Solow Questions AIPAC’s Strategy in Failed Campaign Against Iran Deal

The American Jewish leadership could’ve done more to avoid the debate over the Iran nuclear deal which had caused a major rift within the American Jewish community and a low point in the U.S. Israel relationship, Alan Solow, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of major U.S. organizations and a close friend of President Barack Obama, said on Thursday.

“Where do U.S. Jews go after the Iran deal?” was the primary topic of the 90-minute discussion that took place Thursday night at Columbia University with panelists Alan Solow, Rabbi Shai Held, head of Mechon Hadar, and Bari Weiss, an associate book review editor for the Wall Street Journal. The panel was moderated by Jordan Hirsch, visiting fellow at the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies.

Solow explained that while U.S. Jewry and the Israeli Prime Minister had succeeded in turning the Iranian nuclear threat into a world issue, once it left the control of the Israeli government it had become a U.S. national security issue and a global dynamic. That convinced many U.S. Jews to support the nuclear deal out of exhaustion of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. “For a lot of American Jews this caused an examination of the deal in a way that typically doesn’t arise when we talk about what’s the foreign policy relationship between the U.S. and Israel,” Solow asserted. “There were large segments in the Jewish community who were tired of American intervention in the Middle East and were frustrated with the Iraq war, and to a degree, the war in Afghanistan. They began to peal away from the Israeli position on Iran.”

Weiss, on the other hand, suggested that the split in support and opposition to the deal had more to do with a psychological divide between Jewish Democrats and their loyalty to Obama to those who thought the deal was an existential threat to Israel.

Pinpointing to the primary failure of the American Jewish community, Solow and Weiss agreed that it was allowing the deal to pass. Rabbi Held, however, pointed out to the overestimating of Jewish power and overplaying its hand on an issue that had political consequences.

But Solow also questioned AIPAC’s strategy for failing to adjust its strategy after the Corker-Cardin bill was passed, not trying to influence the deal and working with the administration on the flaws of the deal rather than opposing it. “I hope that the analysis that AIPAC made was that they weighed the thought of being against the deal even when they knew it was hopeless; that it was better and more effective for them than choosing some other strategy by which they could’ve perhaps working on – what they characterized as – some of the holes that exist in the deal, which maybe they could’ve influenced repairing if they would not be so strong against the deal,” he contended. “I believe that once the Corker-Cardin legislation passed, which required 2/3 plus 1 to override the president’s veto, it was over.”

While acknowledging that the pro-Israel lobbying group was left with no choice but to oppose the deal, given the strong, unified opposition in Israel, he stressed that AIPAC had many opportunities to advise the Israeli government to change its strategy by underlining the stance of the American Jewish community. “From an AIPAC standpoint, I think they had no choice. When I was chairman of the Conference of Presidents, we had a standing rule that we are going to support Israel democracy and in the first instance give them the benefit of the doubt. That means even more when both the opposition and the government take a position on an issue that is as important as Iran,” said Solow. “The only thing I would say about that is that the leaders of major Jewish American organizations are in regular dialogue with the government of the State of Israel. So there were certainly points in time when American Jewish leadership had the opportunity to say to the Netanyahu government and the opposition: ‘Maybe the strategy we are following isn’t working. It is up to you to think about what you want to change. But we could give you some advice of what the American political scene looks like.’”

The ultimate result of campaigning against the deal and the rhetoric that accompanied the debate, Solow maintained, divided the Jewish community and will be harder to get those who’ve distanced themselves from the Israeli positions on board when it comes to fighting the BDS movement. “To tell (about) 50% of American Jewry in a time like this that they are not pro-Israel is a huge mistake that I don’t want us to pay for – tomorrow, in a year from now or in 10 years from now,” he stated.

Nonetheless, the panelists expressed optimism that the U.S.-Israel relationship will survive the difficult few months, but more importantly that Jewish organizations will learn from the experience and adapt to adjust to the stance of the American Jewish community in the years to come.

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