‘Pro-Israel industry’ enforces U.S. policy with campaign spending – $70 million in 2020

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  February 13, 2023

Why is Joe Biden doing nothing to criticize Israel’s brutally-expansionist policies in the West Bank? Why does Nikki Haley prepare a run for the presidency by announcing she won’t be out-Israel’d in the Republican party? Why does Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand come back from the Middle East gushing shamelessly over Benjamin Netanyahu?

It’s about money. All these politicians want to gain essential campaign funding from the Israel lobby for 2024, and in Biden’s case do nothing to send those funding sources scooting to the Haley side of the aisle. While Gillibrand is the Democratic establishment candidate in a possible primary challenge next year from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Pro-Israel money remains the most powerful force affecting U.S. policy in the Middle East. Witness the fact that Kevin McCarthy’s top advisor and fundraiser Jeff Miller– the “most powerful unelected” person in Washington, per Politico— is associated with both AIPAC and the Republican Jewish Coalition. The RJC’s last meeting in Las Vegas in November was an all-out Israel panderama by Republican hopefuls, including McCarthy. “Look at how this president has treated Israel,” Nikki Haley challenged Biden. “The Jewish state doesn’t even know if we have her back any more.”

Biden fights back by cementing Trump’s political favors to Israel, appointing a Netanyahu cheerleader as ambassador, and installing Democratic leadership in the House that is reflexively pro-Israel, including minority leader Hakeem Jeffries– who declared, “Israel today, Israel tomorrow, Israel forever” during an Israeli massacre of more than 2000 Palestinians.

This corruption goes unnoticed and uncriticized in our mainstream press. So we must be thankful for a new report from Americans for Justice in Palestine Action that frankly documents the “Zionist” campaign spending that undergirds the power of the Israel lobby.

Remember the successful efforts to defeat former Reps. Marie Newman, Andy Levin and Donna Edwards last year? The “rightwing Zionist” lobby spent $70 million in 2022 to knock off critics, and warn politicians “to not object to Israel’s crimes.”

[I]f a candidate opposes Israeli apartheid and colonialism in any way, they will face the might of right-wing Zionists. With this approach, AIPAC PAC Director Marilyn Rosenthal announced to supporters in an email last May that, as a result of their efforts, critics of Israel “faced insurmountable challenges to winning seats in Washington.”

Collectively, through PACs and Super PACs largely formed in just the past two years, right-wing Zionist groups would contribute more than $30 million to candidate campaigns and spend more than $40 million directly into elections to challenge and support candidates across the country. Altogether, right-wing Zionist groups would spend a total of more than $70 million dollars to crush dissent and solidify an extremist pro-Israel slant among members of the U.S. Congress..

On December 31st, AIPAC boasted of defeating 13 candidates in the 2022 election cycle.

Notice how strategic this funding is. Hakeem Jeffries from Brooklyn rises on wings of pro-Israel money:

[P]ro-Israel funders were the second largest contributor to Rep. Jeffries’ campaign. Zionist groups likely increased their funding to Rep. Jeffries because of his anticipated appointment as Democrat leader in the House

The AJP report shows how the wealth of the “pro-Israel industry” dwarfs that of groups concerned with Palestinian rights. According to public data on budgets, center-right Zionist groups raised $267 million in 2020.

The financials of the U.S. pro-Israel industry far surpass that of any other ideological group. Public Form 990 tax returns demonstrate that the ten largest Zionist groups collectively hold more than $500 million in assets—dwarfing the $4 million of the pro-Palestinian and the $6.1 million of liberal Zionist organizations. The largest, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has $240 million in assets, and the smallest, the Israeli American Coalition for Action, $1.6 million—more than AJP Educational Foundation (AJP) and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) combined. Between them, the organizations brought in $266,787,017 in FY2020. These organizations use their enormous wealth and revenue to impose unconditional support for Israel as the default position in American politics and in 2020, expressed as $224,925,359 in spending, was three times more in one month in furtherance of Zionism than the entire pro-Palestine movement for the entire year.

The Israel lobby is plainly terrified of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, because it represents the sentiments of ordinary Americans:

Democrats support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at nearly a rate of 3:1.

