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Introduction to the Israel Lobby

The Israel lobby is one of the most powerful and pervasive special interest groups in the United States. It consists of a multitude of powerful institutions and individuals that work to influence Congress, the president, academia, the media, religious institutions, and American public opinion on behalf of Israel.

By Alison Weir
Council for the National Interest
Updated: August 2013

Please be sure to scroll down to see the entire list of organizations.

This lobby played a major role in the creation of Israel and continues to exert strong influence on US foreign policy, often in ways that harm American interests and security. It was a major factor in promoting the Iraq war, it continues to advocate for war with Iran, and it has played a central role in fostering Islamphobia in the United States.

The lobby is not one unified organization, but rather it consists of numerous institutions with various agendas. Some differ in orientation, emphasis, or political views, but all promote a strong and often dangerous and dishonest pro-Israel slant in the American media and government. 

Furthermore, lobbying the government on behalf of Israel proves to be very very lucrative for directors of many of these organizations, who earn very large salaries. The director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Abe Foxman, earns close to $700,000 per year.

Below are some of these organizations. (This section is still being compiled, so please check back for future additions.)

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): AIPAC is the most prominent governmental lobbying organization on behalf of Israel. Fortune Magazine typically rates it as the second most powerful lobby in the U.S. AIPAC frequently writes legislation for members of Congress, which extraordinarily large majorities of both parties typically endorse. It has a $100 million endowment and annual revenue of about $60 million and spends about $2-3 million each year in lobbying Congress. AIPAC’s annual conventions are typically a who’s who of high government office from both parties pledging their loyalty to Israel.

Pro-Israel Political Action Committees (PACs): AIPAC does not give campaign contributions itself but instead uses a campaign finance network consisting of around thirty Pro-Israel Political Action Committees (PACs), which AIPAC is constantly signaling. Only four of these PACs have names that indicate their true agenda, such as ‘Allies for Israel’ or ‘World Alliance for Israel.’ The rest have innocuous names like ‘National Action Committee’ or ‘Heartland PAC.’ Constituents usually don’t realize their candidates are receiving money from PACs that advance the interests of a foreign government.

Usually a PAC can only donate $5,000 for a primary and $5,000 for general elections. But with thirty "unaffiliated" PACs marching in lockstep behind AIPAC, this can balloon up to $300,000 for any given candidate. The extent of this influence remains hidden from view. They also use "bundling," which means taking various individual donations and handing them over en masse to a candidate, so that on the books it shows up as several individual donations, but everyone except the FEC understands who’s really controlling the money.

A 1996 book called Stealth PACs reports that "in 1988, Israel’s lobby had 78 PACs spending more than $5.5 million to bribe Congress to vote more aid for Israel. That was more than total contributions together of the two next largest special interests in the United States—the real estate lobby and the teamsters."

During the 2010 elections, Israel-affiliated contributions were the third highest of any special interest at nearly $3 million (with almost equal amounts given to Democrats and Republicans). But because that number was broken into pieces and hidden behind unrelated names, pro-Israel contributions didn’t "officially" make the top twenty.

One example is Washington Pac, founded by Morris Amitay, former head of AIPAC. Its website states: "...over three million dollars has been carefully distributed on a bipartisan basis to Senators, Representatives, and candidates... Its Capitol Hill location enables the PAC to meet with Representatives and Senators on an almost daily basis.  The Advisory Board holds regular luncheons with U.S. Senate candidates, and the PAC’s newsletter has earned an esteemed reputation for its analysis of the U.S. Senate races."

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reports on this topic frequently. To learn more, see their list of pro-Israel PAC contributions to candidates in 2010.

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP): This group of 51 Zionist organizations also advocates on behalf of Israel, including a focus on Iran. It had revenues of over $2.2 million in 2011. All members of the CoP sit on AIPAC’s executive committee. The Conference of Presidents focuses on lobbying the Executive branch while AIPAC concentrates on Congress.

