It was, without doubt, a world-historical moment last Thursday when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conceded that its push to sabotage US diplomacy with Iran had been decisively rebuked. As the New York Times noted, it had been decades since AIPAC lost such a high-profile showdown so decisively.
But it seems very unlikely that AIPAC is finished trying to obstruct realistic diplomacy with Iran. What else could we do to move things along?
In our time, AIPAC's power depends crucially on its ability to move Democrats. With a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate, AIPAC can't stop peace if it can't move Democrats. AIPAC's effort to sabotage US diplomacy with Iran collapsed when it couldn't corral Senate Democrats. Eventually, even Hillary and Bill Clinton came out swinging for the Obama administration's Iran diplomacy, and then it was all over.
The political citadel of AIPAC's power among Democrats is New York City. If you look at the national map of the senators who were trying to undermine US diplomacy with Iran, New York City was at the center of the blue state Democrats who wanted to undermine diplomacy.
What if we could take the fight against AIPAC's political power among Democrats to its home turf? What if we could show that even in New York City, AIPAC doesn't speak for Democrats and doesn't speak for Jews?
Bill de Blasio, the new progressive mayor of New York City, has now given us an opportunity to take the fight against AIPAC to the center of its political power among Democrats.
Less than a month after becoming mayor, de Blasio gave a speech to AIPAC in which he said:
City Hall will always be open to AIPAC ... when you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call and I will answer it happily, because that's my job.
As The Nation noted in an editorial criticizing de Blasio for "pander[ing] to the powerful right-wing lobby," AIPAC has
... prevented a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict by enforcing lockstep US support for the most retrograde elements in Israel; in recent years it has, in league with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, been doing everything it can to provoke US conflict with Iran. Now, when a conciliatory new government in Tehran is seeking rapprochement with Washington - the best hope for US and regional security in more than three decades - AIPAC and its allies have been pressing Congress for renewed sanctions precisely in order to kill that hope, which could set Washington on the path to war.
What if we could compel de Blasio to meet with J Street? As The Nation noted, J Street was established to back politicians who sincerely support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict (as opposed to AIPAC, which pretends to support a two-state solution but supports Israeli settlements in the West Bank and opposes the pressure necessary on the Israeli government to bring a two-state solution into existence.) J Street supports the recent nuclear deal between the US and Iran and has opposed AIPAC's efforts to undermine US diplomacy on behalf of the Israeli government.
Strikingly, de Blasio has said that he supports the deal between the US and Iran. So on Iran diplomacy, de Blasio agrees with J Street's position and opposes AIPAC's position. Why would he meet with AIPAC - and pledge his allegiance to AIPAC - but not meet with J Street?
Now, I am aware that everyone on the left is not necessarily totally in love with J Street. I think the right way to think about it strategically is this: J Street is the Affordable Care Act of Jewish peace groups. You support single-payer? Me too. But the Affordable Care Act is the thing that's on the Washington playing field, it's the thing that's actually giving access to health care right now to millions of people who didn't have it before, it's the thing on the table of debate which is representing, if imperfectly, the idea that Americans have the right to quality health care, regardless of their previous health status, gender, age, or ability to pay. The Republicans who oppose the Affordable Care Act aren't opposing it because it's not enough like single-payer; they're opposing it because, from their point of view, it's too much like single-payer - it's gone too far in the direction of creating a universal entitlement for quality health care.
Similarly, J Street is on the Washington playing field in a way that no other alternative to AIPAC is. We're all doing our bit to engage Washington to promote realistic diplomacy for peace in the Middle East (at least I hope we all are.) But if you look at the mainstream press coverage, it's J Street that is most prominently carrying the banner in Washington debate for the side of peace. Do I want de Blasio to meet with Jewish Voice for Peace and Americans for Peace Now as well? Absolutely. But J Street is the methadone for politicians who are trying to break their addiction to AIPAC. The first step for a politician to break free from AIPAC's grip is to say, "I'm meeting with AIPAC, but I'm also meeting with J Street."
Let's help Bill de Blasio take the first step to recovery. You can whisper in his ear here.