by Eli Clifton
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is going to have a challenging time at its annual policy conference this weekend persuading attendees and those watching at home that it has healed the partisan rift it opened by investing millions of dollars in opposing the Iran nuclear deal. Following Trump’s election, partisanship in Washington had reached an all-time high, making AIPAC’s role in currying bipartisan support for new Iran sanctions, opposing the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and securing billions in military aid for Israel all the more difficult.
That partisan rift may now run even deeper. During the 2015-16 battle over the Iran nuclear agreement, the organization appears to have contributed financially to the production and/or airing of a factually inaccurate attack-ad on J Street, the liberal pro-Israel group that increasingly threatens AIPAC’s historic hold on Democratic lawmakers and office-holders.
As in the past, AIPAC is touting this year’s conference as a strictly bipartisan affair that demonstrates steadfast support for Israel on both sides of the aisle.
“This is an unprecedented time of political polarization, and we will have a rare bipartisan gathering in Washington,” an official of the lobby told the JTA’s Ron Kampeas about the March 26-28 confab. “One of the impressive aspects of our speaker program is that we will have the entire bipartisan leadership of Congress.”
But looming over the conference is the Trump presidency—which continues to push forward its highly partisan agenda on healthcare, tax reform, and its efforts to impose a ban on immigration from a number of Muslim majority countries. Then there’s AIPAC’s decision to take sides against the last Democratic president on his signature foreign-policy achievement, the Iran deal.
Last week, LobeLog reported that AIPAC’s spin-off, Citizens for Nuclear Free Iran (CFNI), contributed $60,000 to the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a far-right think tank headed up by anti-Muslim advocate and conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney. A flawed poll, commissioned by CSP and conducted by senior Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, was the primary source cited by the Trump campaign in its championing of a Muslim ban.
Neither CSP nor AIPAC responded to LobeLog’s requests for comment before publication of our report about the contribution, but AIPAC spoke with Haaretz. Haaretz reported:
An AIPAC official told Haaretz that the money was used for ads against the nuclear deal, stressing that it was a relatively small amount out of the organization’s overall $20 million budget.
So, what ads did the AIPAC affiliated group pay for?
CSP ran several commercials opposing the Iran nuclear deal, but one of them stands out in that it directly attacks J Street, a key proponent of the Iran nuclear deal.
The ad leads off with text saying “J Street isn’t telling the IRANtruth” in reference to a J Street commercial that claimed that “the nuclear agreement with Iran contains the toughest inspections program in history with inspectors on the ground and round-the-clock-monitoring at all Iranian nuclear site.”
CSP’s ad points out that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had said that “we will not allow any inspection of any military site.”
CSP concludes, “The Ayatollah is telling the IRANtruth.”
Actually, J Street was telling the truth. The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a non-partisan research center with expertise in nuclear non-proliferation, confirmed that:
All of Iran’s nuclear facilities will be under 24/7 surveillance. The deal also provides an unprecedented process for inspecting facilities where the IAEA suspects illicit nuclear activity may be occurring. This means the IAEA can inspect businesses, military facilities, and even the President of Iran’s garage if necessary.
The nonpartisan Arms Control Association directly addressed the criticism about access to military facilities, saying:
Opponents of the deal have criticized the inspections regime for not allowing “anytime, anywhere” access. Iran would not have accepted an agreement with requirements that would allow inspectors unfettered access to its military sites, and more importantly, such access is unnecessary. The IAEA will have timely access to any site of concern, when necessary, under the JCPOA. The Joint Commission will ensure that the agency is able to visit sites within 24 days, even if Iran initially attempts to block this access.
Khamenei, CSP, and the AIPAC’s CFNI may have had their own reasons for pushing the narrative that Iranian military facilities were exempt from inspections, but that simply does not line up with what the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) provided.
CSP’s director of Middle East Peace and Security Policy, Alex VanNess, responded to a request for comment from LobeLog by emphasizing that CFNI is “legally separate” from AIPAC, but would not respond to questions about whether the $60,000 contribution was used to fund specific anti-Iran deal ads.
AIPAC did not respond to questions about its funding of CSP’s anti-Iran deal advertising, so it remains unclear whether it asked Gaffney to target J Street in particular.
If an AIPAC spinoff did, in fact, help fund the attack on J Street—particularly if it effectively commissioned one of the country’s most prominent Islamophobic organizations to do so—it suggests that the powerful lobby feels increasingly threatened by the upstart Jewish group. J Street’s convention this year drew some 3,500 people attendees from around the country, as well as top Democrats as speakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential running-mate, Sen. Tim Kaine. Also, AIPAC’s position on the JCPOA was not popular within the Jewish community. According to a Los Angeles Jewish Journal poll conducted in July 2015, 53 percent of Jewish Americans wanted Congress to approve the deal while only 35 percent opposed it.