Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in Washington, D.C., at AIPAC’s annual conference, March 2, 2015. AIPAC is following Israel in rejecting the nuclear deal with Iran. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON (JTA) — AIPAC called on Congress to reject the Iran nuclear deal, saying it does not meet critical markers that the influential pro-Israel lobby outlined in recent weeks. But the liberal Jewish Middle East lobby J Street announced a multimillion-dollar campaign to support the agreement.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee made its case against in a statement Wednesday delivered after President Barack Obama conducted a news conference of more than an hour defending the deal achieved a day earlier.
“We strongly believe that the alternative to this bad deal is a better deal,” AIPAC said in its statement. “Congress should reject this agreement, and urge the administration to work with our allies to maintain economic pressure on Iran while offering to negotiate a better deal that will truly close off all Iranian paths to a nuclear weapon.”
Under the law, Congress may disapprove the deal. AIPAC’s call to reject the agreement achieved between six world powers and Iran will make it likelier that Congress will send Obama a “no,” although it is unlikely that opponents will have the numbers to override the veto that Obama has pledged to deliver. Disapproval requires a simple majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate; overriding a veto requires two-thirds majorities in both chambers.
On Tuesday, AIPAC had expressed skepticism about the deal, but held back from calling for its rejection until its details became clearer. A number of other major Jewish groups have expressed reservations about the pact, but only a handful have come out absolutely on either side.
Israel rejected the deal immediately and plans to lobby the Congress to reject it. In a show of national unity, Yitzhak Herzog, the leader of the opposition Zionist Union party, is coming to Washington next week to lobby against the deal.
AIPAC said the deal did not meet key markers that it has circulated since June. Among other complaints, AIPAC noted that the agreement does not grant inspectors immediate access to sites, lifts restrictions as early as eight years, does not require the dismantling of centrifuges and allows sanctions relief before compliance, although Obama administration officials have said that sanctions will not be lifted until Iran meets certain markers.
The lobby appeared to challenge claims by Obama – made as recently as his Wednesday news conference – that the likeliest alternative to the deal was war.
“Proponents of the proposed agreement will argue that the only alternative to this agreement is military conflict,” AIPAC said. “In fact, the reverse is true. A bad agreement such as this will invite instability and nuclear proliferation. It will embolden Iran and may encourage regional conflict.”
J Street, announcing its campaign on Wednesday, said it will make the case to lawmakers that the agreement “advances both U.S. and Israeli security interests.” The lobby has raised $2 million thus far for the drive, a source said.
“J Street wants Congress to know that, despite some loud opposition to the deal coming from Jewish organizational leaders, our polling suggests that a clear majority of Jewish Americans agrees with us and backs the deal,” the group said in a statement.
The campaign will launch this week with a 30-second TV advertisement highlighting the unprecedented inspections and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear and military sites under the agreement, along with more broadcast and print ads over the next 60 days.
Obama in his news conference asked lawmakers not to heed lobbyists in considering the deal. Earlier Wednesday, his vice president, Joe Biden, had met Democratic lawmakers in a closed session to persuade them to back a deal. Republicans overwhelmingly oppose the deal.
The president seemed eager to counter criticism of the deal.
“With this deal we cut off every one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear program, a nuclear weapons program,” he said.