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Jewish Lobby in American Politics: The History of an Unprecedented Influence
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Jewish Lobby in American Politics: The History of an Unprecedented Influence

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USA – April 11, 2019

The Jewish and pro-Israeli lobby has traditionally been considered one of the most powerful in the U.S. The number of organizations that work to support the struggle of Tel-Aviv against its neighboring countries, as well as to advocate the interests of Jewish-Americans would exceed the number of all other ethnic minorities lobbying groups, and the number of American politicians with Jewish background is so big, it’s almost impossible to count. It’s known though that there are 28 Congressmen and 9 Senators who practice Judaism in the current Congress.

The history of the Jewish lobby in Washington began at least in the middle of the 19th century, as the roots of Zionism were inspired by American publicists long before modern Jews began thinking of their own state. While the First Zionist Congress, where the modern-day idea for the creation of the state of Israel was formulated, was held in Basel, Switzerland between August 29 and August 31, 1897, American political philosophers already discussed this idea as being “useful for the Christians” a half-century prior in 1844.

At that time, Christian restorationist and professor of Hebrew at New York University George Bush (a distant relative of the future presidents) published a revolutionary book on this issue, The Valley of Vision. The Dry Bones of Israel Revived. In his political research, Bush stated that "the thralldom and oppression has so long ground them (the Jews) to the dust." Bush was basically the first lobbyist for Jewish interests in American political philosophy (and thus – within the establishment) and also called for "elevating" the Jews "to a rank of honorable repute among the nations of the Earth."

Although Bush himself wasn’t Jewish, he stood for returning the Jews to Israel—the same as Zionists. However, he also wanted to see the bulk of Jews being converted to Christianity once in the Holy Land—something modern-day Jewish lobbyists wouldn’t agree to, and which was unacceptable to the vast majority of the Jewish population, although Jews had converted to Christianity and other religions throughout history.

Jews in the Holy Land converting to Christianity would benefit not only the Jews themselves, Bush wrote, but all of mankind, by forming a direct "link of communication" between God and humanity.

The idea that Jews and Christians are strategic allies was adopted by the political establishment much later though, since anti-Semitism had always been an issue in the U.S., and till the beginning of The Era of Changes in the middle of the 20th Century neither Democrats, nor Republicans would lean towards supporting the Jewish people so not to alienate the core electorate. Everything changed in 1948, when Israel proclaimed its independence and became a new (and natural) ally of the U.S. in the Near East, since the Soviet Union, despite voting for the creation of the state of Israel, for the most part backed the Arab nations during the course of the Cold War in their struggle over Palestine.  

Zionist lobbying, which had been traditionally strong in the U.S. by that time, actually aided the creation of Israel in 1947 and 1948. The preparation of and voting for the UN Partition Plan for Palestine (which in fact preceded the Declaration of Independence for the state of Israel) was met with a wide support from the side of Jewish Americans and the advocacy of their interests in Washington.

As President Truman later noted: "The facts were that not only were there pressure movements around the United Nations unlike anything that had been seen there before, but that the White House, too, was subjected to a constant barrage. I do not think I ever had as much pressure and propaganda aimed at the White House as I had in this instance. The persistence of a few of the extreme Zionist leaders—actuated by political motives and engaging in political threats—disturbed and annoyed me."

This was a turning point both for the state of Israel and for the Jewish lobby, as they soon realized how vulnerable the “defense” of American political institutions is, and how easy it is to influence it, especially with the use of mass media, business empires, lobbying firms, and cultural facilities run by prominent members of the Jewish community.   

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was one of the first lobbying groups formed by Jewish Americans to support the state of Israel and their interests, in 1956, and is still one of the most powerful organizations of its kind. Despite being just one of many pro-Israel lobbying organizations in the U.S, according to the official statements AIPAC, it has around 100,000 active members, operates seventeen offices in different American regions, and is funded by "a vast pool of donors." The influence AIPAC has on the decision-making process has been approved by the members of the U.S. Congress.

For example, Brad Sherman (a Democratic congressman from California, who has been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the state’s 30th district since 1997) once called the American Israel Public Affairs Committee "the single most important organization in promoting the U.S.-Israel alliance," and it’s hard not to agree with him as we look at the strength of the organization. What differentiates AIPAC from other lobbying groups is that it has never raised any funds for running candidates itself, but its members, in their turn, have raised huge amounts of money for the candidates through various political action committees that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee helped establish. Other means are used in this process too, of course.

The organization has always had many critics, especially among those who are displeased that it is so influential on foreign policy. Many experts say the AIPAC simply acts as an agent of a foreign power, with a stranglehold on Congress with its power and influence.

Moreover, AIPAC has often been accused of being allied with Israeli political parties (most recently with Likud party, a center-right to right-wing political party run by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu). As for American political parties, AIPAC has strong connections with the Republican Party, which is pretty strange considering that most Jewish Americans tend to vote for the Democrats. Meanwhile, an AIPAC spokesman said these accusations were nothing more than just a "malicious mischaracterization."

The organization has a huge budget for a typical lobbying group. According to open sources, it operates with about $80 million a year, making it one of the richest lobbying groups.

The annual AIPAC Policy Conference is considered to be by far the largest gathering of pro-Israel forces in the U.S. The number of attendees is steadily rising every year. The sessions, aimed at propagating the ideas of Zionism, are usually held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center at Mount Vernon Square in Washington, D.C. and in the neighboring Marriott Marquis hotel. The conference is usually attended by more than 15 and up to 20,000 people, despite the usual protests.

Since AIPAC is considered a conservative organization, Jewish American liberals prefer to support a different group, called J-Street—a relatively new player in the lobbying game, founded on November 29, 2007.

J-Street is a nonprofit liberal advocacy organization aimed at getting Washington leadership to put an end to the ongoing Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. And despite the group claiming that it should be done “peacefully and diplomatically,” there is no doubt they support Israeli strikes over peaceful Palestinians and would never say a word against the violation of rights of the Arab population of Israel.

Their manifesto doesn’t even hide who they want to see in Congress. According to the manifesto, J-Street is: "The first and only federal Political Action Committee whose goal is to demonstrate that there is meaningful political and financial support to candidates for federal office from large numbers of Americans who believe a new direction in American policy will advance U.S. interests in the Middle East and promote real peace and security for Israel and the region."

J-Street also describes itself as: "The political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people advocating policies that advance shared US and Israeli interests as well as Jewish and democratic values, leading to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," and while its budget is relatively small (up to $2.5 million), it hasthe potential to become quite powerful in the nearest future.

Author: USA Really