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October 27, 2016 7:29 am

AIPAC Remains Silent on Stalled Anti-Assad Bill

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC on March 2, 2015. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC on March 2, 2015. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO. — Major Jewish organizations have expressed widespread support for bipartisan legislation that would penalize the Syrian regime, with the singular exception of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), the Union for Reform Judaism, the American Jewish Committee and others have said they approve of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2016 (H.R. 5732), which would impose sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad’s government for its atrocities against civilians. The bill would also facilitate the prosecution of war crimes and penalize anyone who assists the regime. So far, the bill — named for a Syrian dissident who helped expose the Assad massacres — has gained 70 sponsors, including 38 Democrats and 32 Republicans.

Yet, the most prominent pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington has remained silent on the issue.

AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittman told, “We have not taken a position on this legislation,” and declined to explain further. Wittman also turned down a request to interview an AIPAC representative regarding the group’s view of the Assad regime, separate and apart from the Caesar Act.

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In 2013, AIPAC lobbied in favor of Congressional authorization of US airstrikes on Syria, bringing pro-Israel activists from around the country to the capital for meetings with more than 300 members of Congress.

The difference between AIPAC’s effort then and its silence today may be that the Obama administration strongly supported the 2013 measure.

According to the Washington Post, though the Caesar Act was ready for a vote last month, after being approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July, the White House made an “eleventh-hour plea to lawmakers to delay” the bill and “water it down.” The Obama administration appears to be concerned the bill would impose sanctions on Iran should that government continue assisting Assad, the Post reported.

Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), which is actively supporting the legislation, told, “I’m delighted that so many Jewish organizations are supporting the Caesar civilian protection bill. But I’m profoundly disappointed that AIPAC is not among them.”

“For a people with our history, there is no excuse for not feeling the moral imperative to stop Assad. I understand there may be those who are worried about upsetting the Obama administration. But the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians are at stake,” Stern added.

Speaking for Christians United for Israel (CUFI), board member David Brog told, “We simply don’t understand why anyone concerned about human lives and human rights in Syria would oppose [it]; how many Syrians must be sacrificed to President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s fantasies about Iran?”

The American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations, Kenneth Bandler praised the bill for attempting to “establish urgent and long-overdue provisions to protect the lives of innocent Syrian citizens and put more pressure on the murderous Assad regime,” but added that “the AJC regrets that this bill appears to be stalled.”

The Caesar Act’s future remains unclear, but many in the Jewish community have mobilized to try and bring about a vote.

Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, told, “We know the alternative to this bill is the continuation of the current situation, which is clearly unacceptable.”

Letters have been sent to Obama, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) by The Religious Action Center — the Washington, DC arm of the Union for Reform Judaism — and an Orthodox social justice group, Uri L’Tzedek, in a show of support from across religious denominations.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate director of the SWC, said his organization “strongly supports” the bill. He cited a remark by his organization’s namesake, made when the international community failed to respond after Saddam Hussein launched a chemical attack that killed thousands of Kurds: “Tyrants will draw their own conclusions when the world fails to react to their barbarities.”

According to the Washington Post, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the bill’s author, has said he is “negotiating with the administration” on its terms, but Pelosi recently told two Syrian dissidents she met that there was “little to no chance the bill would be voted on this year.”

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