START renewal and the Jews: it’s getting more interesting

Politico’s Ben Smith has an interesting item this morning on efforts by two Jewish senators – Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) – to get AIPAC to endorse renewal of the START treaty.

“We write to ask AIPAC to publicly support the immediate ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START),” the two wrote in a letter to Howard Kohr, executive director of the pro-Israel lobbying giant. “The new START treaty is vital to our own national security, and to that of our close ally, Israel.”

As I wrote previously, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Council for World Jewry are actively supporting renewal. Now add to that J Street, which recently endorsed renewal and made this pitch to members of the Senate: “This agreement is the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s effort to rebuild the U.S.-Russian relationship, which has led to unprecedented cooperation with Moscow in building an international consensus against Iran’s nuclear program. Stalling or rejecting the treaty would materially undermine this strengthening relationship, putting essential Russian support for multilateral pressure against Iran at grave risk."

On the other side, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), yesterday came out against START renewal, charging that Jewish groups have been “pressured” to join in the renewal effort and arguing that renewal would “restrain the development and deployment of new nuclear weapons, missile defense systems, and missile delivery systems" while doing nothing to ensure Russian cooperation on Iran.

What I’m hearing: top Democrats are leaning hard on Jewish groups to adopt the line that renewing START is critical to keeping U.S.-Russia relations on an even keel, a necessity in the effort to build a seamless international coalition to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons.

But Republicans, increasingly united in saying no to START, are pushing back hard, arguing that renewing the treaty would give President Obama an important foreign policy victory that would strengthen his hand in dealing with Israel and pushing it back to the peace table.

More and more, renewing the 1991 treaty is just another front in the take-no-prisoners partisan battle raging on Capitol Hill.

Smith writes that “AIPAC…has been reluctant to weigh in on an issue that its leaders see as tangential to its central mission, particularly as the issue becomes politically polarized, and support would come with a cost of angering Republicans.”

That may be an understatement; AIPAC, drawing on support from both sides of the aisle, didn’t become the preeminent foreign policy lobby in Washington by stepping into the partisan crossfire when it doesn’t have to.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.