AIPAC kicks off major lobbying push against Iran pact

Pro-Israel group to fly hundreds of supporters into Washington next week to sway Congress to shoot down nuclear deal

Workers prepare the stage before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to the AIPAC 2015 Policy Conference on March 2, 2015. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/JTA)
Workers prepare the stage before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to the AIPAC 2015 Policy Conference on March 2, 2015. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Hundreds of pro-Israel activists from across the country will descend on Capitol Hill next week to press members of Congress to reject the nuclear deal with Iran.

The July 28-29 fly-in, which will bring to this city some of the most dedicated of the 100,000-strong membership of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is part of a multi-pronged effort by the pro-Israel lobby aimed at killing the agreement reached between Iran and the world powers on July 14.

The campaign, according to top pro-Israel officials who briefed reporters on Wednesday, will also include TV ads by a new AIPAC-backed nonprofit dedicated to killing the deal, calls and emails by activists to their congressional representatives, and attendance at town hall meetings lawmakers are expected to convene during the August congressional recess.

Congress has two months to consider the deal, and the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives and Senate has indicated there will be a vote. If the lawmakers vote to disapprove, President Barack Obama has said he will veto their action. If congressional opponents can manage to muster the two-thirds majority in both chambers necessary to override a veto, it will kill the deal.

Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, the AIPAC-backed nonprofit, has raised nearly $30 million to run ads in 40 states, said one of the pro-Israel officials who had been briefed on the group.

Deal opponents as well as supporters will focus on Jewish communities. Five Jewish Federations – Boston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and two in South Florida – have come out against the deal.

J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that supports the deal, has raised more than $2 million to run TV ads on news networks and is bringing in prominent Israelis who back the agreement, including a former consul general in New York, Alon Pinkas, and former Knesset member Amram Mitzna. On Thursday, J Street ran a full-page ad in The New York Times backing the deal.

Top administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, briefed lawmakers on Wednesday in classified sessions and on Thursday are slated to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The equivalent House committee will hear from the trio on Tuesday, the first day of the AIPAC fly-in.

The New York Times reported that Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, also briefed conservative Republicans on Wednesday, urging them to kill the deal. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House speaker, has pledged to do whatever he can do stop the deal.

In the sights of AIPAC lobbyists will be Democrats who have yet to commit to supporting or opposing the deal, particularly those in states with large concentrations of Jewish voters, among them Florida and New York.

The pro-Israel officials who briefed reporters outlined a three-pronged presentation that lobbyists and activists will be making when meeting with lawmakers and their staffs: Asking the lawmaker whether he or she believes the deal is a good one; explaining that disapproval will not have the dire consequences as predicted by Obama; and outlining why AIPAC opposes the deal.

Among the major AIPAC objections are the freeing up of $100 billion to $150 billion in sanctions relief after Iran complies with the provisions in the deal, rolling back and shutting down its nuclear activities. While the pro-Israel officials agreed with assessments by the administration that a large chunk of the money will go to reviving Iran’s stagnant economy, even a relatively small percentage diverted to Iranian mischief-making, they said, could destabilize the region.

Another objection is to the agreed-upon protocols for inspections of nuclear sites. The inspections regimen on known sites was impressive, they said, but the regimen for inspecting suspected nuclear weapons manufacturing activity at new sites was cumbersome, with as much as 24-day notice required for an inspection, which they said would allow Iran time to cover up its tracks.

The pro-Israel officials also expressed concerns about whether the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations inspections arm, would be able to adequately assess past Iran weapons development.

Regarding predictions of dire consequences by Obama and his officials, who have said that a deal breakdown could lead to war or accelerate Iran’s manufacture of a nuclear weapon, AIPAC’s activists will describe these concerns as overblown. The pro-Israel officials said that Iran would not launch a war that could further isolate it. They said that U.S. sanctions that would stay in place should Congress reject a deal would continue to squeeze Iran even if other countries renewed trade, and would create conditions conducive to renewed talks under better conditions.

The pro-Israel officials acknowledged that reaching a veto override was a long shot, albeit a “doable” one. In the meantime, the strategy is to garner enough votes for a decisive defeat in the first vote, which would establish momentum.

The vast majority of Republicans oppose the deal, although a handful will likely favor it. To override a veto, opponents of the deal need at least 13 Senate Democrats and 45 House Democrats.

The House challenge is seen as the most serious. Democrat California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, is popular in her caucus and when she favors a policy, as she does the Iran deal, caucus discipline has been very tight.

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