A Tale of Two Lobbies

 

On Sunday, 15,000 will converge on Washington, DC for the 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the country’s largest pro-Israel lobbying organization, knows how to throw a party. It is a marvel of organization, with every contingency anticipated and planned for. There are events for young and old and everyone in between. “Delegates” will get to meet with their representatives — two-thirds of Congress will be attending — and presidential candidates from both parties will deliver addresses.

AIPAC’s mission and methods are often misunderstood. Three principles govern its approach. First, it focuses on Congress. Although it may issue a policy statement from time to time, it seeks to develop relationships and influence the legislative branch, not the executive. Second, it is an American organization. It only advocates policies and legislation that it perceives of benefit to both the US and Israel. And third, it works hard to maintain a nonpartisan posture. Any legislation it lobbies for must have both Republican and Democrat co-sponsors.

In practice, this results not in a nonpartisan orientation, but in a bipartisan one. Beyond the fact that AIPAC’s leadership is disproportionately Democratic, there is reasonable thinking behind this approach. It allows the group to maintain its relevance regardless of which party is in power. Also, it is easier to present the group as first and foremost pro-American when both parties support it.

But such an approach increasingly requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Over the past 40 years, the GOP has become more and more pro-Israel, as the Democratic Party has become more neutral — or even hostile — toward the Jewish State. After the 2014 midterms, I attended a presentation by AIPAC’s regional director. “This is the most pro-Israel Congress ever,” she said. Left unsaid was the fact that it was also the most Republican Congress since Israel was founded.

The extent of this denial, and the drawbacks to a bipartisan approach, were starkly exposed by Obama’s deal with Iran. The president threatened senators from his own party, driving a wedge between them and Israel. AIPAC, forced to choose between aggressively pursuing its pro-Israel mission and maintaining bipartisanship, went with the latter. And after the deal was done, the group signaled that it would forgive and forget. The upshot was that it became clear to all that AIPAC could be crossed with impunity. The Israel Lobby was a paper tiger. Obama had used AIPAC’s bipartisanship to neuter it.

It is worthwhile to compare AIPAC’s ineffectiveness against the success of another famous lobby: The National Rifle Association. Even as Democrats rail against the power of the NRA, many of them — including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — maintain “A” or “B” NRA ratings. That is because getting on the wrong side of the NRA can lose you an election.

The NRA’s lobbying arm differs from AIPAC in two essential ways. First, it is laser-focused on its mission: Protecting and advancing the rights of firearm owners. This makes it truly nonpartisan. If Democrats are on board, great. If not, that the NRA will work to advance its agenda regardless. Meanwhile, the group rewards and punishes solely on the basis of that mission. Harry Reid may be an enemy of liberty in all other domains, but as long has he supports gun rights, he earns his NRA rating honestly. His party affiliation matters not a whit.

The second difference is in what the NRA offers in return for supporting its agenda. Gun-control advocates misattribute the NRA’s influence to the financial backing of gun manufacturers. This could not be further from the truth. The NRA is supported by millions and millions of gun-owning voters. It provides them with information on an issue about which they are passionate. It is votes, not money, that makes the NRA strong.

In contrast, AIPAC’s members are nowhere near as passionate. There is deep and strong pro-Israel sentiment in America, but very few will prioritize Israel above other concerns. Even the most fervent Israel advocates subordinate the issue of the US-Israel relationship when they enter the voting booth.

As a result, all the glitz of the AIPAC Conference is a farce. The size of the crowd masks the fact that it is not a grassroots organization. What AIPAC has to offer politicians is donor money. The important sessions at the conference are the ones held behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, this is largely a structural problem that is fiendishly difficult to address. But its leaders might succeed if they follow the NRA’s example. They must make AIPAC truly nonpartisan. If they demonstrate that they consider Israel the paramount issue, not just one among many, perhaps they can persuade the grassroots to elevate its importance. They might start demonstrating this by voting Republican.

Published in Foreign Policy, Guns
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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Son of Spengler: Unfortunately, this is largely a structural problem that is fiendishly difficult to address. But its leaders might succeed if they follow the NRA’s example. They must make AIPAC truly nonpartisan. If they demonstrate that they consider Israel the paramount issue, not just one among many, perhaps they can persuade the grassroots to elevate its importance. They might start demonstrating this by voting Republican.

    This an excellent post, SoS, focusing on information of which I wasn’t aware. I just want to be sure I understand your last paragraph: it sounds like you’re saying that truly non-partisan is that they don’t worry about who works on legislation–they just lobby to get it through. When you say they might be able to persuade the grassroots, you’re referring to the membership outside of their leadership? And who are you calling on to vote Republican? I look forward to learning if I understand your points–thanks!

    • #1
  2. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Susan Quinn: I just want to be sure I understand your last paragraph: it sounds like you’re saying that truly non-partisan is that they don’t worry about who works on legislation–they just lobby to get it through.

    Yes

    When you say they might be able to persuade the grassroots, you’re referring to the membership outside of their leadership?

    Yes. And maybe people who don’t care might also be persuaded to care marginally.

    And who are you calling on to vote Republican?

    The leaders, primarily. Really anyone who claims to be pro-Israel. Until such time as both parties, once again, support Israel in deed.

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Son of Spengler:

    Susan Quinn: I just want to be sure I understand your last paragraph: it sounds like you’re saying that truly non-partisan is that they don’t worry about who works on legislation–they just lobby to get it through.

    Yes

    When you say they might be able to persuade the grassroots, you’re referring to the membership outside of their leadership?

    Yes. And maybe people who don’t care might also be persuaded to care marginally.

    And who are you calling on to vote Republican?

    The leaders, primarily. Really anyone who claims to be pro-Israel. Until such time as both parties, once again, support Israel in deed.

    Thanks! I think the requirement for Dems and Republicans to both sign on to a bill makes no sense. Who cares? What’s important is that the bill gets through, and just because a bill has a sponsor from one party another does not ensure its passing.

    Do you have some thoughts on how to make it more grassroots? Is it a question of marketing? And it sounds like AIPAC has to recruit more Republicans for their leadership; trying to get the current leadership to vote Republican (if they’re not) will probably not.

    • #3
  4. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Son of Spengler:

    The leaders, primarily. Really anyone who claims to be pro-Israel. Until such time as both parties, once again, support Israel in deed.

    For people at the AIPAC leadership level, redirecting the fundraisers and the thousands of  folding green votes will speak louder than one (R) vote.

    • #4
  5. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Son,

    Beyond the fact that AIPAC’s leadership is disproportionately Democratic, there is reasonable thinking behind this approach.

    This would be a reasonable approach if the attitude of the two parties towards Israel was the same as in 1965. The massive and radical changes in attitude of the last 50 years have made this approach irrelevant as it has made the leadership’s personal preferences hopelessly counterproductive.

    In 2016, on any given day about 90% of the Republican Party will take a reliable solid position on Israel. About 50% of the Democratic Party will take an anti-Israel position. The other 50% of the Democratic Party, fearful of a Party split, will equivocate its position on Israel.

    The leadership goes through the most elaborate contortions to make themselves appear to be actively pro-Israel. The reality is that often the net effect is a policy that is worse than just neutrality. Schumer’s supposed resistance to the Iran Deal was a sham. They had counted votes and knew they could do it without him. He made no active attempt to convince anyone else in the Party to follow. What he did was create a phony narrative of a principled stand among Jewish Democrats against Obama’s anti-Israel politics. If Schumer had real principle he would have split the Democrats in the Senate over the Iran Deal.

    AIPAC in the end knew the fix was in and sucked people into a worthless enterprise. I went to a big synagogue meeting where two strong Democrat congressmen made intense anti-Deal statements and appeared to be criticizing the administration severely. Unfortunately, the press was not invited!!! If you wanted to put heat on this issue and you were really sincere in your effort to stop the Deal you would certainly have brought the press in.

    The Jewish community itself must come to terms with its bias which is now damaging Israel rather than helping Israel. If you want to put effort into something that has a real effect support the ZOA. (Zionist Organization of America). They aren’t afraid to push right through the left and take a principled position.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #5
  6. Danny Alexander Member
    Danny Alexander
    @DannyAlexander

    Excellent post!

    Don’t have links readily to hand, but various pieces by Lee Smith (e.g., at Mosaic Magazine, at Tablet Magazine, etc.) indicate with plausibility that Bibi has considered AIPAC to be a neutered player for some time now.

    • #6
  7. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    Interesting.  I think it’s more than just a difference in passion, though that might be the case too.  I think the main difference I see between the NRA and AIPAC would be the numbers that will vote along a single issue line.  NRA members are in every demographic and reach of life; AIPAC’s are limited to a constituency.  That’s the real power of the NRA.  Money is powerful, but the fact that the NRA can mobilize millions of voters on a single issue is extraordinarily powerful.  AIPAC may be able to provide money as an incentive, but I don’t think they can mobilize the vote count.  Heck, so many Jews are Liberal and vote counter to Israel’s interest.

    • #7
  8. Pencilvania Inactive
    Pencilvania
    @Pencilvania

    Very informative.  The Democrats’ deceit on matters of Israel is disgraceful. And the polarization of our two parties will continue to disrupt bipartisan groups. I’m sure the Ds are wracking their brains trying to figure out how to drive a wedge into the NRA.

    • #8
  9. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    … perhaps they can persuade the grassroots to elevate its importance. They might start demonstrating this by voting Republican.

    Yes.

    • #9
  10. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Manny:Interesting. I think it’s more than just a difference in passion, though that might be the case too. I think the main difference I see between the NRA and AIPAC would be the numbers that will vote along a single issue line. NRA members are in every demographic and reach of life; AIPAC’s are limited to a constituency. That’s the real power of the NRA. Money is powerful, but the fact that the NRA can mobilize millions of voters on a single issue is extraordinarily powerful. AIPAC may be able to provide money as an incentive, but I don’t think they can mobilize the vote count. Heck, so many Jews are Liberal and vote counter to Israel’s interest.

