American Israel Public Affairs Committee

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American Israel Public Affairs Committee
AIPAC logo.svg
Formation 1963
Legal status 501(c)(4)
President Robert Cohen
Budget $67 million (Fiscal year ending 2010-9-30)[1]
Website aipac.org
American Israel Education Foundation
Formation 1990
Legal status 501(c)(3)
Executive Director Richard Fishman
Budget $26 million (Fiscal year ending 2010-9-30)[2]

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC, /ˈpæk/ AY-pak) is a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies to the Congress and Executive Branch of the United States. The current President of AIPAC is Michael Kassen from Westport, Connecticut.[3]

Describing itself as "America's Pro-Israel Lobby",[3] AIPAC is a mass-membership, American organization whose members include Democrats, Republicans, and independents. The New York Times has called it "the most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel."[4] It has been described as one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, DC. Its critics have stated it acts as an agent of the Israeli government with a "stranglehold" on the United States Congress with its power and influence.[5] There is some disagreement as to where AIPAC's agenda lies ideologically. Some critics on the political left allege that AIPAC holds views that are politically conservative in their nature,[citation needed] while AIPAC's membership has also been described as "overwhelmingly Democratic" by conservatives.[6] AIPAC describes itself as a bipartisan organization,[7] and bills it lobbies for in Congress are always jointly sponsored by both a Democrat and Republican.[8]

In 2005, a Pentagon analyst pleaded guilty to charges of passing US government secrets to two AIPAC staffers in what is known as the AIPAC espionage scandal. Both staffers were later fired by AIPAC.[9] In 2009, all charges against the former AIPAC employees were dropped.[10]

History[edit]

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee was founded in 1951 by Isaiah L. "Si" Kenen.[11] Kenen originally ran the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs as a lobbying division of the American Zionist Council. Before that, Kenen was an employee of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Michael Oren writes in his book, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present, "Though founded in 1953, AIPAC had only now in the mid-70s, achieved the financial and political clout necessary to sway congressional opinion. Confronted with opposition from both houses of Congress, United States President Gerald Ford rescinded his 'reassessment.'"[12] George Lenczowski notes a similar, mid-1970s, timeframe for the rise of AIPAC power. "It [the Carter Presidency] also coincides with the militant emergence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as a major force in shaping American policy toward the Middle East."[13] He further notes that this period also coincides with a major shift in Israeli government policies related to the election of Menachem Begin in Israel.

AIPAC's web site states that it "has grown into a 100,000-member national grass-roots movement."[14]

Aims and activities[edit]

AIPAC's stated purpose is to lobby the Congress of the United States on issues and legislation related to Israel. AIPAC regularly meets with members of Congress and holds events where it can share its views. AIPAC is not a political action committee, and does not directly donate to campaign contributions. Nevertheless, according to The Washington Post, "money is an important part of the equation." The Washington Post states that AIPAC's "web site, which details how members of Congress voted on AIPAC's key issues, and the AIPAC Insider, a glossy periodical that handicaps close political races, are scrutinized by thousands of potential donors. Pro-Israel interests have contributed $56.8 million in individual, group, and soft money donations to federal candidates and party committees since 1990, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Between the 2000 and the 2004 elections, the 50 members of AIPAC's board donated an average of $72,000 each to campaigns and political action committees."[15]

AIPAC's aims include pressuring the Palestinian Authority to adhere to its commitments to fight terrorism and incitement against the state of Israel, with the eventual goal of creating two states (one Jewish, one Arab) in the territorial holdings of Israel. They also wish to strengthen bilateral relations through shared intelligence and foreign military and economic aid to Israel, condemn the actions of the Iranian government in pursuing nuclear status and questioning the Holocaust, and levy financial restrictions in order to hinder Iran's nuclear development. Also important to the group is to support the United States congress and executive administration in rejecting the UN-backed United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict's paper, commonly referred to as the "Goldstone Report."

AIPAC never supported or lobbied for the war in Iraq.[16] According to a columnist in the Washington Post, "Once it was clear that the Bush administration was determined to go to war [in Iraq],.[15] Some observers suggested the official silence owed to concerns that linking Israel to the war[17]

AIPAC's official position on Iran is to encourage a strong diplomatic and economic response coordinated among the United States government, its European allies, Russia, and China.[15] AIPAC has demanded "crippling" sanctions against Iran.[18]

In line with this approach, AIPAC has lobbied to levy economic embargoes and increase sanctions against Iran.[19]

AIPAC has been both for and against passage of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013.[20]

AIPAC also provides political leadership training to undergraduate student groups in an effort to build a stronger pro-Israel movement among students on and off campuses nationwide.

