American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, is perhaps the most prominent of the groups that lobby the United States government on behalf of Israel. For decades, its effectiveness has been the envy of other lobbies as well as a model to emulate. Its initial method was to focus on Congress, but in recent years, especially during the administration of George W. Bush, it turned its attention as much, if not more, to the executive branch. The Bush administration had many senior officials who believed, as does Aipac, that support of Israel should be the linchpin of the government’s Middle East policy.
Aipac has more than 100,000 members, and its influence, especially in Congress, comes in part from its ability to raise money in a wide range of congressional districts for specific contests. Aipac is not a foreign lobby — its members and officials are largely American Jews — and because it does not get money from Israel or have a contractual relationship, it is not required to register as a lobby for Israel.
Aipac has, for decades, assumed an important but informal role in the formation of policy with regard to Israel; its officials have sometimes served as a backchannel conduit between Israel and the United States government. That aspect of the organization has come under increasing scrutiny since the arrest in 2005 of two of the group’s analysts on charges of espionage.
The highly unusual indictment of the former officials, Steven J. Rosen andKeith Weissman, accused them of receiving classified information about terrorism and Middle East strategy from a Defense Department analyst, Lawrence A. Franklin, and passing it on to a journalist and an Israeli diplomat. Mr. Franklin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12½ years in prison although his sentence could be reduced based on his cooperation in the case.
The Obama Justice Department moved on May 1, 2009, to drop all charges against Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman. Judge T.S. Ellis 3d of the federal court in Alexandria, Va., rejected several government efforts to conceal classified information if the case went to trial. Moreover, he ruled that the government could only prevail if it met a high standard; he said prosecutors would have to demonstrate that the two men knew that their distribution of the information would harm national security.
Just days after the charges were dropped, the committee Wielded its annual convention as an intentional show of its political strength.
More than half the members of the House and Senate attended the May 4 dinner, which featured the group’s “roll call” in which the lawmakers all rise. It is a conscious — and effective — effort to demonstrate the group’s influence on Capitol Hill.
The roster of scheduled guests for the three-day event included Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator John Kerry, Newt Gingrich and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff. The group also heard from the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (via satellite), and the new opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, and the president, Shimon Peres (in person).