The United States, Israel, and
the Lobby - Part 3
excerpted from the book
The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign
by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007,
Israel is largely immune from criticism on Capitol Hill. This
situation is remarkable by itself, because Congress frequently
deals with contentious issues and competing viewpoints are usually,
easy to find. Whether the issue is abortion, arms control, affirmative
action, gay rights, the environment, trade policy, health care,
immigration, or welfare, there is almost always a lively debate
on Capitol Hill. But where Israel is concerned, potential critics
fall silent and there is hardly any debate at all.
former Majority Leader Richard Armey, September 2002
My No. 1 priority in foreign policy is
to protect Israel.
AIPAC's success is due in large part to its ability to reward
legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda
and to punish those who do not, based mainly on its capacity to
influence campaign contributions. Money is critical to U.S. elections,
which have become increasingly expensive to win, and AIPAC makes
sure that its friends get financial support so long as they do
not stray from AIPAC's line.
This process works in several ways. To
begin with, many of the same individuals who bankroll AIPAC are
often important political contributors in their own right. Using
data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC). the journalist
Michael Massing found that "between 1997 and 2001, the 46
members of directors gave well in excess of $3 million in campaign
contributions," and many f them remain generous donors to
pro-Israel PACs and candidates today." "Since 2000,"
the Washington Post reported in 2004, "[AIPAC] board members
have contributed an average of $72,000 each to campaigns and political
Second, AIPAC helps connect political
candidates to other donors and sources of funds. Despite its name,
AIPAC is not a political action committee and does not officially
endorse candidates or give money directly to their campaigns.
Instead, AIPAC screens potential candidates and arranges meetings
with potential donors and fund-raisers, and provides information
to the growing number of pro-Israel PACs. According to the historian
David Biale, "The American Jewish 'Israel lobby' has developed
since the Six Day War into one of the most sophisticated and effective
lobbying organizations in the United States Congress. It has done
so in part by developing a national network of Jewish Political
Action Committees for contributing funds to congressional candidates
based on the criterion of support for Israel."" As AIPAC
President Howard Friedman told the organization's members in August
2006, "AIPAC meets with every candidate running for Congress.
These candidates receive in-depth briefings to help them completely
understand the complexities of Israel's predicament and that of
the Middle East as a whole. We even ask each candidate to author
a 'position paper' on their views of the U.S.-Israel relationship-so
it's clear where they stand on the subject."
Friedman's description of AIPAC's modus
operandi is consistent with testimony from other political figures.
Tom Hayden, the antiwar figure who was running for a seat in the
California Assembly in the early 1980s, explains how he won support
from the local power broker Michael Berman (brother of longtime
California Congressman Howard Berman) on the condition that he
would always be a "good friend to Israel." Hayden who
won the election, notes that he "had to be certified 'kosher,'
not once but over and over again. The certifiers were the elites,
beginning with rabbis and heads of the multiple mainstream Jewish
organizations... An important vetting role was held as well by
... [AIPAC], a group closely associated with official parties
in Israel. When necessary, Israeli ambassadors, counsels general
and other officials would intervene with statements declaring
someone a 'friend of Israel."
Harry Lonsdale, the Democratic candidate who ran unsuccessfully
against Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR) in 1990, has described his
own visit to AIPAC headquarters during that campaign. "The
word that I was pro-Israel got around-,"he writes. "I
found myself invited to AIPAC in Washington, D.C., fairly early
in the campaign, for 'discussions.' It was an experience I will
never forget. It wasn't enough that I was pro-Israel. I was given
a list of vital topics and quizzed (read grilled) for my specific
opinion on each. Actually, I was told what my opinion must be,
and exactly what words I was to use to express those opinions
in public ... Shortly after that encounter at AIPAC, I was sent
a list of American supporters of Israel ... that I was free to
call for campaign contributions. I called; they gave, from Florida
AIPAC keeps track of congressional voting records and makes these
records available to its members, so that they can decide which
candidates or PACs to support." Candidates or incumbents
who are seen as hostile to Israel, on the other hand, can expect
AIPAC to guide campaign contributions toward their opponents.
a prominent member of Congress asked the reason for the power
of AIPAC in the legislature
Money, it's as simple as that.
[The evolution] of Senator Hillary Clinton whose support for Palestinian
statehood in 1998 and public embrace of Suha Arafat (wife of Yasser
Arafat) in 1999 provoked strong criticism from groups in the lobby.
