American Israel Public Affairs Committee

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The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a special interest group that lobbies the United States Congress on behalf of Israeli interests as it sees them. It describes itself as "America's Pro-Israel Lobby". AIPAC is a mass-membership organization including both Jews and non-Jews. It is not officially considered a political action committee, but its analysis of the voting records of U.S. federal representatives and senators are given great credibility by various pro-Israel political action committees.

Founded in 1953 by Sy Kenen, AIPAC's original name was the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs. According to UCLA political science professor and author, Steven Siegel, "the tension between the Eisenhower administration and Israeli supporters was so acute that there were rumors (unfounded as it turned out) that the administration would investigate the American Zionist Council. Therefore, an independent lobbying committee was formed, which years later was renamed [AIPAC]." [SPIEGEL, p. 52]. Today, AIPAC has 65,000 members across 50 states.

Activities and Stated Goals
AIPAC's stated purpose is to lobby the Congress of the United States on issues and legislation that are in the best interests of Israel and the United States. It regularly meets with members of Congress and holds events where it can share it views. It also provides analysis of the voting records of U.S. federal representatives and senators with regard to how they voted on legislation related to Israel it supported or opposed. AIPAC has been effective in gaining support for Israel among members of Congress and White House administrations.

The New York Times described AIPAC in 1987 as "a major force in shaping United States policy in the Middle East" They also stated "The organization has gained power to influence a presidential candidate's choice of staff, to block practically any arms sale to an Arab country and to serve as a catalyst for intimate military relations between the Pentagon and the Israeli army. Its leading officials are consulted by State Department and White House policy makers, by senators and generals."

AIPAC's views of its strengths and achievements
AIPAC claims it's strengths lie in growing national membership base and great research capacity to understand both Israel's interest and the interests of other countries affecting Israel around the world. Some of the achievements it claims [1] include:

Isolating Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad by advocating that the Administration place the terrorist groups on a more restrictive terrorist list, allowing the United States to sanction foreign financial institutions if they fail to block the organizations’ assets.

Disrupting Hamas financing by urging the Administration to freeze the assets of the U.S.-based Holy Land Foundation, which has been accused of funneling money to the terrorist organization.

Defending Israel from terrorist bomb attacks by securing $28 million for Israel to purchase American technology, including robots and scanners, designed to detect and neutralize bombs.

AIPAC has been connected to some controversial events.

In 1992, AIPAC president David Steiner had to resign when he was tape recorded boasting about his political influence, saying he had "cut a deal" with the Bush administration to give more aid to Israel. He had arranged for "almost a billion dollars in other goodies," he added and was "negotiating" with the incoming Clinton administration over appointing a pro-Israeli Secretary of State. "We have a dozen people in his [Clinton's] headquarters," Steiner bragged, "and they are all going to get big jobs." The story that forced his resignation broke in the Washington Times. [2]

In 1995 prominent Congressman Newt Gingrich generated some criticism when it was disclosed that his wife accepted a position, while her husband was still in office, as the vice president for business development for the Israeli Export Company. She had visited the Israel in 1993 under the auspices of AIPAC. Mrs. Gingrich was "hired at an undisclosed salary to help recruit business for a free-trade zone in Israel." [BAER, S., p. 6]

In August 2004, it was revealed that the FBI had been conducting an investigation of Larry Franklin, a U.S. Defense Department employee, on suspicion of espionage; specifically, misdirecting classified information about Iran's military through AIPAC to Israel. In connection with this investigation, on December 1, 2004, the FBI searched AIPAC's offices and handed grand-jury subpoenas to four senior lobbyists [3]. Both Israel and AIPAC have denied allegations of improper spying on the United States.

In May 2005, Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin was arrested and charged with providing classified information about potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, the Justice Department announced. Law enforcement sources said the the information was provided to members of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Franklin turned himself in to the FBI in Washington, and was scheduled to appear in court in Alexandria, Virginia, officials said. A one-count criminal complaint did not identify the pro-Israel group AIPAC by name, but described the June 26, 2003, luncheon meeting in which Franklin allegedly disclosed top-secret information to two AIPAC officials, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. Rosen and Weissman had been dismissed by the organization about a month before the indictment. Law enforcement officials have acknowledged the information was provided to AIPAC members.

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 Democrat and Republican parties. One supporter, state Rep. Mark B. Cohen of Philadelphia who was a delegate to the 2004 AIPAC national convention in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania , said: "AIPAC plays valuable roles in expanding the pro-Israel communities in the United States, and in putting them in touch with those who influence the direction of American foreign policy. AIPAC is a diverse, broad-based organization which seeks to synthesize the views of its backers with objective information to pursue the advocacy of policies that benefit both the United States and Israel. No organization can better articulate the American interests in a strong U.S.-Israel military alliance than AIPAC can."

