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.
The Israel Lobby: A Partial List
• 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. (More info below)
• 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, its 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 $100 million.
• 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 soldiersto 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.
• 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 StandWithUsCampus, StandWithUs International, United4Freedom, Stand4Facts, LearnIsrael, Librarians 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. Companies” is one of them. For a deconstruction of this billboard go here.
• Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI): The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports:
The Committee produced an advertisement against Ron Paul that ran in South Carolina because of Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and other countries. ECI is currently funding tens of thousands of dollars worth of anti-Obama advertising.
• Leona M. and Harry B Helmsley Charitable Trust: The trust fund is valued at between $4 billion and $8 billion. Among the main areas its grants support are programs focused on “the security and development of Israel.” According to Jewish Week:
Among the projects receiving its multi-million grants was a new press center in Israel. At its opening Frankel announced: “Our hope is that with the opening of the club’s doors, the press will flock here, and will accurately report” on the country and its people.
• AMIT: According to its website: “Founded in 1925, AMIT is the world’s leading supporter of religious Zionist education and social services for Israel’s children and youth, nurturing and educating Israeli children to become productive, contributing members of society.” It has numerous chapters throughout the U.S. It sponsors lectures about Israel, holds screenings of Israeli films, participates in pro-Israel parades, etc. In 2011 its annual expenses were over $8 million and its net assets were $11,705,151. Its executive vice president was paid $120,292.
• Aaron and Marie Blackman Foundation, Inc: Net assets of about $7 million (see also here and here). Distributes grants to various Israeli organizations and other organizations with relationships with Israel.
• Jewish Day Schools: As Shalom School in Sacramento states, many of these schools work to “instill in our students an attachment to the state of Israel.” They frequently have school trips to Israel (e.g. the Jewish Day school in Seattle). Their mission statements note that they teach “the centrality of the State of Israel” (see Contra Costa Jewish Day School). These are usually tax exempt institutions, which means they are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.
• Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA): The Jewish Council for Public Affairs acts as an umbrella for many smaller organizations. One of its three goals, as announced in its mission statement, is to work for “the safety and security of the State of Israel.” Its annual funding is $3,128,795 and comes primarily from private individuals.
• Jewish National Fund (JNF): The Jewish National Fund is an international organization founded at Basil Switzerland by Theodore Herzl in 1901. The fund was originally created with for the purpose of purchasing land in Palestine for a future Jewish state. Today the main focus for the JNF is land “reclamation” and forestry. However, the group also serves to fund IDF military installations. The organization is well funded by donors with total assets of $1.15 billion dollars.
• Zionist Organization of America (ZOA): The Zionist Organization of America was established in 1887, making it the oldest pro-Israel organization in the US. Their goal is to spread the Zionist message wherever in all aspects of American life. Their objectives include spreading Zionism on American campuses, work to advance the interests Israel and Jewish people within the American legal system. They also engage in pro-Israel lobbying, with expenditures totaling$299,900 in 2009. Their finances include over $8 Million in assets and $2.5 million from donors.
• American Jewish Committee (AJC): The American Jewish Committee, founded in 1906, is based is San Francisco. In its mission statement, the AJC espouses support for leftist values, such as “shared democratic values” and “energy independence of the US,” while also advocating the right of Israel to exist as an exclusionary Jewish state. Its annual income is about $49,525,000 and comes largely from private individuals, with its assets totaling$132,310,000.
• World Jewish Congress: The World Jewish Congress is an international organization representing Jews in 100 countries. Supporting Israel is one of the key components of its mission. Although its global finances are unknown, its US offices have an annual revenue of $5,521,674.
• Friends of Aish Hatorah: Aish Hatora, Hebrew for “fire of the Torah,” is an Orthodox Jewish organization founded in 1974 and headquartered in Jerusalem. The group is known for a number of pro-Israel programs, including The Theodore Herzl Mission, which brings heads of state to Israel for one week each year. They also have a program called the Hasbara Fellowship, where people can come from around the world to learn how to effectively engage in pro-Israel propaganda. The group has also been linked to the distribution of an anti-Islamic propaganda film during the 2008 American presidential campaign. Because Aish Hatora is based in Jerusalem with various global branches, the details of their funding are unknown.
• Chabad: Chabad-Lubavitch is an 18th century Hasidic movement that is now the largest Jewish organization in the world. Although they are a religious group, their support of Israel verges on zealotry; one Chabad Rabbi has even encouraged Jewish people to kill “Arab men, women, and children.” Chabad sometimes openly teaches that “the soul of the Jew is different than the soul of the non-Jew.” The group is incredibly well funded and has a reported net worth of $1 billion dollars.