Clinton became an ardent defender of Israel once she began running
for office herself, and she now gets strong backing, including
financial support, from pro-Israel organizations and individuals.
After Clinton appeared at a pro-Israel rally in July 2006 and
expressed strong support for Israel's highly destructive war against
Lebanon, Helen Freedman, executive director of the hard-line Americans
for a Safe Israel, declared, "I thought her remarks were
very good, especially in light of her history, and we can't forget
her kiss to Suha." Pro-Israel PACs contributed more than
$30,000 to Clinton's 2006 reelection campaign, and the Forward
reported in January 2007 that Clinton was "expected to snare
the lion's share of the Jewish community's substantial political
donations in the race for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination
Jimmy Carter, February 2007
I don't see any present prospect that
any member of the US Congress, the House or Senate, would say,
'Let's take a balanced position between Israel and the Palestinians
and negotiate a peace agreement... It's almost politically suicidal
... for a member of the Congress who wants to seek reelection
to take any stand that might be interpreted as anti-policy of
the conservative Israeli government.
AIPAC, which bills itself as "America's Pro-Israel Lobby,"
has an almost unchallenged hold on Congress. One of the three
main branches of the American government is firmly committed to
supporting Israel. Open debate about U.S. policy toward Israel.
does not occur there, even though that policy has important consequences
for the entire world. As Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) noted
as he was leaving office in 2004, "You can't have an Israeli
policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here." Another
senator, speaking on condition of anonymity, told a Washington
Post reporter in 1991, "My colleagues think AIPAC is a very,
very powerful organization that is ruthless, and very, very alert.
Eighty percent of the senators here roll their eyes on some of
the votes. They know that what they're doing isn't what they really
believe is right, but why fight on a situation where they're liable
to get beat up on?"
Small wonder, then, that former Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon once told an American audience, "When
people ask me how they can help Israel, I tell them-Help AIPAC,"
His successor, Ehud Olmert, agrees, remarking, "Thank God
we have AIPAC, the greatest supporter and friend we have in the
Despite their small numbers in the population (less than 3 percent),
American Jews make large campaign donations to candidates from
both parties. As presidential adviser and former White House Chief
of Staff Hamilton Jordan wrote in a confidential memorandum to
President Jimmy Carter, "Wherever there is major political
fundraising in this country, you will find American Jews playing
a significant role." Indeed, the Washington Post once estimated
that Democratic presidential candidates "depend on Jewish
supporters to supply as much as 60 percent of the money raised
from private sources." Other estimates are lower, but contributions
from Jewish Americans form a substantial share - between 20 and
50 percent - of the contributions made to the Democratic party
and its presidential candidates." Israel is not the only
issue that inspires these contributions, of course, but candidates
who are perceived as hostile (or even indifferent) to Israel run
the risk of seeing some of these funds go to their opponents.
Furthermore, Jewish voters have high turnout
rates and are concentrated in key states like California, Florida,
Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, which increases
their weight in determining who becomes president. Although they
still favor the Democratic party, their support for Democratic
candidates can no longer be taken for granted. John F. Kennedy
received 82 percent of the Jewish vote in 1960, for example, but
George McGovern received only 64 percent in 1972, and jimmy Carter
got a mere 45 percent in 1980. In close races, therefore, the
so-called Jewish vote can tip the balance in key states. Jeff
Helmreich of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs exaggerates
only slightly when he writes that "American Jewish voters
maintain the potential to be the decisive factor in national election
results ... American Jews wield power through their high concentration
in key states and their tendency to behave as a swing vote in
ways that set them apart from virtually all other groups in American
politics."" Because Jewish voters matter in close elections,
presidential candidates go to considerable lengths to cultivate
their support. Indeed, a 2007 story in the Jerusalem Post referred
to this effort to court Jewish support as "a Washington ritual
as reliable as the cherry blossoms." Candidates are especially
eager to appeal to AIPAC and other organizations in the lobby-and
not just to Jewish voters as a bloc-because they know that the
seal of approval from these prominent organizations will facilitate
fund-raising and encourage higher turnout on their behalf.
Elliott Abrams in a 1997 book
There can be no doubt that Jews, faithful
to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from
the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being
Jewish to be apart - except in Israel - from the rest of the population.
Key elements in the [Israel] lobby strive to influence discourse
about Israel in the media, think tanks, and academia, because
these institutions are critical to shaping popular opinion. They
promote efforts to portray Israel in a positive light and they
go to considerable lengths to marginalize anyone who questions
Israel's past or present conduct or seeks to cast doubt on the
merits of unconditional U.S. backing. Pro-Israel forces are well
aware that dominating discussions about the Jewish state is essential
to their agenda. These efforts do not always succeed, of course,
but are still remarkably effective.
