For the first time in history, an American president has stood up to the powerful pro-Israeli lobby, the second strongest lobbying group in America after the NRA. President Obama has found himself facing some potent adversaries, but the coalition that has gathered in opposition to the Iran nuclear deal may be his toughest test yet. The American Israel Public Affairs Coalition (AIPAC) are facing harsh criticism from the White House as they and their affiliated groups are prepared to spend anywhere from $25 million to $150 million to buy Congressional Democrats and sway public opinion with misinformation campaigns and doomsday hyperbole about the improbable consequences of the Iranian nuclear deal.
The President was forced to invite two of AIPACs most senior members to the White House for a scolding over their fear-mongering and divisive attacks on the President’s nuclear deal. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, has similarly defected to the other side in opposition to the president.
It is clear that the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the American Israeli lobbying arm are attempting to, as American Pastor Mark Dankof put it, to “hijack the American government.” As the administration and pro-diplomacy factions call out the use of lobbying efforts and the destablizing influence of dark money in the discourse, the response from the right has been, inevitably, the descent into identity politics and wild accusations of anti-Semitism. A recent editorial in the Jewish Tablet magazine accused President Obama of using “dark, nasty stuff we might expect to hear at a white power rally.”
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper responded by noting that Tablet’s “malevolent interpretation of statements made by the president, administration officials and the New York Times are so wantonly over the top that one cannot but suspect ulterior motives. ” Indeed, the refusal of the opposition to propose any kind of reasonable alternative is very reminiscent of the modern Republican Party’s way of doing business; President Obama remarked that “I’ve repeatedly asked both Prime Minister Netanyahu and others to present me a reasonable, realistic plan that would achieve exactly what this deal achieves, and I have yet to get a response.”
Many American Jews are in favor of the deal. The JStreet pro-peace group published a statement supporting the deal, saying that “we echo the President’s sentiment–that one can support Israel without supporting every position of its government. And we agree with his assessment and that of many within Israel’s security establishment: that by preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, this agreement will make Israel safer than it is today.” They also conducted a poll which indicated that 60% of American Jews supported the deal, recognizing that the ultra-nationalism of the Netanyahu government is short-sighted and ultimately working against Israel’s long-term interests.
The way this situation is playing out, President Obama may be right when he remarked that “the choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some form of war.” Neither the Middle East or the United States cannot afford the outbreak of another multinational land war. Though Netanyahu and Israeli hardliners might love to see their neighboring rivals descend into an orgy of sectarian violence and the collapse of more regimes, the American people have nothing to gain from such a crisis. While the Iran deal isn’t perfect (no deal is), it is our best chance at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in a peaceful way. We cannot let the lobbyists of foreign powers and legislative terrorists in our ranks torpedo what could be the most important diplomatic deal since President Nixon re-established relations with China.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.