Yesterday morning, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, a bill that would cripple Iran's ability to import refined oil products. The timing, on the heels of a J Street conference of pro-peace religious and political leaders in Washington, was conspicuous. The move could be a veiled political kick in the ribs to J Street, a young lobbying upstart that has launched a clear challenge to AIPAC's hegemony in Washington.
The fight between the groups grew more contentious earlier this month after prominent officials, including Israel's ambassador to the US Michael Oren and New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, withdrew their support for the J Street conference after initially saying they would attend.
Critics of the disputed bill worry that imposing sanctions before Obama pursues all diplomatic avenues could force the administration's hand. In fact, as Robert Dreyfuss notes in his article on the evolving Israel lobby for our September/October issue, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman stated in May that he had "no intention of moving this bill through the legislative process" before Obama completed his diplomatic overtures. But Berman reintroduced the legislation because diplomacy proved too slow for the California Democrat.