J Street, the dovish Middle East activist group with close ties to the Obama administration, is still weighing whether to support an authorization for the use of military force in Syria, even after many prominent pro-Israel groups in the United States came out in favor of the authorization yesterday.
“We’re in internal discussions now,” a spokesperson for J Street told the Washington Free Beacon on Wednesday. She noted that the organization had put a statement up on its website last week condemning the use of chemical weapons in an opposition-controlled suburb of Damascus.
The spokesperson said she had “no comment” on whether the Obama administration had been reaching out to J Street on the Syria issue.
Sources say the White House has been privately urging pro-Israel groups to call on Congress to support military force in Syria, ahead of a congressional vote that is expected to be close and contentious.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), considered the most influential pro-Israel lobby in the country, issued a rare public statement on Tuesday supporting the military authorization.
AIPAC is also mounting a lobbying effort in Congress, after the White House reached out to the organization for help, the Daily Beast reported Tuesday.
“AIPAC urges Congress to grant the President the authority he has requested to protect America’s national security interests and dissuade the Syrian regime’s further use of unconventional weapons,” AIPAC said in a statement. “The civilized world cannot tolerate the use of these barbaric weapons, particularly against an innocent civilian population including hundreds of children.”
The group also cited Hezbollah’s involvement in the conflict, as well as America’s global reputation, as reasons to back the intervention.
In addition, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Republican Jewish Coalition publicly supported the authorization on Tuesday.
“The White House went to a lot of pro-Israel groups and asked them to do a solid for the President,” said one official at a Washington-based Jewish organization.
“All the likely outcomes for Syria are unimaginably horrible but it’s there’s still a benefit to preserving America credibility, and the pro-Israel community embraces that imperative, and so here we are.”
Still, sources say Syria is not a priority for the pro-Israel lobby.
“Syria is not an ‘Israel issue,”’ the official added. “But if you put sensible pro-Israel groups on the spot like the administration did, they’ll do the math and draw the obvious conclusions: it’s good for the Obama to enforce his stated red line and it’s good for filthbag dictators who gas thousands of their civilians to get bombed.”
AIPAC’s relatively open lobbying effort on the Syria intervention is unusual, considering its reluctance to take a public stance on military authorizations in the past. In 2003, AIPAC did not lobby for the Iraq intervention.
Steve Rosen, a former senior official at AIPAC, told the Free Beacon on Tuesday that the calculation is different today than in 2003. While he said many at AIPAC may be reluctant to get involved with Syria, the issue does have ramifications for America’s reputation as a global superpower and enforcer of international norms — something AIPAC has a heavy interest in, as Iran forges ahead with its nuclear program.
“In this case, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a lack of enthusiasm [at AIPAC] to get involved in the civil war,” said Rosen. “But there is a feeling that the red line, having been drawn, should be enforced. So I think that the balance of opinion in the AIPAC world today is different than it was in 2003.”
The Israeli government also issued a statement on Wednesday backing President Obama on Syria.