In an excellent in depth piece the New Yorker's Connie Bruck examines the struggles American Presidents have had with Israel's leaders, and how AIPAC always sides with the Israeli leaders (unless they're open to making peace). How AIPAC works build its influence in the congress, and how that power is wielded.
AIPAC wants its support to be bipartisan, but there is a growing schism between the parties in their support for Israel. A recent Pew Research poll showed 44% of Democrats support Israel while 73% of Republicans do.
More American Jews are questioning the policies of hard line Israeli leaders.
Friends of IsraelWe shouldn't overstate AIPAC's influence or make ridiculous blanket claims how far their influence extends. Bruck shows how AIPAC suffered a rare defeat in the Congress recently over imposing harsh new sanctions on Iran sure to disrupt delicate negotiations on Iran's nuclear enrichment. But the Jewish critics of Israeli policy like J-Street continue to be outdone and outspent by AIPAC and their allies by a considerable margin.
The lobbying group AIPAC has consistently fought the Obama Administration on policy. Is it now losing influence?
By Connie Bruck
Today, a growing number of American Jews, though still devoted to Israel, struggle with the lack of progress toward peace with the Palestinians. Many feel that AIPAC does not speak for them. The Pew Center’s survey found that only thirty-eight per cent of American Jews believe that the Israeli government is sincerely pursuing peace; forty-four per cent believe that the construction of new settlements damages Israel’s national security. In a Gallup poll in late July, only a quarter of Americans under the age of thirty thought that Israel’s actions in Gaza were justified. As Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of the left-leaning T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, told me, “Many people I know in their twenties and thirties say, I have a perfectly good Jewish life here—why do I need to worry about this country in the Middle East where they’re not representing who I am as a Jew? I’m not proud of what’s happening there. I’m certainly not going to send money. ”
So how does AIPAC go about building its power base? To start with AIPAC identifies those people who show an interest in running for office to cultivate relationships with. AIPAC seeks out its supporters who share a member of congress' interests to advocate for them while building a rapport.
AIPAC is a loyal friend to the Republicans it supports.
AIPAC members let Republicans know that, if they supported AIPAC positions, the lobby would view them as “friendly incumbents,” and would not abandon them for a Democratic challenger.For decades groups opposed to AIPAC have been political weaklings with little support in congress.
Unlike other lobbies—such as the N.R.A., which is opposed by various anti-gun groups—AIPAC did not face a significant and well-funded countervailing force. It also had the resources to finance an expensive and emotionally charged form of persuasion. Dine estimated that in the eighties and nineties contributions from AIPAC members often constituted roughly ten to fifteen per cent of a typical congressional campaign budget. AIPAC provided lavish trips to Israel for legislators and other opinion-makers.That made AIPAC (and the constellation of PACs that follow AIPAC's lead) the heaviest of hitters among congressional lobbyists.
AIPAC's influence allows Israeli leaders virtually unlimited freedom of action despite opposition from US Administrations.
After their first meeting, Clinton sent a message to another Israeli, wryly complaining that he had emerged uncertain who, exactly, was the President of a superpower.That freedom has allowed Netanyahu to become openly contemptuous of President Obama, John Kerry, and Joe Biden.
But, even if Netanyahu had trouble with the executive branch, AIPAC could help deliver the support of Congress, and a friendly Congress could take away the President’s strongest negotiating chit—the multibillion-dollar packages of military aid that go to Israel each year. The same dynamic was repeated during Barack Obama’s first term. Israeli conservatives were wary, sensing that Obama, in their terms, was a leftist, sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
In March, 2010, while Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, the Netanyahu government announced that it was building sixteen hundred new housing units for Jews in Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Biden said that the move “undermines the trust we need right now.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Netanyahu to upbraid him. But, while Obama and his team viewed the move as a political insult and yet another blow to a potential two-state solution, AIPAC went into defensive mode, sending an e-mail to its members saying that the Administration’s criticisms of Israel were “a matter of serious concern.” Soon afterward, a letter circulated in the House calling on the Obama Administration to “reinforce” the relationship. Three hundred and twenty-seven House members signed it. A couple of months later, when the U.S. tried to extend a partial moratorium on construction in settlements in the West Bank, AIPAC fought against the extension. Obama eventually yielded.Bibi even openly supported Mitt Romney's candidacy in 2012.
Bruck interviews a number of sources for this piece including former Washington Democratic Congressman Brian Baird who lays out the stark choices candidates face.
The difficult reality is this: in order to get elected to Congress, if you’re not independently wealthy, you have to raise a lot of money. And you learn pretty quickly that, if AIPAC is on your side, you can do that. They come to you and say, ‘We’d be happy to host ten-thousand-dollar fund-raisers for you, and let us help write your annual letter, and please come to this multi-thousand-person dinner.’ ” Baird continued, “Any member of Congress knows that AIPAC is associated indirectly with significant amounts of campaign spending if you’re with them, and significant amounts against you if you’re not with them.” For Baird, AIPAC-connected money amounted to about two hundred thousand dollars in each of his races—“and that’s two hundred thousand going your way, versus the other way: a four-hundred-thousand-dollar swing.”I wrote more about this dynamic in a previous diary: The political calculus of the Israeli Palestinian conflict for Democratic candidates & BDS
AIPAC (which Bruck shows worked to undermine the Oslo Accords while officially favoring them) remains a force to be reckoned with on Capital Hill, and a major obstacle to peace in the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Author Bruck does an outstanding in depth analysis of AIPAC and I urge you to take the time to read all of it. Friends of Israel