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Israel Lobby: AIPAC's Hold

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  • Zafar Khan
    AIPAC s Hold Ari Berman posted July 29, 2006 http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060814/aipacs_hold In early March, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2006
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      AIPAC's Hold
      Ari Berman
      posted July 29, 2006


      In early March, the American Israel Public Affairs
      Committee (AIPAC) held its forty-seventh annual
      conference in Washington. AIPAC's executive director
      spent twenty-seven minutes reading the "roll call" of
      dignitaries present at the gala dinner, which included
      a majority of the Senate and a quarter of the House,
      along with dozens of Administration officials.

      As this event illustrates, it's impossible to talk
      about Congress's relationship to Israel without
      highlighting AIPAC, the American Jewish community's
      most important voice on the Hill. The Congressional
      reaction to Hezbollah's attack on Israel and Israel's
      retaliatory bombing of Lebanon provide the latest
      example of why.

      On July 18, the Senate unanimously approved a
      nonbinding resolution "condemning Hamas and Hezbollah
      and their state sponsors and supporting Israel's
      exercise of its right to self-defense." After House
      majority leader John Boehner removed language from the
      bill urging "all sides to protect innocent civilian
      life and infrastructure," the House version passed by
      a landslide, 410 to 8.

      AIPAC not only lobbied for the resolution; it had
      written it. "They [Congress] were given a resolution
      by AIPAC," said former Carter Administration National
      Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who addressed
      the House Democratic Caucus on July 19. "They didn't
      prepare one."

      AIPAC is the leading player in what is sometimes
      referred to as "The Israel Lobby"--a coalition that
      includes major Jewish groups, neoconservative
      intellectuals and Christian Zionists. With its
      impressive contacts among Hill staffers, influential
      grassroots supporters and deep connections to wealthy
      donors, AIPAC is the lobby's key emissary to Congress.
      But in many ways, AIPAC has become greater than just
      another lobby; its work has made unconditional support
      for Israel an accepted cost of doing business inside
      the halls of Congress. AIPAC's interest, Israel's
      interest and America's interest are today perceived by
      most elected leaders to be one and the same. Christian
      conservatives increasingly aligned with AIPAC demand
      unwavering support for Israel from their Republican
      leaders. (In mid-July, 3,000-plus evangelicals came to
      town for the first annual "Christian United for
      Israel" summit.) And Democrats are equally concerned
      about alienating Jewish voters and Jewish donors--long
      a cornerstone of their party. Some in Congress are
      deeply uncomfortable with AIPAC's militant worldview
      and heavyhanded tactics, but most dare not say so

      "The Bush Administration is bad enough in tolerating
      measures they would not accept anywhere else but
      Israel," says Henry Siegman, the former head of the
      American Jewish Congress and a Middle East expert at
      the Council on Foreign Relations. "But the Congress,
      if anything, is urging the Administration on and
      criticizing them even at their most accommodating.
      When it comes to the Israeli-Arab conflict, the terms
      of debate are so influenced by organized Jewish
      groups, like AIPAC, that to be critical of Israel is
      to deny oneself the ability to succeed in American

      There are a few internationalist Republicans in the
      Senate and progressive Democrats in the House who
      occasionally dissent. Representative Dennis Kucinich
      and twenty-three co-sponsors have offered a resolution
      calling for an immediate cease-fire and a return to
      multiparty diplomacy between the United States and
      regional powers, with no preconditions. But even the
      resolution's supporters admit it isn't likely to go
      anywhere. Another bill introduced by several
      Arab-American lawmakers that stressed the need to
      minimize civilian casualties on both sides was
      "politically swept under the rug," according to
      Representative Nick Rahall, a Lebanese-American
      Democrat from West Virginia who voted against the
      House resolution. Dovish American-Israeli groups, such
      as Americans for Peace Now, have largely stayed out of
      the fight.

      The latest hawkish Congressional activity is primarily
      intended to show voters and potential donors that
      elected officials are unwavering friends of Israel and
      enemies of terrorism. "It's just for home
      consumption," said Representative Charlie Rangel, a
      powerful New York Democrat who signed on to Kucinich's
      resolution. "We don't have the support of countries
      that support us! What the hell are we going to do,
      bomb Iran? Bomb Syria?" His colleagues, said Rahall,
      "were trying to out-AIPAC AIPAC."

