What will Obama do?

President Obama and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

President Obama's actions are unlikely to stray outside the parameters the Israel lobby is willing to accept. But there is growing movement that is challenging the lobby's stronghold on U.S. politics.

By Alison Weir
Palestine News, London
Spring 2013

Alison Weir is the President of the Council for the National Interest (CNI) and Executive Director of If Americans Knew.

Whenever a US president begins a term of office many people round the world are curious about what policies he may pursue on Israel-Palestine. They wonder if he will once again call on Israel to reduce its settlement activities as almost every president has done at least once.

Will he condemn Israeli aggression, or only Palestinian rockets? Will he push a "peace process" in which virtually all the American mediators are Israel partisans[1] or will a few non-Zionists be permitted to play a role?

As Barack Obama began his second term as president, these questions came up again. But these are the wrong questions. Instead, to predict what he will do, one only needs to ask what the Israel lobby is likely to require.

The president won't always do what the lobby demands – on rare occasions he may deviate a bit from its dictates– but a large percentage of the time he will dutifully do what the lobbyists command.

In other words, in order accurately to analyse American policies in the Middle East, to predict how they will change or not and to develop effective ways to revamp them in the directions that are so urgently needed for humanitarian relief and real peace, it is essential to understand the decisive role the Israel lobby plays in the United States.

Presidents and politicians from both major parties have long been extremely aware of this lobby. It may greatly improve or impede their chances of winning an election, of passing legislation, of receiving positive press coverage, of, quite simply, going on to bigger and better things.

Through the years the lobby for Israel has been a decisive factor in the defeat of Republicans Paul Findley, Pete McCloskey (at one time a Presidential contender) and Charles Percy (another Presidential contender) and Democrats Adlai Stevenson, William Fulbright, Earl Hilliard, Cynthia McKinney and quite likely many more.[2]

Politicians from both parties attend the annual convention of its major lobbying arm, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and pledge their loyalty to this foreign country. President Barack Obama, whose early and major backing came from members of the Israel lobby[3], gave his first post-nomination speech at the AIPAC convention.

Yet, despite the lobby's inordinate power, most Americans are only minimally aware of it. For decades surveys have shown that the large majority of Americans don't wish to take sides on Israel-Palestine, a reflection of a public that is uninformed about how much of our tax money goes to Israel and how decisively our government is, indeed, taking a side.

This widespread lack of awareness about the role of the Israel lobby in determining American policies is particularly startling given that the movement on behalf of Israel has been active in the United States for over 100 years and that it played a significant role in Israel's creation.[4]

By the 1920s it was able successfully to promote its policies over those recommended by the US State Department; by the 1940s it had added Pentagon policies to those it could overrule and both presidential candidates Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey were currying its favour[5]; by 1967 it was able to push its cover story on Israel's lethal attack on the US naval ship Liberty over opposition by high ranking admirals, the director of the CIA and the Secretary of State[6]; and by 1977 the head of AIPAC could state with accuracy: "We have never lost on a major issue."[7]

Half a century ago the Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigating lobbying activities found an illicit cycle in which the Israel lobby succeeded in procuring money for Israel, some of this was then secretly funneled back into these groups, which then used this money to lobby for still more American tax dollars to Israel.

The hearings concluded that Israel operated "one of the most effective networks of foreign influence" in the United States.[8] Yet, since the media reported on this so little, most Americans are unaware of these extremely grave findings.

The term "Israel lobby" fails to do justice to the extraordinary scope and composition of this special interest group.  Below is a small sampling of the American organisations that work on behalf of Israel. Virtually all have multi-million dollar budgets; a few have endowments in the hundreds of million dollars and most of them are funded by tax-deductible donations:

  • The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): $100 million endowment, [9] $60 million annual revenues.[10]
  • The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF): $26 million annual revenues.[11]
  • The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP): $23.5 million net assets. $9.4 million annual revenues.
  • Anti-Defamation League (ADL): $115 million net assets,[12] $60 million annual revenues.[13]
  • International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (aka Stand for Israel): $100 million annual revenues.[14]
  • The Israel Project: $11 million annual budget.[15]
  • Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF): $80 million net assets,[16] $60 million annual revenues.[17]
  • Hadassah (Women's Zionist Organization of America): $400 million net assets, $100 million annual revenues.
  • The Jim Joseph Foundation: $837 million net assets.[20]
  • The Avi Chai Foundation: $615 million total assets.[21]
  • Jewish Federations: $3 billion annual revenues.[22]
  • Jewish Community Relations Councils, in cities all over U.S.: Boston annual revenues $2.5 million; Louisville annual revenues $7-10 million; Detroit $734,000, New York $4.5 million, etc.[23]
  • Hillel: Over $26 million.[24]
  • JINSA Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs: $3 million annual revenues.
  • Center for Security Policy: $4 million annual revenues.[25]
  • Foreign Policy Initiative (PNAC 2.0): $1.5 million annual revenues.[26]
  • MEMRI Middle East Media Research Institute: $5.2 million.[27]
  • Birthright: $55 million.[28]
  • David Project: $4.4 million.[29]
  • CAMERA Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America: $3.5 million.[30]

In addition to these nonprofit organisations, there are dozens of political action committees (PACs) that donate to political candidates on the basis of their positions on Israel. Most of these disguise their purpose by using such deceptive names as "Northern Californians for Good Government," "National Action Committee," "American Principles," etc.

While other issue-based PACs almost always announce their focus publicly[31], in 2012 only two of the pro-Israel PACs made any reference to Israel in their names.[32] While US media frequently discuss the gun rights lobby, the largely uncovered pro-Israel PACs gave almost twice as much money to candidates – and the donations went to both parties.[33]

In addition, there are numerous individuals who play an extremely important role in the Israel lobbying effort. Two examples are political campaign mega-donors Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson. Saban donated $12.3 million to the Democratic Party in 2002 alone and has contributed millions more to pro-Israel organisations.

adelsonAdelson, a billionaire casino magnate, set a new record in political donations by giving $70 million in the 2012 elections, nearly triple the previous highest amount. He also funds such pro-Israel organisations as Birthright Israel which takes thousands of young Jewish Americans on recruiting visits to Israel.

In other cases, it is individuals with a different kind of power – the power to affect which information reaches the American public and which does not. One example is Eric Weider, whose Weider History Group publishes eleven history magazines in the United States, the largest history magazine publisher in America (and, according to its website, the world).[34]

Given this reality, President Obama's actions are unlikely to stray outside the parameters the Israel lobby is willing to accept. While the media are making a great deal over the very mild apology Israel made to Turkey for having murdered nine of its citizens, crediting Obama with this alleged break-through, none of the news reports seem to mention that Israel has largely failed to apologise to the US for the death of 19-year-old dual American Turkish citizen, Furgan Dogan, who was killed with five bullets, one to his face at point blank range.[35]

It is also relevant to note that an AIPAC-drafted letter signed by 76 out of 100 Senators  was sent to President Obama on the eve of his visit to Israel in March.[36]

Congressional actions can also be expected to remain within what the Israel lobby directs, though here, too, there may be rare occasions where the lobby seems to have lost – such as the confirmation of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defence.

However, the alleged triumph that some pro-Palestinian writers are proclaiming for Hagel's appointment is a bit overblown. Before he was allowed to take his position, he was made to grovel humiliatingly before his Congressional interrogators, retract acceptable statements he had made earlier in his life and all but swear devotion to Israel (like all top government officials seemingly must do).

This degrading spectacle surely made it clear to Hagel that he better watch his step in the future and made it even clearer to ambitious Americans of all ages that they must be extremely careful about any statements they make about Israel and its lobby if they are to achieve their political ambitions.

Despite the power of the lobby, however, the situation is not as bleak as the above may suggest. There is a highly diverse movement in the US that opposes this lobby and it is steadily growing.

The Left, which for decades was largely silent on Israeli abuses of human rights, has finally become active on the issue. Similarly, both traditional conservatives and libertarians frequently oppose aid to Israel and this opposition is becoming more outspoken. While this stance is often motivated by fiscal considerations, in many cases it is also fuelled by outrage at Israeli cruelty and by genuine empathy with Palestinians.