President George W. Bush, while addressing AIPAC members in Washington, May 18, 2004 stated "AIPAC is doing important work. In Washington and beyond, AIPAC is calling attention to the great security challenges of our time. You've always understood and warned against the evil ambition of terrorism and their networks. In a dangerous new century, your work is more vital than ever.".

AIPAC also has critics, such as left-wing journalist Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch. Critics say that often AIPAC uses propaganda and other tactics to silence and discredit critics of its views on Israel. They also say that AIPAC wields undue influence over Congress and pushes for policies that, contrary to their claims, more often than not solely benefit Israel and are not in the best interests of the United States. These critics believe that a combination of propaganda and large financial donations to congressional campaigns from AIPAC members (AIPAC does not contribute directly to political campaigns) are the underlying reasons for the strong support of its views in Congress. Critics such as Cockburn have also examined AIPAC's role in helping to defeat Congressional candidates AIPAC deems unfriendly to Israel, such as former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, of Georgia (after her first term as a representative) and former Rep. Earl Hilliard of Alabama. They claim that donors from outside the region, led by AIPAC, meddled in a local congressional race and used accusations of anti-Semitism against McKinney to help defeat her, [4] while Hilliard angered Israel's supporters when he traveled to Libya and when he voted against a House resolution that pledged support for Israel and condemned Palestinian suicide bombings. He was defeated by current Rep. Artur Davis, who has been subjected to accusations of donors from outside the region, led by AIPAC.

Hedrick Smith noted in the New York Times that AIPAC had become a "superlobby ... [It] gained so much political muscle that by 1985 AIPAC and its allies could force President Reagan to renege on an arms deal he had promised to [Jordan's] King Hussein. By 1986, the pro-Israel lobby could stop Reagan from making another jet fighter deal with Saudi Arabia; and Secretary of State George Shultz had to sit down with AIPAC's executive director -- not Congressional leaders -- to find out what level of arms sales to the Saudis AIPAC would tolerate."

"So great is the perceived power of AIPAC to mobilize financial support for pro-Israel candidates or to challenge those perceived as hostile, that this year [1999], as is usually the case, around half the members of the Senate and one-third of the House of Representatives were expected to attend the policy banquet at [AIPAC's annual] conference." — Martin Sieff, Managing Editor of International Affairs, United Press International, 1999.

"...better than anybody else lobbying in this town ... You have been stunningly effective." Former US President Bill Clinton

"You are the most effective general interest group…across the entire planet."

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich

"I think Israel is especially lucky that AIPAC exists in this country to present Israel's case"

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

"Aipac has a lot of influence on foreign policy," says JJ Goldberg, editor of the Jewish newspaper The Forward. "They work hard to ensure that America endorses pretty much Israel's view of the world and the Middle East."

"A great asset to our country". Condoleezza Rice describing AIPAC in March, 2003.

"Fully three-fourths of America's foreign aid budget is devoted to Israeli security interests is a tribute in considerable measure to the lobbying prowess of AIPAC and the importance of the Jewish community in American politics." — Prominent conservative lawyer and political commentator, Benjamin Ginsberg.

"Thank you for being here. AIPAC's work on behalf of America and Israel is valuable and important. With friends like you, Israel, and American interests in the Middle East, are well served. Thank you." Senator John McCain June 20, 2001.

"AIPAC has a job to do. We need you to keep up the advocacy that is keeping Israel strong -- and America safe. Keep speaking... educating... lobbying... and organizing. We need the clarity of your voices in these difficult times, and in the difficult debates we will face in the future." Senator Tom Daschle.

"AIPAC's Israel lobby has the power to pump up to a million dollars into the campaign coffers of any friendly member of Congress, or into the campaign of the opponents of an unfriendly member." — Richard Curtiss, executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

"AIPAC has a long and commendable record of promoting the unique relationship that exists between the United States and Israel. Both countries are better for your efforts, and so I thank and congratulate you for all you have done over the years." Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"A lobby is a night flower, it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun." — AIPAC research director Steve Rosen, 2001.

"The friendship between Israel and the United States is a great asset to our country. And AIPAC is a great advocate for this vital relationship." White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

"I believe in political loyalty. If someone has been good for Israel, no matter who -- if my brother would run against them -- I would support them because they'd been good to Israel." — AIPAC president David Steiner, 1992. Quoted in "They Dare to Speak Out" by former U. S. congressman Paul Findley, p. 105.

"If things go as planned, if there is a Secretary of State who is not positive about Israel, he will not be able to overcome the bureaucratic relationship between Israel and the United States that we have established." — AIPAC director Thomas A. Dine. [P. FINDLEY, Del, p. 98]