In March 2009, AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr appeared before the House Committee on Appropriations' Foreign Operations subcommittee to testify about the importance of US aid to Israel. Kohr stated that "American assistance to Israel serves vital U.S. national security interests and advances critical U.S. foreign policy goals" and requested that Israel receive $2.775 billion in military aid in fiscal year 2010, as called for in the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Israel that allocates $30 billion in aid for the Jewish state over 10 years. Kohr stated that the military hardware Israel must purchase to face the increased threat of terrorism and Islamist radicalism is increasingly expensive due to the recent spike in petroleum prices which have enabled countries such as Iran to augment their military budgets. However, he added that Israel will also increase its defense spending as part of this effort.[21]

AIPAC supports U.S. involvement in the peace process and advocates for a two-state solution based on direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It supports continued U.S. involvement in "negotiations with an acceptance of Israel's need for secure, recognized and defensible borders, with the understanding that Israel must determine its own security requirements." It also supports U.S. support for Palestinian moderates, adding that such support "is more likely to lead to breakthroughs in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations because Israel will be more willing to take risks for peace when its security requirements are being addressed and when the United States is backing its efforts.[22]

Policy Conference[edit]

The annual AIPAC Policy Conference is the largest gathering of the pro-Israel movement. Thousands of participants - which included over 14,000 delegates in the 2014 conference - come from all 50 states to take part in "three of the most important days affecting Israel's future." Held at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., numerous speakers, including Presidents and Prime Ministers, speak about the importance of the U.S.-Israel Relationship.

List of Presidents[edit]

Membership[edit]

Further information: List of AIPAC officers

American Israel Education Foundation[edit]

The American Israel Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization working in support of the AIPAC lobbying organization. It conducts educational programs, including sponsoring U.S. legislators on educational trips to Israel, and funds other AIPAC education activities.[23]

AIEF trips for U.S. Congressmen occur every two years, becoming "the top spender on Congressional travel" in those years.[24] In Summer, 2011 the foundation sponsored week-long trips by 81 U.S. Congressmen: 55 Republicans and 26 Democrats. They traveled to Israel and the West Bank and visited with Shimon Peres and Binyamin Netanyahu (President and PM of Israel) and Mahmoud Abbas (President of the Palestinian Authority).[25][26] Other educational activities include regular seminars for Congressional staff.[27]

Successes[edit]

AIPAC advises members of Congress about the issues that face today's Middle East, including the dangers of extremism and terrorism. It was an early supporter of the Counter-Terrorism Act of 1995, which resulted in increased FBI resources being committed to fight terrorism,[citation needed] as well as expanded federal jurisdiction in prosecuting criminal activities related to terrorism.[citation needed]

AIPAC has also supported the funding of a number of Israeli military projects that have resulted in new additions to the arsenal of the United States Armed Forces.[citation needed] One such outcome is the production of Israel's Arrow anti-missile system at a Boeing plant in Huntsville, Alabama for use by both the United States and Israel. Additionally, the U.S. military has purchased Israeli-made tank armor, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other technologies for use in its operations.

AIPAC also lobbies for financial aid from the United States to Israel, helping to procure up to three billion in aid yearly, making Israel "the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II."[28] Additionally, the result of AIPAC's efforts include numerous exceptional provisions that are not available to other American allies.[citation needed] According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), these include providing aid "as all grant cash transfers, not designated for particular projects, and...transferred as a lump sum in the first month of the fiscal year, instead of in periodic increments. Israel is allowed to spend about one quarter of the military aid for the procurement in Israel of defense articles and services, including research and development, rather than in the United States."[29]

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs has estimated total aid since 1949 at approximately $108 billion.[30]

The New York Times described AIPAC on July 6, 1987 as "a major force in shaping United States policy in the Middle East."[31] In 1997, Fortune magazine named AIPAC the second-most powerful influence group in Washington, D.C.[32]

Controversies[edit]

Former Senator William Fulbright, in the 1970s, and former senior CIA official Victor Marchetti, in the 1980s, contended that AIPAC should have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).[33] FARA requires those who receive funds or act on behalf of a foreign government to register as a foreign agent. However, AIPAC states that the organization is a registered American lobbying group, funded by private donations, and maintains it receives "no financial assistance" from Israel or any other foreign group.[34]