The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF): AIEF is a subsidiary of AIPAC that takes Congressional Representatives on all-expense-paid trips to Israel. In August 2011, 81 members of Congress from both parties took trips to Israel with the AIEF. Its annual budget is over $26 million, and its executive director, Richard Fishman, is officially "not compensated," but he receives $395,000 annually from affiliates. Roll Call reports that in 2012 "The American Israel Education Foundation spent more than $650,000 last year — more than any other group — to send more than 60 lawmakers and staffers to Israel for tours of Jerusalem, seminars on Israeli politics and discussions of asymmetric warfare, according to congressional travel filings."

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP): WINEP is a highly influential think tank that pushes Israel-centric Middle East policies. It was founded by a former AIPAC employee, and while it claims to promote a "balanced and realistic" understanding of the Middle East, it is "funded by individuals deeply committed to advancing Israel’s agenda." It is frequently called upon by both the government and the media to provide "expert" analysis on Middle East issues. Its 2010 revenues were $9.4 million, and its net assets total $23.5 million. Former AIPAC member MJ Rosenberg stated: "I was working at AIPAC and it was Steve Rosen who cleverly came up with the idea for an AIPAC controlled think-tank that would put forth the AIPAC line but in a way that would disguise its connections." More information is here.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL): The ADL bills itself as a civil rights institution devoted to stamping out anti-Semitism. But in practice, it regularly works to promote Israeli interests and attacks virtually any prominent person who criticized Israel and labels them "anti-Semitic." It has also been involved in a large spying operation against American citizens who opposed the policies of Israel and the Apartheid regime in South Africa. It is an architect of "hate crimes legislation" that may effectively criminalize criticism of Israeli policies. The ADL is a member of the CoP with revenues of around $60 million and net assets of over $115 million. Abe Foxman, it's national director, makes $688,280 per year.

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (aka Stand for Israel): Founded in 1983 by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein "to promote understanding between Jews and Christians and build broad support for Israel," it promotes advocacy for Israel among mostly right-wing Christians. It has annual revenues of nearly $100million.

Christians United for Israel (CUFI): CUFI is a right-wing Evangelical Christian organization founded by John Hagee to advocate for American support for Israel based largely on Biblical prophecy. It has a nationwide membership of over one million advocates for Israel who can be called upon to flood their Congressmen with letters and phone calls at the slightest hint of legislation not approved by Israel. CUFI has high-level contacts within the Israeli government, including with the Prime Minister, who sometimes speaks at their events.

Simon Wiesenthal Center: According to its website: "The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a global Jewish human rights organization that confronts anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, promotes human rights and dignity, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations." It has "a constituency of over 400,000 households" in the US. It is headquartered in Los Angeles, with  offices in New York, Toronto, Miami, Chicago, Paris, Buenos Aires, and Jerusalem." In 2011 it had an annual budget of $24 million and net assets of $67 million.

The Israel Project: Founded in 2003, the Israel Project specializes in pro-Israel propaganda targeting the press and the American public. In 2009, a secret handbook commissioned by The Israel Project and written by Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz, "The Global Language Dictionary," was exposed by two Newsweek reporters. The handbook crafts language and talking points for Israel advocates in simplistic, diversionary, and dishonest ways. The organization has 70 employees and an $11 million annual budget. In 2011 it opened additional bureaus in India and China and launched a website in Arabic.

Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF): This American organization supports the Israeli armed forces. It hosts lavish fundraisers and has fourteen regional offices in the U.S. and one in Latin America. FIDF also brings hundreds of Israeli soldiers to the U.S. every year to lecture at synagogues, universities, and schools in order to increase American support for Israeli policies. It has annual revenues of around $60 million and net assets of $80 million.

Hadassah (Women’s Zionist Organization of America): Founded in 1912, Hadassah is "a volunteer organization that inspires a passion for and commitment to its partnership with the land and people of Israel." It has chapters across the U.S. and "more than 330,000… Members, Associates and supporters." It regularly advocates on behalf of Israel and is currently pushing anti-Iran legislation. It has annual revenues of nearly $100 million and $400 million in net assets.

America’s Voices in Israel (AVI): A project of the Conference of Presidents, AVI works to "strengthen American understanding of and support for Israel by inviting U.S.-based radio talk show hosts to see Israel and broadcast their programs live from Jerusalem." It also brings celebrities and other "opinion makers" on guided tours of Israel.

