A Shake-up in the Jewish Lobby

In the present sympathetic atmosphere in Washington, it is certain that AIPAC will succeed in recovering from the crisis, although the lobby will probably operate very cautiously - if only for the sake of appearances.

The Web site of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the Israeli lobby in Washington, bears a quote from The New York Times, testifying that this is the most important organization in its influence on American's relations with Israel. In academic and political literature in the United States, as well as in the world media, AIPAC is usually referred to as the pressure group with the greatest influence on foreign policy in the U.S. capital, and as a model for lobbying activity in Congress and in the U.S. administration.

In spite of the sense of crisis in the wake of the ongoing FBI investigation of the leaking of security material to Israel, and the temporary dismissal of two senior workers, the lobby is attempting to broadcast an atmosphere of business as usual. The AIPAC Web site reports this week on activity that, above all, reflects the crucial interests of the State of Israel in the security and political spheres: the legislation in Congress to use sanctions to prevent the nuclear armament of Iran; the pressure on the European Union to add Hezbollah to the list of terror organizations; support for building Israel's security fence, and a condemnation of the decision of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which called the fence illegal; the prevention of continued United Nations activity against the fence; and a continuation of the process to confirm security and economic assistance to Israel to the tune of $2.5 billion, with a limitation on assistance to the Palestinians as long as the Palestinian Authority does not act to counter terror or carry out reform for democratization in its institutions.

The lobby stands behind the State of Israel when it operates in Congress to confirm the principles of peace for the Middle East, in accordance with President George W. Bush's April 2004 letter to Israel's prime minister, including recognition of settlement blocs and the prevention of the return of Palestinian refugees to Israeli territories.

Those in the know believe that the moves against AIPAC should not be viewed as an initiative imposed by the administration, and the fact that the investigation has become bogged down proves that in the final analysis, the mountain will turn out to be a molehill. The signs indicate that this is a move by the FBI, which combined a sting operation with the planting of information, in order to trip up the representatives of the lobby.

In the American system of separation of powers and of checks and balances, the administration does not have the right to interfere in the investigation. In fact, the representatives of the other arms of the administration and the Congress have proven their total loyalty to AIPAC: Bush appeared at a convention of the lobby at the height of the crisis, three months ago, and the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, promised to participate in the annual convention in May.

The almost-legendary power of AIPAC has in the past created crises and clashes with the U.S. administration, as well as with the Israeli government. There is an historical irony in the fact that AIPAC turned into a superpower and a myth in American politics in the wake of its failure to prevent the 1981 decision of the Reagan administration to sell AWACS early warning planes to Saudi Arabia. The lobby managed to enlist an impressive 3:1 majority against the sale in the House of Representatives, but three weeks later the White House, by applying unprecedented pressure, managed to save its honor with a weak victory in the Senate.

However, the dramatic stand against the administration gave the lobby the prestige of a powerful mechanism in the political game in Washington. Ten years later, in September 1991, president George H.W. Bush faced the American people and in a dramatic speech - which included banging with his fist on the podium - declared that he, "the little man," was standing alone against tremendous political forces that were threatening him by means of about 1,000 lobbyists who had invaded Capitol Hill under the sponsorship of AIPAC, in order to bring about the confirmation of loan guarantees to Israel totaling $10 billion.

Bush fought at the time with the government of Yitzhak Shamir on the issue of the settlements, and wanted to reject Israel's request for a later discussion in order to be able to plan the Madrid Conference with the Arabs. We also recall prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and minister Yossi Beilin in a harsh exchange of words with the heads of AIPAC regarding "too much activity" against the government regarding the peace process.

There are signs that the FBI, which in the summer of 2004 leaked the investigation to CBS television, is today interested in lowering its profile, and even in reaching an agreement that will remove the subject from the agenda. On the other hand, pro-Arab factors are trying to continue to discuss the issue as well as the notion of "dual loyalty" of American Jews. The Zogby PR agency, which represents Arab interests as well, conducted a tendentious public opinion survey in order to demonstrate that most of those polled are suspicious of the activity of the lobby and want to register it as the agency of a foreign government.

The shake-up at AIPAC will ease the entry of additional, less "establishment" Jewish organizations into lobbying activity in Congress, but these groups apparently will not undermine the superiority of AIPAC. In recent years, AIPAC conventions have become the largest and most colorful of all the conventions of Jewish organizations in Washington, and they have even succeeded in bringing in a broad spectrum of young people, who are participating in the lobbying work all over the United States. In the present sympathetic atmosphere in Washington, it is certain that AIPAC will succeed in recovering from the crisis, although the lobby will probably operate very cautiously - if only for the sake of appearances.