AIPAC’s Lobbying

By Dennis Bernstein and Jeffrey Blankfort
Transcript of radio program
Jan. 6, 2005

Introduction: We turn our attention now to AIPAC. That is the major lobby representing Israel in the United States. I want to read to you from an article that appears in the December 31, 2004 issue of Forward, the most significant and the oldest newspaper in the United States, if not in the world. And we are talking about AIPAC…

“As the Department of Justice intensifies its investigation of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Jewish communal leaders fear that the goal of the probe is to compel the powerful lobbying organization to register as a “foreign agent” representing the government of another country.
Widely regarded as one of the most influential organizations on Capitol Hill, AIPAC is registered with Congress as a lobbying group. Under American law, registering as a foreign agent would require Aipac to provide significantly more detailed information about its aims and activities to the government — thereby robbing the group of a key weapon: the ability to operate behind the scenes.”
— Ori Nir, Leaders Fear Probe Will Force Pro-Israel Lobby To File as ‘Foreign Agent' Could Fuel Dual Loyalty Talk, Forward, Dec. 31, 2004.

A very interesting opening to a new article in the Forward. We are going to talk about AIPAC, and joining us to do that is Jeffrey Blankfort. He has been focusing on this group and targeted by groups related to AIPAC/working with AIPAC – in fact sued the Anti-defamation League for a collaboration that I am sure included AIPAC… we don’t know a lot about it, but we know they were involved.

Dennis Bernstein: Jeffrey tell us, first of all, what is AIPAC, why was it formed – a brief history.

Jeffrey Blankfort: Very briefly, AIPAC was the brainchild of "Si" Kenan back in the early 1950s who ran it as a one man office before it actually became AIPAC. It was a lobby that existed within the Jewish community, but it was more informal. Jewish organizations were lobbying Congressmen and presidents all the time, but he decided that there needed to be a specific organization, and it was decided early on that it wouldn’t register as a foreign lobby. From a one-man, it now has about 100,000 members and a $34million budget – which competes with the Anti-defamation League which is probably has a budget of $40 million.

DB: That decision to not become a foreign lobby is that an essential point being made in the Forward?…

JB: It is very significant, because it allows AIPAC to do many things that other lobbies really don’t do.

DB: For instance?

JB: They supply interns for Congressional offices. No Congressman is going to turn down a volunteer – a skilled, knowledgeable, educated volunteer in their office. That person, in a sense, becomes AIPAC’s eyes in that Congressperson’s office, a spy. They sit in committee hearings that the public otherwise doesn’t know about; they write speeches for Congress people, they write speeches for the Vice President…

DB: And they couldn’t do this…?

JB: If they did this, then it would be much more difficult if they were actually foreign agents doing this, because right now they identify themselves as Americans working for the benefit of Israel – not specifically for the Israeli government. In fact, there are groups or people within AIPAC who are further to the right occasionally of an Israeli government position. Nevertheless, their position basically on the Hill is to represent the Israeli government position at that time.

DB: Bring us up-to-date. You talked a little bit about the origins, tell us more about its budget, its reach at this point.

JB: As I mentioned, its current budget is $34 million – it has gradually stepped up over the years, doubling, doubling. Its membership has doubled and doubled. Every year it holds a major conference in Washington, in Alexandria Virginia, in which at least half of the members of Congress attend, and their attendance is noted – because there are important brownie points to attend the lobby. They are usually addressed by, occasionally, the President, Vice President, the Secretary of State, major figures that address no other lobby, consistently are there. Then they hold regional meetings around the country, and we had one recently here in Berkeley, where they bring in Senators from around the country who are friendly to Israel who don’t even announce themselves in the mainstream media – they have lunches, dinners in which – it is very important – important public figures, and even lesser public figures (supervisors, council people, mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs) from whose ranks will come the next members of Congress are invited to these luncheons and dinners. After they leave, local Jewish groups, like community relations councils, Jewish federations from around the country will send these employees – like they just sent Tamala Harris, the DA from San Francisco – on an all expenses paid trip to Israel, where they meet the Prime Minister, they meet the important officials, they meet Israeli generals. They come back and they are essentially in the pocket of the lobby. As aspiring politicians, they know where the power lies. There is nothing opposing this, there is no price to pay if they go along; there is a price to pay if they don’t go along.

