This weekend, more than 10,000 pro-Israel activists, Jews and non-Jews alike, will gather at the Washington convention center for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. These friends and supporters of the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship will hear from members of Congress and the executive branch who will all testify to the singular influence that AIPAC, as the pillar of the pro-Israel community, wields in the capital of the free world.
But just how powerful is AIPAC if a man who refers to it as the “Jewish lobby” and has defiantly claimed that he is not an “Israeli senator” is slated to be our next secretary of Defense? And, most significantly, how much influence does the lobbying organization actually exercise if it can’t carry the day on the single issue that’s been at the very top of its agenda for over a decade: stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
Despite an operating budget of more than $60 million, on the most crucial issue facing Israel’s security, AIPAC has lost the policy debate. The winners include those who believe you can’t stop a nation from getting the bomb if it’s determined to do so, those who think the Iranians have a right to nuclear weapons, and those who argue the Iranians can be contained—among them, our new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
The liberal lobbying group J Street, which has operated under the pretense of being pro-Israel, has really taken a hit in the last week. Eli Lake of the Washington Times uncovered that, despite J Street’s longstandinginsistence to the contrary, the group has received significant funding from financier George Soros and his children. Additionally, the same report revealed that J Street received $811,967, from a woman named Consolacion Esdicul, a resident of Happy Valley, Hong Kong and an associate of Bill Benter, a hugely successful international gambler.
Last week, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC announced it was supporting letters circulating Congress – a House version and a Senate one – supporting the Jewish state’s right to defend herself and reaffirming American support of its liberal democratic ally in the Middle East. The Senate letter is led by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell. In the House, Republican Ted Poe and Democrat Gary Peters, joined by Steny Hoyer and Eric Cantor and Howard Berman and Illeana Ros-Leithene, are leading the effort.
Dana Milbank takes the AIPAC crowd to task for the tepid response it gave Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech at this year’s policy conference. It is true, as Milbank states, that Clinton is a longtime friend of the state of Israel, and it is also true that compared with the many protesters the conference attracted (many were yelling comments to attendees as they arrived at the Washington Convention Center), Secretary Clinton should’ve been welcomed. But it is also worth noting what Clinton actually said to the pro-Israel activists.
The Hill reports that a number of Democrats think Hillary Clinton's tongue-lashing of Netanyahu is irresponsible:
"The appropriate response was a shake of the head – not a temper tantrum," Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Jewish Caucus, said in a statement today, "Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already.”