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Letter | Of Course Money Is A Part of AIPAC’s Power

Dear Editor,

I appreciate how in your article “How To Speak About The Israel Lobby In A Non-Anti-Semitic Way” you thoughtfully attempt to navigate treacherous waters concerning discussion of the “Israel Lobby”. But I take issue with a couple of your assertions.

One is your claim that “If there were no vigorously Zionist Christian right, there would be no AIPAC.” The Christian Zionist movement is indeed a big force in the Israel lobby today, but AIPAC long predates it, and the Christian Zionist movement is a force only in the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party.

Second is your claim that “What AIPAC leverages is not campaign contributions, which it does not make, but the already existing popularity of Israel among many politicians’ constituents… If this bothers you, your problem is not really with AIPAC, but with the millions of (mostly non-Jewish) Americans who want to know their elected officials support Israel unconditionally.”

First, AIPAC does leverage campaign contributions, even if it doesn’t make them directly, and a great many authorities (including politicians) say these contributions are significant to their campaigns.

Second, I would need to see convincing data on how many Americans really demand that their representatives support Israel unconditionally; many American Jews are more nuanced on the issue than are large pro-Israel donors, and for most non-Jews (outside of Christian Zionists), the issue is way down their list of priorities.

Polls that I have seen consistently show more support for Israel than for the Palestinians, but a much more even split of opinion than is ever reflected in Congress. I simply don’t buy the idea that President Obama had to fight tooth and nail to win support for the Iran nuclear deal simply because so much of grass-roots public opinion sided with Netanyahu on the matter.

I think you would be on much safer ground if you acknowledged that the contributions made by pro-Israel donors, some of whom are rallied by AIPAC, make a real difference. And one important reason, in addition to the size of the funding, is that there is no significant countervailing lobby. The fact that most Americans are are generally (not “unconditionally”) pro-Israel makes it much easier for politicians to be swayed by pro-Israel money.

It’s even easier now that Saudi Arabia is lining up with Israel on many issues. Other lobbies face much tougher opponents: the banking industry pays millions to offset the millions spent by the insurance industry on rival financial bills, for example.

All this said, I agree with your larger point that Rep. Omar stated matters simplistically, somewhat inaccurately, and in ways that skirted dangerously close to anti-Semitic stereotypes. Also, her focus on AIPAC ignores other sources of pro-Israel money, such as Sheldon Adelson, who undeniably have had an outsized impact on policy in Washington.

I just think your own argument could use a little fine-tuning.

Best regards, Jonathan Marshall San Anselmo, CA

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