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If It’s Going to Push Us to War, Is It Time for AIPAC to Register as a Foreign Agent?

thierry ehrmann / CC BY 2.0

This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.

Most polls show that Jewish Americans are the Americans most enthusiastic about the diplomatic deal reached at Vienna between Iran and the UN Security Council over its civilian nuclear enrichment program.

J-Street-poll-on-Iran-Nuclear-Agreement

So the umbrella group of lobbyists supposedly dedicated to representing Jewish Americans, the American Israel Political Affairs Committee, is lobbying for the deal, right?

Wrong.

It not only is sending lobbyists to the offices of all US congressional representatives and putting them under heavy pressure to reject the Vienna accords, but it or its subsidiaries are flooding the airwaves with vicious disinformation in an attempt to confuse the American public.

So my question is, on whose behalf is AIPAC intervening in American domestic politics? Even if the J-Street and LA polls are flawed, how likely is it that they are hiding an overwhelming and vehement opposition to the deal among American Jewry (the vast majority of whom vote for the Democratic Party and strongly supported Barack Obama for president)? Or that the gap between Jewish Americans and other Americans on this issue, discovered in the same polls, doesn’t actually exist?

The only logical possibility is that AIPAC is acting on behalf of the Likud government of Israel.

And if it is doing that, it falls under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy repeatedly demanded that the American Zionist Council, the forerunner of AIPAC, so register. Former Senator J. William Fulbright made a case for it in 1988. The 2005 prosecution of two AIPAC employees for passing a classified Pentagon document to an Israeli official should have pitched the question again but did not.

It matters because President Obama and Sec. John Kerry have repeatedly said that the likely alternative to the Iran deal is a war with Iran down the road. Such a war could well be the coup de grace for an already anemic American economy (wages have not recovered from 2008-9).

Logically speaking, AIPAC is ipso facto lobbying our congressmen and women, who are supposed to be representing us Americans, on behalf of a foreign government, to reject peace and send our children to war. In my own view that is pretty despicable.

President Obama is complaining about Israeli interference in US politics. But he has only himself to blame. As long as AIPAC is treated differently from other lobbies for a foreign state, and as long as Obama has his ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers, veto UN Security Resolutions condemning Israel for its massive violations of international law in Gaza and the West Bank, this kind of interference will only mount.

Admittedly, FARA as a law is imperfectly administered in Washington, where foreign countries employ 1,000 lobbyists to pressure Congress. But in the case of Egypt or, say, Vietnam, the lobbyists have to report their activities, and lawmakers too identified with foreign states can suffer reputationally. Also, expert witnesses who testify before Congress, under a recent law, have to be transparent about who they’ve been working for. The documents filed under FARA can also be gotten from the Department of Justice by US citizens, whereas AIPAC’s activities happen in the dark. In fact, it for instance lobbied Congress heavily in favor of the Iraq War but now denies the fact, and we have no way of double checking. FARA reporting would be helpful.

The situation with AIPAC is not unique. Other American ethnic groups often lobby on behalf of a home country. Armenian-Americans tried to use their lobby (which also isn’t registered with FARA) to pressure Nancy Pelosi to have the US Congress recognize the Armenian genocide, at the risk of a rupture of US relations with Turkey. (I’m not taking sides on this issue, just recounting what happened). But then I think domestic US lobbies on behalf both of Turkey and of Armenia should register under FARA.

President Obama should ask Atty. General Loretta Lynch to begin proceedings to make AIPAC register, as well.

Juan Cole
Contributor
Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the proprietor of the Informed Comment e-zine. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in…
Juan Cole

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