On the same night that Israel launched its ground offensive against Occupied Gaza, the US Senate by unanimous consent, which means 100 out of 100 senators voted to support Israel’s war on Gaza. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) introduced resolution 498, but ended up with 79 co-sponsors before the final vote, thus covering the full spectrum of America’s political elite. No debate took place in the highly contentious Chamber with Senators acting as a cheerleading squad for Israel’s war on Gaza and the Palestinians.
The resolution followed a similar one passed earlier in the week by Congress, which included immediate allocation and transfer of $429 million for further deployment of Iron Dome missile systems. Since Israel unleashed its assault on the West Bank and Gaza, the US has committed $631 million dollars in an emergency allocation to support the military and security needs of the Netanyahu right wing government.
The vote, if coupled with the administrations own one sided rhetoric supporting Israel’s assault, is symbolic of American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) power and success in historically shaping and at present dictating America’s foreign policy on the Palestine question. As war on the Palestinians enters its third week, it has become clearly evidenced that US political machination concerning the ceasefire is all directed at assisting and protecting Netanyahu and furthering Israel’s power in the region at the expense of justice and peace for the Palestinians.
Much has been written about the role of AIPAC on Capitol Hill and their ability to extract maximalist positions favoring Israel; at times at the expense of real US interests. However, the reasons for this strength are misunderstood, while on other occasions they verge on conspiracy theories and unqualified assumptions.
The approaches to understand AIPAC’s success above fail in ascertaining the basis of this well-documented strength and reasons behind the continued endurance. In my view, AIPAC’s success in America is founded upon a number of factors once taken together makes it possible for a most powerful topography benefiting Israel.
While the Jewish American community is not monolithic; the organized section of it has a unified approach to defending and expanding, when possible, Israel’s interests in the US. In order to better understand the real strength of AIPAC, one must look at the Jewish American community and examine the factors that contributed to their rising influence in the US over a 60 year period.
First, AIPAC in Washington is the pinnacle of an organizational pyramid representing a national network among all the major Jewish civil society groups and institutions. This includes all the major national, regional and local religious and civic organizations that have developed over 100-150 years in the service and promotion of the Jewish-American communal interests.
While Israel is at the heart of the organized Jewish American community agenda, in the pre-state period and up to WWII, the focal point of their work was dedicated toward protection and promotion of the community civil rights in the face of extreme cases of anti-Semitism. Those who think AIPAC is only the offices and officers in Washington D.C. are completely ignorant of the structure and basis of the organized segment of Jewish American community. One rarely encounter AIPAC, as AIPAC, at the local level and more often than not you deal with Jewish Community Relations Councils, ADL, and AJC type groups across the US that advocate and work for Israel’s agenda.
Second, Jewish Americans, as individuals and groups, are completely assimilated into American society and if anything have been one of the most successful cases in this arena. This made it possible for the community to fit into and essentially speak within an American epistemic framework and not as outsiders to it.
Third, Jewish Americans reflecting a strongly held value system favoring and embracing education have been able to become one of the most highly educated minority groups in the US (Chinese Americans, Indian Americans and Muslims fit into this pattern at present). It is to their credit that educational achievement made it possible for a broad engagement with all the critical ideas and issues facing the American society. In more than one way, Jewish Americans, while taking stock of internal contradictions and divisions, have been able to leave their mark on American society in every possible field. This makes it possible for the lobby to have the breadth and depth to mobilize its resources when needed.
Fourth, Jewish Americans have been able to stitch their narrative, culture and religious identity into society at large. Just a mere 60 years ago, Jewish Americans were excluded from universities, jobs, residence in parts of cities and holding high offices, as well as being subject to racial and religious violence. It should be on the one hand, celebrated as a monumental achievement while on the other asking the question why squander it in providing protection for a state that occupies another people and practices racism against them on a daily basis.
Fifth, the major and rightly celebrated contribution by Jewish Americans in the media, entertainment and movies made it possible to narrate Israel’s story within a hospitable medium. Once again this is not a function of conspiracy but rather through engagement and participation in the development of the industry itself over a long period of time that made it possible to integrate Israeli narrative into America’s consciousness. People do bring their political and social context in the media production process and Jewish Americans keenly incorporated Israel at every juncture while excluding and frustrating their opponents.
