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|Budget||$67 million (Fiscal year ending 2010-9-30)|
|Budget||$67 million (Fiscal year ending 2010-9-30)|
|Executive Director||Richard Fishman|
|Budget||$26 million (Fiscal year ending 2010-9-30)|
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC, // 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.
Describing itself as "America's Pro-Israel Lobby", AIPAC has more than 100,000 members, seventeen regional offices, and "a vast pool of donors." It has been called "the most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel," and one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States. The group does not raise funds for political candidates itself, but helps organize to channel money to candidates.
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. The group has been accused of being strongly allied with the Likud party of Israel, and the Republican Party in the US, but an AIPAC spokesman has called this a "malicious mischaracterization." AIPAC describes itself as a bipartisan organization, and bills it lobbies for in Congress are always jointly sponsored by both a Democrat and Republican.
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. In 2009, all charges against the former AIPAC employees were dropped.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee was founded in 1951 by Isaiah L. "Si" Kenen. 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. According to journalist Connie Bruck, AIPAC was incorporated in 1963 and headed by Kenen until his retirement in 1974. Kenen was "an old-fashioned liberal" according to former AIPAC volunteer journalist M.J. Rosenberg, who did not seek to win support by donating to campaigns or otherwise influencing elections, but was willing to "play with the hand that is dealt us."
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.'" 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." 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.
In 1980, Thomas Dine became the executive director of AIPAC, and developed its grassroots campaign. By the late 1980s, AIPAC's board of directors was "dominated" by four successful businessmen—Mayer (Bubba) Mitchell, Edward Levy, Robert Asher, and Larry Weinberg.
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.
Thomas Dine developed a grass roots network to influence every member of congress. The "vital core" of AIPAC membership—American Jews—made up less than 3% of the US population and were concentrated in only nine states. But while AIPAC would not be able to deliver significant numbers of Jewish voters to most elected officials, it could deliver campaign contributions.
AIPAC created "caucuses" in every congressional district, with staffers organizing any Jews living there. Campaign contributions were bundled and distributed to districts and where they would do some good. According to journalist Connie Bruck, by the end of the 1980s there were "dozens" of Political Action Committees with no formal relation to AIPAC, but whose leader was often a member. The Wall Street Journal reports that in 1987 at least 51 of 80 pro-Israel PACs were operated by AIPAC officials. 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."
According to Dine, in the 1980s and 1990s, contributions from AIPAC members often constituted "roughly 10 to 15% of a typical congressional campaign budget".
AIPAC influences lawmakers in other ways
According to the Jewish Virtual Library from 1967 to 2012, opinion polls have found sympathy for Israel varying "between 32 and 64 percent, averaging 46 percent", and sympathy for the Arabs oscillating "between 1 and 30 percent and averaged only 12 percent".
AIPAC has supported loyal incumbents (such as Sen. Lowell Weicker) even when opposed by Jewish candidates, and worked to unseat pro-Palestinian representatives (Congressman Paul Findley) or candidates perceived to be unsympathetic to Israel (Senator Charles H. Percy). However, a Jewish incumbent congresswoman, Jan Schakowsky, who had maintained good relations with AIPAC, and been given campaign contributions by its members, was opposed by the group in a 2010 race after she was endorsed by the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” advocacy group J Street.
According to ex-congressman Brian Baird,
"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.”
"AIPAC-connected money" amounted to about $200,000 in each of his campaigns for office — “and that’s two hundred thousand going your way, versus the other way: a four-hundred-thousand-dollar swing.”
AIPAC directed campaign contributions—as with many interest groups—came with considerable "tactical input". AIPAC staffers told Baird and other lawmakers ‘No, we don’t say it that way, we say it this way.’ Baird complained "there’s a whole complex semantic code you learn. . . . After a while, you find yourself saying and repeating it as if it were fact.”
AIPAC strongly supports substantial US aid to Israel. In March 2009, for example AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr appeared before the House Committee on Appropriations' Foreign Operations subcommittee 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 "American assistance to Israel serves vital U.S. national security interests and advances critical U.S. foreign policy goals." 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, according to Kohr.
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 supports U.S. involvement in the peace process and officially 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.