      Discussion in Congress quickly widened beyond Israel
      to include a broader policy of confrontation toward
      the entire Middle East. Congressmen sent a flurry of
      "dear colleague" letters to one another, hoping to
      pressure the Administration into tightening sanctions
      on Syria and Iran, Hezbollah's two main state
      sponsors. Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross
      addressed a packed AIPAC-sponsored luncheon on the
      Hill, where, according to one aide present, Ross told
      the room: "This is all about Syria and Iran...we
      shouldn't be condemning Israel now." Said
      Representative Robert Andrews, a Democrat from New
      Jersey and co-chair of the Iran Working Group, which
      this week hosted an official from the Israeli embassy:
      "I concur completely with that approach."

      Democrats, as they did during the Dubai ports scandal,
      used the crisis to score a few cheap, easy political
      points against the Bush Administration. The new prime
      minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, found himself
      engulfed in a Congressional firestorm after he
      denounced Israel's attacks on Lebanon as an act of
      "aggression." Democratic Congressional Campaign
      Committee chair Rahm Emanuel, who volunteered in
      Israel during the first Gulf War, called on Maliki to
      cancel his planned address before Congress. Asked
      Senator Chuck Schumer, who skipped Maliki's July 26
      speech: "Which side is he on when it comes to the war
      on terror?" Howard Dean one upped his colleagues,
      labeling Maliki an "anti-Semite" during a speech in
      Palm Beach, Florida.

      Ironically, during the 2004 campaign Dean called on
      the United States to be an "evenhanded" broker in the
      Middle East. That position enraged party leaders such
      as House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who signed a
      letter attacking his remarks. "It was designed to send
      a message: No one ever does this again," says M.J.
      Rosenberg of the center-left Israel Policy Forum. "And
      no one has. The only safe thing to say is: I support
      Israel." In April a representative from AIPAC called
      Congresswoman Betty McCollum's vote against a
      draconian bill severely curtailing aid to the
      Palestinian Authority "support for terrorists."

      Not surprisingly, most in Congress see far more harm
      than reward in getting in the Israeli lobby's way.
      "There remains a perception of power and fear that
      AIPAC can undo you," says James Zogby, president of
      the Arab American Institute. He points to the defeats
      of Representative Paul Findley and Senator Charles
      Percy in the 1980s and Representatives Cynthia
      McKinney and Earl Hilliard in 2002, when AIPAC steered
      large donors to their opponents. Even if AIPAC's
      make-you-or-break-you reputation is largely a myth, in
      an election year that perception is potent. Thirty-six
      pro-Israel PACs gave $3.14 million to candidates in
      the 2004 election cycle. Rahall said his opponent for
      re-election issued his first press release of the
      campaign after Rahall voted against the House
      resolution. "Everybody knew what would happen if they
      didn't vote yes," he says.

      AIPAC continues to enjoy deep bipartisan backing
      inside Congress even after two top AIPAC officials
      were indicted a year ago for allegedly accepting and
      passing on confidential national security secrets from
      a Defense Department analyst. "The US and Israel share
      a lot of basic common values. The vast majority of the
      American people not only support Israel's actions
      against Hezbollah but also the fundamental US-Israel
      relationship, and the bipartisan support in Congress
      reflects that," says AIPAC spokesman Josh Block.
      Rosenberg, himself a former AIPAC staffer, puts it
      another way: "This is the one issue on which liberals
      are permitted, even expected, by donors to be mindless

      By blindly following AIPAC, Congress reinforces a
      hard-line consensus: Criticizing Israeli actions, even
      in the best of faith, is anti-Israel and possibly
      anti-Semitic; enthusiastically backing whatever
      military action Israel undertakes is the only
      acceptable stance.

      Recent Gallup polls show that half of Americans
      support Israel's military campaign, yet 65 percent
      believe the United States should not take sides in the
      conflict. But it's hard to imagine any Congress, or
      subsequent Administration, returning to the role of
      honest broker. What the region needs now, according to
      Brzezinski, is an American leader brave enough to say:
      "Either I make policy on the Middle East or AIPAC
      makes policy on the Middle East." One can always
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