A key part of preserving positive public attitudes toward Israel
is to ensure that the mainstream media's coverage of Israel and
the Middle East consistently favors Israel and does not call U.S.
support into question in any way. While serious criticism of Israel
occasionally reaches a large audience across the United States,
the American media's coverage of Israel tends to be strongly biased
in Israel's favor, especially when compared with news coverage
in other democracies.
The [Israel] lobby's perspective on Israel is widely reflected
in the mainstream media in part because a substantial number of
American commentators who write about Israel are themselves pro-Israel.
In a 1976 comparison of domestic interest groups and U.S. Middle
East policy, Robert H. Trice found that "one of the most
serious political handicaps of pro-Arab groups during the 1966-1974
period was their inability to gain support from any of the best-known
and nationally-syndicated columnists." Trice also found that
"pro-Israel groups could count on media support not only
from national columnists but also from the editors of some of
the country's most widely read newspapers."
Although these papers [New York Times and Washington Post] occasionally
publish guest op-eds that challenge Israeli policy, the balance
of opinion clearly favors Israel. There is no American commentator
comparable to a Robert Fisk or a Patrick Seale, who are often
sharply critical of Israel and who publish regularly in British
newspapers, and no one remotely like Israeli commentators Amira
Hass, Akiva Eldar, Gideon Levy and Bradley Burston, all of whom
are openly critical of particular policies that their country
pursues. The point here is not that these individuals are always
right and pro-Israel commentators are wrong; the point is that
voices like theirs are almost entirely absent from major American
Norman Podhoretz to a gathering of journalists
The role of Jews who write in both the
Jewish and general press is to defend Israel, and not join in
the attacks on Israel.
To discourage unfavorable reporting on Israel, groups in the lobby
organize letter-writing campaigns, demonstrations, and boycotts
against news outlets whose content they consider anti-Israel.
As the Forward reported in April 2002, "Rooting out perceived
anti-Israel bias in the media has become for many American Jews
the most direct and emotional outlet for connecting with the conflict
6,000 miles away."° One CNN executive has said that he
sometimes gets six thousand e-mail messages in a single day complaining
that a story is anti-Israel, and papers such as the Chicago Tribune,
the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald, the New York Times, the
Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Washington Post have faced consumer
boycotts over their Middle East reporting. One correspondent told
the journalist Michael Massing that newspapers were "afraid"
of AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups, saying that "the pressure
from these groups is relentless. Editors would just as soon not
touch them." As the former spokesman for the Israeli consulate
in New York, Menachem Shalev, once put it, "Of course, a
lot of self-censorship goes on. Journalists, editors, and politicians
are going to think twice about criticizing Israel if they know
they are going to get thousands of angry calls in a matter of
hours. The Jewish lobby is good orchestrating pressure."
The WINEP [Washington Institute for Near East Policy] is funded
and run by individuals who are deeply committed to advancing Israel's
agenda. Its board of advisers includes prominent pro-Israel figures
such as Edward Luttwak, Martin Peretz, Richard Perle, James Woolsey,
and Mortimer Zuckerman, but includes no one who might be thought
of as favoring the perspective of any other country or group in
the "Near East." Many of its personnel are genuine scholars
or experienced former officials, but they are hardly neutral observers
on most Middle East issues and there is little diversity of views
within WINEP's ranks.
The lobby's influence in the think tank
world extends well beyond WINEP... over the past twenty-five years,
pro-Israel individuals have established a commanding presence
at the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security
Policy, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation,
the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis,
and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. These
think tanks are all decidedly pro-Israel and include few, if any,
critics of U.S. support for the Jewish state.
Another indication of the influence in
the think tank world is the evolution of the Brookings Institution.
For many years, its senior expert on Middle East issues was William
B. Quandt, a distinguished academic and former NSC official with
a well-deserved reputation for evenhandedness regarding the Arab-Israeli
conflict. In the mid-1970s, in fact, Brookings released an influential
report on the Middle East that emphasized the need for Israeli
withdrawals, Palestinian self-determination (including the possibility
of an independent state), open access to religious sites in Jerusalem,
and security guarantees for Israel. The Brookings study was produced
by a diverse group of experts and is widely seen as the blueprint
behind the Carter administration's successful efforts to negotiate
an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Today, however, Brookings's work on these
issues is conducted through its Saban Center for Middle East Policy,
which was established in 2002 with a $13 million grant, primarily
financed by Haim Saban, an ardent Zionist. The New York Times
described him as "perhaps the most politically connected
mogul in Hollywood, throwing his weight and money around Washington
and, increasingly, the world, trying to influence all things Israeli."
