, 2006
300 (the movie) has generated so much anger in our community. If only we had the mechanisms and the organizations capable of channeling this unity of purpose into positive actions where it really mattered, perhaps in the United State foreign policy toward Iran.
We should learn from the masters. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has translated their anger toward Ahmadinejad and his idiotic pronouncements into a record number of members. AIPAC membership has grown by 40% since Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected to office. People who follow these things know that AIPAC was not exactly a feeble lobbying force before Ahmadinejad.
AIPAC's awesome power was on display last week in Washington. They brought together 6,000 activists at their annual policy conference. They had a parade of power-brokers as speakers, starting with the four most powerful people on Capital Hill: Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, John Boehner, House Minority Leader, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. As if this was not impressive enough, Vice President Dick Cheney addressed the audience with a "The United States and Israel: United We Stand" speech. Try getting any one of these to show up at your political gig.
To further display their power, they managed to remove the language that limited President Bush's authority to use military force against Iran. The Democratic leadership had introduced language in a $100 billion bill to fund military operations in Iraq. The language would have required President Bush to seek congressional approval before expanding military operations to Iran.
But in the past week, Speaker Pelosi removed the clause after a group of conservative and pro-Israel Democrats threatened to vote against the appropriations package if it included the provision tying the president's hands.
One of those members, Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, said he counted between 20 and 27 members who would have voted against the funding measure if it included the Iran language. Rep. Gary Ackerman, another Democrat of New York, said he thinks the dissenters had even more votes. When asked about AIPAC's role, Mr. Engle said, "The leadership of AIPAC thought the U.S. position would be better served without the Iran language. I don't know they were lobbying anyone on this though".
You'd think the Iran language was put into the bill in the first place because the House leadership thought the U.S. position would be better served with the Iran language in. Well, think again, AIPAC's leadership thought otherwise and the Iran language was out.
The change in emphasis for the House leader was not limited to the funding bill. At the AIPAC conference, Speaker Pelosi endorsed toughening American sanctions on Iran by stripping the executive branch of the power to waive the sanctions. Her position would effectively establish a trigger to deny companies such as Royal Dutch Shell access to the American financial markets if they continued to work with Iran.
Contrary to popular belief, AIPAC does not represent a plurality of Jewish people in the United States. Jews are fairly left wing, 77% of them think that the Iraq war was a mistake compared with 52% of all Americans. 87% percent voted for the Democrats in 2006 and all but four Jews in the Congress are democrats.
Granted we are late to politics, our lobbying organizations are very limited in scope and influence, and we have yet to use our financial might to systematically support our local politicians. However, it's high time we learned a thing or two from AIPAC. Other more liberal Jewish groups such as the Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism, Americans for Peace Now and Israel Policy Forum are doing exactly that. They scored a significant victory against AIPAC. They managed to water down the Palestinian Anti-terrorism Act, which would have prevented any American contact the Palestinian leadership.
Abtin Assadi is member of the board of directors at Bay Area Iranian American Voter Association baivoter.org.