Will AIPAC defeat Obama’s Iran deal?

The effort to win Congressional approval of Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal took a major hit this week when the third-ranking Senate Democrat, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, informed the White House and publicly announced his opposition to it. Senator Schumer, who is slated to lead Senate Democrats after the impending retirement of Harry Reid of Nevada, stated, “After deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote ‘yes’ on a motion of disapproval.” Most likely Schumer was looking out for Israel’s interest and paralleling AIPAC’s and Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the deal.

Similarly, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, New York Representative Eliot Engel, issued a statement opposing the deal and expressed his intent to vote to block its passage once it hits the floor of the house. Both Schumer and Engel represent the views of mainstream Jewish American organizations on the deal. Indeed, an intense lobbying campaign is underway by the Israeli government and AIPAC to defeat the deal in the U.S. Congress and undermine President Obama’s Middle East agenda. In addition to both Schumer and Engel, a number of Jewish Democratic representatives announced their opposition, including Steve Israel and Nita Lowey of New York and Ted Deutch of Florida. It will be interesting to see how many Democratic senators and representatives will support President Obama on the Iran deal and will they be able to stare down AIPAC in an election year. It is expected that a resolution of disapproval will pass, and President Obama will veto the bill once it reaches his desk, which means the real plans are underway for the second round preventing a two-thirds override from taking place. The president needs 34 senators or 290 in the House to sustain a veto.

The president faces unanimous opposition on the Republican side. It will be surprising if any Republicans vote in favor of the deal, considering the current ideological landscape in Washington. A resolution for disapproval of the Iran deal will be introduced in both the House and Senate when lawmakers’ return to Washington on Sept. 8 in what is expected to be an intense debate. In the background of Washington’s political theater will lurk presidential candidates and surrogates vying for position, camera time and more critically, donor attention, which will make for an interesting debate. As the 2016 presidential contest is already underway and the current Republican field has expressed opposition to the Iran deal, then the possibility of sustaining it will fall on a few Democrats in the Senate and whether they are able to sustain a presidential veto and oppose AIPAC and Israel.

AIPAC’s and Netanyahu’s influence in the U.S. Congress is substantial and extremely so in an election cycle where major competition for high-end campaign donations make or break Congressional or senatorial campaigns. Even before the signing of the agreement, AIPAC was able to mobilize 47 senators to send a letter to Iran in attempt to undercut President Obama’s negotiations. After the signing of the deal, AIPAC set up a new political action committee, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, with a plan to spend some $40 million on political ads in 35 states to oppose the agreement. In addition, the Israel Project is leading a grassroots effort through social media, setting up meetings with editorial boards and presentations in synagogues to oppose the current deal.

While AIPAC has declared war on President Obama’s Iran deal, the left and Democratic leaning J Street came out in support of the agreement. To support the president’s policy, J Street put out an ad, “Good for Israel, Good for America,” through its Educational Fund, featuring Israeli security and military leaders speaking in favor of the deal. Jewish Voice for Peace expressed similar support, and the group has sent an action alert, calling on its members and supporters to call or write their congressional representatives and demand that they support the agreement and prevent a war.

What is clear is that the debate is centered on whether the deal with Iran is good or bad for Israel, and for all intents and purposes, it is situated predominantly between right wing and left wing American Zionists. AIPAC and Israel’s supporters, including the same neo-conservative groups that pushed for the Iraq war, are whipping the American public into shape to oppose President Obama’s Iran deal. Israel, a country that the U.S. financially and militarily props-up with $3.1 billion direct aid annually and equal amounts in other creative ways, including loan guarantees, forward placement of equipment, joint training programs and research initiatives, is working to undermine the president’s Middle East foreign policy. Is President Obama capable of defeating AIPAC by securing 34 votes in the U.S. Senate or will the lobby remain king of the hill!