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CNI: Introduction to the Israel Lobby

President Obama takes the stage at the 2012 AIPAC conference.
Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Please be sure to scroll down to see the entire list of organizations.

The Israel lobby is one of the most powerful and pervasive special interest groups in the United States. It consists of a multitude of powerful institutions and individuals that work to influence Congress, the president, academia, the media, religious institutions, and American public opinion on behalf of Israel.

This lobby played a major role in the creation of Israel and continues to exert strong influence on US foreign policy, often in ways that harm American interests and security. It was a major factor in promoting the Iraq war, it continues to advocate for war with Iran, and it has played a central role in fostering Islamphobia in the United States.

The lobby is not one unified organization, but rather it consists of numerous institutions with various agendas. Some differ in orientation, emphasis, or political views, but all promote a strong and often dangerous and dishonest pro-Israel slant in the American media and government.

Furthermore, lobbying the government on behalf of Israel proves to be very very lucrative for directors of many of these organizations, who earn very large salaries. The director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Abe Foxman, earns close to $700,000 per year.

Below are some of these organizations.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): AIPAC is the most prominent governmental lobbying organization on behalf of Israel. Fortune Magazine typically rates it as the second most powerful lobby in the U.S. AIPAC frequently writes legislation for members of Congress, which extraordinarily large majorities of both parties typically endorse. It has a $100 million endowment and annual revenue of about $60 million and spends about $2-3 million each year in lobbying Congress. AIPAC’s annual conventions are typically a who’s who of high government office from both parties pledging their loyalty to Israel.

Pro-Israel Political Action Committees (PACs): AIPAC does not give campaign contributions itself but instead uses a campaign finance network consisting of around thirty Pro-Israel Political Action Committees (PACs), which AIPAC is constantly signaling. Only four of these PACs have names that indicate their true agenda, such as ‘Allies for Israel’ or ‘World Alliance for Israel.’ The rest have innocuous names like ‘National Action Committee’ or ‘Heartland PAC.’ Constituents usually don’t realize their candidates are receiving money from PACs that advance the interests of a foreign government.

Usually a PAC can only donate $5,000 for a primary and $5,000 for general elections. But with thirty "unaffiliated" PACs marching in lockstep behind AIPAC, this can balloon up to $300,000 for any given candidate. The extent of this influence remains hidden from view. They also use "bundling," which means taking various individual donations and handing them over en masse to a candidate, so that on the books it shows up as several individual donations, but everyone except the FEC understands who’s really controlling the money.

A 1996 book called Stealth PACs reports that "in 1988, Israel’s lobby had 78 PACs spending more than $5.5 million to bribe Congress to vote more aid for Israel. That was more than total contributions together of the two next largest special interests in the United States—the real estate lobby and the teamsters."

During the 2010 elections, Israel-affiliated contributions were the third highest of any special interest at nearly $3 million (with almost equal amounts given to Democrats and Republicans). But because that number was broken into pieces and hidden behind unrelated names, pro-Israel contributions didn’t "officially" make the top twenty.

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reports on this topic frequently. To learn more, see their list of pro-Israel PAC contributions to candidates in 2010.

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP): This group of 51 Zionist organizations also advocates on behalf of Israel, including a focus on Iran. It had revenues of over $2.2 million in 2011. All members of the CoP sit on AIPAC’s executive committee. The Conference of Presidents focuses on lobbying the Executive branch while AIPAC concentrates on Congress.

The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF): AIEF is a subsidiary of AIPAC that takes Congressional Representatives on all-expense-paid trips to Israel. In August 2011, 81 members of Congress from both parties took trips to Israel with the AIEF. Its annual budget is over $26 million, and its executive director, Richard Fishman, is officially "not compensated," but he receives $395,000 annually from affiliates.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP): WINEP is a highly influential think tank that pushes Israel-centric Middle East policies. It was founded by a former AIPAC employee, and while it claims to promote a "balanced and realistic" understanding of the Middle East, it is "funded by individuals deeply committed to advancing Israel’s agenda." It is frequently called upon by both the government and the media to provide "expert" analysis on Middle East issues. Its 2010 revenues were $9.4 million, and its net assets total $23.5 million.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL): The ADL bills itself as a civil rights institution devoted to stamping out anti-Semitism. But in practice, it regularly works to promote Israeli interests and attacks virtually any prominent person who criticized Israel and labels them "anti-Semitic." It has also been involved in a large spying operation against American citizens who opposed the policies of Israel and the Apartheid regime in South Africa. It is an architect of "hate crimes legislation" that may effectively criminalize criticism of Israeli policies. The ADL is a member of the CoP with revenues of around $60 million and net assets of over $115 million. Abe Foxman, it's national director, makes $688,280 per year.

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (aka Stand for Israel): Founded in 1983 by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein "to promote understanding between Jews and Christians and build broad support for Israel," it promotes advocacy for Israel among mostly right-wing Christians. It has annual revenues of nearly $100 million.

