Bard describes the motivation underlying the informal lobby as follows:
"American Jews recognize the importance of support for Israel because of the dire consequences that could follow from the alternative. Despite the fact that Israel is often referred to now as the fourth most powerful country in the world, the perceived threat to Israel is not military defeat, it is annihilation. At the same time, American Jews are frightened of what might happen in the United States if they do not have political power."
A nationwide network of local political action committees—generally named after the region their donors come from—supplies much of the pro-Israel money in American politics. Additional funds also come from individuals who bundle contributions to candidates favored by the PACs. The donors' unified goal is to build stronger U.S.-Israel relations and to support Israel in its ongoing negotiations (and armed conflicts) with its Arab neighbors.There are, according to Bard, two key formal lobbying groups:
These two key groups aim to present policy makers with unified and representative messages via the aggregation and filtering of the diversity of opinions held by smaller pro-Israel lobby groups and the American Jewish community at large. The diverse spectrum of opinions held by American Jewry is reflected in the many formal pro-Israel groups, and as such some analysts make a distinction within the Israel lobby between right-leaning and left-leaning groups.
US Foreign Policy scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt define the core of the lobby as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Anti-Defamation League and Christians United for Israel. Other key organizations which they state work to benefit Israel, in many cases by influencing US foreign policy, include the American Jewish Congress, Zionist Organization of America, the Israel Policy Forum, the American Jewish Committee, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Americans for a Safe Israel, American Friends of Likud, Mercaz-USA, and Hadassah. Chaim Waxman in 1992 in the American Jewish Yearbook listed more that 80 Jewish organisations specifically devoted to Zionist and pro-Israel activities. Fifty one of the largest and most important come together in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, whose self described mission includes “forging diverse groups into a unified force for Israel’s well-being” and working to “strengthen and foster the special US-Israel relationship”
They state that the tone of the right-leaning component of the Israel lobby results from the influence of the leaders of the two top lobby groups: AIPAC, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. They go on to list, as right-leaning think tanks associated with the lobby, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Hudson Institute. They also state that the media watchdog group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America is part of the right-wing component of the lobby.
In his book, The Case for Peace, Alan Dershowitz argues that the most right-leaning pro-Israel groups in the United States are not Jews at all, but in fact, they are Evangelical Christians. Dershowitz cites " Stand for Israel, an organization devoted to mobilizing Evangelical Christian support for Israel" co-founded by "[f]ormer Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed." Although the rhetoric of most groups like Stand for Israel is as pragmatic as their Jewish-based counterparts, some individuals have based their support on specific biblical passages, thus they have been vulnerable to criticism from Israelis and American Jews for having "ulterior motives" such as the fulfillment of "prerequisite to the Second Coming" or having "better access for proselytizing among Jews." Madeleine Albright has expressed similar views (see below).
Stephen Zunes, in a response to Mearsheimer and Walt, lists "Americans for Peace Now, the Tikkun Community, Brit Tzedek v' Shalom, and the Israel Policy Forum" as "pro-Israel" organizations that, unlike the right-leaning organizations focused on by Mearsheimer and Walt, are opposed to "the occupation, the settlements, the separation wall, and Washington's unconditional support for Israeli policies." These organizations, however, are not PACs and therefore are prohibited by campaign finance regulations from financially supporting political campaigns of candidates for federal office.
"Most important fact about the Jewish vote in America", according to Jeffrey S. Helmreich of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, "lies in the fact that it is a uniquely swayable bloc. [...] The issue of support for Israel [by a candidate] has proven capable of spurring a sizable portion of Jews to switch parties—in large enough numbers to tip the scales in national or statewide elections.
According to Bard, objective quantification that the impact of campaign contributions have on "legislative outcomes, particularly with regard to Israel-related issues" is difficult. This is because raw analysis of contributions statistics do not take into account "non-monetary factors" and whether or not "a candidate is pro-Israel because of receiving a contribution, or receives a donation as a result of taking a position in support of Israel."Targeting
AIPAC does not give donations directly to candidates, but those who donate to AIPAC are often important political contributors in their own right. In addition, AIPAC helps connect donors with candidates, especially to the network of pro-Israel political action committees. AIPAC president Howard Friedman says “AIPAC meets with every candidate running for Congress. These candidates receive in-depth briefings to help them completely understand the complexities of Israel’s predicament and that of the Middle East as a whole. We even ask each candidate to author a ‘position paper’ on their views of the US-Israel relationship – so it’s clear where they stand on the subject.” Center for Responsive Politics’ Steven Weiss said, “If you are a candidate and you get the pro-Israel label from AIPAC, the money will start coming from contributors all over the country.”
This process has become more targeted over time according to Bard, "In the past, Jewish contributions were less structured and targeted than other interest groups, but this has changed dramatically as Israel-related political action committees (PACs) have proliferated."