• Republican Jewish Coalition: The Republican Jewish Coalition Jewish is a lobbying group whose mission statement includes the “embrace of pro-Israel foreign policy.” The RJC maintains close links to the Likud party of Israel. They also control a Super Pac, which has upward of 2 million dollars in their war chest. Their Annual revenue is $10,067,507. The vast majority of their funding comes from various organizations.
• National Jewish Democratic Council: The National Jewish Democratic Council is a group dedicated to maximising Jewish support for the Democrat party, increasing support for “Jewish domestic and foreign policy priorities,” and “secur[ing] a democratic Jewish state in Israel.” NJDC supports Likud policies and pushes for a hawkish stance against Iran, urging the President of the United States to “stand with Israel.” Its annual income is $1,161,195 and is funded by private individuals.
• Foundation for Defense of Democracies: The Foundation for Defense of Democracies is an international organization whose claimed goal is “fighting terrorism and promoting freedom” and “defend[ing] free nations from their enemies.” It developed from the educational initiative Emet, which was created to “win American sympathy for Israel’s response to the Palestinian intifada.” While its mission may appear neutral, the organization is dedicated to promoting the security of Israel. Among its other projects is the Iran Project, which revolves around “supporting energy sanctions.” It is funded largely by private individuals’ donations. Its annual income is$7,267,839. JINSA: JINSA is a non-profit organization whose mandate includes promoting a “a strong U.S. military, a robust national security policy, and a strong U.S. security relationship with Israel…” Their total revenue is $3,332,140 from contributions and program services.
• Saban Center at Brookings: The Saban Center for Middle East Policy is part of the Brookings Institute. Its mission statement includes a two-state solution for Israel/ Palestine. “Ardent Zionist” Haim Saban, a former AIPAC official, funds the institute.
• Center for Security Policy, neo-con brain center: The Center for Security Policy is a foreign policy realist organization, which promotes “peace through strength.” Their agenda is to “promote extravagant weapons programs, an Israel-centric view of Middle East peace, and a broad ‘war on terror’ against ‘Islamofascists.’”Articles on their web page claim that the Palestinians are “inciting genocide of Jewry.” They take in an annual funding of $3,246,356 from contributions, gifts and grants.
• MEMRI: The Middle East Media Research Institute is an organization founded in the US in 1998. It’s stated objective is to “inform the debate over US foreign policy in the Middle East.” However, MEMRI is a shadowy organization that does not disclose names of staff members nor office locations. Analysts have commented that MEMRI appears to function as a propaganda organization that circulates biased translations in order to portray Arabs in the most negative possible light. One of the organization’s founders worked as an Israeli military intelligence officer. MEMRI has full non-profit status in the US and receives donations and grants amounting to $4,872,208 annually.
• Hillel: Hillel is a Jewish international student organization. According to their web page, Hillel “fosters an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel.” Hillel sponsors and promotes free “birthright” trips to Israel. These trips position Israel as the “homeland” for European and American Jews. Hillel collects annual revenue of $25,920,017, primarily from gifts, grants, and contributions.
• Birthright Israel: Birthright Israel is an organization that provides free ten-day holidays to Israel for young Jewish adults, age 18 to 26. Their objective is to, “strengthen Jewish identities, Jewish community, and solidarity with Israel…” Their web page strongly emphasizes support for Israel.Philanthropists, along with 14,000 individual donors, fund Birthright Israel. Their total revenue is $101,960,863.
• David Project: The David Project is a non-profit educational program for the dissemination of pro-Israel propaganda in schools. Their primary goal is justification for Israeli actions, which is often referred to in the Hebrew term, “hasbara” (explaining). Their objective is, “work[ing] directly with students and Israel groups to help them reach out to their peers and talk about Israel.” The David Project has annual income of $2,824,763. However, the source of this income is unclear.
• Amcha Initiative: The Amcha Initiative is a group whose stated objective is to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism. Their definition of anti-Semitism is broad and encompasses virtually any criticism of Israel, including criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses. The group also lists the Boycott Divest and Sanction movement as an example anti-Semitism. Their annual income is $199,155. The source of this income is unclear.
• Young Israel: The National Council of Young Israel is a group of 146 Orthodox Jewish congregations. Starting in 1912, Young Israel’s web page claims that the group has always been “fiercely Zionist” and even boasts the acquisition of arms for the Jewish terror group Haganah. Young Israel currently offers material support to the Israeli Defense Force as it engages in attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. Because Young Israel is an umbrella for over 100 individual non-profit organizations, it is difficult to ascertain the amount and sources of the group’s income.
