How Big Is The Israel Lobby, Really?

To hear anti-Israel extremists tell the tale, supposedly the Pro-Israel Lobby (a.k.a. the Jewish Lobby) is a massive operation that dwarfs other special interest groups, twisting American policy towards supporting Israel even when it's not for the good of the country. I personally am concerned about the influence of special interests in America, and I feel pretty strongly about this topic. And while I believe that those lobbying for Israel have the best of intentions, I have always had misgivings about this particular approach to supporting Israel, if only because it's very hard to approach politics without acquiring a nasty stench. So I decided to consult OpenSecrets.org, run by The Center for Responsive Politics, and see for myself just how the Israel lobby measures up, in the scheme of things. I found out some pretty interesting things.

First off, here's AIPAC's site. And here is OpenSecrets's article entitled Pro-Israel/Pro-Arab Money, and here are the numbers for the Israel lobby. Unsurprisingly, there was a peak during the 2002 election, shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. There was even bigger peak around 1992, shortly after the Gulf War, during which Sadaam Hussein shot SCUD missiles at Israel - a period of relative tension between the United States and Israel. In both those years the total number of pro-Israel donations were around $8.5 million - nothing to sniff at.

Let's stick with 2002 - a very tumultuous year, and as I've mentioned, a year of unusually high levels of pro-Israel lobbying. Here are some of the other industries contributing that year:

  • Lawyers and Law Firms: $95 million.
  • Retirees: $76 million.
  • Real Estate: $66 million.
  • Wall Street: $60 million.
  • Health Professionals: $42 million.
  • Insurance: $37 million.

    In fact, the rank of the pro-Israel Lobby as it compared to other industries that year was 44th. In 1990, it was 12th - probably because other industries weren't as sophisticated yet. This year, it's in 63rd place. Hardly the uber-powerful Elders of Zion the anti-Israel people want you to think they are.

    Business actually has a much more effective lobbying force than any ideological group: Dennis Hastert (I'm picking on him because he's the Speaker) got 93% of his PAC funds from business interests in 2002. As an aside, Hastert (the incumbent) raised about $3 million that race, compared to his opponent's $18,000. Ouch. Not surprisingly, Hastert won with 74% of the vote in his district. Looking at the top-ranking Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi (the incumbent): In her 2002 run, over $200,000 came from Business, $300,000 from Labor, and $50,000 from Ideological causes. Pelosi raised just under $1 million, compared to her opponent's $6,930. Ouch. Not surprisingly, she won 80% of the vote. See a pattern here?

    Back to my point: Congress certainly is poisoned by the meddling of special interests who are determined to steer the agenda in their direction, at any cost. But to single out the Israel lobby is absurd, and smacks of anti-Semitism. The Israel lobby is nothing more than a medium-sized fish in a very polluted pond.


    p.s. FYI, The Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation was listed as a pro-Israel group. Say what? "The Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation does anything in its ability to encourage a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and further understanding between Jews and Arabs. Established in 1989 by then-Slim Fast Foods Chairman S. Daniel Abraham and then-Utah Congressman Wayne Owens, the Center is a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization." So a sizable percentage (around 17%) of the pro-Israel lobby isn't even a pro-Israel lobby!
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