Among politicians considered unfriendly to Israel who AIPAC has helped defeat include Cynthia McKinney, Paul Findley, Earl Hillard, Pete McCloskey, Senators William Fulbright and Roger Jepson, and Adlai Stevenson in his campaign for governor of Illinois in 1982. The defeat of Charles H. Percy, Senator for Illinois until 1985, has been attributed to AIPAC-co-ordinated donations to his opponent after he supported the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia. Donations included $1.1 million on anti-Percy advertising by Michael Goland, who was also a major contributor to AIPAC. Former executive director of AIPAC, Tom Dine, was quoted as saying, "All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy. And the American politicians - those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire - got the message".Financial figures Bard points to a summary of pro-Israel campaign donations for the period of 1990 - 2004 collected by Center for Responsive Politics. The Washington Post summarized the data and concluded that "Pro-Israel interests have contributed $56.8 million in individual, group and soft money donations to federal candidates and party committees since 1990. In contrast, Arab-Americans and Muslim PACs contributed slightly less than $800,000 during the same period.
JJ Goldberg wrote in his 1994 book Jewish Power that 45% of the Democratic Party’s fundraising and 25% of that for the Republican Party came from Jewish-funded Political Action Committees. Richard Cohen, a columnist for the Washington Post, updated those figures in 2006 citing figures of 60% and 35% respectively for the Democratic and Republican Parties. According to the Washington Post, Democratic presidential candidates depend on Jewish sources for 60% of money from private sources.
"taking them to Israel on study missions. Once officials have direct exposure to the country, its leaders, geography, and security dilemmas, they typically return more sympathetic to Israel. Politicians also sometimes travel to Israel specifically to demonstrate to the lobby their interest in Israel. Thus, for example, George W. Bush made his one and only trip to Israel before deciding to run for President in what was widely viewed as an effort to win pro-Israel voters' support."
The right-leaning component of the Israel lobby, according to Mearsheimer and Walt, finds support from "prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay [...] all of whom believe Israel's rebirth is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, would be contrary to God's will."
Madeleine Albright similarly noted a "linkage between the Christian evangelicals and a lot of part of the Jewish lobby, if you want to call it that, because the Christian evangelicals in reading the Bible believe that Israel has to be—the people of Israel have to be free so that the Messiah can come back."
Mearsheimer and Walt state that “pro-Israel figures have established a commanding presence at the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. These think tanks are all decidedly pro-Israel and include few, if any, critics of US support for the Jewish state.”
In 2002, the Brookings Institution founded the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, named after Haim Saban, an Israeli-American media proprietor, who donated $13 million toward its establishment. Saban has stated of himself, “I’m a one issue guy, and my issue is Israel”, and was described by the New York Times as a “tireless cheerleader for Israel.”The Centre is directed by AIPAC’s former deputy director of research, Martin Indyk.
Frontline, an Indian current affairs magazine, asked rhetorically why the administration of George W Bush that seemed "so eager to please [Bush's] Gulf allies, particularly the Saudis, go out of its way to take the side of Ariel Sharon's Israel? Two public policy organizations give us a sense of an answer: the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)."
Frontline reported that "WINEP tended to toe the line of whatever party came to power in Israel" while "JINSA was the U.S. offshoot of the right-wing Likud Party." According to Frontline, JINSA had close ties to the administration of George W Bush in that it "draws from the most conservative hawks in the U.S. establishment for its board of directors" including Vice-President Richard Cheney, and Bush administration appointees John Bolton, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Armitage, and Elliott Abrams.
Jason Vest, writing in the The Nation, alleges that both the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and the Center for Security Policy thinktanks are "underwritten by far-right American Zionists" and that they both "effectively hold there is no difference between US and Israeli national security interests, and that the only way to assure continued safety and prosperity for both countries is through hegemony in the Middle East -- a hegemony achieved with the traditional cold war recipe of feints, force, clientism and covert action."
According to CUNY professor of journalism, Eric Alterman, debate among Middle East pundits, “is dominated by people who cannot imagine criticising Israel”. In 2002, he listed 56 columnists and commentators who can be counted on to support Israel reflexively and without qualification.” Alterman only identified five pundits who consistently criticise Israeli behaviour or endorse pro-Arab positions. Journalists described as pro-Israel by Mearsheimer and Walt include: the New York Times’ William Safire, A.M. Rosenthal, David Brooks, and Thomas Friedman (although they say that the latter is sometimes critical of areas of Israel policy); the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland, Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer and George Will; and the Los Angeles Times’ Max Boot, Jonah Goldberg and Jonathan Chait.
Journalist Michael Massing writes that "Jewish organizations are quick to detect bias in the coverage of the Middle East, and quick to complain about it. That's especially true of late. As The Forward observed in late April , 'rooting out perceived anti-Israel bias in the media has become for many American Jews the most direct and emotional outlet for connecting with the conflict 6,000 miles away.'"
The Forward relates how one individual feels:
"'There's a great frustration that American Jews want to do something,' said Ira Youdovin, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis. 'In 1947, some number would have enlisted in the Haganah,' he said, referring to the pre-state Jewish armed force. 'There was a special American brigade. Nowadays you can't do that. The battle here is the hasbarah war,' Youdovin said, using a Hebrew term for public relations. 'We're winning, but we're very much concerned about the bad stuff.'"
Indicative of the diversity of opinion is a 2003 Boston Globe profile of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America media watchdog group in which Mark Jurkowitz observes: "To its supporters, CAMERA is figuratively - and perhaps literally - doing God's work, battling insidious anti-Israeli bias in the media. But its detractors see CAMERA as a myopic and vindictive special interest group trying to muscle its views into media coverage.
Former spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York said that the result of this lobbying of the media was: “Of course, a lot of self-censorship goes on. Journalists, editors, and politicians are going to think twice about criticising Israel if they know they are going to get thousands of angry calls in a matter of hours. The Jewish lobby is good at orchestrating pressure.”
However, there are some who feel that pro-Israel activism on college campuses can cross the line from advocacy to outright intimidation. One highly publicized accusation comes from former President Jimmy Carter, who complained of great difficulty in gaining access to a number of universities to discuss his new book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. In October 2007 about 300 academics under the name The Ad Hoc Committee to Defend the University issued a statement calling for academic freedom from political pressure, in particular from groups portraying themselves as defenders of Israel. In December 2007, the New York Sun reported that student leaders who advocate pro-Israel films and groups on college campuses are eligible for being hired as "emissaries of the Jewish state" for their work and will receive up to $1000 a year for their efforts:
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, former chair of the Conference of Presidents, told an Israeli magazine in 1976, “The Presidents’ Conference and its members have been instruments of official governmental Israeli policy. It was seen as our task to receive directions from government circles and to do our best no matter what to affect the Jewish community.” Hymen Bookbinder, a high ranking official of the American Jewish Committee, said “Unless something is terribly pressing, really critical or fundamental, you parrot Israel’s line in order to retain American support. As American Jews, we don’t go around saying Israel is wrong about its policies.”
Bard writes that "by framing the issues in terms of the national interest, AIPAC can attract broader support than would ever be possible if it was perceived to represent only the interests of Israel. This does not mean AIPAC does not have a close relationship with Israeli officials, it does, albeit unofficially. Even so, the lobby some times comes into conflict with the Israeli government."
Mearsheimer and Walt make the more blunt statement that "American Jewish leaders often consult with Israeli officials, so that the former can maximize their influence in the United States."
"given that Israel is the world's only Jewish state and that some criticism of Israel really is rooted in anti-Semitism, organized attacks against those opposing Israeli policies tend to carry more resonance since they involve alleged manifestations of prejudice against a minority group. If a Jewish state were not the focus, many liberals would dismiss such attacks as passé McCarthyism and would not take them seriously."Zunes argues that the mainstream and conservative Jewish organizations have "created a climate of intimidation against many who speak out for peace and human rights or who support the Palestinians' right of self-determination."
Zunes has been on the receiving end of this criticism himself "As a result of my opposition to US support for the Israeli government's policies of occupation, colonization and repression, I have been deliberately misquoted, subjected to slander and libel, and falsely accused of being "anti-Semitic" and "supporting terrorism"; my children have been harassed and my university's administration has been bombarded with calls for my dismissal."
Jimmy Carter wrote:
"The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices. [...] What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land.
Jewish-American billionaire George Soros pointed out that there are risks associated with what was in his opinion a suppression of debate:
"I do not subscribe to the myths propagated by enemies of Israel and I am not blaming Jews for anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism predates the birth of Israel. Neither Israel's policies nor the critics of those policies should be held responsible for anti-Semitism. At the same time, I do believe that attitudes toward Israel are influenced by Israel's policies, and attitudes toward the Jewish community are influenced by the pro-Israel lobby's success in suppressing divergent views.
Tony Judt, writing in the New York Times, asks rhetorically "[does] the Israel Lobby affect our foreign policy choices? Of course — that is one of its goals. [...] But does pressure to support Israel distort American decisions? That's a matter of judgment."
"never in the time that I led the American negotiations on the Middle East peace process did we take a step because 'the lobby' wanted us to. Nor did we shy away from one because 'the lobby' opposed it. That is not to say that AIPAC and others have no influence. They do. But they don't distort U.S. policy or undermine American interests."
