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ICG Risk Blog - [ "No Nation Left Behind" program, Part 4, AIPAC 1 ]

"No Nation Left Behind" program, Part 4, AIPAC 1


Part 3

Parts 4,5 and 6 comprise an AIPAC trilogy

American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) describes itself as "America's Pro-Israel Lobby," priding itself on the NYT's assertion that it is "The most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel." AIPAC is courted by all comers; Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman; Republicans such as Bush43, Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Andrew Card and Newt Gingrich; and Israelis such as Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin.

It is useful to put AIPAC in context of lobbyist activity. Fortune has a good series on lobbying and lobbyists that I recommend. I quote from one here but the other three are cited below:

The Power 25 is a highly eclectic--almost curious--collection. From the 33-million-member [AARP], which polled No. 1 (to no one's surprise), to the ever controversial [Teamsters] (No. 25), and from the calculatedly quiet American Israel Public Affairs Committee (a remarkable No. 2) to the newly emergent National Restaurant Association (No. 24), the Washington 25 is as diverse as the nation itself. But it is more than that. It is a crystalline reminder that Alexis de Tocqueville was right more than 150 years ago when he observed that Americans were inveterate joiners who liked to cluster themselves into quasi-political volunteer groups.

Our survey rebuts one of the oldest axioms of lobbying: that campaign contributions buy power in Washington. While donations are still crucial (and are often abused, as the recent revelations about "soft money" excesses in the last presidential election show), they aren't the only keys to the kingdom. True, three of the top ten organizations owe their high rankings to their substantial campaign contributions [AIPAC included] But these days, interest organizations are valued more for the votes they can deliver. Most of the Power 25 have large numbers of geographically dispersed and politically active members who focus their energies on a narrow range of issues. In other words, they know their convictions and vote them. In this era of low voter turnout, that kind of commitment can mean the difference between victory and defeat in close elections, which translates into real heft on the legislative front. Few things are more important to a Congressman than getting reelected.

Fully half of the top ten groups in the FORTUNE survey were propelled there on the strength of their long-established grassroots networks… The affluence of an organization's members doesn't guarantee influence. Sometimes it has the opposite effect… In contrast, the groups with huge memberships that also have an intense self-interest in government payouts are disproportionately represented in the Power 25.

Populism is not the same as liberalism. The survey shows how narrowly the political spectrum is concentrated at the moderate center and the right… Why? Maybe it's because conservative groups often are better funded or that their members are more intensely committed to their cause. Or maybe the reason is that Republicans control Congress.

In response to Fortune, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency stated that contrary to Fortune, "AIPAC does not contribute money to political candidates, but it did note, "However, in response to a lawsuit, the Federal Election Commission found in 1992 that AIPAC spent money in an effort to influence congressional elections. AIPAC maintains that the specific expenditures were permissible under campaign finance laws."

AIPAC responded with, "If we are as successful as portrayed, it's due to the profound interest Americans have in ensuring the strong bonds between the U.S. and Israel, and their willingness to roll up their sleeves to do something about it," a comment that I find disingenuous. Speaking of the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act of 1997, AIPAC's Arizona chair stated, "Every AIPAC member called people they had contact with in both the House and Senate and got an incredible amount of people to sign on."

AIPAC has continued despite political changes in both Israel and the US:

[AIPAC] adapts with chameleon-like ease to both "extremist" and "moderate" Israeli governments. AIPAC makes pro forma changes in its executive directors, while leaving in place the lobbyists who can manipulate comfortable majorities in both Democratic and Republican Congresses, and who can either formulate the Middle East policies to be followed by U.S. presidents, or inhibit them from carrying out Mideast policies of their own…

WaPo's Dana Milbank asks, "How much clout does AIPAC have?" The answer is a lot.

The annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has long produced a massive show of bipartisan pandering, as lawmakers praise the well-financed and well-connected group. But [2005] has been a rough year for AIPAC -- it has dismissed its policy director and another employee while the FBI examines whether they passed classified U.S. information to Israel -- and the organization is eager to show how big it is...

