Getting the Facts Right about AIPAC

March 26 2019

The political scientists Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of the 2007 book The Israel Lobby, were not the first to discover that attacking the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is an effective way to disguise anti-Semitic conspiracy theories; nor have they proved to be the last. As AIPAC gathers for its annual meeting in Washington, DC—on the heels of the latest round of smears, themselves echoed by major publications—Mark Horowitz points out that nearly every assertion made about the organization by its detractors is based on misinformation:

Progressive groups are demanding that Democratic presidential candidates, who in past cycles might have rushed at the chance to address such a large and engaged crowd, stay away. . . . The bill of particulars never changes: AIPAC has too much money and power. AIPAC bribes Congress into twisting American foreign policy against the national interest. American Jews are more loyal to Israel than they are to the United States. And, most laughably, the Israel lobby silences all criticism of Israel.

AIPAC’s success, [however], . . . flows from the fact that a majority of Americans, not just Jews, are predisposed to support Israel. . . . Why is it so surprising, then, that a lobbying organization exists to channel this support into political and legislative action? Labor unions do it, chambers of commerce do it, abortion-rights groups do it, and Arab-Americans do it. It would be weird if there weren’t a pro-Israel lobby. . . .

And AIPAC was never the big spender its antagonists claim. Its total lobbying expenditures in 2018 came to $3.5 million, which doesn’t even put it in the top 50. (Realtors spent $72.8 million.) . . .

The idea that AIPAC is tied at the hip to the Republican party and Israel’s far right is also an exaggeration. AIPAC is more comfortable, and was always more effective, as a bipartisan operation, positioned near the center of Jewish-American politics. Today, it supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, a view that is widely held by American Jews, but opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current coalition.

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More about: AIPAC, Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, US-Israel relations

 

A Better Syria Strategy Can Help Achieve the U.S. Goal of Countering Iran

While the Trump administration has reversed much of its predecessor’s effort to realign Washington with Tehran, and has effectively used sanctions to exert economic pressure on the Islamic Republic, Omar Hassino argues that these measures might not be enough:

Iran and its militias control more territory and natural resources in Syria and Iraq than before President Trump took office. . . . The U.S. should back the low-cost insurgency approach that has already shown potential in southwest Syria to bleed the Iranian forces and increase the costs of their expansion and [of Tehran’s] support for the Assad regime. It makes no sense that Iran can fund low-cost insurgencies to bleed American allies in the region, but the United States cannot counter with the same. The administration should also consider expanding support to the proxy forces that it currently works with—such as the Revolution Commandos near the [U.S.] al-Tanf garrison in southwest Syria—for the purpose of fighting and eliminating Iranian-backed militias. This limited escalation can curb Iranian expansion and put pressure on the Assad regime in the long term.

Furthermore, in this vein, the U.S. should empower peaceful Syrian civil-society groups and local councils operating outside Assad-regime control. Last year, the Trump administration eliminated assistance for stabilization in Syria, including funding going to secular anti-Assad civil-society groups that were also combating al-Qaeda’s ideology, as well as the Syrian [medical and civil-defense group known as] the White Helmets, before quickly [restoring] some of this funding. Yet the funding has still not completely been resumed, and if this administration takes an approach similar to its predecessor’s in relying on regional powers such as Turkey, these powers will instead fund groups aligned ideologically with Muslim Brotherhood. This is already happening in Idlib.

The United States must [also] jettison the Obama-era [strategy of establishing] “de-escalation zones.” These zones were from the start largely a Russian ruse to help the Assad regime conquer opposition areas, and they succeeded. Now that the regime controls most of Syria and Iranian proxies are dominant within the regime side, support for de-escalation is tantamount to support for Iranian expansion. The United States must [instead] prevent further expansion by the Assad regime and Iran in parts of the country that they still do not control.

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy