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AIPAC Called Unique Among Lobbies Because Its Concerns Are for a Foreign Country

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July - August 2005

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), two of whose former staff members are facing indictment on espionage charges, having allegedly shared classified documents with representatives of the Israeli Embassy, is described by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker (July 4, 2005) in these terms:  

“AIPAC is a leviathan among lobbies, as influential in its sphere as the National Rifle Association and the American Association of Retired Persons are in theirs, although it is, by comparison, much smaller. (AIPAC has about a hundred thousand members, the NRA more than four million) ... AIPAC is unique in the top tier of lobbies because its concerns are the economic health and security of a foreign nation, and because its members are drawn almost entirely from a single ethnic group.”  

Goldberg reports that, “AIPAC’s professional staff — it employs about a hundred people at its headquarters, two blocks from the Capitol — analyzes congressional voting records and shares the results with its members, who can then contribute money to candidates directly or to a network of pro-Israel political action committees. The Center for Responsive Politics, a public-policy group, estimates that between 1990 and 2004 these PACs gave candidates and parties more than twenty million dollars.”  

Robert Asher, a former AIPAC president, discussed with Goldberg the campaign he led to defeat Rep. Paul Findlay (R-IL), a critic of Israeli policy. “There was a real desire to help Findlay out of Congress,” said Asher. “We met at my apartment in Chicago, and I recruited (Democratic lawyer Richard Durbin) to run for Congress. I probed his views and I explained things that I had learned mainly from AIPAC. I wanted to make sure we were supporting someone who was not only against Paul Findlay, but also a friend of Israel.”  

Asher noted that, “He beat Findlay with a lot of help from Jews, in-state and out-of-state. Now, how did the Jewish money find him? I travelled around the country talking about how we had the opportunity to defeat someone unfriendly to Israel. And the gates opened.”  

Another AIPAC leader, Mayer Mitchell, led a similar campaign three years ago to defeat Earl Hilliard, an Alabama congressman who was critical of Israel. Goldberg writes that, “Mitchell helped direct support to a young Harvard Law School graduate named Arthur Davis, who challenged Hilliard in the Democratic primary, and he solicited donations from AIPAC supporters across America. Davis won the primary and the seat.”  

In 1992, David Steiner, then AIPAC’s president, was caught on tape boasting that he had “cut a deal” with the administration of George W.H. Bush to provide more aid to Israel. He also said he was “negotiating” with the incoming Clinton administration over the appointment of a pro-Israel Secretary of State. “We have a dozen people in his” — Clinton’s — “headquarters ... and they are all going to get big jobs,” Steiner said. Soon after the tape’s existence was disclosed, Steiner resigned his post.  

Concerning the current case of alleged sharing of classified material with the Israeli Embassy, Goldberg writes: “AIPAC officials insist that the case has not affected the organization’s effectiveness. But its operations have certainly been hindered by the controversy of the past year, and the FBI sting may force lobbyists of all sorts to be more careful about trying to penetrate the executive branch — and about leaking to reporters. And AIPAC now seems acutely sensitive to the appearance of dual loyalty. The theme of this year’s AIPAC conference was ‘Israel, an American Value,’ and, for the first time, ‘Hatikvah,’ the Israeli national anthem, was not sung. The only anthem heard was ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”  

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