Date registered: Sep 2004
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Reference is often made to the "Jewish lobby" in an effort to describe Jewish political influence in the United States. This term is both vague and inadequate. While it is true that American Jews are sometimes represented by lobbyists, such direct efforts to influence policy-makers are but a small part of the lobby’s ability to shape policy.Far more at the link. Reading Is FUN-damental.
Organized groups do attempt to directly affect legislation. One of these, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a registered lobby. Other groups do not generally engage in direct lobbying (e.g., B’nai B’rith and Hadassah), but do disseminate information and encourage their members to become involved in the political process. They also sometimes lobby on specific issues. Though they have rarely influenced policy, Christian groups have also frequently weighed in on Israel's behalf and several pro-Israel organizations are comprised entirely of non-Jews. These organizations comprise the formal lobby.
U.S. Middle East policy is further shaped by Jewish voting behavior and American public opinion. These indirect means of influence are the informal lobby.
The formal and informal components tend to intersect at several points so the distinction is not always clear-cut. Together, however, they form the Israeli (or pro-Israel) lobby. This is a more accurate label than "Jewish lobby" because a large proportion of the lobby is made up of non-Jews. This term also reflects the lobby’s objective. The Israeli lobby can then be defined as those formal and informal actors that directly and indirectly influence American policy to support Israel.
The Israeli lobby does not have the field to itself. On any given issue, it may be opposed by a variety of interest groups unrelated to the Middle East (e.g., conservative groups that have nothing against Israel, but oppose foreign aid on principle), but its main rival is the Arab lobby, which similarly consists of those formal and informal actors that attempt to influence U.S. foreign policy to support the interests of the Arab states in the Middle East.
The Informal Israeli Lobby
American Jews recognize the importance of support for Israel because of the dire consequences that could follow from the alternative. Despite the fact that Israel is often referred to now as the fourth most powerful country in the world, the perceived threat to Israel is not military defeat, it is annihilation. At the same time, American Jews are frightened of what might happen in the United States if they do not have political power.
As a result, Jews have devoted themselves to politics with almost religious fervor. This is reflected by the fact that Jews have the highest percentage voter turnout of any ethnic group. Though the Jewish population in the United States is roughly six million (about 2.3% of the total U.S. population), roughly 94% live in 13 key electoral college states. These states alone are worth enough electoral votes to elect the president. If you add the non-Jews shown by opinion polls to be as pro-Israel as Jews, it is clear Israel has the support of one of the largest veto groups in the country.
The political activism of Jews forces congressmen with presidential ambitions to consider what a mixed voting record on Israel-related issues may mean in the political future. There are no benefits to candidates taking an openly anti-Israel stance and considerable costs in both loss of campaign contributions and votes from Jews and non-Jews alike. Potential candidates therefore have an incentive to be pro-Israel; this reinforces support for Israel in Congress. Actual candidates must be particularly sensitive to the concerns of Jewish voters; it follows that the successful candidate's foreign policy will be influenced, although not bound, by the promises that had to be made during the campaign.
One way that lobbyists attempt to educate politicians is by taking them to Israel on study missions. Once officials have direct exposure to the country, its leaders, geography, and security dilemmas, they typically return more sympathetic to Israel. Politicians also sometimes travel to Israel specifically to demonstrate to the lobby their interest in Israel. Thus, for example, George W. Bush made his one and only trip to Israel before deciding to run for President in what was widely viewed as an effort to win pro-Israel voters' support. While there, he also was educated and was particularly influenced by a helicopter tour given to him by a man he would later work with as a fellow head of state — Ariel Sharon. In 2005 alone, more than 100 members of Congress visited Israel, some multiple times.1
Jewish congressmen are naturally expected to be supportive of Israel and, with the exception of occasional odd votes, this is true. Historically, however, few Jews have held elective office or primary positions of power, even though they have always been politically active. In the past decade, however, this has gradually begun to change. Today, Jews occupy more positions of influence than ever before. For example, in the 109th Congress, 11 Senators are Jewish (11 percent) while Jewish members comprise almost 6 percent of the House.
Bill Clinton nominated two Supreme Court Justices, both Jewish. He had several Jewish Cabinet members, including National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, and dozens of Jews held other key Administration posts. Bastions of bureaucratic opposition, and sometimes outright anti-Semitism, such as the CIA and State Department now employ Jews at the highest levels. For almost a decade, a Jew (Dennis Ross) was America's principal Mideast negotiator and Clinton appointed the first Jewish Ambassador to Israel (Martin Indyk). The George W. Bush Administration also has included many Jews in high-profile subcabinet positions
The Informal Arab Lobby
The disproportionate influence of the American Jewish population is in direct contrast with the electoral involvement of Arab-Americans. There are approximately 1.2 million Arabs in the United States, and roughly 38 percent of them are Lebanese, primarily Christians, who tend to be unsympathetic to the Arab lobby's goals. This reflects another major problem for the Arab lobby -- inter-Arab disunity. This disunity is reinforced by the general discord of the Arab world, which has twenty-one states with competing interests. The Arab lobby is thus precluded from representing "the Arabs."
Only about 70,000 Palestinians (6 percent of all Arab-Americans) live in the United States, but their views have received disproportionate attention because of their political activism. Similarly, a great deal of attention has focused on the allegedly growing political strength of Muslims in the United States, but fewer than one-fourth of all Arab-Americans are Muslims according to the Arab-American Institute.2
About half of the Arab population is concentrated in five states — California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York — that are all key to the electoral college. Still, the Arab population is dwarfed by that of the Jews in every one of these states except Michigan.
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