The nation’s largest pro-Israel organization is ramping up its push for tougher Iran sanctions, vowing that lawmakers will "pay the price" if they cave to White House pressure and delay a new round of penalties against the Iranian regime.
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) said its supporters have sent over 10,000 emails to senators since Wednesday, calling on them to support new sanctions on Iran’s oil industry. The emails were sent in response to an "action alert" distributed by the pro-Israel group.
White House officials pleaded with pro-Israel Jewish organizations to back off their push for new sanctions during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, arguing that tough legislation against Iran could undermine nuclear negotiations.
But CUFI, which did not attend the meeting, said it plans to increase pressure on lawmakers to support further sanctions.
"There will be a political price to be paid by every leader in Congress that stood by, delayed, or dithered while Iran became a nuclear power," CUFI executive director David Brog said. "If that's gonna be stopped, they need to act now. Otherwise, pay the price."
Brog said CUFI would deploy its one-million-plus members and its substantial influence with Republican legislators on this issue.
"We intend to keep the pressure on through contacts with folks we know on the Hill, through constant calls to offices, and through generating comments from the grassroots," he said.
Brog said some pro-Israel leaders are conflicted on how to proceed after Tuesday’s White House meeting.
"In my conversations, what I'm getting is sort of a battle that goes on a lot, I think, between what people's guts are telling them," Brog said. "I think almost everybody in the mainstream pro-Israel community has a gut feeling that Iran is not serious, and Iran is using negotiations to stall for the very small amount of time they need to complete the nuclear program."
"They all get it, but now they're getting pressured from the administration," he said. "A lot of these organizations would rather accommodate an administration, rather than fight the administration."
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which attended the meeting, released a statement Tuesday calling the briefing "constructive and open" but did not indicate whether it would tone down its support for new sanctions as a result.
"We welcome the reaffirmation of the president’s commitment to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capability and that all options remain viable to assure that end," said the statement.
The Senate is considering legislation that would place additional restrictions on Iran’s oil industry, after a similar version was passed by the House.
Some Democratic lawmakers are backing the White House’s delay strategy through legislation that would stall the implementation of new sanctions.
Brog said this is a tough but winnable battle for the pro-Israel community, arguing that the White House is out of step with the American public on the issue.
"This is one of those issues that I think the gap between the administration and the American people is wide. I think the American people see through [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani’s smile," said Brog.
"The White House is putting pressure on one side [in the Senate]," he said. "It's not insurmountable pressure. It can be overcome if people make their wishes clear."