The money being mobilised on this side is only a small fraction of the other and some of the groups within this movement could arguably be considered simply a more reasonable and compassionate arm of the Israel lobby in that their advocacy is often framed according to what "is good for Israel" while failing to address the inherent injustice of an ethnic state imposed on a multicultural region.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the opposition to current US policies is growing increasingly important. The tide may not yet have turned but it is certainly in the slowing phase that must come first.

To use another oft-quoted and particularly apt metaphor, lobbies thrive in the dark. More and more people in the US and elsewhere are shining light on this one, steadily reducing its power.

While there are numerous deeply significant issues, an increasing number of individuals are deciding to focus on this one, the core issue of the Middle East and the cause of war after war, including the current "war on terror" and demonisation of Muslims.

To use the framing posed by journalist Glenn Greenwald, an expanding number of people are refusing to prioritise domestic issues over the killing of Arab and Muslim children on the other side of the world.

Therefore, despite the enormous power of the Israel lobby in the US, this growing movement is quite likely to overcome the obstacles confronting it and to join history's other successful movements against oppression.

The main question is how long this will take, and how many more massacres, and possibly wars, will occur in the interim.


 [1] Even Aaron David Miller admitted they acted as "Israel's lawyer" – Miller, Aaron David. "Israel's Lawyer." Washington Post 23 May 2005, posted by Matt Miller Opinion Writer. Online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/22/AR2005052200883.html

[2] Findley, Paul. They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby. Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill, 1985. Online at http://archive.org/stream/They-Dare-To-Speak-Out-Paul-Findley/They_Dare_to_Speak_Out_Paul_Findley_djvu.txt and Mearsheimer, John J., and Stephen M. Walt. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

[3] Yearwood, Pauline Dubkin. "Obama and the Jews." Chicago Jewish News 24 Oct. 2008.

Online at http://www.chicagojewishnews.com/story.htm?sid=212226&id=252218

[4] Weir, Alison. "Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the United States Was Used to Create Israel." IfAmericansKnew.org. 2012. Web. http://ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/history.html

[5] Weir, "Against Our Better Judgment"

[7] The Power Peddlers, by Russell Warren Howe and Sarah Hays Trott, Doubleday, p. 292.

http://ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/history.html

[8] Smith, Grant. "Where Did AIPAC Come From?" Antiwar.com. N.p., 09 Oct. 2007. Web. http://antiwar.com/orig/gsmith.php?articleid=11727 and Neff, Donald. "Ulbright Called for U.S. Defense Pact With Israel But Was Labeled Anti-Semite." Washington Report on Middle East Affairs August-September (1997): 96. Online at http://www.wrmea.org/wrmea-archives/188-washington-report-archives-1994-1999/august-september-1997/2677-middle-east-history-it-happened-in-august-.html

[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/25/washington/25lobby.html?_r=1

In 2009, the Economist reported: "AIPAC has an annual budget of around $60m, more than 275 employees, an endowment of over $130m and a new $80m headquarters building on Capitol Hill." http://www.economist.com/node/14753768

[34] Weir, Alison. "The Empire Behind World's Largest History Magazine Chain: How American History Magazine Censored Palestine." CounterPunch Dec. 6, 2012. Online at  http://ifamericansknew.org/media/weider.html

[35] Lynch, Colum. "U.N. Panel Endorses Report Accusing Israel of Executions aboard Aid Flotilla." Washington Post 30 Sept. 2010, A Section. Online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/29/AR2010092907110.html?wprss=rss_print/asection

[36] "Did Your Favorite Progressive Senator Sign AIPAC Letter To Obama Telling Him To Stand Up For Occupation? Here Is The List." MJ Rosenberg, Mar. 2013. Online at http://mjayrosenberg.com/2013/03/19/did-your-favorite-progressive-senator-sign-aipac-letter-to-obama-telling-him-to-stand-up-for-occupation-here-is-the-list/

New Book on the Israel Lobby


Alison Weir's new book Against Our Better Judgement: How the U.S. was used to create Israel brings together meticulously sourced evidence to outline the largely unknown history of U.S.-Israel relations.


Buy the book on Amazon.com.


Visit the book website for reviews, more ordering options, and upcoming author events.

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