AIPAC Dual loyalty Israel Israel lobby Jerusalem Mearsheimer and Walt

AIPAC is an agent of…AIPAC

Mearsheimer and Walt write that AIPAC is a “de facto agent of the Israeli government.” In various parts of their book, they provide examples of the “Israel lobby’s” ability to promote Israel’s agenda in the halls of power.

But they do not seem to grasp a far more interesting, subtle point about AIPAC: it answers to AIPAC and supports AIPAC’s agenda, which does not always align with Israel’s. An article in this week’s Forward, Contradictory Signals From Israel and its Supporters on Saudi Arms Deal gives the latest example of conflicting legislative priorities:

As the Bush administration’s $20 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia heads for congressional debate, lawmakers are receiving contradictory signals from Israel and its supporters in the United States.

Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, told Congress last week that Israel does not oppose the deal and will not take a stand against it. At the same time, a letter backed by the pro-Israel lobby began circulating in the House of Representatives, demanding that the administration impose strict condition on how the Saudis will be allowed to use special bomb-guidance systems that are part of the sales deal.

…While the chief Israeli defense official was telling members of Congress that he sees no problem with the deal, Israel’s supporters in the House of Representatives began gathering signatures on a letter to the president, asking him to put restrictions and limitations on the Saudi arms deal.

The letter, which is being endorsed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, focuses on the potential threat posed by the Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which is part of the deal. (emphasis added)

AIPAC, in other words, is opposing an Israeli policy. This has happened many times in the past. In Yossi Beilin’s book, “My Brother’s Keeper,” he describes AIPAC officials as acting like “frightened deer” when they were asked to support aid to the Palestinian authority in the 1990s. Several, more recent bills for Palestinian aid put much more stringent conditions on the financial assistance than the Sharon and Olmert governments wanted. In 1995, AIPAC worked closely with Bob Dole to push the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which embarassed Rabin at a time of delicate negotiations on the implementation of the Oslo accords.

AIPAC does do what Israel wants, much of the time. But it is hardly an “agent” of a foreign government. It’s more like a staunch coalition ally which sometimes goes its own way. It supports an IDEA of Israel, a set of premises about Israel, and when the Israeli government disagrees, AIPAC will do what AIPAC wants to do.

Some of that divergence has to do with the organization’s hawkish tilt. But it is also due to something deeper, something about the culture of Washington and the kinds of people who want to –and need to–spend their professional lives nudging the American government to do one thing or another.

An ex-staff member of AIPAC has told me that some of his former colleagues don’t really care very much about Israel, they never vacation there, they are consummate political players who could just as easily ply their trade on behalf of the textile industry or big Pharma. It’s the win that counts, not the cause. I think that is unfair and exaggerated, but it does help to support a related claim that Washington insiders sometimes make: AIPAC is interested in getting political victories as a means of sustaining its own power and perpetuating itself. That is priority #1, not Israel.

Larry Cohler-Esses, a veteran reporter for Jewish weeklies, once said, “The early Zionists learned that they could help Israel by winning the Washington game. In the 1970s and ’80s, the AIPAC people learned that they could win the Washington game by helping Israel.”

That should be food for thought for the dual-loyalty theorists…

17 thoughts on “AIPAC is an agent of…AIPAC

  1. Interesting. But how often does AIPAC’s position diverge from Israel’s? Once in a blue moon? If so, that hardly shows that it is an independent entity with its own agenda. It is the only organization in the U.S. legally permitted to lobby for Israel, if I’m not mistaken. It wouldn’t stay in business very long if the Israelis were unhappy with it.

    Also, based on your other posts, I assume that you are unhappy with the fact that AIPAC is sometimes to the right of the Israeli government. But you didn’t say that explicitly here. Instead, all you do is use that fact to refute one phrase by Mearsheimer and Walt and continue your odd campaign against the “dusl loyalty” accusers? Why are they so important to you? Aren’t there more crucial problems?

  2. AIPAC is in business to be helpful to Israel, as it defines Israel. (Usually as the geographic state, not necessarily as the community of communities.)

    Israel is not always unified in how it defines itself, so in those cases its hard to take a cue (if AIPAC always sought cues).

    That is the nature of a democratic government, that there are inevitably VARYING opinions, perceptions, worldviews.

    There are times when AIPAC misses cues even from a unified Israel.

    And, there are times when AIPAC acts as if it knows better than Israel.

    To assume that AIPAC is the authoritative voice of what is good for Israel is to give it false authority. Multiple voices are democracy.

    Lots of organizations name themselves THE authoritative voice of x. “THE American Solar Energy Society”, “THE Democratic Party”, “THE Church of Latter Day Saints”.

    It happens on the right, center, and left.

  3. It occurred to me that Zionism is very closely analagous to changes that are described in the Writings, of the time of the formation of the first kingdoms, the first states.

    They formed for the same reasons, or from the same stimuli, and although history is never exactly parallel, the reality that in a very short period of time the Kingdom of Israel/Judah changed its character RADICALLY, mirrors the pace of qualitative change in Israel in its history.

    Specifically, there was initially great and heated debate among those that were even included in the recording of what was discussed about whether Israel should ever be a state. In Biblical times, Israel was a nation in the definition of communities of communities, not unified, and not unanimous.

    It took external threats, and realization of those threats, to suggest that a state was even necessary.

    In a period of three generations, the state transformed from barely surviving civil strife with militantly dissenting popular movements, a silent popular concerns, and conflicts among warlords; to a maturing newly self-defined community (still with significant power struggles, often met by powerful and suppressive state responses); to a multi-cultural empire; to a bloated empire and civil war.

    Even the period of the prophets, during its bloated empire phase, was not unanimous in what the prophets (those recorded) criticized, or solutions.

    Michael Lerner suggests that we are in the prophetic time, analagous to the response to the bloat.

    He’s probably accurate.

    We should then be effective prophets, and transform rather than merely dissent. (Even Michael Lerner).

  4. My point of these two posts together, is that AIPAC is only one entity, and it is a mistake to get fixated on it.

    Better that those of us that have the commitment to participate in Jewish community in a more whole (holy) way, including political conclusions, feel and act independantly.

    Better that we articulate our own voices, and act on them comprehensively.

    If we don’t believe that Jewish community is centered around Israel the state, then lets form communities (actual communities, or just friendships and friendships of friendships) that are centered around our understanding of what constitutes community, nation.

    Better that we form substance of what Jewish is. Otherwise, the political voices are just fighting over who controls the shells. (Shells are the dead external protection of what usually WAS living, not IS living.)

  5. What difference does it make if AIPAC is motivated in part because it want to perpetuate its own power? Or that Feith and his war planning buddies weren’t motivated mainly by their desire to help Israel? The different motivations that may be in the minds and hearts of these people is less important than what they actually do. And what they do is to hurt America by advocating policies that are in Israel’s interests.

    I understand, or I think I understand, why you want to argue with the dual-loyalty theorists. But, as Marco implies, it appears to be more important to you than arguing with AIPAC…It isn’t nearly as important.

  6. Rebe:

    You write:

    “I understand, or I think I understand, why you want to argue with the dual-loyalty theorists. But, as Marco implies, it appears to be more important to you than arguing with AIPAC…It isn’t nearly as important.”

    Respectfully, you underestimate the importance of ridding dual loyalty presumptions from the discourse pertaining to the Israel-Palestine divide and overall American foreign policy in the Middle East. You will never win the trust of those on whose support AIPAC ultimately depends, the American Jewish community, if you minimize or trivialize the significance of charges of dual loyalty. You will never counter AIPAC if you think that concern about dual loyalty is in any way tangential. The yoke of historical memory is too great. That is reality.


  7. This is so naive — don’t you think the Israeli gov’t and its US representatives/agents are capable of sophisticated political machination? If AIPAC is there to twist the knife, the Israeli gov’t doesn’t need to make explicit its own wishes if they run the risk of being undiplomatic in pursuing a particular goal — in this case that the Saudis not purchase sophisticated arms from the US. Clearly, Israel cannot afford to always be seen as a belligerent actor meddling in US relations with other regional countries — so it subcontracts that task to US agencies such as AIPAC while remaining “above the fray,” knowing that its representatives will be certain to do whatever is necessary to place congressional pressure where it is needed to forestall the particular US policy it opposes.

    I understand the desire to shine some light between the Lobby and Israeli gov’t positions. I agree that the Lobby does not pursue aims that are in the longterm strategic interests of Israel, from a realist’s position. Yet, I also believe the dominant political discourse in the Israeli elite is no better. If we call the dominant political intentions of the Israeli elite from 1948 on Zionism, then it is Zionism that places Israel in the greatest danger — AIPAC and the Israeli political elite in that sense are working hand in hand and any differences we may identify are largely cosmetic. You have to understand that AIPAC and the Israeli elite are culturally and institutionally are cut exactly from the same cloth (and often are the same people, hence dual loyalty).

  8. “You have to understand that AIPAC and the Israeli elite are culturally and institutionally are cut exactly from the same cloth (and often are the same people, hence dual loyalty).”

    A little bit of a stretch.

    One problem with the Walt/Mearsheimer analysis as applied is the term “Israel lobby”, but then carelessly equated to AIPAC, thereby equating every entity that shares any concern with Israel with Likud and the conservatives within AIPAC.

    If AIPAC is THE representative political action committee (one-dollar, one-vote, as political distribution of funds implies) then it must represent the hopes and proposals of its members. Its members VARY in political sensitivity. Some are ruthlessly unaffected by any status of Palestinian suffering or aspiration. Others genuinely seek a mutually beneficial solution.

    If AIPAC is to remain valid at all even among the Jewish financial supporters, then it cannot alienate its own contributors. It is a politic organization.

    In general, the sentiment of those that would contribute to a political action committee at all, consider their statement as an assertive duty, if not to the level of war. It is different than the sentiment of acquiring land even, or certainly different from the sentiment of contributing to Jewish charitable work.

    The majority of Jewish organizations (that sadly Walt/Mearsheimer lumped together into the morphing generalization of “The Israel Lobby”) are not AIPAC.

    Others with differing political views, and money, can contribute funds to AIPAC directly, or distinct pac’s and express their own voice.

    For example, the much demonized Jewish media barons (say Steven Speilberg) do contribute to Jewish organizations, and they are NOT all conservative. They do fit the stupidly broad definition of “corrupting” Jewish influence (THE Israel Lobby) in the form of supporting the safety of the Israel as a state, and civilians within Israel.

    If you want to name specific names, have the courage and clarity to do so. When you use the term “The Israel Lobby” as a descriptor, it feeds into the fascism of generalization, that is frankly false, and frankly malevolent.

  9. Kevin,

    I usually agree with you and while, in general, it is true that AIPAC and the Israeli cultural elite are cut from the same ugly cloth, there are at least some important differences between the left wing of Labor/Meretz and the rest of the elite, including AIPAC. What Dan was pointing in most of his examples was the way AIPAC and the ZOA and other groups tried to sabotage efforts to promote peace.

    You might believe that those efforts -e.g., the Oslo process, Camp David, etc.– were inadequate and doomed to failure or misguided because they were still tainted with Zionism, i.e. based on the premise that a majority-Jewish state was non-negotiable. I partly agree with you and certainly have no use for Zionism, but I am of two minds about that peace process, because it had a chance to help the Palestinians live normal lives and end the violence. Both sides, and the international community, deserve blame for the fact that it wasn’t given a try.

    But even if you disagree, it is hard to argue against the claim that Likud lobbyists answering to Bibi and AIPAC’s Gang of Four and other right wingers were trying to sabotage the wishes of the Israeli government throughout the ’90s. And some of them did try to go way beyond what Israel wanted when it came to placing restrictions on aid to Abbas. That was not sophisticated political machination, was it? If it was, I would be curious to hear why you think so

  10. Marco,

    I also benefit from your postings and often find myself in agreement with your comments.

    I’m not so sure that we can isolate and delinate AIPAC as appealing to and deriving legitimacy solely from the Likud and farther right actors in Israel, even if they generally do track to the “right” rather than “left” in their core appeal. So I see little evidence of the distance between the Lobby and the State of Israel in the example you raise. I see little evidence that Kadima or their Labor collaborators have ever really been keen to “help” Abbas or that they were really all that bothered by the bill you refer to. Yes, there is diplomatic use to having Abu Mazen around for tea, for paying lip service to a “peace process” when nothing is changing on the ground (and indeed more and more checkpoints, settlements, etc go up daily). But by being able to disavow the “hard line” wins of AIPAC, the Israeli gov’t manages to duck the possible wrath of Rice or even Bush who seem to be under the impression that “supporting” Abbas is a policy objective they share with Israel. It’s not AIPAC that is in opposition to this aim – it’s the actual goals of the Israeli political elite that are. AIPAC is simply aligned with the very broad consensus that defines the Israeli political elite in general.

    Just as an example, if you’ve not read it, you might be interested in the Forward article on Keith Weissman, the espionage-indicted former AIPAC analyst ( Weissman describes his roots as in “peace” politics (he was politicized by Madrid and Oslo) – I think this isn’t quite as strange as you (or Dan) might seem to think it is – AIPAC does bring in a fairly wide spectrum of Zionists under its umbrella, and I know very many self-proclaimed “peace” promoters in the Jewish community who would not flinch for a moment to cooperate with AIPAC on community issues, or to attack a perceived critic of Israel.

    This likely says more about the weaknesses of some of those who try to reconcile Zionism to progressive politics than anything else. I began posting here only to make the point that while I certainly respect the work of Dan and others in that it raises important questions, the attempt to find a progressive “soul” in Zionism – as the term is defined by the broad political-ideological program of Israel from ’48 onward – is doomed to failure. This is why many Zionists who claim to be on the left have no problem with working with or for AIPAC, serving in the IDF reserves in the territories or any number of other things I would never be able to consider as progressive. Witness the recent revelation that the head of Israeli Peace Now was observed by Machsom Watch carrying out his reserve duty at a West Bank checkpoint, turning back Palestinian families who were trying to go to visit relatives for the end of Ramadan. This was reported here:

    Sorry for losing the plot here a bit – these are all interconnecting thoughts. Yes, perhaps what I said in my last post was a bit of an overstatement, but I really don’t think the distinction between Labor and Likud is worth much discussion. Just as the left serves at checkpoints, AIPAC has had little problem adapting themselves to the new “peace” discourse from the 90s onwards because they knew that Rabin and Barak were at the core settler-coddlers who would expand upon and not roll back the greater Israel dream. That’s the real issue here – so far the “peace”/Oslo program hasn’t evinced a major shift from the stated “Likud” program – both propound Israeli domination of the occupied territories with settlements and expropriation of land resources, both promote Jewish ethnocracy inside Israel, both pursue a policy of belligerence regionally, both are underpinned by a successful Israel Lobby inside the US to ensure continued support in the congress and administration.

    I wish I could be hopeful of the prospects for a peace process under current political realities. I’ve said before I support a binational state, but I used to be a two-state supporter and was ecstatic when Oslo was underway. Then I began traveling to Israel and Palestine and realized what a sham it was. It’s only become much much more of one since then – the binational option is the only viable option I can envisage, no matter how “impossible” it seems. Sorry again for losing the plot…

  11. Kevin,

    I guess I am more pissed off at AIPAC than you are, because I think the leadership had a very very big problem adapting itself to the new “peace discourse.”

    Oslo was a sham, as you say, but perhaps it didn’t have to be. I’m don’t share your certainty about its inherent worthlessness. It was meant to be an evolving process that built trust and confidence, and if enough trust and confidence had been built, than a viable Palestinian state might (emphasis on “might) have been acceptable –or more acceptable–to the majority of Israelis. That was certainly what the Norwegian interlocutors who participated in some of the early discussions with the Israeli academics had in mind. Right now, of course, what would be acceptable to the majority of Israelis is a kind of walled-off prison colony. On that you and I agree, I assume.

    If Beilin and Sarid (and Yuli Tamir) and people of that ilk had had more power, you and I would not have agreed with their insistence on clinging to an antequated, ethnocentric and racist state. But I still think the Palestinians might (emphasis on “might) have been much better off than they are now.

    So I think we have come to essentially the same place, you and I, although we have taken slightly different paths.

  12. But, would your thinking change if in six months, Abbas and Olmert agreed to a mutually consenting, fully sovereign Palestine?

  13. Marco,

    I think we were all a bit gaga over Oslo, but when you look at the agreement closely, I have no idea why the Norwegians would have agreed to put their imprematur upon it – it just was a terrible treaty. I don’t need to detail this – I think everyone more or less sees this now. I now think the Israeli establishment more or less understood this also, and that’s why they agreed to it – yes, it sounds a bit conspiratorial, but I think it’s generally true. That’s why the argument in Israel was always more about aspects of the symbolic capital of dominance – this is what motivated Yigal Amir and his kind, who would not countenance the symbolic loss of complete dominance and supremacy that Rabin (and later Sharon) found to be politically acceptable.

    Those who tried to use the symbolic shift to enact an material opening in the racist rationale of Zionism, like Sarid and Beilin, may be nice guys but they are treated as contemptible by almost everyone in Israel – in US terms they are more marginalized than Kucinich; maybe something like Bernie Sanders. Would they *ever* have an effect on national policy in Israel? I doubt it, as they fall outside the broad consensus I’ve alluded to.

    The fact is that I don’t believe the center/left in Israel is invested at all in ideas like a full withdrawal to 1967 lines, resolving the refugee issue, dismantling all settlements, etc. Even the ‘pragmatic’ compromises (land exchange, etc) are treated as academic games rather than as practical negotiating points. No, I don’t think the center-left (the present gov’t) will do 1/10th of what is needed to arrive at an agreement that will eventually result in a real two-state solution. And in this sense they are hand in hand with AIPAC and their ilk.

    Which brings me to Witty,
    I’d roll over and yelp like a pup dog. Then I’d eat my shoe.

  14. I think the 67 borders are possible.

    Dismantling the settlements (now cities) is impossible and currently unjust.

    It would amount to a forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of residents, with an uncompensated benefit of investment in infrastructure to either the Palestinian state and/or individual Palestinians.

    What needs to happen for legality to occur is perfection of title by compensation, with those that reside in geographic Palestine permitted to become Palestinian citizens fully and equally protected under Palestinian law under a color-blind system (with the exception of Palestinian right of return, parallel to the Jewish right of return to Israel).

    The Israeli center-left will never consent to mass expropriation of Israeli’s property, beyond the contested right to perfect land title.

    At something resembling this, I expect that soon you will film some shoe-eating.

    The practical experience of this though will be that those that have unconditional attitudes about their rights (but excluding their responsibilities), will do whatever they can to make the compromises necessary, impossible.

    That includes the Palestinian nationalists and Islamicists that cannot accept any Jews in Palestine, nor any Jewish sovereignty in the land of the “prophets night journey”.

    And, it includes those neo-orthodox that think that forceful possession of land is the invocation of the messianic age (as if humans can force God’s hand, if God has that kind of a hand at all.)

  15. Going back to Dan’s post, Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz actually had an interesting post (for once) on this issue. Basically, his point was that Israel would much rather prefer to have an American pro-Israel lobby to its right than to its left. The last thing Israel wants is a strong Jewish lobby pressuring it to withdraw settlements or negotiate with Hamas.

  16. Kevin and Marco,
    Neither of you find any interest in the real differences between Labor or Likud or Meretz or any other Zionists because you don’t accept any of the premises. I also find boring and irrelevant most of the discussions between Western “progressives”–disputes between anarchists, communists, socialists, etc. Those who respect property rights find the differences between anarchists and Communists to be irrelevant. Also those who live in the real world and recognize the existence of nations, interests, etc.

    So if you two want to expel Meretz, Peace Now, et al from the company of Progressives that is fine with me. After all Idi Amin was once a Progressive or so Moscow argued.

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