This "tireless cheerleader for Israel" told the Times,
"I'm a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel." His efforts
led Ariel Sharon to describe him as "a great American citizen
and a man who always stood by Israel and the Jewish people in
times of need. The man chosen to run the Saban Center was Martin
Indyk, the former Clinton administration official who had previously
served as AIPAC's deputy director of research and helped found
It is hard to imagine that a research
institute funded by Saban and directed by Indyk is going to be
anything but pro-Israel. To be sure, the Saban Center occasionally
hosts Arab scholars and exhibits some diversity of opinion. Saban
Center fellows-like Indyk himself-often endorse the idea of a
two-state settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. But
Saban Center publications never question U.S. support for Israel
and rarely, if ever, offer significant criticism of key Israeli
The largest and most visible foreign policy research institutions
in Washington usually take Israel's side and do not question the
merits of unconditional U.S. support.
The [Israel] lobby's campaign to mold debate about Israel has
faced the greatest difficulty in academia. Not only do many professors
have tenure (which insulates them from many forms of pressure),
but they also work in a realm where intellectual freedom is a
core value and where challenging the prevailing wisdom is common
and often prized. There is also a deep-seated commitment to freedom
of speech on college and university campuses. The internationalization
of American universities over the past, thirty years has brought
large numbers of foreign-born students and professors to the United
States, and these people are often more critical of Israel's conduct
than Americans tend to be.
Even so, groups in the lobby did not devote
significant efforts to shaping discussion on campus during the
This campaign to cultivate students has been accompanied by efforts
to influence university faculty and hiring practices. In the early
1980s, for example, AIPAC recruited students to help it identify
professors and campus organizations that might be considered anti-Israel.
The findings were published in 1984 in The AIPAC College Guide:
Exposing the Anti-Israel Campaign on Campus. At the same time,
the ADL, which was compiling files on individuals and organizations
it considered suspect regarding Israel, surreptitiously distributed
a small booklet containing "background information on pro-Arab
sympathizers active on college campuses" who "use their
antiZionism as merely a guise f their deeply felt anti-Semitism.
'114 This effort intensified 'n September 2002, when Daniel Pipes
established Campus Watch, a website that posted dossiers on suspect
academics > and, stealing a page from AIPAC's playbook, encouraged
students to report comments or behavior that might be considered
hostile to Israel.
Pro-Israel groups and individuals have fought a multifront battle
against students, professors, administrators, and the curriculum
itself itself-to shape discourse on campus. Their efforts have
not been as successful in academia as they have been on Capitol
Hill or even in the media, but their work has not been in vain.
Despite the continued turmoil in the region and Israel's continued
expansion in the Occupied Territories, there is less criticism
of Israel on college campuses today than there was five years
No discussion of how the lobby operates would be complete without
examining one of its most powerful weapons: the charge of anti-Semitism.
Anyone who criticizes Israeli actions or says that pro-Israel
groups have significant influence over U.S. Middle East policy
stands a good chance of getting labeled an anti-Semite.
Supporters of Israel have a history of using fears of a "new
antiSemitism" to shield Israel from criticism. In 1974, when
Israel was under increasing pressure to withdraw from the lands
it had conquered in 1967, Arnold Forster and Benjamin Epstein
of the ADL published The New AntiSemitism, which argued that anti-Semitism
was on the rise and exemplified by the growing unwillingness of
other societies to support Israel's actions .16 In the early 1980s,
when the invasion of Lebanon and Israel's expanding settlements
triggered additional criticisms, and when U.S. arms sales to its
Arab allies were hotly contested, then ADL head Nathan Perlmutter
and his wife, Ruth Ann Perlmutter, released The Real Anti-Semitism
in America, which argued that anti-Semitism was on its way back,
as shown by the pressure on Israel to make peace with the Arabs
and by events like the sale of AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia.
87 The Perlmutters also suggested that many "a-Semitic"
actions, which they define as acts not motivated by hostility
to Jews, may nonetheless harm Jewish interests (and especially
Israel's well-being), and could easily bring back genuine anti-Semitism."
The troubling logic of this argument is
revealed by the fact that there was little mention of anti-Semitism
during the 1990s, when Israel was involved in the Oslo peace process.