In 2006, Representative Betty McCollum (DFL) of Minnesota demanded an apology from AIPAC, claiming an AIPAC representative had described her vote against the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 as "support for terrorists." McCollum stated that AIPAC representatives would not be allowed in her office until she received a written apology for the comment.[35] AIPAC disputed McCollum's claim, and McCollum has since declared the incident over.[36]

Steiner resignation[edit]

In 1992, AIPAC president David Steiner was forced to resign after he was recorded boasting about his political influence in obtaining aid for Israel. Steiner also claimed that he had

met with (then Bush U.S. Secretary of State) Jim Baker and I cut a deal with him. I got, besides the $3 billion, you know they're looking for the Jewish votes, and I'll tell him whatever he wants to hear ... Besides the $10 billion in loan guarantees which was a fabulous thing, $3 billion in foreign, in military aid, and I got almost a billion dollars in other goodies that people don't even know about.[37]

Steiner also claimed to be "negotiating" with the incoming Clinton administration over who Clinton would appoint as Secretary of State and Secretary of the National Security Agency. Steiner stated that AIPAC had "a dozen people in [the Clinton] campaign, in the headquarters... in Little Rock, and they're all going to get big jobs."[37]

NY real estate developer Haim Katz told The Washington Times that he taped the conversation because "as someone Jewish, I am concerned when a small group has a disproportionate power. I think that hurts everyone, including Jews. If David Steiner wants to talk about the incredible, disproportionate clout AIPAC has, the public should know about it."[38]

Spying for Israel[edit]

In April 2005, AIPAC policy director Steven Rosen and AIPAC senior Iran analyst Keith Weissman were fired by AIPAC amid an FBI investigation into whether they passed classified U.S. information received from Franklin on to the government of Israel. They were later indicted for illegally conspiring to gather and disclose classified national security information to Israel.[39][40] AIPAC agreed to pay the legal fees for Weissman's defense through appeal if necessary,[41] but charges were subsequently dropped.[42]

In May 2005, the Justice Department announced that Lawrence Anthony Franklin, a U.S. Air Force Reserves colonel working as a Department of Defense analyst at the Pentagon in the office of Douglas Feith, had been arrested and charged by the FBI with providing classified national defense information to Israel. The six-count criminal complaint identified AIPAC by name and described a luncheon meeting in which, allegedly, Franklin disclosed top-secret information to two AIPAC officials.[43][44]

Franklin pleaded guilty to passing government secrets to Rosen and Weissman and revealed for the first time that he also gave classified information directly to an Israeli government official in Washington. On January 20, 2006, he was sentenced to 151 months (almost 13 years) in prison and fined $10,000. As part of the plea agreement, Franklin agreed to cooperate in the larger federal investigation.[45][46] All charges against the former AIPAC employees were dropped in 2009.

Supporters[edit]

  • AIPAC has a wide base of supporters both in and outside of Congress. Support among congressional members includes a majority of members of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. AIPAC's 2011 Policy Conference included the attendance of approximately 2/3 of the US Senate[47] and House of Representatives,[48] including President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Speaker of the House John Boehner. The annual Policy Conference is second only to the State of the Union address for the number of federal officials in attendance at an organized event.[citation needed]
  • Historian and former Israeli ambassador to America, Michael Oren argued in his 2007 bestseller, "Power, Faith, and Fantasy", that strong American support for Israel derives from Puritan-Republican roots of the United States itself.[citation needed]
  • Sen. John McCain said in his speech to the 2008 AIPAC Policy Conference "[T]here are ties between America and Israel that critics of our alliance have never understood, /../ that's because they do not fully understand the love of liberty and the pursuit of justice."[2]
  • Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) has argued that America supports Israel because they share fundamental values as "freedom-loving people" who "deserve to have a free and secure state.'"[49] Nancy Pelosi similarly stated that "America and Israel share an unbreakable bond: in peace and war; and in prosperity and in hardship."[50]

Criticism[edit]

Protesters at AIPAC conference in Washington, DC, May 2005

AIPAC has been criticized as being misrepresentative of American Jews who support Israel and that AIPAC is solely in favor of right-wing Israeli policy and viewpoints.[52][53]

Among the best-known critical works about AIPAC is The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer and Harvard University Kennedy School of Government professor Stephen Walt. In the working paper and resulting book they accuse AIPAC of being "the most powerful and best known" component of a larger pro-Israel lobby that distorts American foreign policy. They write:[54]

AIPAC's success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it. ... AIPAC makes sure that its friends get strong financial support from the myriad pro-Israel PACs. Those seen as hostile to Israel, on the other hand, can be sure that AIPAC will direct campaign contributions to their political opponents. ... The bottom line is that AIPAC, which is a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress. Open debate about U.S. policy towards Israel does not occur there, even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world.

