Posted on: May 1, 2009 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 0

Two former staffers for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had the charges of espionage against them dropped today. The government decided it was going to have too difficult of a time in winning this case.

Think AIPAC won? Think again.

Pastor John Hagee addresses an AIPAC conference
Pastor John Hagee addresses an AIPAC conference

This case has been pending since August of 2005, and you can bet that the attention it has thrown onto AIPAC’s activities was very much unwanted in those halls. The recent re-surfacing of Rep. Jane Harman’s alleged attempt to get the case dismissed years back no doubt infuriated them more.

And well it should. AIPAC and other groups that busily lobby on Capitol Hill to either maintain the status quo or even strengthen Israel’s hold on the Palestinians are losing ground. It’s not a position that enjoys much popular support anymore.

AIPAC’s influence is visibly slipping. In the past, they wisely avoided getting too cozy with any particular political group, be it one of the two parties or a political wave. But the neoconservatives tempted them too much.

It wasn’t merely neocon influence. It was the confluence of events: Ariel Sharon’s cozy relationship with the Bush Administration; that administration’s unprecedented indulgence of almost all Israeli policies and decisions; the events of 9/11; the increased hawkishness and/or outspokenness of other Jewish “leaders” like Abe Foxman, David Harris and Malcolm Hoenlein; the viciousness of the second intifada.

These all combined to move AIPAC firmly into the right-wing camp, where neocons and related institutions (such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for a New American Century) welcomed them with open arms.

But now, things have changed, and AIPAC has yet to figure out how to change with them. A new administration has moved in, one not at all enamored of AIPAC’s approach to the Middle East. The mood of the country has changed. The Democrats control both houses of Congress. And Democrats, on the whole, despise AIPAC, even (in some cases, one could say especially) many of those who seem to be in AIPAC’s back pocket.

I never agreed with the thesis presented by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in their book The Israel Lobby. But AIPAC does have enormous influence in Congress. And the Walt-Mearsheimer book threw a lot of light on that fact, whatever its inaccuracies. And lobbies, AIPAC or any other, hate the light more than vampires do.

The rising strength of J Street, the work of longer-standing groups like Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, Brit Tzedek, Churches for Middle East Peace, the American Task Force on Palestine, and the arrival in Washington of Israeli human rights groups, represented by B’Tselem are changing the mood and starting to blunt AIPAC’s influence.

This doesn’t mean AIPAC isn’t still a major player and more influential than all the groups I just named combined. These things don’t change in a year. But they are much more ensconced on the right than they have been in the past, and the right is currently out of vogue.

The situation I’m describing isn’t permanent. AIPAC, and the many other groups (including lots which are not Jewish-identified, I hasten to add) which push to maintain the status quo or even tighten the occupation, are smart. They know everything I have said here. And they’re clever enough, given enough time, to reverse this situation.

That means the blow for peace must be struck now. It is not the time to abandon mainstream politics, but to dive into them with energy, all the money we can muster, and with smart and patient strategies.

President Obama is working to change our policy. It’s not going to satisfy a lot of people, and even those who might

President Obama at Yad Vashem
President Obama at Yad Vashem

agree with the endgame goals will think things are moving too slow.

But Obama is no fool. He knows that members of Congress remain worried about AIPAC. He is pushing his change and making sure the political tides will support his direction. The best thing we can all do is to make sure those tides grow stronger in Obama’s direction.