The Jewish Agency for Israel: The name is often shortened to just "The Jewish Agency." According to its website, founded in 1929, this links "Jews around the world with Israel as the focal point... " Major activities include Jewish Zionist education and building a global Jewish community. "In addition to extensive programs in Israel, it operates in close to 80 countries on five continents through a network of over 450 emissaries, including hundreds of formal and informal educators.
The world Jewish community participates in the Jewish Agency's decision-making process through the Assembly, its supreme governing body, and its Board of Governors, which is responsible for policy making and oversight." The Jewish Federations of North American are a fundraising partner, with individual Jewish Federations from numerous American cities listed.

  • James S. Tisch: Chairperson of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors. According to its website, Tisch is President and Chief Executive Officer of Loews Corporation, chairman of the Board of Directors of Diamond Offshore Drilling, Inc., a member of the Board of Directors of CNA Financial Corporatio, a director on the board of the General Electric Company, Chairman of the Board of WNET, parent of WNET Channel 13 and WLIW Channel 21, a member of the Board of Directors of The New York Public Library, serves on the Executive Committee of the Partnership for New York City, a Trustee of the Mount Sinai Medical Center, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, President and Chairman Emeritus of Federation Employment and Guidance Service (F.E.G.S.), past Chairman of the Board of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, past Chairman of the Board of United Jewish Communities, past President of UJA-Federation of New York, and a former director on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The Foundation for Jewish Camp: This nonprofit foundation states on its website that in in Jewish camps "Israeli culture is celebrated through song, food, art, and dance," and reports, "The magic of Jewish camp is rooted in its 24/7 atmosphere" and says that "connection to Israel" is "entwined with basketball, arts and crafts and swimming." It notes that some camps are particularly "focused on Zionism and the role of Israel in Jewish life." It reports that in one of these, CAMP INC., "Israel education will be embedded in the program as campers learn about Israel through the lens of their entrepreneurial sector. Campers will learn from high-level mentors, teachers, and business pioneers.  Camp Inc., under the direction of Josh Pierce, will be operated by the Boulder JCC." Another, URJ 6 POINTS SCIENCE ACADEMY  "will immerse them in a vibrant Jewish community filled with Jewish music, Shabbat experiences, and living connections to Israel." It states that the Academy, the 14th in the Union for Reform Judaism’s camp system, will be located in the Boston, MA area. Funding comes from a grant of $8.6 million jointly funded by The Jim Joseph Foundation and the AVI CHAI Foundation.

The Jim Joseph Foundation: This is a DBA of the Shimon Ben Joseph Foundation, which faqs.org reports has assets of $837,220,914. Its website reports that among the activities its sponsors is "Israel Education," which includes "twinning day schools with schools in Israel; integrating Israel education with learning taking place in general studies courses; and showcasing Israel’s arts and culture so students and teachers are in direct contact with what is happening in Israel today."

The Avi Chai Foundation: According to its 2010 form 990 report it had total assets of $614,997,808. One of its primary North American focuses, according to its website, is "Promoting Jewish Peoplehood and Israel." It states: "Israel studies and Israel advocacy have become centerpieces of AVI CHAI’s peoplehood efforts in North America. All of the day schools receiving support from AVI CHAI have agreed to include in their materials, as an expression of their own philosophy, the following statement:

“The creation of the State of Israel is one of the seminal events in Jewish history. Recognizing the significance of the State and its national institutions, we seek to instill in our students an attachment to the State of Israel and its people as well as a sense of responsibility for their welfare.?

Stand with Us: Stand with Us has headquarters in Los Angeles and chapters in Israel, Europe, Britain, Australia, and South Africa. Its annual budget is at least $4 million, though this may only cover the U.S. section. It has a number of divisions, including StandWithUsCampusStandWithUs International, United4FreedomStand4FactsLearnIsraelLibrarians for Fairness, and Emerson Fellows. Student leaders are trained to advocate for Israel on campuses around the country. The organization has erected numerous pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian billboards around the U.S. “Israelis invested $57 billion in U.S. C