Indeed, one Israeli scholar wrote in 1995 that "never before,
at least since the time Christianity seized power over the Roman
Empire, has anti-Semitism been less significant than at present."
Israel and its American supporters constantly emphasize that it
deserves special treatment because it is the "only democracy
in the Middle East." Israel, in other words, is expected
to behave like contemporary Britain, Canada, Denmark, the United
States, and so forth, and not like the military junta in Burma,
Pervez Musharraf's Pakistan, or Fidel Castro's Cuba. Israel's
treatment of the Palestinians elicits criticism because it is
contrary to widely accepted human rights norms and international
law, as well as the principle of national self-determination.
The charge of anti-Semitism remains a widely used weapon for dealing
with critics of Israel, especially in the United States. This
tactic has been effective for a number of reasons. First, anti-Semitism
is a set of beliefs that led to great evils in the past, including
the monstrous crimes of the Holocaust, and it is now utterly discredited
in most segments of society. The charge of anti-Semitism is one
of the most powerful epithets one can level at someone in America,
and no respectable person wants to be tarred with that brush.
Undoubtedly, the fear of being called an anti-Semite discourages
many individuals from voicing reservations about Israel's conduct
or the merits of U.S. support.
Second, smearing critics of Israel or
the lobby with the charge of antiSemitism works to marginalize
them in the public arena. If the accusation sticks, the critic's
arguments will not be taken seriously by the media, government
officials, and other influential elites, and groups that might
otherwise pay attention to that person's views will be discouraged
from soliciting them. Politicians will be especially reluctant
to associate themselves with anyone who has been charged as anti-Semitic,
because doing so could have a chilling effect on their own careers.
Third, this tactic works because it is
difficult for anyone to prove beyond all doubt that he or she
is not anti-Semitic, especially when criticizing Israel or the
lobby. Proving a negative is hard to do under any circumstances,
especially when it comes to something like intentions and motivations
that cannot be observed directly, and pointing to other behavior
that is inconsistent with anti-Semitism is not likely to carry
much weight. Until recently, therefore, the charge of anti-Semitism
has been a potent way to make sure that criticisms of Israel or
the lobby were rarely spoken and were either ignored or disparaged
when they were.
When faced with criticism of Israel's policies, some its defenders
are quick to invoke the charge of anti-Semitism. The first and
most visible case is the heated reaction to jimmy Carter's recent
book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Despite its provocative
title, the book is neither polemical nor unsympathetic to Israel's
strategic situation. Carter is certainly critical of Israel's
occupation of the West Bank and what that means for the Palestinians
living there, and he correctly observes that it is difficult to
have a candid discussion of these issues in the United States.
But as Yossi Beilin, a prominent Israeli politician, noted, "There
is nothing in the criticism that Carter has for Israel that has
not been said by Israelis themselves." Even Carter's use
of the term "apartheid"-which seems to have provoked
much of the ire directed at him-echoes the use of the term by
Israeli critics of the occupation and by prominent South Africans
such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu and current
Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils.
The ADL and CAMERA attacked Carter's book
in prominent ads in major newspapers, and though a number of critics
addressed the substance of Carter's claims, others immediately
launched personal attacks on the former president. Abraham Foxman
said, "I believe he is engaging in anti-Semitism," while
Martin Peretz wrote that Carter "will go down in history
as a Jew-hater. " Deborah Lipstadt, the historian who won
a landmark suit against notorious Holocaust denier David Irving,
wrote in the Washington Post that "Carter has repeatedly
fallen back-possibly unconsciously on traditional anti-Semitic
canards" and suggested that there was a strong similarity
between some of Carter's views and those of former Ku Klux Klan
leader David Duke. As Carter himself said, "I have been called
an antiSemite. I have been called bigot. I have been called a
plagiarist. I have been called a coward [by the Israel lobby]."
It was a remarkable reaction to the man who in his stewardship
of the Egyptian-Israeli peace process had done as much as any
human being to enhance Israel's overall security.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine
When we talk to Congressional representatives
who are liberal or even extremely progressive on every other issue,
they tell us privately that they are afraid to speak out about
the way Israeli policies are destructive to the best interests
of the United States or the best interests of world peace lest
they too be labeled anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. If it can happen
to jimmy Carter, some of them told me recently, a man with impeccable
moral credentials, then no one is really politically safe.
William Kristol, the Wall Street Journal
The mainstream Jewish organizations have
played the 'anti-Semitism' card so often that it has been devalued.
Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy