Sunday, August 31, 2014

Friends of Israel

A must read on how the Zionist American community effectively organized themselves to strongly influence US politics and how that is changing, with key lessons our community can learn: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/01/friends-israel

It is very long but below are some key parts:

BY 


This is precisely the kind of ambivalence that AIPAC adherents describe as destructive. And yet even Israeli politicians recognize that AIPAC faces a shifting landscape of opinion. Shimon Peres, who served as Prime Minister and, most recently, as President, says, “My impression is that AIPAC is weaker among the younger people. It has a solid majority of people of a certain age, but it’s not the same among younger people.”..

" Members’ contributions were often bundled. “AIPAC will select some dentist in Boise, say, to be the bundler,” a former longtime AIPAC member said. “They tell people in New York and other cities to send their five-thousand-dollar checks to him. But AIPAC has to teach people discipline—because all those people who are giving five thousand dollars would ordinarily want recognition. The purpose is to make the dentist into a big shot—he’s the one who has all this money to give to the congressman’s campaign.” AIPAC representatives tried to match each member of Congress with a contact who shared the congressman’s interests. If a member of Congress rode a Harley-Davidson, AIPAC found a contact who did, too. The goal was to develop people who could get a member of Congress on the phone at a moment’s notice."


In the early days, Howard Berman said, “AIPAC was knocking on an unlocked door.” Most Americans have been favorably disposed toward Israel since its founding, and no other lobby spoke for them on a national scale. Unlike other lobbies—such as the N.R.A., which is opposed by various anti-gun groups—AIPAC did not face a significant and well-funded countervailing force. It also had the resources to finance an expensive and emotionally charged form of persuasion. Dine estimated that in the eighties and nineties contributions from AIPAC members often constituted roughly ten to fifteen per cent of a typical congressional campaign budget. AIPAC provided lavish trips to Israel for legislators and other opinion-makers.

Nevertheless, the lobby did not endorse or rank candidates. “We made the decision to be one step removed,” Dine said. “Orrin Hatch once said, ‘Dine, your genius is to play an invisible bass drum, and the Jews hear it when you play it.’ ” In 1982, after an Illinois congressman named Paul Findley described himself as “Yasir Arafat’s best friend in Congress,” AIPAC members encouraged Dick Durbin, a political unknown, to run against him. Robert Asher, a Chicago businessman, sent out scores of letters to his friends, along with Durbin’s position paper on Israel, asking them to send checks. Durbin won, and he is now the Senate Majority Whip. (Findley later wrote a book that made extravagant claims about the power of the Israel lobby.) In 1984, AIPAC affiliates decided that Senator Charles Percy, an Illinois Republican, was unfriendly to Israel. In the next election, Paul Simon, a liberal Democrat, won Percy’s seat. Dine said at the time, “Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy. And American politicians—those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire—got the message.”…

In the spring of 2008, AIPAC moved from cramped quarters on Capitol Hill to a gleaming new seven-story building on H Street, downtown. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Howard Kohr introduced Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate who had been a generous donor to AIPAC since the nineties, and who had helped underwrite congressional trips to Israel (paying only for Republican members). On this bright spring day, according to someone who was in the audience, Adelson recalled that Kohr had telephoned him, asking him to have lunch. Adelson remembered wondering, How much is this lunch going to cost me? Well, he went on, it cost him ten million dollars: the building was the result. He later told his wife that Kohr should have asked him for fifty million….

AIPAC’s hold on Congress has become institutionalized. Each year, a month or two before the annual policy conference, AIPAC officials tell key members what measures they want, so that their activists have something to lobby for. “Every year, we create major legislation, so they can justify their existence to their members,” the former congressional aide said. (AIPAC maintains that only members of Congress initiate legislative action.) AIPAC board meetings are held in Washington each month, and directors visit members of Congress. They generally address them by their first names, even if they haven’t met before. The intimacy is presumed, but also, at times, earned; local AIPAC staffers, in the manner of basketball recruiters, befriend some members when they are still serving on the student council. “If you have a dream about running for office, AIPAC calls you,” one House member said. Certainly, it’s a rarity when someone undertakes a campaign for the House or the Senate today without hearing from AIPAC.

In 1996, Brian Baird, a psychologist from Seattle, decided to run for Congress. Local Democrats asked if he had thought about what he was going to say to AIPAC. “I had admired Israel since I was a kid,” Baird told me. “But I also was fairly sympathetic to peaceful resolution and the Palestinian side. These people said, ‘We respect that, but let’s talk about the issues and what you might say.’ The difficult reality is this: in order to get elected to Congress, if you’re not independently wealthy, you have to raise a lot of money. And you learn pretty quickly that, if AIPAC is on your side, you can do that. They come to you and say, ‘We’d be happy to host ten-thousand-dollar fund-raisers for you, and let us help write your annual letter, and please come to this multi-thousand-person dinner.’ ” Baird continued, “Any member of Congress knows that AIPAC is associated indirectly with significant amounts of campaign spending if you’re with them, and significant amounts against you if you’re not with them.” For Baird, AIPAC-connected money amounted to about two hundred thousand dollars in each of his races—“and that’s two hundred thousand going your way, versus the other way: a four-hundred-thousand-dollar swing.”…

Soon after taking office, Baird went on a “virtually obligatory” trip to Israel: a freshman ritual in which everything—business-class flights, accommodations at the King David or the Citadel—is paid for by AIPAC’s charitable arm. The tours are carefully curated. “They do have you meet with the Palestinian leaders, in a sort of token process,” Baird said. “But then when you’re done with it they tell you everything the Palestinian leaders said that’s wrong. And, of course, the Palestinians don’t get to have dinner with you at the hotel that night.”…

In early 2009, after a brief truce between Israel and Hamas collapsed in a series of mutual provocations, Israel carried out Operation Cast Lead, an incursion into Gaza in which nearly fourteen hundred Palestinians were killed, along with thirteen Israelis. Baird visited the area a few weeks later and returned several times. As he wrote in an op-ed, he saw “firsthand the devastating destruction of hospitals, schools, homes, industries, and infrastructure.” That September, the U.N. Human Rights Council issued a report, based on an inquiry led by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone, that accused Israel of a series of possible war crimes. AIPAC attacked the report, saying it was “rigged.” A month later, an AIPAC-sponsored resolution to condemn the report was introduced in the House, and three hundred and forty-four members voted in favor. “I read every single word of that report, and it comported with what I had seen and heard on the ground in Gaza,” Baird said. “When we had the vote, I said, ‘We have member after member coming to the floor to vote on a resolution they’ve never read, about a report they’ve never seen, in a place they’ve never been.’ ” Goldstone came under such pressure that threats were made to ban him from his grandson’s bar mitzvah at a Johannesburg synagogue. He eventually wrote an op-ed in which he expressed regret for his conclusions, saying, “Civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.” Other members of the council stood by the report.

Baird said, “When key votes are cast, the question on the House floor, troublingly, is often not ‘What is the right thing to do for the United States of America?’ but ‘How is AIPAC going to score this?’ ” He added, “There’s such a conundrum here, of believing that you’re supporting Israel, when you’re actually backing policies that are antithetical to its highest values and, ultimately, destructive for the country.” In talks with Israeli officials, he found that his inquiries were not treated with much respect. In 2003, one of his constituents, Rachel Corrie, was killed by a bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier, as she protested the demolition of Palestinians’ homes in Gaza. At first, he said, the officials told him, “There’s a simple explanation—here are the facts.” Or, “We will look into it.” But, when he continued to press, something else would emerge. “There is a disdain for the U.S., and a dismissal of any legitimacy of our right to question—because who are we to talk about moral values?” Baird told me. “Whether it’s that we didn’t help early enough in the Holocaust, or look at what we did to our African-Americans, or our Native Americans—whatever! And they see us, members of Congress, as basically for sale. So they want us to shut up and play the game.”…

“I think there is a growing sense among members that things are done just to placate AIPAC, and that AIPAC is not really working to advance what is in the interest of the United States.” He concluded, “We all took an oath of office. And AIPAC, in many instances, is asking us to ignore it.”

A few months later, the Gaza war began, and AIPAC mobilized again. “There were conference calls, mass e-mails, talking points for the day,” a congressional aide said. “AIPAC activists would e-mail me, with fifteen other AIPAC activists cc’d, and then those people would respond, saying, ‘I agree entirely with what the first e-mail said!’ ”…


It didn’t hurt AIPAC’s cause that the enemy was Hamas, whose suicide bombings a decade ago killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, and whose rocket attacks in recent years have terrorized citizens, particularly in southern Israel. As Israel pressed its offensive, and hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed, AIPAC argued, as did Netanyahu, that the casualties came only because Hamas was using human shields. Online, AIPAC posted a short film, “Israel’s Moral Defense,” which depicted an Israeli major in a quandary. Looking at a schoolyard filled with girls in neat uniforms, he sees fighters with a rocket launcher not far behind them. Should he order his men to fire their machine guns, and risk hitting the girls, or hold back, and risk the rocket killing Israelis? “I didn’t pull the trigger,” the soldier says. “We are totally different. . . . I am very proud to be in an army that has this level of morality.” A couple of weeks after the film appeared, Israeli shells struck a United Nations school in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing twenty-one people and injuring more than ninety; it was the sixth U.N. school that Israel had bombed. The next day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, pointed out that, as Israeli forces attacked homes, schools, and hospitals, the U.S. was supplying them with heavy weaponry. Almost simultaneously, the House passed an AIPAC-supported resolution denouncing Hamas’s use of human shields and condemning an inquiry into Israel’s Gaza operations that Pillay was sponsoring.

According to congressional staffers, some members of Congress seemed eager to make up for their recent apostasy on the Iran negotiations. While Reid and his colleagues went to extraordinary lengths to fund the Iron Dome missile-defense system, the House leadership engaged in the same mission. The vote in the House came late on the night of Friday, August 1st—the last possible moment before the summer recess. The earlier resolutions that AIPAC had sponsored during the war had passed unanimously, with no record of individual votes, but on this vote the roll was called. (AIPAC sometimes asks congressional leaders to call the roll when a decisive victory seems likely.) “I think AIPAC thought this vote would be one hundred per cent,” Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, said. It was close: out of four hundred and thirty-five members, only eight voted no. Moran, who has been in Congress since 1990, and is retiring this year, was one of four Democrats who voted against the resolution. As a longtime member of the Defense Appropriations Committee, he did not believe that there was any urgent need for the funding. “We have put about nine hundred million dollars into the Iron Dome,” he argued. “We know that there are many millions unexpended in Israel’s Iron Dome account. And Israel was to get three hundred and fifty-one million on October 1st, for Iron Dome.”

Beto O’Rourke, a freshman Democrat from El Paso, also voted against the funding. “I tried to find him on the floor, but I couldn’t,” Moran said. “I wanted him to switch his vote. Now, he might not have switched it anyway, because—as shocking as it may be—he’s in Congress solely to do what he considers to be the right thing. I’m afraid he may have a tough race in November.” The morning after the vote, O’Rourke e-mailed a local AIPAC activist, Stuart Schwartz, to explain his vote, according to a knowledgeable person. In his explanation, which he also posted on Facebook, he pointed out that he had voted for Iron Dome in the past, and had supported the funds that were scheduled to arrive in October. But, he wrote, “I could not in good conscience vote for borrowing $225 million more to send to Israel, without debate and without discussion, in the midst of a war that has cost more than a thousand civilian lives already, too many of them children.” Within hours, O’Rourke was flooded with e-mails, texts, and calls. The next day, the El Paso Times ran a front-page story with the headline “O’ROURKE VOTE DRAWS CRITICISM.” In the story, Stuart Schwartz, who is described as having donated a thousand dollars to O’Rourke’s previous campaign, commented that O’Rourke “chooses to side with the rocket launchers and terror tunnel builders.” A mass e-mail circulated, reading “The Following Is Shameful, El Paso Has an Anti-Israel Congressman. . . . Do Not ReĆ«lect Beto O’Rourke.” At the bottom was the address of AIPAC’s Web site, and a snippet of text: “AIPAC is directly responsible for the overwhelming support this legislation received on the Hill. If you are not a member of AIPAC, I strongly recommend that you join. Every dollar helps fund this important work in Congress.”

The day that Congress passed the Iron Dome bills happened to be an especially deadly one in Gaza. In the city of Rafah, Israeli troops pursued Hamas fighters with such overwhelming force that about a hundred and fifty Palestinians were killed, many of them women and children. Israel’s critics in the region have been energized. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, told me that Congress had sent a clear message by funding Iron Dome that day. “Congress was telling Israel, ‘You go ahead and kill, and we will fund it for you.’ ” She argued that Israelis had dominated American political discourse on the war, as they have for decades on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “They say, ‘The Palestinians are all terrorists, they are the people we don’t know, they are alien, foreign, strange—but Israelis are like us.’ Who shaped the presentation, in the U.S.? AIPAC, to a large degree.”



1 comment:

  1. Israel is a muslim country but have many unfair things. Anyways, muslims should go for ethically right Muslim Entrepreneur business that follows muslim law and lessons.

    ReplyDelete