WASHINGTON — Jewish groups greeted with enthusiasm the announcement that the Senate would begin hearings on increased sanctions against Iran after the Thanksgiving break, although groups on different sides of the political spectrum worked to cast Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) announcement in a way that aligned with their lobbying efforts.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an AIPAC source said that the organization welcomed the announcement. The official added that the organization, which has actively lobbied for increased sanctions — and, in doing so, evoked the ire of the Obama administration — sees the announcement and the subsequent bill as important statements about the resolve of Senate Democrats and Republicans to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.
Late last month, top-level administration members met with the leadership of AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to try to convince the groups to tone down their support for stricter sanctions against Iran. AIPAC announced shortly after the meeting that it would not comply with the request, and lobbying for Senate action on an Iran sanctions bill continued.
ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman initially complied with the administration’s request, but then publicly reversed tack, and resumed advocating for additional sanctions. He said that he was “comforted” by the Senate announcement, “because it sends a message where Congress is — that Congress understands the need for additional sanctions, and that whatever happens by December 8, it will either be an additional incentive or consequences for a no-good deal.”
Foxman, who has expressed concern about the emergent deal taking shape in Geneva, added that “if there is any agreement coming out of Geneva, this is a message that Congress will watch and test the commitment made by Iran.”
Israel has also pushed hard for legislation. Minister of Economics and Trade Naftali Bennett worked the halls of Capitol Hill last week to push senators toward such legislation, and to mobilize members of the House, who approved a similar bill over the summer by a landslide vote of 400-20, to call on their Senate colleagues to do the same.
On the other side of the lobbying spectrum, J Street cast the Thursday afternoon announcement in a very different light, claiming that Reid’s announcement was a victory for the administration and those who had pushed for a delay in additional sanctions.
The organization was the first to issue an official response to Reid’s commitment to bring a sanctions bill to a vote in the Senate after Thanksgiving, saying that “J Street welcomes the Senate’s decision not to advance new sanctions legislation at this time.”
J Street emphasized the delay rather than the promise to hold a vote, saying that because the Senate will “take no action until after the Thanksgiving recess,” the delay “should give the Obama administration and its international partners the time they need to reach this first-step agreement with Iran.”
J Street has been lobbying senators to hold off on additional sanctions legislation, echoing the administration’s arguments that new sanctions — while talks are underway in Geneva — could strengthen “opponents of a deal in Tehran, undermining the international coalition that built the sanctions and sabotaging the negotiations.”
In its statement, J Street argued that the question of additional sanctions should be revisited after an interim agreement is reached, and emphasized that at that point, Congress should “assess, with the help of the administration, whether or not further sanctions may be either warranted or helpful.”
The organization is aligned with the administration in asserting that the alternative to diplomatic resolution is the “only way to avoid one of two nightmare scenarios — either the Iranians develop a bomb, or military action becomes inescapable to stop them from doing so.”