THE ISRAEL LOBBY AND AMERICAN POLICY
Grant F. Smith
Dale Sprusansky: Grant Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy–again, the co-sponsor of today’s event. He’s the author of the 2016 book Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby Moves America, which covers the history, functions, and activities of Israel affinity organizations in America. Grant has written two unofficial histories of AIPAC, and many other books.
His organization is constantly working on Freedom of Information Act requests and uncovering important documents, especially on Israel’s nuclear program. I can tell you that few, if any, people work harder on this issue than Grant. Between his frequent research, appearance in FOIA court, his writing, his polling and his 5:00 a.m. e-mails, Grant is truly a one-man machine. Today he will be sharing polling data on U.S. aid to Israel conducted by his organization and byother pollsters.
Grant Smith: Thank you, Dale. Public opinion polling is very important, obviously, but there isn’t very much done in terms of asking about what the public thinks about core Israel lobby programs. But that’s going to change today. The polling that we are about to look at could and should provide input to elected officials, who should then, in turn, act in the public interest. Polling about the Israel lobby programs that we’re going to look at reveals the growing gap between what the public thinks about particular issues, and the government actions being demanded by the Israel lobby.
Last year, I spoke here about the birth of the Israel lobby in the United States, its growth, its size, its composition and division of labor. This was all based on my book Big Israel, in which I reveal a $3.7 billion nonprofit ecosystem on track to reach $6.3 billion by 2020. With 14,000 employees, 350,000 volunteers, but a paying membership of approximately 774,000, it is this nonprofit lobby, along with overlapping campaign-finance infrastructure–whether it is large individual donors, stealth political action committees–that provide Israel with the U.S. support that it would otherwise not have. All of this will be on a brilliant display when 15,000 AIPAC members assemble this weekend to begin their annual policy conference. So let’s continue looking at the lobby, and what Americans think of that program.
The following surveys I’m about to show you are Google Consumer Research Surveys, probably the single most accurate polling tool available in America today. The famous Nate Silver said, “Perhaps it won’t be long before Google and not Gallup is the most trusted name in polling.”
So let’s take a look at what Americans think about Israel’s single most important program, which is obtaining unconditional U.S. foreign aid, including advanced American weaponry, cash for Israel’s export-oriented military industry, packaged into 10-year memorandums of understanding, or MOUs. These 10-year MOUs we’re going to look at require keeping the entire issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons program off the table.
The U.S. has provided $254 billion in known foreign aid to Israel, more than any other country. Now there has been a recent attempt by scholars, such as Prof. Hillel Frisch, to try to move the goalpost and claim that Japan, Germany, and South Korea are in fact bigger recipients. However, this argument is wrong. Japan, Germany, and South Korea are in a different category–that of treaty-bound allies. The military alliance expenditures, with contributions by both sides, have mutual obligations which make them not usefully comparable to U.S. aid with Israel, which has no obligations.
When informed of its relative size, 60 percent of Americans believe that U.S. foreign aid to Israel is either much too much or too much. And this finding is also reflected in polls by Shibley Telhami and some Gallup polls. This has been consistent over time. Recent years–2014, 2015, 2016–showed similar levels of responses. Americans responding to this poll have been informed that aid has been around 9 percent of the total foreign aid budget, but this question will have to change in the future, as Dale has mentioned, since the Trump administration proposes cutting the State Department budget, while leaving aid to Israel untouched. So we should ask ourselves when that happens, what will it be–10, 20, 30 percent? We don’t know yet.
The Sept. 14 Memorandum of Understanding, the U.S. guaranteed in this MOU security assistance over 10 years. There are no Israeli obligations, and up to 28 percent could be spent on Israel’s own export-oriented industries. This is the latest in a series of 10-year commitments, and the public has been told that this will guarantee Israel’s qualitative military edge.
When we polled this right after the MOU signing, the public responded–60 percent of them–that they had higher priorities. When questioned if the $38 billion was a good investment, 60 percent said health care for U.S. veterans, education, and paying down the national debt would be far better expenditures. Only 17 percent thought it should be spent on Israel.