DB: That is exactly where I want to pick this up with you Jeffrey Blankfort. Lets talk about how effective this kind of work is, this kind of infiltration, this king of organization. Give us some significant examples of what they will consider a real success.

JB: One of the most important successes, which has generally been ignored among activists, is in 1975 when Henry Kissinger – the Secretary of State, who is not a Zionist, but a Machiavellian – was Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State, and Israel was going to slow in disengaging from the Sinai after the 1973 war, and so, Kissinger advised Gerald Ford that it was important to reassess US policy towards Israel. Ford let it be know that he was going to make a major speech calling for Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 border, implementation of Resolution 242, and that – just to show that he was serious – important arms deals like F15s were being withheld from being sent to Israel, and the new terms of Israel’s foreign aid package were also being blocked.

DB: So this was going to be in Ford’s speech?

JB: They already had stopped the aid, the planes had stopped going, and the negotiations for the new aid package had stopped. In a three-week period, AIPAC got 76 Senators, from Teddy Kennedy to Barry Goldwater, Orin Hatch, Paul Laxalt, George McGovern – some of these people admitted they were pressured to sign – 76 Senators signed a letter to Gerald Ford reaffirming Israel’s historic role in serving the United States, and ensuring that that role wouldn’t change. It was a very crude threat to Gerald Ford, he backed out, and that was a major victory which has been recorded by AIPAC. They haven’t won every [battle], but they are the last person standing. The three presidents that challenged them, Ford, Jimmy Carter (who was constantly in hot water with them), and George Bush, didn’t win their re-election.

DB: … George Bush the First…

JB: George Bush the First did not like Israel, and when Israel invaded Lebanon he wanted sanctions; he was the Vice President and he was overruled. When Israel bombed the Iraq reactor, he wanted sanctions; he was overruled by Reagan. And when Israel came to him asking for $10bn in loan guarantees, he said no, he was trying to get peace negotiations conference going in Madrid; he said lets wait 120 days, stop your settlement building, settle no Russians in the occupied territories, and went on TV and announced to the American public that thousands of lobbyists were on Capitol Hill to support the loan guarantees against little old me, he said. And then he told the American people the amount of money that each Israeli was getting as a result of US aid. Now, this can only be found actually in foreign minister Moshe Arens’s book Broken Confidence, which is an attack on the Bush administration and which was considered the most anti-Israel administration in American history.

DB: And he didn’t get reelected.

JB: And he didn’t get reelected. He went from 38% of the Jewish vote to approximately ten.

DB: Well, a couple more contemporary examples of the power of AIPAC to control policy behind the scenes and in front of the scenes.

JB: Essentially what Clinton realized, as did younger Bush – the present George Bush – that if you can’t fight it, then join them. So that the State Department which had historically been seen as an enemy by AIPAC, more leaning toward supporting the Arab states, and America’s oil interests – interestingly enough – was purged literally, and a number of liberal Jewish lobbyists, like Dennis Ross, were brought into Clinton’s administration. There was an article in the Jewish Israeli daily Haaretz which described the Judaization of the State Department. What you saw during the Clinton administration was a battle of liberal Zionists in support of Israel inside the administration battling with extreme right-wing Likud supporters outside the administration. So you had a whole debate as to what American policy was going to be between those two groups.

Interestingly enough, AIPAC is like Monsanto. AIPAC members go in and out of the administration, like Monsanto go in and out of the regulatory authorities in the government. Dennis Ross is now with AIPAC. Martin Indyk, who founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which is an AIPAC front foundation, he was brought into the administration by Clinton and given his citizenship right away – he was an Australian. So you see them going back and forth.

DB: Now AIPAC – it would be a misnomer at this point in history to say that AIPAC is a Jewish organization.

JB: That is, it is a largely Jewish organization, but it is not the only part of the Israel lobby.

DB: And AIPAC has reached out across religious lines and political lines to create a partnership, if you will, strange bedfellows, but that has benefited their work greatly.

JB: AIPAC wouldn’t be as powerful if it only was a Washington lobby composed of Jews. On the one side, it is strengthened by the Jewish federations and organizations around the country, but beginning 1978, with the invitation by Menachem Begin of Jerry Falwell to visit Israel, an alliance between AIPAC has developed with the evangelical Christians.

