It may not the best timing for convening 14,000 supporters of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. And it’s not just because another snow storm is bearing down on the nation’s capital or because participants will have to make a tough choice between showing their support for Israel and watching their favorite Hollywood stars walking the red carpet on Oscars night.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference kicking off Sunday will take place too close to the lobby’s recent defeat in gaining support for passing a new sanctions bill against Iran in the Senate. Pro-Israel lobbyists are also meeting at a moment in which the U.S.-brokered Middle East peace plan is still in flux, making it difficult for AIPAC to find the right tone to address Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative.
As a result, AIPAC is entering its annual confab with a looser legislative agenda than usual, that circles around the issue of Iran and that does not delve into the details of the Middle East peace process.
Still, the gathering will serve as an important opportunity to mend fences with the Obama administration on Iran and to correct the impression held by some in the Democratic Party, that AIPAC has shifted away from its stated bipartisan path.
Advocating for increased sanctions on Iran has been a cornerstone of AIPAC lobbying agenda for the past decade.
This year, with an interim agreement between Iran and the major powers in effect, the debate over further sanctions has become more complicated. Faced with vigorous opposition from the administration, led personally by President Obama, AIPAC failed in obtaining enough votes to pass a new sanctions resolution in the Senate and retreated to a position supporting sanctions but agreeing to delay putting the new bill to a vote.
Even after the setback, AIPAC is not giving up on the bill. When descending on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the thousands of AIPAC supporters attending the conference will ask Senators to add their signature as co-sponsor of the bill. AIPAC will not ask the co-signers to commit to an immediate vote.