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The major organizations that comprise the Israel Lobby are well known: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and Christians United For Israel (CUFI). All are well known, benefiting from large budgets and staffs. They are extremely effective, having excellent access to politicians and the media to promote their points of view, and are, as a group, regular visitors to the White House. AIPAC is without doubt the most powerful lobby in the United States that is focused on a foreign policy issue.
The institutional Israel boosters are in turn backed by a cluster of think tanks and institutes that spout a relentlessly pro-Likud line. They include Foundation for Defense of Democracies, The Emergency Committee for Israel, The American Enterprise Institute, The Hudson Institute, Brookings and The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A recent op-ed at The National Interest (formerly the Nixon Center) “Why Israel Fears Containment of a Nuclear Iran,” written by two Israelis with government ties, illustrates to what extent spokesmen for Tel Aviv have access to the media across the political spectrum to make their points while contrary views rarely surface. It would be difficult to imagine a similar piece appearing advancing Iranian views on Israel, for example, and one might well question whose “National Interest” is being promoted by providing a platform to current or former foreign government officials.
And backing the think tanks up are the enablers in the media who suppress stories critical of Israel and consistently editorialize supporting policies favored by Tel Aviv. Israeli Ambassadors, uniquely, regularly write op-eds for publications like the Washington Post and The New York Times. Prominent among the consistently pro-Israel media are the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch publications in general and magazines like Mortimer Zuckerman owned US News and World Report, but it would be fair to say that nearly all mainstream media outlets are to some extent wary of offending Israel and its backers.
But as Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt noted in their groundbreaking expose of the Israel Lobby, the lobbying effort extends well beyond the organizational level to include friends of Israel who labor assiduously and voluntarily at state and local levels as well as at universities and from within professional organizations to maintain a positive viewpoint on Israel while promoting a negative narrative regarding its increasing number of critics. Most recently they have been focused on halting the growth of BDS, “boycott, divestment, and sanctions,” particularly in attempts to use “Lawfare” to make such activity illegal when it singles out Israel.
Israel’s friends quite rightly see Congress as their major ally in keeping the United States Israel-friendly, so much so that Pat Buchanan once dubbed America’s legislative body as “Israeli occupied territory.” And so it remains with legislation favorable to Israel passing by unanimous consent voice votes or grossly lopsided margins when a tally actually takes place. The White House too is into the charade that Israel is a major US ally and friend, in spite of mounting evidence that Tel Aviv consistently spies on Washington, is not interested in any peace process with the Palestinians and works against genuine American interests.
I have recently obtained a handout memo relating to a congressional race in Virginia that illustrates how the process works at the political entry level. Congressman Jim Moran has announced that he will not seek reelection in the heavily Democratic district that encompasses Alexandria Virginia. Moran has fallen afoul of the pro-Israel establishment by telling attendees at a 2003 antiwar forum, “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.” He added that Jewish leaders were “influential enough” to change the course of US policy. Moran inevitably apologized for those remarks, but the damage was done and he was considered to be unreliable on the issue of Israel, a view reflected in the handout which quotes Debbie Linick, Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, asserting that Moran had been “lacking the nuances of understanding the peace process. It is crucial that the next representative from the 8th District be a strong supporter of Israel.”
The handout described a Jewish Community Relations Council Political Forum for the 8th District that was to be held on May 18th in Alexandria at the Council’s Early Childhood Learning Center. All prospective candidates for the 8th District were invited to participate to present their positions on various issues of interest to those attending. The access to the event was by paid tickets only, presumably to permit screening to control the make-up of the audience. The handout again quotes Linick as stating that “all area synagogues will be asked to participate” even if they were not in the voting district.
The memo suggests that someone at the forum might ask every candidate to publish his or her signed Israel Position paper, which AIPAC “requires” all candidates for office to personally sign. It also recommends that signs be placed on the street outside demanding release of the paper and notes that if there should happen to be demonstrators present they will not be allowed to block the entrance, which is behind the building on private property.
The Northern Virginia Council might well be more than usually politically active and is unlikely to have a counterpart in most congressional districts, but the handout reveals how AIPAC has an impact on all viable congressional candidates, often before they are even nominated. Once nominated, candidates go through a vetting process in which they meet with an AIPAC official and are asked to write and sign a position paper on Israel, if they have not already done so. Many of the papers are subsequently highlighted on the AIPAC website.
Few if any candidates refuse to cooperate because to do so would mean that AIPAC and its friends would find and fund an opponent and use their media access to distort the politician’s record. This type of blackballing most recently occurred in the case of Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina, who was on the receiving end of a vicious and well-funded campaign because he is an anti-war candidate strongly opposed by the pro-Israel establishment.
To be sure Americans have a constitutional right to both demand to know and challenge the views of those running for office but the important thing to note here is that the discussion is not about healthcare, immigration or government programs – it is rather about unconditional support for the policies of a foreign country. I can think of no other advocacy group in the United States that is comparable to the Israel Lobby in terms of its promotion of positions that are demonstrably not beneficial to the United States with the only possible exception being the prominent Cubans in Congress who vet candidates based on their willingness to continue to punish the regime in Havana. The Cubans, unlike the Israel Firsters, have, however, only regional impact, mostly concentrated in Florida, though it is interesting note that they – Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, Joe Garcia and Robert Menendez – are also all passionate supporters of Israel.
Americans really have little choice when it comes to Congress and Israel as anyone who refuses to cooperate with AIPAC is unlikely to find himself in the running, but there should at least be some awareness of what happens routinely to prospective candidates to insure conformity with the Lobby’s viewpoint. If unconditional loyalty to a foreign country is a sine qua non for election to congress perhaps there should be some discussion of what that is likely to mean and the promoters of such policies should be held accountable when they produce a bad result, as they did in Iraq and are promising to do vis-a-vis Iran. It is one thing to be all for Israel due to cultural or familial affinity or even as an abstraction but it is quite another to persist in that view when it does genuine harm to the United States, regarding which a case certainly can and has already been made.