When Congress passes aid to Israel and presents them to the president in bills to be signed, both rely on a subterfuge that the U.S. does not, and indeed cannot, know whether Israel has nuclear weapons. However, under the Arms Export Control Act, procedures must be followed whenever the U.S. provides foreign aid to known nuclear powers that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In 2012, under increasing pressure–including from a journalist who’s here today and Helen Thomas, who’s not with us–the Obama administration passed a gag order that punishes any federal employee or contractor who speaks out about what most people already know, which is that Israel has nuclear weapons.
So in a public opinion survey, first of its kind, most Americans would prefer an honest discussion about Israel’s nuclear weapons. Fifty-two percent said Congress should take nukes under consideration. Officially Congress has said it does not take a position on this matter. But under pressure from reporters–a handful–and legal action to block U.S. aid over its nuclear weapons program, and dogged reporting, this could change.
[START OF VIDEO CLIP]
Sam Husseini: Do you acknowledge that Israel has nuclear weapons, sir?
Sen. Chuck Schumer: I’m not–you can go read the newspapers about that.
Sam Husseini: You can’t acknowledge that Israel has nuclear weapons, sir?
Chuck Schumer: It is a well-known fact that Israel has nuclear weapons, but the Israeli government doesn’t officially talk about what kinds of weapons and where, et cetera.
Sam Husseini: Could the U.S. government be forthright?
Chuck Schumer: Okay. That’s it.
[END OF VIDEO CLIP]
Grant Smith: That was Sam Husseini, who is here with us today. In 1985 Israel and its lobby were the primary force behind providing preferential U.S. market access to Israeli exporters. This was later rebranded as America’s first free trade agreement. Because U.S. industry and labor groups were unanimously opposed to it, an Israeli Embassy operative covertly obtained and passed a 300-page classified report compiled from proprietary industry data from the ITC to help AIPAC overcome opposition. This was investigated as a counterespionage matter by the FBI.
And, as could probably be expected from such a process, it replaced a balanced tradingrelationship with a chronic U.S. deficit to [Israel].
In fact, on an inflation- adjusted basis, the U.S.-lsrael Free Trade Agreement is the worst bilateral free trade deal ever, with a cumulative deficit of $144 billion.
In this era of popular disapproval of trade deals–whether it’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative or the North American Free Trade Agreements–when informed of the Israel free trade deal, 63 percent of Americans would either renegotiate or cancel it altogether.
Another bad deal that has been a long-term Israel and lobby initiative is moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Since 1948, Israel has been attempting to persuade foreign embassies to relocate in Jerusalem, which is, under the original partition agreement, supposed to be international. But, leveraging Bob Dole’s presidential aspirations, in 1995 the Zionist Organization of America and AIPAC championed a law that was passed that defunds State Department overseas building budgets unless the U.S. Embassy is moved. U.S. presidents have refused to do it, but there are now many champions of the move in the Trump administration.
Americans are not so excited when told in a survey question, “Israel’s U.S. lobby wants the U.S. Embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No other country, in accord with the U.N. resolutions opposing such a move, has done so.” Fifty-six percent of Americans indicate the embassy should not move, while 38 percent say it should. There is a renewed push to return to a policy of no daylight between the United States and Israel. This policy, particularly championed by former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, means that the U.S. and Israel can disagree, but not openly, since that would encourage common enemies and renders Israel vulnerable. Of course, such a policy mainly benefits Israel as a bargaining chip it can put in its pocket and leverage the appearance of U.S. unconditional support in its own relations. So there is an effort underway for that. Americans, when told and asked, Israel and its U.S. lobby are the only parties making such a demand in a question–“Israel and its U.S. lobby want a no-daylight policy, the president never criticizing Israeli settlements and giving Israel billions in aid and diplomatic support at the U.N.”–most say, 56 percent say, the majority say, there should not be a no-daylight policy.
We have Maria LaHood with us today who can do a much better job talking about what Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) are–a movement to end international support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians–and the effort by the Israel lobby to pass laws blocking this, making it illegal across the country.
So I’ll only say that Israel lobby direct mail fund-raising campaigns are virtually unequivocally focused on stopping BDS as a fund-raising and major program initiative right now. It’s highly visible. It’s the number one priority.
