AIPAC's decision to oppose the Iran deal sent a clear message about its opinion of the Obama administration's Israel policy. As JTA's Ron Kampeas reports, AIPAC has raised $30 million dollars for television ads against the deal. The landing page of its website has been overtaken by fact sheets and memos about the harm the deal will incur against the US and of course Israel. Many of these documents raise important points about snapback provisions, the lifting of sanctions, and covert enrichment.
However, AIPAC's strategy of blanket opposition to the deal is a little risky. Roughly 49% of US Jews support the Iran nuclear deal while 31% oppose it. In taking a decisive stance against the deal, AIPAC is - in theory - leaving its centrist constituency vulnerable. J Street has a dedicated website for supporting the deal, as well as a factsheet responding to AIPAC's arguments. But its websites say little about why supporting the Iran deal is a decidedly pro-Israel position, and its factsheet shows it is letting AIPAC set the agenda. AIPAC is leaving the center flank open because it knows J Street will have difficulty bleeding centrists from its ranks.
AIPAC's confidence that it holds the center of the American pro-Israel community is a statement about the lack of true debate over the deal from an Israel perspective. Sure, the debate over the deal itself is extensive. But no actor in the American pro-Israel community has argued as a major tenet of its platform that the Iran deal might actually be good for Israel. Checks on enrichment aren't perfect but they're a lot better than what Israel has now. Lifted sanctions are potentially risky but they also allow Israel and its allies to trace cash flows among their dangerous adversaries. The deal may fail, but that wouldn't preclude Israeli or American military action on Iran. The case does exist, but nobody is making it.
Rather, the community's position reflects an addiction to cynicism that is hampering its ability to make its legitimate concerns heard in Washington. Israel is "causing problems" for the Obama administration, but at the end of the day it may have very little to show for calling Obama's foreign policy crown jewel an "historic mistake." AIPAC touts Saudi criticism of the deal but stops short of urging Israel to emulate the Saudi position of official support but with specific reservations. Instead, it has wholeheartedly embraced Israel's unconditional rejection of the Iran deal. This is not a position in support of the group's mission to "strengthen, protect, and promote the US-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of Israel and the United States." Instead, it encourages the alienating behavior for which both American and Israeli leaders are responsible, but from which neither side benefits.