• Ateret Cohanim: American Friends of Ateret Cohanim is a non-profit organization based in Jerusalem. The purpose of the organization is the urban renewal of Jerusalem through Jewish gentrification. Their web site boasts of a new Jewish presence in the Christian and Muslim quarters of the Old City, and proclaims Jerusalem to be a city belonging to every single Jew, in spite of the fact that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is still not recognized under international law. The group maintains an office in New York with annual revenue of $1,054,618.
• Elad: The Ir David foundation (Amutat EL-AD) is a non-profit organization established in 1986 by David Be’eri, a former elite military commander of the IDF. According to their web page, the group “is dedicated to the preservation and development of the Biblical City of David and its environs.” However, the Ir David foundation is best known for its policy of “Judaization of east Jerusalem” through forced evictions and housing purchases. In recent years, their activity in East Jerusalem has been linked to violent clashes between Palestinians and the new Jewish residents. Ir David has a US auxiliary in New York called Friends of Ir David with total annual revenue of $5,884,950.
Influential Pro-Israel Individuals
An example of such an individual is the current US Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, who gave a speech in which he detailed his extremely close, life-long ties to Israel, concluding: “[A]s a committed Jewish American, with deep roots in the American Jewish community and warm bonds of affection with Israel, I will have an opportunity to draw on those associations to help make the U.S.-Israel relationship, strong as it is, even stronger in the years ahead.” He stated that “ensuring Israel’s future” drives all US policies. See “US Ambassador: Support for Israel drives all US policies”
Howard Berman, Democratic Congressman from California, acknowledged in a 2008 interview with the Forward, “Even before I was a Democrat, I was a Zionist.” He went on to explain that “an interest in the Jewish state” was one of the main reasons he first sought a seat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where he is the top Democrat. Berman, who is known as “the Congressman from Hollywood,” also told the Forward, “He is particularly keen on getting the House more involved in Iran-related issues.”
Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel (he was naturalized as an American citizen before being nominated for this position); currently Special Envoy for Israeli Palestinian Negotiations. At one point he had his security clearance revoked, the only time this has happened to a U.S. ambassador. See video.
Stuart Weitzman, shoe designer, donated $1 million to Maccabi USA. The Maccabiah is an Olympics-style competition held every four years in Israel.
Other individuals include: Journalists (NYT’s Ethan Bronner’s son was in the Israeli army; more info on NY Times) Pundits like Jeffrey Goldberg Kenneth Pollack, Daniel Pipes, Bill Kristol Mega-donors such as Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban Irving Moskowitz (more) The Islamophobia Industry: Institutions and individuals who promote Islamophobia, including Aubrey and Joyce Chernick, Frank Gaffney, Pamela Geller (Park 51 “scandal”), David Horowitz, Stephen Emerson, David Yerushalmi, and others. (more) Eric Weider, publisher of American History, Civil War Times, Military History, and eight other history magazines. Hollywood tycoon Arnon Milchan, who produced Pretty Woman, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Fight Club, worked for the Mossad
There’s no card to carry that says one is part of the Israel lobby. But taken as a whole, this sampling of powerful pro-Israel organizations demonstrates how information is systematically skewed before it reaches the American public. Politicians and journalists are systematically harassed, often losing jobs, if they step out of line.
There is no comparable pressure from the Arab-American side, much less from stateless Palestinians, who have no army, little money, and very little cultural influence or PR savvy. By contrast to the $3 million given by pro-Israel PACs in 2010, the two Arab-American PACs—Arab American Leadership Council PAC and Arab American Political Action Committee—gave a total of $36,500.
The Israel 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 Islamophobia in the United States.
* PACs: 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.”
• Teva: Not all PACs with connections to Israel are included in the pro-Israel list. For example, the parents company of the Teva PAC Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, is Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, an Israeli company, the world’s largest generic drug maker. It has achieved its astronomical sales by at times infringing on patents (although Judge Sidney Stein just rejected a similar claim - Stein also rejected a freedom of speech law suit related to the Palestinian issue ). Teva’s website states, “Teva Government & Public Affairs seeks to provide legislators and policy makers with both policy and political assistance on issues of importance to patients, the company, its customers, and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole.
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The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reports on PACs frequently. For example, see their list of pro-Israel PAC contributions to candidates in 2010.
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