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AIPAC: The Expert Analysis

Iran

AIPAC has pursued aggressive U.S. sanctions against Iran to deter it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Currently, the United States has a total economic embargo against Iran and has successfully persuaded the United Nations to pass a milder version of sanctions.

The organization is working to isolate Iran even further with harsher and more controversial sanctions, including a worldwide gasoline embargo, which would batter Iran economically. Although the country is a major producer of oil, it has a limited number of refineries and must import 40 percent of its gasoline.

Those who support these kinds of sanctions see them as a better alternative to military action.

"It'll really tighten the economic screws," says Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who sympathizes with pro-Israel legislation and who speaks at AIPAC events.

AIPAC supporters like Ornstein believe Iran poses a serious threat to the rest of the world, and say if it developed nuclear capabilities it could smuggle them to terrorist organizations or spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. 

Critics of the AIPAC-backed sanctions say a gasoline embargo could very likely lead the United States into a military conflict with Iran, and that the U.S. should be pursuing broader avenues of diplomacy. They also say the economic sanctions that have already been pursued come at great humanitarian cost to the Iranian people, incite extremism and hurt Iran's internal  "Green" democratic movement.

  Dr. Steven Spiegel serves as director of the Center for Middle East Development at the University of California at Los Angeles. He received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1967 and is an expert in American foreign policy in the Middle East. He has published hundreds of articles and several books on the topic.

 

 
 Dr. Steven Spiegel serves as director of the Center for Middle East Development at the University of California at Los Angeles. He received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1967 and is an expert in American foreign policy in the Middle East. He has published hundreds of articles and several books on the topic.
 
Jamal Abdi is policy director at the National Iranian American Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the Iranian-American community. (It does not receive any funding from the Iranian government.) Before joining the council, Abdi worked in Congress as a policy adviser to Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA).
   
  Jamal Abdi is policy director at the National Iranian American Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the Iranian-American community. (It does not receive any funding from the Iranian government.) Before joining the council, Abdi worked in Congress as a policy adviser to Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA).
   
Daniel Levy is co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.  Before coming to the United States, Levy worked on the Oslo B Agreement and the Taba negotiations for former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He also served as a special adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Israeli Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin.

 

The Palestinian Territories

During the 1967 war, Israel occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Palestinians have been able to run a local administration in the West Bank and Gaza since 1993. Israel, however, still maintains a strong military influence over most of these areas and exerts other controls.

Israel has restricted Palestinian movement through hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and walls. The government also allows its citizens to build settlements in the West Bank, which the United Nations considers a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The continuing settlements have also become a major sticking point in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Those who defend the Israeli measures argue that the barriers stop suicide bombers and other kinds of Palestinian attacks. They also say the settlements provide a first line of defense in the West Bank against possible encroachment.

Israel also built a complete barrier around Gaza with Egypt's cooperation and imposes a very strict blockade on the region, which it started in 2007 after Palestinians elected the hard-line Islamic organization Hamas into their local government. The measure severely limits imports, exports and travel, and as a result has crushed Gaza's economy. Some 70 percent of the Palestinian people in Gaza live below the poverty line, according to the CIA fact book.

Those who defend the blockade argue Israel needs these security measures to protect itself from terrorism. Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, is determined to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state, says AIPAC. The Gaza-based group has launched more than 7,000 rocket and mortar attacks into southern Israel over the last handful of years and possesses an estimated 5,000 additional rockets and missiles, according to the AIPAC briefing book.

Although most Israelis and Palestinians agree there should be a two-state solution, defenders of the current tough-line Israeli position say it's difficult for Israel to completely withdraw from the territories without compromising its national security. They do not want to return full control to a group bent on destroying Israel, and they blame the Palestinians for delays in negotiations. Palestinians have recently decided to go to the U.N. to ask for statehood status and have avoided direct talks with Israel. 

Critics of Israel say its policies violate human rights and note that it's only so long the occupation can hold up against the Palestinian desire for an independent state.

Dan Schnur is the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. He is also an AIPAC member, frequent speaker at AIPAC events and strong believer in the AIPAC cause. Before coming to USC, he served as the national director of communications for Sen. John McCain's presidential bid in 2000.
   
Dan Schnur is the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. He is also an AIPAC member, frequent speaker at AIPAC events and strong believer in the AIPAC cause. Before coming to USC, he served as the national director of communications for Sen. John McCain's presidential bid in 2000.
   
Dan Schnur is the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. He is also an AIPAC member, frequent speaker at AIPAC events and strong believer in the AIPAC cause. Before coming to USC, he served as the national director of communications for Sen. John McCain's presidential bid in 2000.
   
Daniel Levy is co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.  Before coming to the United States, Levy worked on the Oslo B Agreement and the Taba negotiations for former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He also served as a special adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Israeli Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin.
   
Salam Al-Marayati is founder and president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an organization dedicated to improving the civil rights of Muslim Americans. He has written extensively on politics in the Middle East and has worked for the past 24 years on improving the image of Muslims. Marayati also served as co-chair of the Interfaith Coalition to Heal Los Angeles, which formed as a result of the Los Angeles civil disturbances in 1992.
   
Uri Zaki is the U.S. director of B'Tselem, an Israeli human-rights organization working in the occupied territories. Before coming to B'Tselem, he was a policy adviser to Israeli Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin and served in the Israel Defense Forces.

 

Making the Case

Every year AIPAC takes part in more than 100 policy initiatives involving the Middle East and Israel, according to its website. These include supporting billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, letters to the president signed by 328 House members and 76 senators that outline some of the Israeli terms for peace, and resolutions that support Israel's use of force, particularly against Hamas.

Those who support the lobby say the U.S. Congress generally supports Israel so uncritically because the American public supports Israel. They say Americans identify with other democracies, that they are sympathetic with the plight of the Jewish people after the Holocaust and understand that Israel and America have shared common enemies in the world.

"The American people consistently and overwhelmingly support America's relationship with Israel," AIPAC said in an email.

Critics of the lobby argue that AIPAC pursues counterproductive, hawkish Israeli policies that do not serve the best interests of the United States. They say AIPAC uses the issue of security threats as a way to justify Israel's military occupation of Palestinian territories, and allege that the way the lobby pushes the U.S. to provide Israel unconditional support will go down as one of the most counterproductive acts of friendship in history.

NOTE: AIPAC would not provide an official interview for this story. It said it's not a public information organization. Offers to respond to the specific criticisms raised by critics cited here were also turned down by AIPAC.

Daniel Levy is co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.  Before coming to the United States, Levy worked on the Oslo B Agreement and the Taba negotiations for former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He also served as a special adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Israeli Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin.
   
M.J. Rosenberg is a senior foreign policy fellow at Media Matters Action Network, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that he was director of policy at the Israel Policy Forum. He also worked for AIPAC in the 1980s but left after he thought the organization had started supporting hawkish policies. 
   
Norman Ornstein is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. He speaks at the annual AIPAC policy conference, worked with the Council of Foreign Relations and has been a longtime observer of national politics.
   

Dr. Steven Spiegel serves as director of the Center for Middle East Development at the University of California at Los Angeles. He received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1967 and is an expert in American foreign policy in the Middle East. He has published hundreds of articles and several books on the topic.

   
Uri Zaki is the U.S. director of B'Tselem, an Israeli human-rights organization working in the occupied territories. Before coming to B'Tselem, he was a policy adviser to Israeli Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin and served in the Israel Defense Forces.

 

 

 

 

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