Question: Israel & its US lobby want a no daylight” policy of the president never openly criticizing Israeli settlements, giving Israel billions in aid, & diplomatic support at the UN
But Americans are ambivalent. When asked, 60 percent neither oppose nor support such laws, with 21 percent opposing them and only 18 percent supporting them. So Americans are notbehind BDS, are not highly on board with it, and they also don’t support the entire idea of single issue lobbying on behalf of a single foreign country.
I think this is the most important survey question, because it gets to the heart of the entire mechanism by which the Israel lobby has accumulated so much influence–campaign contributions. So here it is. That system ranges from seed funding of political candidates to funding through coordinated stealth political action committees, bundled campaign contributions, and pro-Israel mega donors. Janet McMahon and two former congressmen will be talking about that, I’m sure.
Seventy-one percent of Americans do not support this system.
They are probably not aware, however, why lobbyists for Israel no longer talk about getting guns and diplomacy for Israel. They talk about maintaining the U.S. special relationship with Israel, and there is a legal reason for that. Lobbyists for Israel, including the old-timers such as Abraham Feinberg and the founder of AIPAC Isaiah Kenen, in their writings and speeches were far more forthright in the early days. They honestly stated that their goal was weapons, money, and diplomatic support, because Israel needs it. There was no talk of because America needs Israel.
AIPAC received, indirectly, foreign startup money to launch itself, and today the tight coordination with the Israeli government continues. But the PR frame, the public relations frame, has changed. Now, it’s one of preserving special interests and common values. By the 1970s, no matter what the lobby did, the Justice Department stopped pursuing questions about whether some of its actors were in fact foreign agents who should be regulated as such. And since that year, a growing number of espionage investigations of AIPAC, and even the ADL, were opened, but then quietly closed for no justifiable reasons. 1970, in fact, was the last year the Justice Department took an interest in the Israel lobby as a foreign agent. There were in-depth hearings in 1962 and 1963 pleading with the IRS to look at their tax-exempt status, but nothing happened.
However, Americans appear to support a return to that simpler time when foreign agents were compelled to comply with disclosure laws and didn’t have quite so much power over Congress and elected officials. Sixty-six percent, in fact, when asked, favor returning to regulating such activities.
Perhaps this is driven by warranted investigative journalism about coordinated Israel lobby and Israeli government officials that are still using every means possible, including covert ones, to win. That includes an attempt to overturn a very beneficial–the JCPOA–Obama administration deal with Iran which most Americans favor, but which Israel and its lobby do not favor.
So you do have good journalism that came out about surveillance of the negotiations with the Iranians, about the Israeli government offering to do whatever is necessary with individual members of Congress if they would oppose passing this deal which the entire mainstream establishment Israel lobby–AIPAC, the ADL, the AJC–were united in opposing.
So, in conclusion, solid majorities of Americans polled, when using accurate survey technology, believe that U.S. foreign aid to Israel is too much. They don’t really even approve of the meansby which they’re won, and the funds and the U.S. unilateral commitments that are made to execute. However, this is a passive majority. None of these opinions and views has recently been, with few exceptions, translated into direct action by their members of Congress. So only through active opposition, rather than passive opposition, which is clearly out there, will Americans be able to get their government back into the business of representing them. And only by clearly asking about, and polling, and surveying, and doing serious research about Israel lobby programs and what Americans think about them, will we be able to have a process that takes wing and goes viral, so to speak, in terms of engaging more Americans to get out of this passive mode and become active participants once again with their government.
So with that, I am hoping our wonderful ushers, who are here today earning some community service hours, will circulate–Adrien, and Tabatha, and Sebastian, there we have Sapphire. If you have any questions, please pass your cards to them. We’ve got a very tight schedule, so we’re trying to keep our question and answer sessions getting to the most important questions first. Thank you. Do we have any questions yet?
Question: Many US lobbyists, nonprofit organizations & individuals steer campaign contributions to incumbents & sitting members of Congress solely on the basis of support for Israel.
Question: Until 1970 the US enforced laws requiring public disclosures when Israeli government & surrogate programs sought to influence U.S. public opinion and lobby congress. US should be regulating such activities
thanks to: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. May2017, Vol.
36 Issue 3, p7-10. 4p.