But BDS is still a third rail even inside the Democratic Party. That’s because the affluent Jewish community remains a major source of campaign funds for candidates (with a “shocking,” “gigantic” proportion of Democratic funding; “billions…at rest in our community,” says one neoconservative)– the “elephant in the room,” as even The New York Times has reported. And that money is still perceived by politicians to be hardline pro-Israel– that $70 million from rightwing Zionists, spent in Democratic races.

Yes, the lobby is fracturing. But no one in politics thinks that liberal Zionists of the Andy Levin stripe can raise much campaign funding for even slightly more progressive policies. That was the line laid down by AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel during the Democratic primaries, when even progressives wilted under the pressure. The AJP study says liberal Zionists only raised $6 million in 2020.

So it is no wonder that J Street has disappointed its own left-of-center rank-and-file by waffling on restricting aid over Israeli human rights abuses (according to excellent reporting by Alex Kane). J Street prevaricates, just as it did over illegal settlements years ago, because it doesn’t want to lose “access” in Washington circles; and maintaining access means keeping a high political profile by retaining big donors, i.e., the Jews who care most about Israel. And sadly, the political weight of the Jewish community remains rightwing on that question. I keep telling you about young progressives who are not Zionists, but they’re not in power yet. And Israel-hardline-Democrats Jonathan Greenblatt and Ted Deutch have lately taken over the ADL and the AJC. These rightwing forces explain why Obama’s top foreign policy aide had to meet with the same dozen right-of-center mouthpieces for Israel more than anyone else during that administration and had to call up “a list of leading Jewish donors” when Obama made the political gaffe of calling for two states based on the ’67 lines.

Joe Biden won’t make that mistake. He’s an old hack. He gave up on fighting the Israelis back in 1982. He declares he’s a Zionist and the ties between the U.S. and Israel are unbreakable. He shares the rightwing lobby’s mission to keep the “apartheid” allegations against Israel as a political heresy.

Aaron David Miller explained the political pressure on Biden not to challenge Netanyahu in comments last week to Jewish Insider:

“What [is the administration] prepared to do beyond very strong rhetoric, private conversations with the prime minister? To me, that’s the acid test. And my answer, until I’m persuaded otherwise, is they’re not prepared to do much. I think for [three] reasons. Number one: It’s bad politics, particularly as the president in the next several weeks or months or so is going to announce his intention to seek a second term. Second, it is not their big priority and will not be a defining legacy piece for the president. And number three, fighting with Israel is an occupational hazard. Presidents don’t want to do it. When they do do it, it’s almost always because they sense that there is some opportunity — maybe generated by a crisis…”

Biden knows well that presidents who took Israel on over the West Bank served only one term.

The Israel issue is still a special interest– big money– because most Americans don’t care about Israel, according to AJP Action (which cites J Street polling):

Israel simply does not motivate Americans to vote. Moreover, the issue of Israel is not something most Americans, let alone Democrats, support. The feelings of ambivalence ranging to opposition by Americans is a reality that’s not lost on Zionists, as evident by the actions they’ve taken in this most recent election. The Zionist-funded advertisements that hit the airwaves against the likes of Summer Lee [who beat a pro-Israel candidate for Congress in Pittsburgh] don’t mention Israel at all.

The AJP Action report is optimistic. The lobby is spending all this money because it sees the trends in progressive life:

The 2022 midterms signal a changing strategy from the Zionist political industry. With their back against the wall and a growing insurgency advocating for a free Palestine in Congress, AIPAC et al. are doing everything they can to reverse the advances made by pro-Palestinian advocates. They’re attempting to bully and scare Members of Congress from advocating for Palestinian human rights. In a way, their actions this last election are an admission that they’re losing.

I share that optimism. Despite the lobby’s efforts, Palestinian solidarity has gained a beachhead inside the Democratic Party. The Squad is growing, and though rising progressive pols learn to toe the line on Israel, it’s not like they’ll stay bought. Rep. Betty McCollum’s move to restrict aid to Israel over human rights abuses has gained liberal Zionist backing because left-leaning Dems care. And if AOC does take on Gillibrand next year, we are sure to see the Israel issue break out in prime time.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006