AIPAC has also been the subject of criticism by prominent politicians including former Representative Dave Obey of Wisconsin,[55] former Senator Mike Gravel,[56] and former Representative Cynthia McKinney.[57]

Democratic Congressman Jim Moran from Northern Virginia has been a vocal critic of AIPAC, causing national controversy in 2007 and drawing criticism from some Jewish groups after he told California Jewish magazine Tikkun that AIPAC had been "pushing the [Iraq War] from the beginning", and that "I don't think they represent the mainstream of American Jewish thinking at all, but because they are so well organized, and their members are extraordinarily powerful – most of them are quite wealthy – they have been able to exert power."[58][59]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ "Form 990, American Israel Public Affairs Committee". 990 Finder. Foundation Center. 
  2. ^ "Form 990, American Israel Public Education Foundation". 990 Finder. Foundation Center. 
  3. ^ a b "www.aipac.org".  organization web site
  4. ^ Learn about AIPAC. AIPAC Main Website.
  5. ^ Mearsheimer, John. "The Isreal Lobby". The Israel Lobby and the US Foreign Policy. London Review of Books. Retrieved Dec 31, 2013. 
  6. ^ "AIPAC weighs in: All is not well with the U.S. approach to Israel". The Washington Post. June 15, 2011. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  7. ^ http://www.aipac.org/About%20AIPAC
  8. ^ AIPAC: Claims and Facts 101 The Times OF Israel. 12/2/2012
  9. ^ Guilty plea entered in Pentagon Spy Case Ynet News. 10/06/05
  10. ^ Lewis, Neil A.; Johnston, David (May 2, 2009). "U.S. to Drop Spy Case Against Pro-Israel Lobbyists". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Bard, Mitchell Geoffrey; Schwartz, Moshe (2005). 1001 Facts Everyone Should Know About Israel. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 148. ISBN 0-7425-4357-9. Retrieved March 22, 2012. 
  12. ^ Michael Oren (2007). Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present (New York: W.W. Norton & Company) p. 536.

    The infelicitous combination of Ford and Rabin produced the direst crisis in US-Israeli relations since Suez, with Ford pronouncing a "reassessment" of American support for the Jewish state. Rabin responded by mobilizing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee --- AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby --- against the president. Though founded in 1953, AIPAC had only now in the mid-70s, achieved the financial and political clout necessary to sway congressional opinion. Confronted with opposition from both houses of Congress, Ford rescinded his "reassessment."

