As the nation’s pre-eminent pro-Israel lobby gears up for yet another exciting annual policy conference from March 4-6 the folks at AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) contend that maintaining viable bipartisanship support in Congress continues to be a daunting challenge in the tumultuous Trump era. It would appear that support for Israel as an unflagging US ally in a region roiled with conflict has diminished significantly among Democrats. As pollsters have indicated the party has taken a sharp turn to the left in an apparent pushback to every issue that Trump supports.
Generally speaking, by this time of year AIPAC has copiously compiled a litany of legislative actions in which to bring to Capitol Hill with them when they lobby there on Tuesday. And this year, AIPAC expects the largest attendance in history with over 18,000 fervent Zionist supporters on hand.
According to a JTA report, finding Congressional agreement on bills that are in fulcrum of AIPAC’s agenda might be next to impossible due to the seemingly eternal partisan divide.
Speaking to JTA, an AIPAC official offered a variety of talking points that representatives of the organization plan to discuss with lawmakers on Tuesday. While expounding on the talking points, the AIPAC official did not say with certitude whether the oral arguments would be buttressed by legislation.
Among the issues that AIPAC plans to champion are familiar ones. Firstly, the issue of security assistance for Israel remains paramount on the AIPAC agenda. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed at the end of the Obama administration calling for the allocation of $38 billion to Israel over the next decade. According to the JTA report, AIPAC is seeking Congress’ imprimatur on the spending for Israel. If Congress codifies the spending, then that would obviate any future president from threatening to withhold these crucial funds as leverage. Looking for legislative sponsorship may not prove to be difficult as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, and Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat, this week came back from an Israel tour and agreed that the $38 billion package should only be a “floor” for U.S. assistance to Israel, according to the JTA report.
Concerning Iran (which has been classified as the ultimate regional nemesis in the Middle East), AIPAC has called for an increase in sanctions on the Iranian regime with a particular targeting of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. According to the JTA report, AIPAC is seeking to decrease the sanctions-triggering threshold for IRGC ownership in a targeted entity. It is currently at 50 percent.
As to the Trump’s vocal opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, AIPAC would like his concerns expounded on and highlighted amongst like minded members of Congress. As President Trump has already done, AIPAC has called for way less obstacles in terms of inspection of Iran’s military bases as well as an extension of “sunsets” for some of the provisions in the controversial deal (currently between 10 and 15 years) and the expansion of the deal to roll back Iran’s ballistic missile program, according to the JTA. At this juncture, it gets tricky for AIPAC as partisan disagreements are more than likely to emerge. Loyal to former President Obama and in the forefront of seeing to it that his signature foreign policy achievement does not get scuttled, Congressional Democrats are suspicious of such calls. GOP members of both the House and the Senate on the other hand want to add more rigors to the deal while some want to see it finally abrogated in the interest of the United States and Israel.
AIPAC will also be addressing the scourge of the proliferation of the BDS movement on the nation’s university campuses as well as in other respected educational, religious, political and economic institutions. Throwing their full throated support for legislation in the House and Senate that would target the Boycott, Divest from and Sanction movement against Israel, AIPAC plans to focus on the U.N. Human Rights Council list of companies that deal with Israeli settlements, which reportedly contains 22 U.S. companies, according to the JTA report. The bills in Congress would replicate 1970s anti-Arab boycott laws and make it illegal to affirmatively join the boycott. The bills had broad bipartisan support a year or so ago, but lobbying by pro-Palestinian groups and civil libertarians, in addition to the controversial application of state anti-BDS laws have led some Democrats to pull back their support.
After meeting with President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the AIPAC confab. Those who have raised speculation as to precisely what topics the Israeli leader will speak about have said that the major part of his speech will be dedicated to lavishing well deserved praise on the Trump administration for the stalwart support of Israel and their incredibly courageous move in announcing that Jerusalem is indeed Israel’s capital as well as the announcement of the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Chances are likely that Netanyahu will also offer numerous plaudits to both Vice President Pence and UN ambassador Nikki Haley for adopting a tougher posture on Iran and for launching a defense of Israel at the United Nations, which has traditionally been a cesspool of hate for the Jewish State.
Other speakers on the AIPAC 2018 policy conference itinerary include Rabbi Eli Abadie, Rabbi Emeritus of NYC’s Edmond J Safra synagogue, Mr. Asher Abehsera, the CEO of LIVWRK, as well as US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and Ms. Ranin Boulos of i24 News, among many others.
(David Ben Hooren is the publisher of the Jewish Voice and a prominent member of Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community)