Whether AIPAC lobbied for the war in Iraq is disputed. Congressman Jim Moran has stated that AIPAC had been "pushing the [Iraq War] from the beginning". However, according to the Jewish News, AIPAC never supported or lobbied for the war in Iraq. According to a columnist in the Washington Post, "Once it was clear that the Bush administration was determined to go to war [in Iraq], AIPAC cheered from the sidelines ... Some observers suggested the official silence owed to concerns that linking Israel to the war
In 2012 AIPAC called for "crippling" sanctions against Iran in a letter to every member of the US Congress. In line with this approach, AIPAC has lobbied to levy economic embargoes and increase sanctions against Iran (known as the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013). However, according to the New York Times, its effort "stalled after stiff resistance from President Obama."
AIPAC has been compared to firearms, banking, defense, and energy lobbies as "long" being "a feature of politics in Washington". Its promotional literature proudly notes that a reception during its annual policy conference, “will be attended by more members of Congress than almost any other event, except for a joint session of Congress or a State of the Union address.” The New York Times has described AIPAC as "a major force in shaping United States policy in the Middle East," which is able to push numerous bills through Congress. "Typically" these "pass by unanimous votes." A House of Representatives resolution condemning the UN Goldstone Report on human rights violations by Israel in Gaza, for example, passed 344 to 36 in 2009.
In 1997, Fortune magazine named AIPAC the second-most powerful influence group in Washington, D.C. According to journalist Connie Bruck, AIPAC has been able to "deliver the support of Congress", and prevent any president who wants to negotiate with Israel using "the multibillion-dollar packages of military aid that go to Israel each year" as leverage by passing the funding and taking away this "strongest negotiating chit".
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, as well as expanded federal jurisdiction in prosecuting criminal activities related to terrorism.
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. 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." Additionally, the result of AIPAC's efforts include numerous exceptional provisions that are not available to other American allies. 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."
The annual AIPAC Policy Conference is the largest gathering of the pro-Israel movement. Over 14,000 delegates attended the 2014 conference, which bills itself as "three of the most important days affecting Israel's future." Speakers including Presidents and Prime Ministers, talk about the importance of the U.S.-Israel Relationship.
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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.
AIEF trips for U.S. Congressmen occur every two years, becoming "the top spender on Congressional travel" in those years. 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). Other educational activities include regular seminars for Congressional staff.
One critic, former Congressman Brian Baird, who “had admired Israel since I was a kid,” but became alienated from AIPAC, complained that “When key votes are cast, the question on the House floor, troublingly, is often not ‘What is the right thing to do for the United States of America?’ but ‘How is AIPAC going to score this?’” He cited a 2009 House resolution he opposed condemning the Goldstone Report on civilian deaths. “When we had the vote, I said, ‘We have member after member coming to the floor to vote on a resolution they’ve never read, about a report they’ve never seen, in a place they’ve never been.’” Baird worries that AIPAC members and supporters believe that they're "supporting Israel" when they are "actually backing policies" such as the killing of civilians in Gaza, "that are antithetical to its highest values and, ultimately, destructive for the country.”
A criticism of AIPAC's proposal for tougher sanctions on Iran is that the primary incentive P5+1 negotiators can give Iran to stop its nuclear program is reduction in the sanctions that have harmed Iran's economy. By imposing even harsher sanctions on Iran, AIPAC takes this chip away. According to a "senior" Obama Administration official, the administration told AIPAC leadership that its the tougher sanctions on Iran "would blow up the negotiations -- the Iranians would walk away from the table." The official asked them, "Why do you know better than we do what strengthens our hand? Nobody involved in the diplomacy thinks that." A former congressional staffer complained to journalist Connie Bruck, “What was striking was how strident the message was", from AIPAC. "‘How could you not pass a resolution that tells the President what the outcome of the negotiations has to be?’ ”
AIPAC has been criticized as being unrepresentative of American Jews who support Israel and supportive only of right-wing Israeli policy and viewpoints. A PEW center poll found that only 38% of American Jews believe that the Israeli government is sincerely pursuing peace; 44% believe that the construction of new settlements damages Israel's national security.
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:
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, former Senator Mike Gravel, and former Representative Cynthia McKinney.
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." AIPAC's membership has been described as "overwhelmingly Democratic" by one conservative columnist (Jennifer Rubin).
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). 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.
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. AIPAC disputed McCollum's claim, and McCollum has since declared the incident over.
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.
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."
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."
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. AIPAC agreed to pay the legal fees for Weissman's defense through appeal if necessary, but charges were subsequently dropped.
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.
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. All charges against the former AIPAC employees were dropped in 2009.
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."
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