  13. ^ Lenczowski, George (1990). American Presidents and the Middle East. Duke University Press. p. 157. ISBN 0-8223-0972-6. 
  14. ^ AIPAC Web Site [1] Accessed April 18, 2007
  15. ^ a b c A Beautiful Friendship?The Washington Post, July 16, 2006
  16. ^ AIPAC meeting wasn't supposed to be partisan, but ..., Jewish News Weekly of Northern California, March 16, 2007.
  17. ^ For Israel Lobby Group, War Is Topic A, Quietly, Washington Post, April 1, 2003.
  18. ^ http://www.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/World/Story/A1Story20100310-203620.html
  19. ^ "What We've Accomplished". AIPAC. Retrieved January 10, 2012. 
  20. ^ "AIPAC Clarifies Position on Iran Sanctions Bill in Letter to Supporters". www.algemeiner.com. algemeiner.com. 7 February 2014. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  21. ^ AIPAC head testifies on Israel aid by Eric Fingerhut, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), March 27, 2009.
  22. ^ Key Principles of the Peace Process
  23. ^ "American Israel Education Foundation". Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Retrieved November 27, 2011. 
  24. ^ Becker, Amanda; Bade, Rachael (Sep 9, 2011). "Members Flock to Israel With Travel Loophole". Roll Call. Retrieved November 27, 2011. 
  25. ^ Keinon, Herb (August 8, 2011). "81 Congressmen to Visit Israel in Coming Weeks". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved November 27, 2011. 
  26. ^ STEINHAUER, JENNIFER (August 15, 2011). "A Recess Destination With Bipartisan Support: Israel and the West Bank". New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2011. 
  27. ^ "Hill Staff". AIPAC. Retrieved November 27, 2011. 
  28. ^ Sharp, Jeremy M.: "U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel", Introduction, "CRS Report for Congress", Order Code RL33222
  29. ^ Migdalovitz, Carol: "Israel: Background and Relations with the United States", page 29. "CRS Report for Congress", Order Code RL33476
  30. ^ A Conservative Estimate of Total Direct U.S. Aid to Israel: $108 Billion, Shirl McArthur. Washington Report, July 2006, pages 16–17.
  31. ^ Shipler, David K. (July 6, 1987). "On Middle East Policy, A Major Influence". New York Times. 
  32. ^ Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. (November 11, 1998). AIPAC listed 2nd most powerful group on Fortune list.
  33. ^ Ori Nir, Leaders Fear Probe Will Force Pro-Israel Lobby To File as ‘Foreign Agent’, The Forward, December 31, 2004.
  34. ^ "What is AIPAC? A Voice for the U.S.-Israel Relationship". aipac.org. Archived from the original on September 17, 2008. Retrieved September 9, 2008. 
  35. ^ McCollum, Betty (Volume 53, Number 10 · June 8, 2006). "A Letter to AIPAC". "New York Review of Books". Retrieved September 9, 2008. 
  36. ^ Forward Staff (May 26, 2006). "Lawmaker, Aipac Feud After Fight Over Hamas Bill". The Forward. Archived from the original on June 10, 2008. Retrieved September 9, 2008. 
  37. ^ a b Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Dec/Jan 1992/1993
  38. ^ AIPAC President Resigns, Sheldon L. Richman, December/January 1992/93, Page 69.
  39. ^ "2 Senior AIPAC Employees Ousted", Washington Post, April 21, 2005
  40. ^ Ticker, Bruce. AIPAC Charges Offer Opportunity, Philadelphia Jewish Voice, September 2005. Accessed March 27, 2006.
  41. ^ AIPAC to pay Weissman's legal fees Jerusalem Post, May 14, 2007.
  42. ^ U.S. to drop Israel lobbyist spy case
  43. ^ Rozen, Laura and Vest, Jason. Cloak and Swagger, The American Prospect, November 2, 2004. Accessed March 27, 2006.
  44. ^ " United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, U.S. v. Lawrence Anthony Franklin ",
  45. ^ "Defense Analyst Guilty in Israeli Espionage Case", Washington Post, Oct. 6, 2005
  46. ^ Barakat, Matthew. "Ex-Pentagon Analyst Sentenced to 12 Years", Associated Press, January 21, 2006 Accessed May 18, 2007
  47. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YF2pd9opTJE
  48. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgwKxjsxO8E
  49. ^ BBC News. "Analysis: America's new Christian Zionists". May 7, 2002
  50. ^ "REP. PELOSI DELIVERS REMARKS AT THE AMERICAN ISRAEL PUBLIC AFFAIRS" (PDF). AIPAC. March 13, 2007. 
  51. ^ http://www.aipac.org/Summit/weil.asp
  52. ^ It has overlooked evidence of severe human rights abuse carried out by the IDF on Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories. "American Jews Rethink Israel". The Nation. October 14, 2009. 
  53. ^ Who does AIPAC represent?. Retrieved 29 May 2013. [unreliable source?]
  54. ^ John, Mearshimer; Walt, Stephen (March 2006). The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (PDF). Harvard University. 
  55. ^ Edsall, Thomas B.; Moore, Molly (September 5, 2004). "Pro-Israel Lobby Has Strong Voice". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 14, 2008. 
  56. ^ "Gravel Discusses Campaign Funding, Relations with Iran". The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. October 1, 2007. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec07/gravel_10-01.html.
  57. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (August 21, 2002). "From Cynthia McKinney to Katha Pollitt, to the ILWU to Paul Krugman". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on September 24, 2008. Retrieved August 14, 2008. 
  58. ^ Hearn, Josephine (September 19, 2007). "Dems slam Moran's tying AIPAC to Iraq war". Politico. Archived from the original on April 25, 2010. Retrieved May 31, 2010. 
  59. ^ Gardner, Amy (September 15, 2007). "Moran Upsets Jewish Groups Again". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 31, 2010. 
Further reading
  • Kenen, Isaiah (1981). Israel's Defense Line: Her Friends and Foes in Washington. ISBN 0-87975-159-2
  • Smith, Grant F. (2008). America's Defense Line: The Justice Department's Battle to Register the Israel Lobby as Agents of a Foreign Government. ISBN 0-9764437-2-4
  • Mearsheimer, John J. and Walt, Stephen M. (2007). The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. ISBN 0-374-17772-4
  • Oren, Michael (2007). Power, Faith, and Fantasy: The United States in the Middle East, 1776 to 2006. ISBN 0-393-05826-3
  • Petras, James (2006). The Power of Israel in the United States. ISBN 0-932863-51-5

External links[edit]