[The Franklin scandal] isn't keeping the powerful from lining up to woo AIPAC. The morning brought Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the evening brought congressional leaders, and at a luncheon "debate" in between, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and informal administration foreign policy adviser Richard N. Perle tried to one-up each other in pro-Israel views.

Perle drew cheers for denouncing Palestinian anti-Semitism and the French. Harman mentioned that an aide once worked for AIPAC, called her audience "very sophisticated" and celebrated Yasser Arafat's death as "a blessing." Debating a hard-liner in front of a pro-administration crowd, Harman heaped praise on President Bush, calling the Iraqi elections "sensationally impressive" and moving to "applaud" or "commend" Perle and the administration a dozen times. "Richard is right, and so is President Bush," she said at one point.

But after half an hour of this, Harman could not keep up. Perle provoked cheers from the crowd when he favored a military raid on Iran, saying that "if Iran is on the verge of a nuclear weapon, I think we will have no choice but to take decisive action." When Harman said the "best short-term option" is the U.N. Security Council, the crowd reacted with boos.

AIPAC is a demanding crowd, and even Rice, introduced as a "very special friend," did not satisfy universally. The participants applauded heartily her reminder that Bush did not meet with Arafat, but when she said Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, "is committed to both freedom and security," and when she mentioned more U.S. funds for Palestinians, the room was quiet. Likewise, Rice's call for Arab states to "establish normal relations with Israel" earned an extended ovation; her reminder that Israel must not "jeopardize the true viability of the Palestinian state" did not.

Haaretz's Nathan Guttman drove home the adjustments AIPAC is making publicly:

[AIPAC convention tables] were set with two flags apiece - the Stars and Stripes alongside the AIPAC flag. Veteran conference-goers said they had never seen the two flags arranged this way before, but this year AIPAC has a clear message - complete support of the United States and an unequivocal display of patriotism. In his opening speech, AIPAC executive-director Howard Kohr took several minutes to sing the praises of the U.S. president and the American nation…

The patriotic spirit was alive in every corridor of the Washington congress center. AIPAC is making a special effort to communicate its complete loyalty to the U.S., something that was taken for granted in the past… AIPAC was touting its American character with symbols and declarations that left no room for doubt. And Israel? It was being presented at the conference, not as a country that is in need of U.S. assistance, but as a country that is helping its great friend. "Israel. An American Value" read the large posters adorning the conference hall, driving the point home.

Haaretz's PM Sharon to tell AIPAC: Gaza pullout will proceed on time add further detail while Guttman speaks of the "dizzying success" of the conference:

The message sent by the mammoth event was clear: The lobby is not only alive and well, but it justly holds the title of the second most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill, even after half a year of an FBI investigation that is still going on. At the end of the conference... participants made their traditional pilgrimage to Capitol Hill to meet with their representatives in Congress and pass on the key messages they received at the conference: Support the disengagement plan and end Iran's nuclear program.

AIPAC sees the conference's success as proof that the lobby is emerging from the crisis engendered by the Larry Franklin affair. After a wave of negative media reports about AIPAC, it is once again back on its feet; and having gotten rid of the senior officials who were involved in the affair, it is stressing that the lobby itself was never the target of any investigation.

But the Franklin affair has nevertheless left its mark - not only on conversations in the corridors, but also on the tone and the emphasis that AIPAC tried to broadcast over the past week. The general message that emanated from the conference was one of American patriotism and absolute loyalty to the United States. This super-patriotic message was evident in [the] the unexplained omission of "Hatikva," which in past years has always been sung right after the American anthem.

2005 was no aberration, by the way, as in 2004, Bush43 "stood before the annual conference [and] spoke effusively to its members":

"AIPAC is doing important work," Bush said. "In Washington and beyond, AIPAC is calling attention to the great security challenges of our time. "You've always understood and warned against the evil ambition of terrorism and their networks," the president continued. "In a dangerous new century, your work is more vital than ever."...

The federal investigation itself has produced the most recent demonstration of AIPAC's power and standing, in the outpouring of support for the organization from U.S. officials that began hours after news of the federal inquiry broke.

"I know AIPAC; I know the AIPAC leadership. It is an outstanding organization," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) declared, "America is better and stronger for" AIPAC.

