Democratic Senator Chris Coons from Delaware betrayed his backers and his voters when at the end of the summer, as the Senate returned from recess, he announced that he was supporting President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Coons announced his decision in an address at the University of Delaware. There Coons acknowledged that the deal was terrible for America. He detailed all the ways the deal harms US national security and places US allies, including Israel at grave risk.
“Frankly, this is not the agreement I hoped for,” Coons began.
“I am troubled,” he explained, “that the parties to this agreement – particularly Iran – have differing interpretations of key terms, and I remain deeply concerned about our ability to hold Iran to the terms of this agreement as we understand them.
Coons continued, “Under this agreement, Iran retains a civilian nuclear enrichment program that grows steadily in scope and the hardened underground nuclear facility at Fordow continues to exist filled with centrifuges which, while sidelined from enrichment for fifteen years, are not permanently shelved.
“Once Iran verifiably meets its obligations,” he went on, “it will gain access to tens of billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen by our sanctions. We should expect that Iran will use some of those funds to support and arm its proxies in the region – terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah that threaten and attack Israel, or to support the murderous regime of Assad in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen. Five years after the agreement, the UN’s embargo on conventional arms shipments to Iran will end, and eight years after the agreement, the UN embargo on ballistic missile technology will end.”
In an interview with the Washington Post, Coons admitted that by supporting the deal, he was betraying his supporters and friends. Coons recounted to the paper how after holding a meeting with the Wilmington Jewish community, “a friend of more than 20 years told him to never speak to him again if he voted for a deal the friend believed would put Israel in grave danger because of the potential of an Iranian nuclear weapon.”
Coons explained to the reporter, “This is, for them, a matter of life and death. That’s not light, that’s not easy.”
But at the end of the day, he didn’t care. Coons spit at his friend and his supporters and announced he would vote for the deal.
Coons’ announcement of support for Obama’s nuclear deal was a turning point in the fight to kill the deal in Congress by securing enough Senate Democrats to oppose it. With “pro-Israel” Coons’ support in hand, the administration shifted its efforts from securing enough votes to uphold a presidential veto of a Congressional vote to oppose his Iran deal to securing enough senate votes to prevent a vote from even taking place.
During the battle against the deal and in the aftermath of Obama’s victory among Senate Democrats, many commentators assumed that the reason Obama was able to convince lawmakers like Coons to vote against their better judgment, against US national security interests, and against their constituents’ wishes was because Obama could make them a better offer of future support than AIPAC could.
It was argued at the time that Coons and his ostensibly pro-Israel colleagues like New Jersey senator Cory Booker, could afford to lose AIPAC. The anti-Israel financial backers emblematically represented by financier George Soros and his brainchild J Street, who have become the strongest forces in Obama’s Democratic Party, would pick up the slack.
As it works out, Soros won’t be needing to ante up. According to a report by Bloomberg reporter Eli Lake, AIPAC has decided to let bygones be bygones.
According to Lake’s report, earlier this month AIPAC featured Coons at a luncheon in New York for its members from the real estate industry. As Lake explained, although the event was not a fundraiser, “Luncheons like those Coons attended…are one of the perks for pro-Israel lawmakers. The AIPAC members who attend these affairs have deep pockets and often contribute to both parties.”
Sean Coit, a Coons spokesman told Lake, “I think even those who disagree with his decision on the nuclear agreement recognize that he remains a strong friend of Israel and the pro-Israel community.”
Well, he’s a strong friend of Israel if you consider someone to be a friend of Israel who supports a deal that his pro-Israel friends consider to be an existential threat to Israel.
In other words, he’s a friend of Israel if being pro-Israel means being anti-Israel.
Democrats in general are overjoyed with AIPAC’s decision to host a politician who openly admits he sold Israel down the river.
For instance, Democratic political operative and former Clinton White House staffer Steve Rabinowitz told Lake, “We’re all waiting to see what the dynamics are going to be since the Iran deal vote and where AIPAC, congressional Republicans and the Israeli foreign ministry are each going to come down. I think this is great sign from AIPAC.”
A great sign, indeed.
The truth is that AIPAC is in a miserable position. As Lake acknowledged, the group, which has rightly worked to secure and cultivate bipartisan support for Israel has been railroaded for six and a half years by the Obama administration. The White House has worked relentlessly to make Israel a partisan issue and has repeatedly hung AIPAC out to dry and undercut it at every turn.
And the damage has taken its toll. AIPAC and its supporters have far less influence among Democratic lawmakers than they did when Obama entered office.
AIPAC’s decision to provide a platform for Coons to meet potential donors shows that at this dangerous crossroads, AIPAC is exercising bad judgment.
Obama will be gone in a year and three months. The question now before AIPAC and Americans in general is whether Obama’s anti-Israel supporters will hold sway in the Democratic Party in the coming years or whether the post-Obama Democratic party will abandon his anti-Israel positions and return to its former support for the Jewish state.
By hosting Coons, AIPAC is helping Obama transform Israel into a partisan issue. If AIPAC wants Democrats to support Israel they should seek out and support Democratic candidates who will support Israel – even when the chips are down. Among incumbent Democrats, they should limit their support to those who opposed the Iran deal.
What message are Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer, Ben Cardin, Joe Manchin and Robert Menendez, who endangered their standing in their party by opposing Obama’s Iran deal to take from AIPAC’s embrace of Coons?
The obvious message to them is that they were stupid to stick their necks out. If AIPAC is no longer willing to limit its support to Democrats who actually support Israel then it is no longer a pro-Israel organization in any real sense. Rather, it is a partisan organization that will support Democrats regardless of their position on Israel.
And what message does AIPAC’s decision to feature Coons at its luncheon for high rollers send to Republicans?
Had Republican Senator Rand Paul supported Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, he would have been vilified as an anti-Semite by his political opponents. AIPAC no doubt would have lavished support on his Democratic opponent if he or she were willing to utter a few pro-Israel platitudes.
In other words, AIPAC is saying that it exercises a double standards. Whereas the pro-Israel lobby expects Republican lawmakers to support Israel, it supports Democratic lawmakers who oppose Israel.
And, if AIPAC abandons its expectations of Republicans, as its event for Coons indicates it has for Democrats, and supports anti-Israel politicians regardless of their partisan pedigree, then AIPAC will cease to function as a pro-Israel organization at all.
Clearly AIPAC is struggling to get its arms around its loss. The $20 million its Super Pac Citizens for a Nuclear-Free Iran spent to scuttle the deal managed to secure the votes of just four Democratic senators. Today it faces the dismal reality in which Democratic lawmakers believe the upside of voting with their convictions, the will of their voters and America’s national security interests is smaller than the downside of voting against Obama and his Democratic party.
But surrendering to Obama is not the answer. If AIPAC wants to remain relevant, (or reinstate its relevance) in Washington, it needs to follow a simple rule. It must support those who support Israel and oppose those who oppose Israel.
Chris Coons voted for a deal that constitutes a mortal threat to Israel and to the US-Israel alliance. He is not a supporter of Israel. And neither are his 41 Democratic senate colleagues who supported the deal.
But lots of other Democrats do support Israel. It is AIPAC’s job to find them, support them and stand by them. This is must do first and foremost by exacting a price from those who failed to stand up and be counted last summer when the chips were down.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.