AIPAC letter reveals: Obama Israel policies making House members nervous
04/01/2010 - 08:10
James Besser

 So AIPAC has convinced some 327 members of the House of Representatives to sign a letter essentially telling the Obama administration to keep its criticisms of the Israeli government private.

Mazel tov; that's an impressive achievement for the pro-Israel lobby group, although it probably didn't take much arm twisting; there's a lot of unease on Capitol Hill about where this administration's Mideast policy is headed.

If the administration has a plan for how it's toughened stance toward Israel will lead to revived negotiations, it's done a pretty lousy job of explaining itself to Congress and the public.

Possibly administration officials don't care; maybe they think the strong support the President continues to get from Jewish voters will insulate him – and the Democrats – from any real backlash, no matter how loud pro-Israel groups like AIPAC protest and no matter how many members of Congress sign a protest letter (which, interestingly, does not address the issue of Jewish settlements at all, but merely tells Washington to express its criticisms directly to the Israeli government, in private).

But let's be honest; it's not Jewish votes that count, especially in congressional elections; it's Jewish campaign money. And for now, that money is mostly channeled through pro-Israel givers who are more likely to listen to AIPAC than to J Street. No wonder even many Democrats, facing congressional midterm elections that could be rough going for their party, are nervous.

Maybe Obama does have plan, and that the squeeze on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  is part of a coherent strategy. But the impression his administration gives is that this is ad-hoc policy – or, worse, policy shaped mostly by their anger at this Israeli government for its shoddy treatment of Vice President Joe Biden and slurs against Obama's top Jewish aides.

The bipartisan outpouring on last week's letter reflects AIPAC's lobbying clout, to be sure. But it also reflects the fact administration Middle East policy has yet to reveal its coherent magnificence, and is making a lot of lawmakers who are up for reelection this year – and frantically raising money – very nervous.

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