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The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is currently holding its annual policy conference in Washington, where not only the Israeli prime minister but also all three main US presidential candidates and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are speaking.

AIPAC has developed a strong relationship with Republicans, as well as conservative Christians, since the years of the “Reagan Revolution.” Senator and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain opened the conference, while Democratic senators Clinton and Obama will be closing on Wednesday in a joint session.

AIPAC has over 100,000 members and an operating annual budget which now soars above $100 million dollars. Over 7,000 of these members are attending the conference, and AIPAC has scheduled over 500 meetings with members of Congress to do their lobbying work on behalf of Israel.

Story Transcript

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC, is holding its annual public affairs conference in Washington. Not only the Israeli prime minister, but also all three US presidential candidates, as well as Secretary of State Rice, are among the speakers. That’s the measure of AIPAC’s power. But what about its political orientation? In 2004, while he was running for a second term as president of the United States, Bush was the star speaker and said for more than 50 years the United States and Israel have been steadfast allies. AIPAC is one of the reasons why. Vice President Cheney addressed these policy conferences twice, in 2006 and 2007. This year, John McCain has been the main speaker on the first day, inaugurating the conference. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the Democratic candidates, speak only on the last day in a joint session. Some 90 percent of the members of AIPAC are Jewish, but, significantly, most of the remaining 10 percent are evangelical Christians. Neoconservatives, who have played such a key role in formulating policy for the Bush administration have always coordinated their views and policies with AIPAC. All this would appear to be quite at odds with the gender profile of the American Jewish community as a whole, which is set to comprise overwhelmingly of liberal Democrats. Seventy-eight percent of Jews voted for Kerry in 2004 and 80 percent for Democrats in congressional elections of 2006. Recent polls suggest that over 70 percent of American Jews have already made up their minds to vote for the Democratic Party presidential nominee, whoever that nominee may be. All this seems to suggest that AIPAC is somewhat more powerful with members of the US Congress and the corporate media than with American Jews in general. That power in the US Congress is a reality, however. It is well known that any resolution that has significant AIPAC inputs passes the US Congress with significant majority, especially in the Senate. As early as July 1987, The New York Times said that 16 months before the elections were due in 1988, AIPAC had already interviewed all the presidential hopefuls about their foreign policy leanings and given them a primer of dos and don’ts. The Times also said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has become a major force in shaping United States policy in the Middle East. The organization has gained the power to influence the presidential candidates’ choice of staff and to serve as a catalyst for intimate military relations between the Pentagon and the Israeli army. But how has this come to pass? A look into past history may help. The obscure origins of AIPAC go back to 1947, when one Si Kenen created the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs and registered himself as a foreign agent working for Israel somewhat earlier than the creation of the state itself. Organizations with various other names followed, with Kenen still registering himself as a foreign agent, until 1959, when the name American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, was invented. It was no longer registered as a foreign agent, but the mission remained the same: advocacy of Israeli interest and influencing US government to adopt policies in light of that interest. Now, Israel has enjoyed immense support in the US since its victory over Arab armies in 1967, yet AIPAC languished for many more years, and then came into its own only during the Reagan years. It had merely 9,000 contributing households in 1980, but grew to 55,000 by 1987. It has doubled its membership since then, while its annual budget rose from nearly $1.4 million in 1980 to over $100 million this year. Israel is surely the special cause it espouses. However, AIPAC is also very much at the center of the Reagan revolution, which has been shaping US politics for some 30 years now and which has given rise also to the power of the neocons and the Christian fundamentalists. Israeli politics has also been drifting further and further to the right during these same years. AIPAC is part of this more general rightward drift in both these countries.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Based in New Delhi, Aijaz Ahmad has appeared many times on The Real News Network; he is Senior Editorial Consultant, and political commentator for the Indian newsmagazine, Frontline. He has taught Political Science, and has written widely on South Asia and the Middle East.