DB: I believe that they are at moment the largest group to be visiting Israel as tourists.

JB: Right, they are visiting Israel as tourists. They don’t contribute the kind of money to politicians that AIPAC does, but they provide votes and support in key states where there are relatively small Jewish populations. It makes a powerful alliance. For a long time, most of the liberal Zionist organizations, including ADL, kept their distance from the evangelicals who basically have a position – their support of Israel, it should be noted, is based on the coming of the Messiah; Jews have to return to Israel so that there will be an Armageddon, the Messiah will come, and those Jews who don’t accept Christ will be burned.

DB: And we have actually an amazing collaboration. We have interviewed black preachers on these airwaves who are in alliance with these evangelicals who are the ones, or their fathers, for the lynchings. We talked about that, and it is the same unholy alliance that you would think Jews would be shocked to be a part of.

JB: They were for a long time, but the distance has now disappeared. After Israel started their attack on the West Bank a few years ago, in Jenin and Nablus, Israel was looking for allies, and so lo and behold, we had the Israeli embassy holding a prayer breakfast hosted by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Ralph Reed – the former head of the Christian Coalition. And then the ADL, which was one of the last organizations to embrace the evangelicals, ran a half page ad in the New York Times quoting from the speech by Ralph Reed praising Israel and encouraging continued US support for Israel. So, you see it is a marriage of convenience. The Jewish part of the lobby knows that this Armageddon stuff is nonsense, so they will take – they believe – this important support. And many key Senators like Tom DeLay, Trent Lott, they are all involved in this, and they are among some of the strongest supporters of Israel in the Senate.

DB: Can you give us some quick examples of how AIPAC has entered into structural politics at the Senate or Congress level? How do they play that game?

JB: Well, if they see a Congressperson or a Senator not supporting Israel, voting against Israel, if that Congressman or Senator has any weakness in their district, they will look for another candidate. In the case of Cynthia McKinney and Earl Hilliard, in Georgia and Alabama, they picked two black opponents, one Artur Davis and Denise Majette, and they ran slanderous campaigns against both Hilliard and McKinney and succeeded. They got money from all over from all over the country. In McKinney’s case, there was nobody in the Republican primary, so 40,000 Republicans crossed the primary, went after her, and voted against her. That is how she lost. In this last they had another candidate to vote for, and they couldn’t do that; she is back in office. But it is interesting that the Black Caucus used to have a number of Congresspeople critical of Israel, and one after another they got knocked off. Cynthia McKinney is the last real voice speaking out critical of Israel; she is back in office, and we'll see what she does.

DB: Finally, we are seeing perhaps one of the more brutal periods in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the incredible repression which is obviously an attempt to steal the remaining territories for Israel. Sharon has free reign now; we see for instance, we were talking about Dennis Ross, well lets now take a look, we fast forward and we now see Elliot Abrams – somebody who is a pardoned criminal, a liar, someone who lied to Congress and he lied to the American people, he was pardoned by Bush I for among other things lying to the American people, covering up mass murder and massacres throughout Central America. He is now the point man, a neocon on the extreme right, as the point man, he is the bond between the Bush administration and Sharon. What can we say about the role AIPAC plays in this new relationship?

JB: AIPAC’s role in this relationship is to make sure that any deal that Israel is subjected to, any deal that is proposed, they thoroughly vetted. Any speech that the president makes will be thoroughly vetted. AIPAC will not be surprised by any statement by George Bush unless he makes a foolish malaprop. Abrams role is to go over there and inform Israel everything America wants to do – he will make certain statements of what Israel needs to do for the media. But essentially, as Robert Fisk has written or as other Israeli journalists have written, Sharon is essentially writing Bush’s speeches. And he doesn’t even to go to AIPAC – in a sense.

DB: How do you see the relationship between Iraq policy and Israel – very briefly.

JB: Very briefly, I think Israel benefited by the war in Iraq, because now having American troops doing the same thing in Iraq that Israeli troops have been doing in Palestine, and coming to Israel for training on how to put down an internal resistance (they have been training troops in Louisiana and also in Israel) – this makes a tie between the United States and Israel stronger never before. The US has not criticized anything that Israel has done lately, even in the pretend terms it used to, because what the United States is doing in Iraq is essentially, on a different scale, what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians for the past 37 years.