    AIPAC may never have as broad a demographic support as the NRA, but they  might want to work more with their evangelical supporters.  Trouble is, their largely liberal American Jewish base seems to be quite squeamish about this, or am I reading this wrong?

    • #10
  11. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Support for Israel must be maintained by Congress faithfully. Israel has been a dependable ally, and we should return that.

    • #11
  12. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    I don’t think AIPAC can adopt the same methods and tactics as the NRA. They have a different set of circumstances. And their objective is much more complex. The key point mentioned is that they’ve been exposed as a toothless Tiger because of Obama’s reckless Iran deal. Work on fixing that. Though I kind of doubt it can be done. The Democrats have been under cutting Israel for 30 years and there have been essentially no consequences. Why would the Democrats believe a threat now?

    • #12
  13. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    James Gawron: The Jewish community itself must come to terms with its bias which is now damaging Israel rather than helping Israel. If you want to put effort into something that has a real effect support the ZOA. (Zionist Organization of America). They aren’t afraid to push right through the left and take a principled position.

    Thank you SoS for explaining this. I dropped AIPAC some time ago as I felt they were not as pro Israel as they claimed. I recently joined the ZOA.

    • #13
  14. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Sandy (#10), AIPAC is pretty good about engaging and valuing its non-Jewish members and supporters. AIPAC’s most active and vocal contingent is Jewish, as you’d expect, but it is adamant that it is an “Israel Lobby” rather than a “Jewish Lobby” and makes a real effort to live up to that self-description.

    • #14
  15. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Also, it’s worth noting that a big part of the problem is that as liberal American Jews have become less and less connected to their Jewish heritage, they have also become less supportive of Israel. The Jewish community is not as cohesive as it once was.

    • #15
  16. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Son of Spengler:Sandy (#10), AIPAC is pretty good about engaging and valuing its non-Jewish members and supporters. AIPAC’s most active and vocal contingent is Jewish, as you’d expect, but it is adamant that it is an “Israel Lobby” rather than a “Jewish Lobby” and makes a real effort to live up to that self-description.

    I am glad to hear it. I’ve no doubt AIPAC understands very well what it is up against.  It strikes me that their problem lies more with liberal American Jews than with their non-Jewish supporters. My sense is that support for Israel by American Jews has seriously waned, and that for a number of reasons, support of Israel by Christians is an uncomfortable embarrassment. I can imagine that this could make AIPAC’s work with Christian supporters more difficult. I hope I am wrong.

    • #16
  17. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    A link that may be of interest:

    http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-03-02/among-the-shnooks-and-machers-at-aipac

    • #17
  18. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Macher is a great word to have imported into English. You folks should feel honored!

    • #18
  19. Freesmith Inactive
    Freesmith
    @Freesmith

    AIPAC is in a tough spot because it’s current political strategy is reaching its sell-by date and they haven’t come up with a new one yet.

    The current approach has been to pour money into Democratic candidates to buy their support for Israel while sweet-talking conservative Republicans with words to get their votes.

    But the Democrats are now the party of the rising tide of color and have fallen further under the sway of anti-white, anti-Western ideologies. American Jews, traditional outsiders, find themselves inexorably pushed into the white, Western camp in spite of their long self-identification as its critics and radicals. Among wealthy Jews, especially among the younger ones more attuned to left-wing thinking, supporting candidates who support a white Western capitalistic redoubt in the heart of the Arab world is so problematic as to create cognitive dissonance. Time can only exacerbate it.

    When this trend first appeared in the Democrats some thought leaders acted the part. Neocons, first alienated from blacks by urban crime and the school wars of the late ’60s and early ’70s (see the UFT and Ocean Hill-Brownsville, 1968) now added foreign policy to their platform and joined the Reagan Republicans. America became a “proposition nation” and devotion to abstract principles and universal laws replaced devotion to a specific people and its history. Support for Israel became almost unanimous on the Right, no matter which party ruled in the Jewish state.

    That unanimity is ending now. The results of Bush neocon policies have not only driven the Democrats left, they have sent the Right back to a less globalist, more nationalist attitude in foreign affairs. And no one in the media has been more upset at this normal, natural turn of events than certain commentators: Krauthammer, Stephens, Podhoretz, Goldberg, Charen, Harsanyi, Kristol, etc.

    Which is because if the money is getting harder to come by from the anti-white Left at the same time the votes are fading from the Right due to the breakup of the neocon alliance of convenience with folks they actually see as uneducated yahoos and fundamentalists, AIPAC has got a big problem.

    The NRA option isn’t there: the large passionate base of single-issue support does not exist. AIPAC needs a Plan B – but I don’t know what it is going to be, especially not in a USA that, with insane Jewish support, keeps importing anti-Semitic voters into the country.

    • #19
  20. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Freesmith, with the exception of one point, your analysis seems quite right to me. I do not agree that the neocons have looked upon their Christian partners as yahoos. I haven’t seen that either in personal interaction or in print. On the contrary.

    • #20
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