We started the year with high hopes thanks to the Democrats having gained control of both Houses of Congress in the 2006 elections. It was widely expected that the new Congress would follow the voters’ mandate to prevent George W. Bush’s surge in Iraq and set a timeline for troop withdrawal from that beleaguered country. In addition, it was widely expected that legislation would be passed that would once and for all reject and prevent official U.S. policy that utilized torture and would make sure that the President did not even think about taking military action against Iran without Congressional approval.
So what happened? Did we get a timetable for withdrawing the troops from Iraq? Hardly. The reason given is that there were not enough votes in the Senate to cut off debate on the critical issues.
Did Congress pass legislation that would prohibit President Bush from using military force against Iran without first getting Congressional approval? No. In this case such language had actually been inserted into a military spending bill, but as reported by ABC news on March 13, 2007 “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other leaders agreed to remove the requirement concerning Iran after conservative Democrats as well as other lawmakers worried about its possible impact on Israel, officials said Monday.”
Did Congress take steps to once again demand that torture not be used by the U.S.? No. The issue was front and center during the Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. Chairman Leahy and others tried to get Mukasey to merely admit that yes, indeed, waterboarding is a form of torture and should be banned, but he would not. The impasse was broken when Democrats Feinstein and Schumer announced that they would vote for his confirmation in spite of his refusal on this point.
Ultimately, perhaps, the most serious offenses committed by the current Bush administration can only be resolved by impeachment of Bush or Cheney. But the same Judiciary committee which gave a pass on Mukasey’s nomination has been sitting on a resolution to impeach Cheney for over a month, with no action yet taken.
There are many other examples of failure on the part of the Democrats in both Houses. They are called weak-kneed, overly sensitive on the security issue, unable for a variety of reasons to take on the President now that they control Congress. However, there is one factor, a key indicator, that runs throughout these failures and that is the amounts of money that key Democratic Congressmen and Senators receive from the Israel Lobby. The Center for Responsive Politics, on their website www.opensecrets.org, tallies the contributions that candidates receive from what they have identified as pro-Israel PACs. Taking the Center’s list of pro-Israel PACs and adding up contributions given by those PACs to various Congressional candidates from 1979 through 2006, a remarkable fact comes through—the current Democratic leadership team in Congress has received twice as much pro- Israel PAC money as the Republicans! According to my figures, individuals serving on the current Democratic Senate leadership team have received $1,955,995 from pro-Israel PACs, whereas their Republican counterparts have received $907,585 directly from the same PACs. In the House, $469,082 has been received by the Democratic leadership team, with just $243,450 going to the Republicans. Included in these numbers are $341,037 to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, $279,206 to Majority Whip Richard Durbin, and $216,100 to Democratic Outreach Chair Jeff Bingaman. In the House Speaker Pelosi has received $84,900, Steny Hoyer $140,626, and Rahm Emanuel a smaller but significant $17,000.
These figures for the Democratic leadership team do not include the amounts from pro-Israel PACs received by Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman. The same data sources indicate that Sen. Lieberman has received $344,750 from these PACs since 1979. In 2005-2006 the same individuals who gave money to the pro-Israel PACs also contributed directly to Sen. Lieberman an additional $900,000, minimum, in helping him get reelected as an Independent after losing the Democratic primary. And it hardly needs pointing out that Lieberman, by agreeing to caucus with the Senate Democrats, has enormous leverage over issues of his choosing in that body. At the top of his agenda, of course, is U.S. Middle East policy.
Pro-Israel PAC contributions help explain other failures of the Democratically-controlled House and Senate. For example, the nine Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved Mukasey’s nomination and have so far failed to act on the proposal to impeach Cheney, received a total of $483,915 during just the period 1999 through 2006. Similarly, the eleven Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, whose responsibilities include aid to Israel, have received $610,579 from the pro-Israel PACs during the same period, 1999-2006, even though Senators Webb and Kerry received none of these funds.
Here’s my advice. In any Congressional race in which you are interested, seek answers to the following questions:
1. How much money has the incumbent received from pro-Israel PACs? The answer to this question may in most cases be found at www.opensecrets.org, at least for recent elections.
2. Has the incumbent received a free trip to Israel from the American Israel Education Foundation, a sister organization of AIPAC?
3. Does the incumbent have any staff members who are supported by or were recommended by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) or any of its affiliates?
4. Has the incumbent ever addressed the annual AIPAC conference, where recipients of pro-Israel PAC funds are expected to show obeisance?
There are those who argue that AIPAC and its affiliates are just another special interest group, so why pick on them? My answer is that if you want to understand U.S. foreign policy, especially that concerned with the Middle East, you must be aware of the influence of what John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M.Walt call the Israel Lobby. You must also be aware of how that lobby works, and the quickest way to become knowledgeable about it is to read Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, if you have not already done so. In addition, I highly recommend the latest edition of Paul Findley’s book, They Dare To Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby. Findley, a Republican Congressman from Illinois for 22 years who was successfully targeted by AIPAC in 1982, gives a vivid, first-hand account of how the Israel Lobby goes after any Congressman who attempts to take an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Findley was beaten by Democrat Richard Durbin, who is now a Senator. But as the Findley case exemplifies, the Israel Lobby’s first allegiance is certainly not to the Democratic Party. If that were the case, Connecticut would now be represented in the Senate by Democrat Ned Lamont, rather than Independent Joseph Lieberman. This has made a huge difference.
The absolutely most efficient way to gain insight into why the hopes and promises of the 2006 elections have not materialized is merely to follow the money going from the pro-Israel PACs to Democrats in Congress. In addition, one must realize that the reason the Israel Lobby has been so effective is because Congressmen who go along with them will receive their money and praise, but no criticism from other quarters. Mearsheimer and Walt reported one instance, for example, where Senator John Culver (D-IA) was faced with the decision of whether to sign a letter being circulated by AIPAC. They quote Culver as saying, “It’s easier to sign one letter than to answer 5000.”
This is what must change. A Senator or Representative should receive 5000 angry letters if he or she does AIPAC’s bidding. To achieve this requires information and awareness about the process and the stakes. The information is there. The best way to get it out may be for determined candidates in Democratic primaries to make sure that the voters back home know to what extent the incumbents depend upon the Israel Lobby’s money and other support and how they vote on relevant issues as a result.