AIPAC is taking an incredible risk by making an unprecedented full court press to pass the bomb Syria resolution.
Never in its history has it gone all out to achieve passage or defeat for anything not directly related to Israel. And, because Congress is snugly in its pocket on Israel issues, it rarely needs to fight.
AIPAC’s last big battle was in 1991 when it tried to get extra aid to support Soviet Jewish refugees in Israel. President George H. W. Bush said the extra aid (in the form of loan guarantees) would only be provided if Israel froze West Bank settlement construction. Prime Minister Shamir said no and Bush said: no extra aid for you.
AIPAC descended on the Hill as they now are over Syria, leading Bush to publicly say “I am one lonely little guy” up against “some powerful political forces” made up of “a thousand lobbyists on the Hill.”
That battle did not end well for AIPAC although it did for Israel. It led the Israeli electorate to dump the rightist prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, in favor of Yitzhak Rabin. Israel did not get the extra aid until Bush could provide it to a prime minister who pledged to freeze settlements and to negotiate with the Palestinians.
In that case, unlike this one, there was no Congressional vote. AIPAC was not able to test the formula pronounced by its top strategist, Steve Rosen (later indicted under the Espionage Act) who famously told the New Yorker:
You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.
The Syria vote will be the test.
AIPAC and its cutouts are the only lobbying forces supporting the administration’s plans for war and Congress will make the decision. It should be a good moment for AIPAC to make its case. Members of Congress are now in intense fund raising mode for the 2014 primaries and general election. When AIPAC visits in the next week or two, it will make the case for war with that looming overhead.
I called a friend on Capitol Hill to refresh my memory about what the AIPAC push is going to look like:
First come the phone calls from constituents who are AIPAC members. They know the Congressman and are nice and friendly and just tell him, or whichever staffer the constituent knows, just how important this vote is to him and his friends back in the district.
Then the donors call. The folks who have hosted fundraisers. They are usually not only from the district but from New York or LA or Chicago. They repeat the message: this vote is very important.
Contrary to what you might expect, they do not mention campaign money. They don’t have to. Because these callers are people who only know the Congressman through their checks, the threat not to write any more of them is implicit. Like the constituents, the donors are using AIPAC talking points which are simple and forceful. You can argue with them but they keep going back to the script. Did I mention the rabbis? We only have a few in our district but we get calls from all of them and from other rabbis from around the state.
Then there are the AIPAC lobbyists, the professional staffers. They come in, with or without appointments. If the Congressman is in, they expect to see him immediately. If not, they will see a staffer. If they don’t like what they hear, they will keep coming back. They are very aggressive, no other lobby comes close, They expect to see the Member, not mere staff.
Then there are the emails driven by the AIPAC website, the editorials in the one Jewish newspaper we have in our state. And then the “Dear Colleague” letters from Jewish House members saying how important the vote is for Israel and America. They also will buttonhole the Members on the House floor. Because my boss is not Jewish, he tends to defer to his Jewish colleagues. It is like they are the experts on this. And, truth be told, all the senior Jewish Members of the House are tight with AIPAC. Also, the two biggest AIPAC enforcers, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his Democatic counterpart, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, are fierce AIPAC partisans, and they make sure to seek out Members on the floor to tell them how they must vote. On anything related to Israel, they speak in one voice: AIPAC’s.
Pretty intimidating, no?
Obviously no one on the peace side has resources like this.
And that is why AIPAC should win. If it doesn’t and if the Members of Congress who voted “no” are re-elected anyway, then the #1 tool AIPAC has going for it will be broken. That is the belief that it is invincible because of the campaign donations its directs both to those who support it and to defeat those who don’t.
How odd that AIPAC would expend so much on Syria. But, of course, to AIPAC, its not about Syria or Syrian victims of chemical warfare. No, to AIPAC, this is about Iran. If it can’t put over a rather minor effort against Syria, how would it sell America (including Congress) on a major war with Iran? Answer: it can’t.
If it loses this vote, the 800 pound gorilla will be staggering — alive but more like a big monkey. On the other hand, it will be able to rake in millions from credulous donors by warning that Iranian bombs are practically en route to Tel Aviv, that another Holocaust looms and anti-Semites are everywhere.