After some low key lobbying to urge Congress to support military action against Syria – on the theory that punishing Bashar Assad for using poison gas was critical to American credibility in convincing Iran not to build nukes – AIPAC went very high profile, reportedly at White House urging.
The immediate response to the organization's trumpeting of its decision to help rescue a president who had bungled the issue was a huge burst of publicity for the lobby group. Not all of it flattering. Some stories focused on the power and influence of the pro-Israel lobby, but others -- including some in the Israeli media -- worried that AIPAC and Israel were pushing the United States into another war against Arabs and Muslims.
The another was reference to the oft repeated and maliciously inaccurate charges that the Jews were a driving force behind George W. Bush's ill-advised and lie-based war against Iraq a decade ago. The reality is most of the Jewish community opposed that war and even the Israeli prime minister privately cautioned the American president against the adventure.
But this time is different. AIPAC is leading an all-out charge by American Jewish organizations in support of an American military strike on Syria, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to be making personal calls to his friends on Capitol Hill at the personal request of President Obama.
Many in Israel are very uneasy about a backlash from being made an issue in Obama's campaign for Congressional backing. This is America's fight, not Israel's, they're saying. "It is not at all certain that [AIPAC] is working for Israel this time," said an editorial in Maariv last week. "Israel is doing its utmost to stay out of" the debate "while AIPAC is also forcibly dragging us in."
AIPAC is not humble. The lobby, which wants you to know it has been called "the most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill," has apparently decided to cash in on all that publicity about its clout. I recently received a fundraising letter over the signature of Brian Shankman, the director of Regional Affairs and Development telling me (and the thousands of others on his mailing list) about all the dangers Israel faces right now, and especially this:
On August 21, Assad forces in Syria launched one of the world’s most deadly chemical weapons attacks, poisoning more than 1,400 of its own citizens (including more than 400 children). This dangerous use of chemical weapons just 50 miles from Israel's borders has forced Israel to issue its citizens gas masks in the case of a potential attack by Syria or one of its allies.
How can I help? "By renewing your AIPAC membership today," said the fundraising appeal.
Sorry, Brian, I'm not an AIPAC member. And everything I've seen and heard from friends who work there, you don't really need the money.
The operating theory in fundraising seems to be "if you can't convince 'em, scare 'em." Shankman's letter offers litany of terrifying threats facing Israel and warns, "If you’re like many pro-Israel Americans, these events have you more scared for Israel’s security then you’ve likely felt in many years."
What to do? What to do? Send money of course. And get it in quickly, Shankman pleads, because "our fiscal year ends on September 30th" and, as he noted in a previous appeal, AIPAC is "fiscally conservative," and “we only budget for the next year based on cash collected the previous year.” No pressure. You don't have to send your check today; you can send it tomorrow, if Israel hasn't been destroyed by then.
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