by Masha Shapiro on August 4, 2014
|Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference (AIPAC) this past March. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)|
At a time when nearly everything is grounds for noisy partisan rancor, the reason behind this unusual silence and cooperation is perhaps because Congress is generally in agreement over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And, while public opinion tends to lie in favor of Israel, it is proportionally more divided than Congress.
What could lead this divisive Congress to concur on such a publicly contentious issue?
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an organization primarily interested in promoting a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship, spends millions of dollars each year lobbying Congress. AIPAC has invested $1,523,395 on lobbying so far in 2014, $991,000 of that in the second quarter. In 2014 spending, it is ranked 190 out of 9,600 total lobby groups. AIPAC's lobbying reached record heights in 2013 – almost $3 million dollars. Although none of the bills AIPAC has lobbied on directly relate to Palestine, many relate to creating stronger ties to Israel. H.R. 938, United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, is one example of a bill lobbied on by AIPAC and seven other lobby groups. It is sponsored by Rep. Ilean Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and co-sponsored by a combination of Democrats and Republicans.
AIPAC does not contribute directly to candidates, PACs or candidate committees.
AIPAC isn't the only lobbying group that invests heavily in lobbying in support for Israel, but most other organizations fall far behind in lobby spending. J Street has reached $200,000 in lobbying expenses so far this year, while the Zionist Organization of America has spent about $100,000. And although J Street has released statements expressing their moderate stance on the issue, the group is still largely a pro-Israel organization. J Street is also one of two organizations that lobbied on H.Res 365, "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives commending efforts by the United States to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a negotiated two-state solution."
The JStreetPAC, J Street's political action committee, has contributed $814,616 to candidates and parties so far in the 2014 cycle, with 97 percent of its contributions going to Democrats.
Among pro-Israel groups, the second highest political contributor is NorPAC, a non-partisan organization with the goal of fostering stronger relations between Israel and the United States. It has contributed $571,856, with about half going to members of each party.
The top recipients of contributions from pro-Israel groups are evenly distributed on party lines. In the House, former House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has received $198,135 so far this cycle and close behind him is Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) with $191,153. Senators, though, top the charts in donations from pro-Israel groups. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has received $322,000, while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) $250,000, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) $229,000 and Mark Udall (D-Co.) $204,000. The non-partisan lines on which pro-Israel groups contribute are almost unparalleled by any other sector.
Although lobbying and contributions from pro-Israel groups are a significant factor in Congress's general agreement on Israel, there are other contributors to the opinions of House and Senate members. First, United States and Israel are historic allies. Israel receives an average of $3.1 billion dollars from the United States each year. Additionally, there are big players, such as Sheldon Adelson, that rally heavily in support of Israel. Adelson and his wife have already contributed $351,000 to parties, PACs and candidates so far this cycle. The couple's charitable trust, the Adelson Family Foundation, also contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to Jewish and Israeli causes.
When it comes to contributions and lobbying expenses from the pro-Palestine community, there isn't much to speak of. Pro-Arab PACs such as the Arab American Leadership PAC and the Arab American PAC have contributed some over the past few cycles, but their numbers pale in comparison to those of pro-Israel groups. The two have given just $3,500 this election cycle — a serious decline from early in the 2000s, when they regularly gave tens of thousands of dollars.