J Street, JDCA the only Jewish groups to back House vote on Iran war powers

AIPAC, AJC and other leading Jewish organizations stay silent on non-binding measure in wake of Trump-ordered strike on Iranian general

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks with reporters following an escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran, January 9, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks with reporters following an escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran, January 9, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Progressive Middle East advocacy group J Street and the Jewish Democratic Council of America were alone among major American Jewish organizations to support a House resolution this week to limit US President Donald Trump’s Iran war powers.

The US House of Representatives approved a measure Thursday asserting that Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. It passed 224-194, with just three Republicans voting in support. Eight Democrats opposed the measure.

“J Street commends the House of Representatives’s passage of a war powers resolution to prevent the president from carrying out a disastrous, unauthorized war of choice with Iran,” the organization said. “By taking this step, Congress has acted to restrain an out-of-control president and assert its constitutional authority to decide whether, when and where our country goes to war.”

J Street’s backing for the measure was hardly surprising. The group was a vigorous supporter of the Iran nuclear deal — and vehement critic of Trump’s decision to withdraw from it — and accused the US president of escalating tensions with Iran by ordering an airstrike on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)

Earlier in the week, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami called for Congress to pass the resolution. “President Trump and Secretary [Mike] Pompeo may want a war, but the American people do not,” he said. “Congress must stand up and do everything in its power to restrain the White House — before it’s too late.”

The only other Jewish group that took a similar stance in response to Soleimani’s killing on January 3 was the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

“We supported the War Powers resolution led by @RepSlotkin to rein in the president’s ability to conduct military operations against Iran without the authorization of Congress, applauded its passage, and are encouraging a similar vote in the Senate,” the group tweeted.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee declined a request for comment from The Times of Israel on the House resolution.

Representatives from the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations also declined to comment.

The war powers resolution is not binding on the president and would not require his signature. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nonetheless insisted it “has real teeth” because “it is a statement of the Congress of the United States.”

The measure will “protect American lives and values” by limiting Trump’s military actions, Pelosi said. “The administration must de-escalate and must prevent further violence.”

US President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House on the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing US troops, January 8, 2020. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, denounced the Democratic motion as “a press release designed to attack President Trump.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California called it a ”meaningless vote” on a measure that will never be sent to the president or “limit his constitutional authority to defend the American people.”

The House vote came a day after the Trump administration briefed lawmakers on its actions in Iran. Democrats and several Republicans called the briefings inadequate, saying officials did not provide enough details about why the attack was justified.

The five-page resolution says, “Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran or any part of its government or military” unless Congress declares war on that country or enacts legislation authorizing use of force to prevent an attack on the US and its forces.

The House resolution’s sponsor, freshman Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, said it is intended to “make clear that if the president wants to take us to war, he must get authorization from Congress.”

Trump did not consult with congressional leaders ahead of the attack that killed Soleimani. Afterward, he sent Congress a notification explaining the rationale, but has kept it classified.

Supporters of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or the MEK, an Iranian exile group, hold signs and flags during a show of support for a US airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Lafayette Park across from the White House, January 5, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Trump administration has pushed back on criticism it acted recklessly, saying was Soleimani was planning “imminent” attacks against American facilities and had to be stopped.

Trump, facing one of the greatest tests of his presidency, said Wednesday that Iran appeared to be “standing down” and said the US response would be to put in place new economic sanctions “until Iran changes its behavior.”

The strikes by Iran had pushed Tehran and Washington perilously close to all-out conflict and put the world’s attention on Trump as he weighed whether to respond with more military force.

Republicans have largely supported Trump’s actions, saying the president was well within his power to take out Iran’s architect of proxy operations against Americans in the Middle East. The US considered Soleimani a terrorist.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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