The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is setting up a pair of political action committees (PACs) in an effort to expand its influence directly into campaign financing after years pretending it didn’t play the money game.
Despite declaring it does not rate or endorse candidates, it has been doing just that, although privately for its members and an expanding corps of pro-Israel activists. Removing the veil is intended to magnify its clout, but it could create more problems than it will solve. It will make the group more partisan as it publicly discloses its endorsements and donations.
This will mean direct donations as opposed to its current policy of informally directing donations.
Other pro-Israel PACs will see an ally and resource become a rival and may no longer look to this competitor for guidance.
By giving up the neutrality of neither rating nor endorsing, at least officially and publicly, the group will create conflicts for members and contributors. How will hard core conservatives feel about their PAC contributions going to liberals? Will Republicans in Congress be upset that an organization they have considered in their corner since the late 1980s will now be trying to elect some opposition members?
The lobby announced that the head of its federal PAC will be Marilyn Rosenthal, who has been in charge of outreach to progressives, and the big bucks Super PAC will be helmed by Rob Bassin, the group’s longtime political director.
Federal PACs can contribute a total of $5,000 directly to each candidate or campaign committee per election, while the Super PAC can spend unlimited amounts supporting or opposing federal election candidates but cannot directly donate or coordinate with the candidates, campaigns or parties.
The Super PAC will probably accelerate the current AIPAC ad campaign against Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, both Muslims and strident critics of Israel, and a few others on its enemies list.
More critically, will AIPAC be spending its money opposing candidates who claim to love Israel but oppose just about everything else most American Jews support?
Rep Paul Gosar (Arizona) is a member of the House Republican Israel Caucus. Loves Israel, he says. But not Jews, if you listen to his siblings who call him an anti-Semite. He was recently censured by the House for posting video showing him appearing to kill Democratic colleague Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden. But he loves Israel.
So do Reps. Andy Biggs, Jeff Duncan, Jody Hice and Barry Moore. They’re also members of the Israel Republican Caucus with Gosar, and members of the extreme right Freedom Caucus, which unanimously supports and preaches the Big Lie about the 2020 election. Biggs is its chair.
The Freedom Caucus, like nearly every Republican in the House, supported Donald Trump’s insurrection and worked to undermine the Constitution and prevent the certification of Biden’s election. So did the two top Republican leaders of the party in the House, minority leader Kevin McCarthy and minority whip Steve Scalise. McCarthy has a history of anti-Semitic tropes, and Scalise once described himself as “David Duke without the baggage,” referring to the rabidly anti-Semitic KKK Grand Wizard.
And what about Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) who led the Senate effort to reject the decision of voters in 2020 and now want to run for president themselves?
They were key figures in efforts to undermine American democracy, overthrow the election results and prevent the Congress from fulfilling its Constitutional obligation to certify the election. They also take positions on a host of domestic issues that are anathema to a big majority of American Jews.
But they say they love Israel. Isn’t that enough to help pay to reelect them?
One AIPAC insider said the move reflects “adjusting to changing times.”
One of the changes may be the growing influence of J Street. Among the first and loudest to object to AIPAC’s decision, the group’s main issue is promoting peace with the Palestinians. It is a both lobby and a PAC; it openly endorses candidates and has been steadily growing at AIPAC’s expense as many friends of Israel were repelled by the organization’s close ties to Republicans, extremist evangelicals, Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud.
By naming its liaison to the progressives to lead the federal PAC, AIPAC may be trying to win back some Democrats.
It will be very difficult, said one Democratic political professional. “The antipathy toward Israel in Democratic circles is disturbing in the wake of the damage done by Netanyahu in the Iran nuclear debate. What Bibi and Dermer did to [President Barack] Obama was unforgivable and stupid. They did great damage.” Ron Dermer was a longtime Republican operative before being named Israel’s ambassador to Washington, where many felt he wore both hats.
It was Dermer who articulated his boss’ thinking when he said evangelicals are much more important for Israel because they outnumber Jews 10:1.
Some Democrat-leaning campaign contributors who already distrust AIPAC may see the new PACs as a way for the group to channel their contributions to undesirable Republican candidates the lobby favors. Instead they might prefer to contribute to J Street and other PACs more aligned with their thinking.
The pro-Israel PAC network is less robust than it was 20 years ago, and many of those groups may see AIPAC as a rival for funds in a time of dwindling resources and outrageously expensive campaigns.
The new AIPAC PACs could be a drain on resources for two centrist pro-Israel groups, the Pro-Israel America PAC, set up by former AIPAC senior staff and lay leaders, and Democratic Majority for Israel, which seeks to balance AIPAC’s rightward leanings that have alienated many Democrats and to balance pressure from the progressives.As Israeli governments moved farther to the right relations with the Palestinians and on issues like religious pluralism and diaspora relations, Jews and Democrats drifted away from active support.
AIPAC traditionally has taken the stance that it looks only at a politician’s Israel record, nothing else. More and more in today’s corrosive and highly polarized era we have to ask whether we can afford to be single issue voters and ignore the rest of a candidate’s votes.
Can we say, okay, you want to remove the wall of church-state separation, privatize Medicare and Social Security, repeal clean air and clean water standards, make guns more easily available and repress the voting rights of other minorities, but it’s fine as long as you vote the way I want on Israel?
As a former AIPAC lobbyist I see another problem. In the past when we were lobbying lawmakers to discuss legislation and they brought up campaign contributions, it was easier to deflect them by saying we’re not a PAC (the PAC in AIPAC’s name stands for Public Affairs Committee). Representing a cause has set AIPAC above the lobbyists representing big oil, pharma, coal, guns, defense, and their ilk. From now on, every AIPAC lobbying visit will be monetized.