Sixth, due to historical circumstances specific to Jews and to the Jewish American community in particular, a highly organized and professional infrastructure have been developed over the years, which is utilized at this juncture for rallying support behind Israel’s interests. I am speaking of the organized aspect of the community and not those who fall outside of it.
Seven, contrary to the racist and anti-Semitic notions referring to Jews as being greedy and misers, in reality this is the furthest from the truth and there is well-documented evidence in America. The level of charitable giving and philanthropy coming from the Jewish American community is impressive when one considers that they are only 1.5% of the population yet been able to contribute to every major civic, culture, educational and artistic project in the country. AIPAC’s defense and promotion of Israel’s interest functions well and is successful because the local and national political leadership works closely on the community level on many philanthropic projects, which helps in forging a common bound.
Eight, the US democratic political system is a fragmented one, which makes it possible for a small, well-organized and funded group to project greater power and influence than its actual numbers. The organized Jewish American community, as said above, is very well-structured and utilizes this strength to pursue its political goals with a laser type precision unequaled by any other group. Yes, they are well placed and have access, but these are outcomes of existing community strength and not because of a behind the seen conspiracies.
Ninth, the organized Jewish American community is highly involved politically at all levels and a certain segment of it qualifies as political junkies for following the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of the political process to the minutest details. I witnessed this involvement first hand and it is impressive to see. I do have a great respect for the Jewish American community despite the fact that we are often at opposite ends of the political debate on Palestine and other US national security related issues. They pay their political dues that bring about results in the long run.
Tenth, the Jewish American community has developed the needed political institutional infrastructure and invested needed resources to run at the highest levels of professionalism. Further, the community invests in community leadership development, assists other communities when their interests align or when pursuing a strategic goal that could benefit in building organizing bridges. A case in point is the most recent approach in the US that focuses on developing strategic relations with segments of the Muslim community in order to influence certain attitudes and prospectives relative to Israel. The project is not unique and constitutes part of a long-term strategic engagement with communities outside the confines of the Jewish American community. These programs, while not directly connected to the lobby, in the long run are instrumental in narrowing the spectrum of opposition to Israel and reduce the engagement in systematic support for the Palestinians.
Eleventh, funding and more funding directed at all levels in the political process. The organized Jewish American community invests heavily in the political process and deploys its resources effectively in both political parties and on all sides of the debate. This is a most effective strategy on the local, state, congressional and senate levels allowing the community to extract maximum returns for their investments. Also, the funds provided are not for photo opportunity but are directed at policy issues and specific items to benefit the community locally and Israel on the international levels. The community does follow-up with elected politicians and because of the professional nature of the organizations and the high skill levels of the staff, the success rates tend to be very high.
Twelfth, the Jewish American community’s heavy investments in think tanks and research centers makes it possible to document, and to bring the most up to date data and information to their over-all efforts on behalf Israel. Countless independent centers and research outfits are located throughout the country with some directly connected to academic institutions while others stand alone and operate as not for profit institutions. The sheer number of these centers is impressive and the work quality is at the highest levels. This makes it possible to have the needed background and possibly ready made recommendations for policy makers on most issues effecting the Palestine issue, Middle East and other areas of major concern to Israeli political, diplomatic, economic and security needs.
Thirteenth, the Jewish American community has been able to forge an alliance with various sections of the American Christian establishment covering both the extreme right wing and the liberal base as well. It is not only the religious right but also the religious left that is included, which makes it possible to incorporate Israel into normal day-to-day religious discourses.
The above are key factors along with others that propel AIPAC’s success at the national level while maintaining the American political elite inline when it comes to all issues effecting Israel. While fractures are becoming visible within the organized Jewish American community and a level of discontent is increasingly present; AIPAC’s power and influence in DC is far from being challenged. The opposition to AIPAC is mostly disorganized, lacking structure and resources to mount an effective challenge. The current war in Gaza can possibly be a turning point for pro-Palestine organizations and groups if appropriate steps are taken that begin to focus not on the pinnacle of the pyramid in DC, but on building real and serious justice-based coalitions. The work and resources needed are massive, but pale when compared to the destruction visited upon Gaza with the expressed support of 100% of the Senate leadership. This is AIPAC’s power and it must come to an end. AIPAC’s help in providing the needed political cover in Washington for the death and destruction visited upon the Palestinians is nothing short of criminal.