One might have thought that the Israel lobby—i.e., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its various associated organizations—had taken pro-Israel advocacy about as far as it could go. Congress routinely defers to the lobby on all matters relating to Israel (including, most notably at this moment, the Iran nuclear issue), while the White House strives to live up to Vice President Joe Biden’s rule that “no daylight, no daylight” (he repeats it) must ever shine between US and Israeli policies.
What more could a lobby want?
More. Just as billionaires keep coming up with ways to make more money, so do lobbies seek ever more power, whether they need it or not. The National Rifle Association proves that point.
The analogy to billionaires and their greed is especially appropriate because two billionaires, Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban, have recently turned up as key players behind the Israeli-American Council. The IAC was first established in 2007 for the Los Angeles–area Israeli expat community, but the two billionaires are now relaunching it at the national level, hoping to organize the estimated 500,000-800,000 Israelis living in the United States into an AIPAC for Israeli expats—kind of an AIPAC without the A.
The IAC made its Washington debut in November with an “Inaugural National Conference” headlined by the 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former Democratic senator (and now constant critic of Democrats) Joseph Lieberman. The event followed, and was something of a celebration of, the Republican sweep in this year’s midterm elections.
According to Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev, writing about the new group in Haaretz, the IAC’s goal is “not only to organize Israeli Americans to support Israel but to form an independent political lobbying group that could one day compete and outflank AIPAC itself.” (The IAC’s board chair denies that, and says the goal is not to challenge AIPAC but to strengthen it, although AIPAC has always resisted that particular piece of logic when it comes to its turf.) In any case, the creation of an Israeli-American pro-Israel advocacy organization is an incredible vision, because it takes the AIPAC model and turns it upside down.
AIPAC was established in 1963 because the Israeli government decided that relying on Israelis, registered as foreign agents, to advance Israel’s interests (as is the case with other governments) would not be effective in the long run. Foreign agents must register with the Justice Department. Their activities and spending are monitored, and they cannot involve themselves in American political campaigns.
And so AIPAC was created as an American organization, directed by an American board of directors and with an American membership. It would not (at least openly) take orders from the Israeli government. Although AIPAC’s stand on every issue related to the Middle East would invariably be identical to that of the Israeli government, it would still be able to claim that it was simply promoting the views of its American membership. This set-up also—and this is significant—limits the taint of “dual loyalty” that would accrue if Jewish Americans were seen as following the Israeli government in lock step.