Two days after the first news reports, Republican politicians -- normally wary of controversy -- turned out in force at an AIPAC-sponsored event outside the GOP convention in New York. By AIPAC's count, the attendees included more than 60 House members, eight senators, five governors, two Bush Cabinet members and Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman.

Through more than 2,000 meetings with members of Congress, AIPAC activists help pass more than 100 pro-Israel legislative initiatives a year. On its Web site, AIPAC lists priorities including legislation to curb Iran's nuclear program; procuring nearly $3 billion in aid for Israel; and funding U.S.-Israeli efforts to build a defense against unconventional weapons.

AIPAC does not have a political action committee and does not endorse candidates. But it is widely viewed by friends and foes as wielding significant political power.

The 2003 conference on the eve of a new Administration "road map" showed equal resolve and authority as AIPAC comments made evident. Again from Haaretz' David Landau:

prominent Jewish leaders told Haaretz [that] they will not mute their criticism of the "road map" that is being drawn up in Washington. Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, doesn't like the "timing" of the map or the fact that President George Bush has created a connection between the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, promises that if the Israeli government expresses reservations about the road map, it will have the support of the Jewish community, and "we will not hesitate to make our voice heard."

Before their annual conference concludes, the 3,000 AIPAC activists will undoubtedly be asked, upon their return home, to encourage their friends and relatives to write to their representatives in Congress and make known their concern about the road map and about the linkage the administration is creating between the war in Iraq and peace here. Senators and members of the House of Representatives will duly receive stacks of letters and telegrams, along with faxes and e-mails, from which they will conclude that the American Jewish community, like the Israeli Jewish community, has fears and anxieties about the road map that the administration officials are preparing.

That's how it works. AIPAC has plenty of influence and clout, and it tilts to the right. The majority of the other Jewish organizations are also on the right when it comes to the conflict.

So sweeping is the success of the Israeli right and its allies among the Jews (and Christians) in the United States that an unchallenged political axiom has emerged, to the effect that if the president decides to push ahead with the road map, he will generate hostility among millions of voters. This is presented as an unassailable fact in the political discourse and in newspaper commentaries. The only point that remains unclear is whether Bush will accede to the urgings of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and of his own State Department and adopt the map despite the political risk that step entails.

Part 5

Think before you sing 'Hatikva'
By Nathan Guttman
Last update - 11:40 27/05/2005

AIPAC's Big, Bigger, Biggest Moment
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post
May 24, 2005; A13

PM Sharon to tell AIPAC: Gaza pullout will proceed on time
By Aluf Benn and Nathan Guttman, Haaretz Correspondents, and Haaretz Service
Last update - 08:12 24/05/2005

Pro-Israel Lobby Has Strong Voice
AIPAC Is Embroiled in Investigation of Pentagon Leaks
By Thomas B. Edsall and Molly Moore
Washington Post
September 5, 2004

The battle for Washington
By David Landau
Last update - 02:37 28/03/2003

One Nation Under Israel
By Andrew Hurley, Truth Press, 1999
Reviewed by Richard H. Curtiss
December 1999

Fat & Happy in D.C. Republicans are busting out all over, not just in Congress and the White House but also on FORTUNE's latest list of the capital's most powerful lobbyists.
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum Reporter Associate Russell Newell
May 28, 2001

Follow the Money Hard money. Soft money. Lobbying money. Which buys the most influence in Washington? FORTUNE's Power 25 survey attempts an answer and ranks the top lobbying groups.
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum Reporter, Associate Natasha Graves
December 6, 1999

The Influence Merchants Lobbyists are a permanent establishment in Washington, and FORTUNE's Power 25 ranking is its undisputed "A" list. New to this year's survey: the best of the hired guns.
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum Reporter Associates Tyler Maroney, Dustin Smith
December 7, 1998

December 8, 1997

AIPAC listed 2nd most powerful group on Fortune list
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Center for Public Integrity

Political Advocacy Groups
A Directory of United States Lobbyists
Jewish Political Advocacy Groups
International Affairs Political Advocacy Groups

Links for American Politics and Government

Gordon Housworth

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