Christians United for Israel (CUFI): CUFI is a right-wing Evangelical Christian organization founded by John Hagee to advocate for American support for Israel based largely on Biblical prophecy. It has a nationwide membership of over one million advocates for Israel who can be called upon to flood their Congressmen with letters and phone calls at the slightest hint of legislation not approved by Israel. CUFI has high-level contacts within the Israeli government, including with the Prime Minister, who sometimes speaks at their events.

The Israel Project: Founded in 2003, the Israel Project specializes in pro-Israel propaganda targeting the press and the American public. In 2009, a secret handbook commissioned by The Israel Project and written by Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz, "The Global Language Dictionary," was exposed by two Newsweek reporters. The handbook crafts language and talking points for Israel advocates in simplistic, diversionary, and dishonest ways. The organization has 70 employees and an $11 million annual budget. In 2011 it opened additional bureaus in India and China and launched a website in Arabic.

Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF): This American organization supports the Israeli armed forces. It hosts lavish fundraisers and has fourteen regional offices in the U.S. and one in Latin America. FIDF also brings hundreds of Israeli soldiers to the U.S. every year to lecture at synagogues, universities, and schools in order to increase American support for Israeli policies. It has annual revenues of around $60 million and net assets of $80 million.

Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI): The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports:

Washington observers may feel there is no obvious shortage of pro-Israel lobbyists in the city—but a group of leading American conservatives thinks otherwise and has set up a new campaign group to attack President Obama over his ‘anti-Israel’ stance.

The Emergency Committee for Israel presents a potent combination of Republican Party neoconservatives and Evangelical Christians. The new group’s board includes Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Gary Bauer, a former Republican presidential candidate who leads the group American Values, as well as Rachel Abrams, a conservative writer and activist.

The Committee produced an advertisement against Ron Paul that ran in South Carolina because of Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and other countries. ECI is currently funding tens of thousands of dollars worth of anti-Obama advertising.

Hadassah (Women’s Zionist Organization of America): Founded in 1912, Hadassah is "a volunteer organization that inspires a passion for and commitment to its partnership with the land and people of Israel." It has chapters across the U.S. and "more than 330,000… Members, Associates and supporters." It regularly advocates on behalf of Israel and is currently pushing anti-Iran legislation. It has annual revenues of nearly $100 million and $400 million in net assets.

America’s Voices in Israel (AVI): A project of the Conference of Presidents, AVI works to "strengthen American understanding of and support for Israel by inviting U.S.-based radio talk show hosts to see Israel and broadcast their programs live from Jerusalem." It also brings celebrities and other "opinion makers" on guided tours of Israel.

Jewish Community Relations Councils, Jewish Federations, Hillels

(Click on each title to see an example), and similar organizations promote Israeli interests in virtually every city in the United States. Click here for an example of a Jewish Federation pressuring a conference that criticizes Israel.

Jewish and Zionist community organizations:

  • Jewish Council for Public Affairs
  • Jewish National Federation (JNF)
  • Zionist Organiation of America (ZOA)
  • American Jewish Committee (AJC)
  • World Jewish Congress
  • Friends of Aish Hatorah
  • Chabad

Political organizations and think tanks:

  • Republican Jewish Coalition
  • National Jewish Democratic Council
  • Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  • JINSA
  • Saban Center at Brookings
  • Center for Security Policy, neo-con brain center
  • Foreign Policy Initiative (PNAC 2.0)
  • MEMRI (claims to provide "objective" translations of Arabic and Iranian media, but in fact it selectively and sometimes inaccurately translates to serve Israel’s propaganda interests)

Organizations that target students and youth:

Additional groups:

  • Stand With Us, other billboard supporters
  • Elad, Ateret Cohanim, and other settler groups

Heavy establishment media influence, single-issue focus, strong donor base—with these tools, it is able to frame the issue of Israel/Palestine in an otherwise largely ignorant and apathetic American public.

Influential Pro-Israel Individuals

An example of such an individual is the current US Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, who gave a speech in which he detailed his extremely close, life-long ties to Israel, concluding: "[A]s a committed Jewish American, with deep roots in the American Jewish community and warm bonds of affection with Israel, I will have an opportunity to draw on those associations to help make the U.S.-Israel relationship, strong as it is, even stronger in the years ahead." He stated that "ensuring Israel’s future" drives all US policies.

Howard Berman, Democratic Congressman from California, acknowledged in a 2008 interview with the Forward, "Even before I was a Democrat, I was a Zionist." He went on to explain that "an interest in the Jewish state" was one of the main reasons he first sought a seat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where he is the top Democrat. Berman, who is known as "the Congressman from Hollywood," also told the Forward, "He is particularly keen on getting the House more involved in Iran-related issues."

Other individuals include:

There’s no card to carry that says one is part of the Israel lobby. But taken as a whole, this sampling of powerful pro-Israel organizations demonstrates how information is systematically skewed before it reaches the American public. Politicians and journalists are systematically harassed, often losing jobs, if they step out of line.

There is no comparable pressure from the Arab-American side, much less from stateless Palestinians, who have no army, little money, and very little cultural influence or PR savvy. By contrast to the $3 million given by pro-Israel PACs in 2010, the two Arab-American PACs—Arab American Leadership Council PAC and Arab American Political Action Committee—gave a total of $36,500.

 

Source: The Council for the National Interest

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