Mitchell Bard has conducted a study which attempts to roughly quantify the influence of the Israel lobby on 782 policy decisions, over the period of 1945 to 1984, in order to move the debate on its influence away from simple anecdotes. He
"found the Israeli lobby won; that is, achieved its policy objective, 60 percent of the time. The most important variable was the president's position. When the president supported the lobby, it won 95 percent of the time. At first glance it appears the lobby was only successful because its objectives coincided with those of the president, but the lobby's influence was demonstrated by the fact that it still won 27 percent of the cases when the president opposed its position."
According to a public opinion poll by Zogby International of 1,036 likely voters from October 10-12, 2006, 40% of American voters at least somewhat believe the Israel lobby has been a key factor in going to war in Iraq. The following poll question was used: "Question: Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that the work of the Israel lobby on Congress and the Bush administration has been a key factor for going to war in Iraq and now confronting Iran?"
Michael Lind produced a cover piece on the Israel lobby for the UK publication Prospect in 2002 which concluded "The truth about America’s Israel lobby is this: it is not all-powerful, but it is still far too powerful for the good of the U.S. and its alliances in the Middle East and elsewhere.".
In 2006 former UN weapons inspector in Iraq Scott Ritter published Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change (ISBN 1-56025-936-1). In his book Ritter statess that certain Israelis and pro-Israel elements in the United States are trying to push the Bush administration into war with Iran. He also accuses the U.S. pro-Israel lobby of dual loyalty and outright espionage (see Lawrence Franklin espionage scandal) .
In a 2008 editorial, Israeli-American historian and author Michael B. Oren wrote that Israel and the United States are natural allies, despite what the opposition from "much of American academia and influential segments of the media." This is because Israel and the United States share similar values such as "respect for civic rights and the rule of law" and democracy. Israel and the United States share military intelligence in order to fight terrorism. Oren also notes that "more than 70% of [Americans], according to recent polls, favor robust ties with the Jewish state.
Thomas B. Edsall and Molly Moore reported in the Washington Post that some Israeli politicians regard AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel lobby organization, as "representing the more hawkish factions within the Israeli government." Edsall and Moore go on to quote Yossi Beilin, Israeli Minister of Justice under Ehud Barak and member of the Meretz party, who complains that AIPAC has "their own agenda [...] They contradicted our [center-left Labor] government. When there was a unity government, they would say, 'But you only represent Labor,' even if I was representing the prime minister."
On The Diane Rehm Show (December 11, 2006), Middle East experts Hisham Melhem and Dennis Ross, when asked about the pervasive Israeli influence on American foreign policy in the Middle East mentioned in former President Jimmy Carter's 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid said: [H. Melhem] "When it comes to Israel [discussing Israeli and/or Jewish American issues], it is still almost a taboo in certain parts, not everywhere...there are certain things that cannot be said about the Israeli government or America's relationship with Israel or about the Israeli lobby. Yes there is, excuse me, there is an Israeli lobby, but when we say an Israeli lobby we are not talking about a Jewish cabal. The Israeli lobby operates the way the NRA operates, a system of rewards and punishment, you help your friends by money, by advocacy and everything, and sometimes they pool money in to the campaigns of those people that they see as friendly to Israel. This is the American game" The interview continued on in which the Dennis Ross responded. (radio interview: ≈16:30-20:05)
Some of these are: Professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Professor James Petras's The Power of Israel in the United States, Former Representative/Congressman Paul Findley's They Dare to Speak Out, Professor Kevin B. MacDonald's Understanding Jewish Influence and The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements and Professor Norman G. Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry and Beyond Chutzpah, Jonah Jacob Goldbergs Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment, Former US President Jimmy Carter's Palestine Peace Not Apartheid and Commentary on Palestine Peace Not Apartheid and Professor Tony Judt's A Lobby, Not a Conspiracy
As well as books published by notable academics, influential government officials have also commented on the Israel Lobby's influence. For example, British Labour MP and House of Commons representative, Sir Tam Dalyell and American Representative and Congressman James P. Moran
Eric Alterman writes in The Nation, that "while it's fair to call AIPAC obnoxious and even anti-democratic, the same can often be said about, say, the NRA, Big Pharma and other powerful lobbies. Zbigniew Brzezinski agreed stating that "[t]he participation of ethnic or foreign supported lobbies in the American policy process is nothing new." Brzezinski ranks the three most effective ethnic lobbies in the United States as the Israeli American Lobby, the Cuban American lobby and the Armenian American lobby.
Zunes describes that some groups who lobby against current U.S. policy on Israel "have accepted funding from autocratic Arab regimes, thereby damaging their credibility" while others have "taken hard-line positions that not only oppose the Israeli occupation but challenge Israel's very right to exist and are therefore not taken seriously by most policymakers." Zunes writes that many lobbying groups on the left, such as Peace Action, are "more prone to complain about the power of the Israel lobby and its affiliated PACs than to do serious lobbying on this issue or condition its own PAC contributions on support for a more moderate U.S. policy" in the region.