Jewish American organizations are lining up on opposing sides of the Iran nuclear deal, arming themselves for multimillion-dollar campaigns targeting lawmakers still undecided about the agreement.
The opponents’ campaigns will be bolstered by visits to the U.S. by prominent Israeli politicians, including Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union opposition, who has said he would work with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop the “dangerous” agreement.
The backers of the agreement are getting help directly from the White House. Last Thursday, deputy national security adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes met at the White House with Jewish Democratic members of the House to address concerns and rally support.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is funding a new 501(c)4 group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, that is expected to spend $20 million to $40 million on advertising and campaigns in 30 to 40 states to mobilize opponents of the deal to write or call their members of Congress, say people familiar with the plan who sought anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, which also opposes the deal, is targeting 24 senators and twice as many House members seen as being on the fence. It will try to get its 40,000 members to write to lawmakers who are Jewish or who have large numbers of Jewish constituents and to attend town hall meetings held during the congressional recess.
“I think it’s going to be a really epic fight. The foreign policy fight of a generation,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal advocacy group. “It pits folks who brought us the Iraq war and whole neocon worldview versus the Obama worldview and the concept that we can confront enemies with diplomacy.”
J Street, which backs the Iran nuclear agreement, is mobilizing supporters in its own $2 million to $3 million effort. It has already produced a digital ad comparing the Iran deal to the accord President Ronald Reagan reached with the Soviet Union, about which Reagan said “trust but verify.”
Ben-Ami said the outcome of the battle is not certain. Congress has 60 days to review the agreement and can vote to reject it, but it would require a veto-proof majority, or two-thirds of both houses of Congress.
Among the main targets of lobbying groups are Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who enjoys the support of Jewish constituents and respect among other lawmakers. “Call Senator Schumer,” says the home page of the American Security Initiative, whose board includes former senators Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., Evan Bayh. D-Ind., Norman Coleman, R-Minn., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga..
“This is a bad deal for America, a bad deal for Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East and a bad deal for the world,” Lieberman told House Foreign Affairs Committee members this week. “This is a bet based on hope over experience that we’ve had with Iran.”
“He’s a very important vote. And I think some people will look to him,” said Victor A. Kovner, co-chair of J Street’s political action committee and a partner at the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. Kovner, a longtime supporter of Schumer, said “people know his commitment to Israel, and that will lend weight to his comment and analysis.”
Other key lawmakers include Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., and Christopher A. Coons, D-Del., and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., and Brad Sherman, D-Calif.
Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that “at this point we’re opposed. There are too many risks, too many unanswered questions..”
Foxman said he doesn’t question Obama’s motivation. But he took issue with Obama’s framing the agreement as a choice between this deal or war.
“Does that mean those of us who don’t want this are warmongers?” he said. “I think that’s unfair.”