AIPAC: Pushing Policy on Israel

The most recent U.S. aid package to Israel, currently in the House Appropriations Committee, is a testament to the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. U.S. President Bill Clinton submitted the bill to Congress and the Senate has already approved it by a wide margin.

Israeli President Ehud Barak used his resent visit to the United States not only to meet with Clinton, but to court several leaders in the Congress concerning the aid package. Barak met Tuesday with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) and Vice President Al Gore. He reportedly told them that the $1.2 billion in proposed aid was needed to provide "a strategic and financial safety net" for Israel, and called on Congress to thereby "support the Middle East peace process for the benefit of all people in the region."

Clinton is also pressuring Congress for an additional third increase in military aid to Israel over the next ten years to the tune of $2.4 billion, with another $1.2 billion specifically allocated to Israeli counter-terrorism efforts, military redeployments and Theater Missile Defense (TMD). The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the primary pro-Israel pressure group in the United States, said in an action alert issued Monday that the package was "slightly lower than last year" but "consistent with Israel's voluntary aid reduction plan." AIPAC praised the bill, saying, "All traditional pro-Israel provisions were incorporated."

A further point favorable to Israel is the strong possibility the aid would not be directly linked to any demands concerning the Middle East peace process. In recent meetings with AIPAC, several influential government officials came out in support of Israel’s policies and position in the peace process. Many, including Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) (Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Middle East Affairs), Al Gore and First Lady Hillary Clinton, have voiced explicit support for the relocation of Israel’s capitol from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Hastert said in a statement issued by his office following Tuesday’s meeting with Barak that Israel would "find no better friend than the American people and the Congress." According to the statement, Hastert told Barak that "we in Congress firmly believe that in the final analysis, Israel must determine its own destiny. These critical decisions must be your own decisions -- they cannot be forced upon you. In this regard, I believe the role of the Administration and the Congress is to support your efforts, not to dictate them."

Although Hastert, according to AFP, would not give any indication of the bill’s chances for success in a House floor vote, the bipartisan support for Israel, which resulted in a 97-2 approval of the bill in the Senate on July 12, can be expected be in the House as well.

AIPAC warns in its action alert that, "Support for foreign aid can never be taken for granted." While it is true that last year’s House vote over foreign aid to Israel was the closest in recent years, with 160 Representatives voting against the package, even a similar vote this year would once again fall far short of the majority needed to vote the bill down. And as long as AIPAC retains its vast influence over American politics, it is unlikely Congress will significantly lower aid to Israel.

AIPAC’s influence on American politics is well known. Fortune magazine last year ranked the organization as the second most influential lobby group on the U.S. government, behind the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). In April 1998, the New York Times ran an article describing AIPAC as the most influential pressure group affecting the U.S.-Israel relationship. Another study by the Aspen Institute from October 1998 says AIPAC is the most influential organization at campaigning for foreign aid funding.

During the introductions of several prominent speakers for AIPAC’s 1999 Policy Conference Banquet Plenary held on May 23, the organization seemed at pains to demonstrate a deeper ideological and even spiritual commitment to Israel on the part of the American politicians. The conference, reported on AIPAC’s web site, hosted Al Gore, Ambassador Dennis Ross, Brownback, Gephardt, Hastert and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), among others. In all cases, the politicians were introduced with a long story of their personal connection and commitment to Israel.

While it is perhaps true that some, such as Senator Brownback, may have what his introducer called a "dedication to Israel [that] is intensely personal and spiritual," many politicians are perhaps more influenced by AIPAC’s aggressive lobbying than by personal convictions. AIPAC admits that its methods are based on the knowledge that "Israel's needs could not be satisfied by philanthropy alone." At its own admission, AIPAC makes contact with every congressperson at least once a year, making sure he or she "understands the pro-Israel community's views and receives factual and timely information about the U.S.-Israel relationship."

With AIPAC’s extensive pressure network, which includes a weekly newsletter called the Near East Report, politicians can ill afford to ignore the beckoning of the one of America’s most influential pressure groups. A defeat on the House floor of the current aid package for Israel, a country that has consistently received more American money than any other, would thus signify a near impossible reversal in the manner decisions over Israel have been conducted since AIPAC’s founding in 1954. So one can reliably expect that Congress will approve the proposed aid to Israel.

Zakariya Wright is a staff writer at

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