AIPAC Is Now a Political Fundraiser

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Jewish politics and power

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1. AIPAC is now a PAC. Should you care?

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), America’s largest and most powerful pro-Israel lobby, announced this week its decision to create two PACs that will raise money for congressional candidates. Citing “hyper-partisanship, high congressional turnover, and the exponential growth in the cost of campaigns,” the lobby decided to launch both a regular PAC (which can donate up to $5,000 per candidate each election cycle) and a super PAC (unlimited in funding, but not allowed to coordinate directly with the candidate) to support pro-Israel lawmakers seeking reelection and first-time candidates.

Which raises a few questions:

Wasn’t AIPAC already a PAC? No, that’s just a common misconception due to the lobby’s name. AIPAC, up to now, did not explicitly endorse candidates or raise funds for them.

The other question is: Why should you care?

Since its founding in 1951, AIPAC has walked a fine line: It lobbied for pro-Israel causes in Congress and made sure its supporters were aware of each member’s voting record on issues the lobby cares about, but at the same time it made sure to distance itself from direct fundraising for candidates. 

Now, the lobby, through its new PACs, will come out as a full-fledged political player, making no secret of its support for certain candidates and the financial benefits that these candidates’ campaigns can expect from the lobby’s supporters.

It is a sign, as AIPAC noted, of the changing times in DC politics and in the pro-Israel arena, where direct money is a necessary tool in order to remain in the game. Subtle winks and nods are no longer a match for checks carrying the group’s name.

2. Spending money on bipartisanship

The move will also make it easier for AIPAC to correct course and bolster its claim of bipartisanship, which has been put into question after some very public spats between the lobby and progressive Democrats. 

Raising funds directly for candidates from both parties will help the lobby highlight its giving to centrist Democrats, demonstrating that its support is truly bipartisan—and that it excludes those on the margins of both parties who  oppose pro-Israel legislation. In other words, the next time someone claims AIPAC leans Republican because of its attacks on members of “the Squad,” the lobby will be able to come back and respond: “We’re not against the Democrats! Look at all the money we just gave Democratic candidates.”

3. Who should get pro-Israel money?

As expected, AIPAC’s move drew immediate fire from its critics, mainly from J Street, the left-leaning pro-Israel lobby.

J Street chose an interesting strategy: It did not criticize AIPAC for entering the field of direct political fundraising (which J Street has been in for years), but rather presented a challenge: “J Street calls on AIPAC and all pro-Israel PACs not to endorse any lawmaker who voted against Congressional certification of 2020 election results on January 6 or otherwise supported the ‘Big Lie’ which falsely claims that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election.”

The Jewish Democratic Council immediately agreed (but that’s easy, since they only support Democrats), as did the Democratic Majority for Israel (which also only provides funding for Democratic candidates). But DMFI responded to J Street with a challenge of its own: “We are still waiting for @jstreetdotorg to join us in refusing to back candidates who voted against replenishing the life-saving #IronDome missile defense system.”

As for AIPAC, it is not at all clear that the lobby can commit to not backing candidates who voted against certifying the 2020 election results. That list of 147 Republicans includes staunch supporters of Israel such as Senators Ted Cruz and Rick Scott and Representatives Lee Zeldin and Brian Mast. Clearly, AIPAC has no plans of shunning these lawmakers and others on the very long list of Republicans who backed Trump’s attempt to overturn election results. And none of the lobby’s supporters really expect them to.  

AIPAC’s fundamental approach to partisan politics is issue-based. If a politician is on their side regarding Israel, they will receive the lobby’s blessing, regardless of their stance on other issues.

4. Rand Paul is still holding out

Speaking of politicians who will never see a dime from AIPAC’s new PACs, Republican Senator Rand Paul just blocked once again an attempt to approve $1 billion in U.S. funds for replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket systems.

Paul has never been a big fan of spending money on Israel and has single-handedly caused a delay of almost three months and counting in providing Israel with the funds. 

There’s nothing new about Paul’s approach, but it is worth reminding readers once in a while about his actions, especially since the brief one-day delay in passing the funding bill in the House, caused by a group of Democratic progressives, is still roiling the pro-Israel political world, while somehow Paul’s insistance on blocking the aid for months has gone largely unnoticed.

5. Oops, he did it again

That “he” would be former President Donald Trump, who repeated once again his claim that American Jews are not supportive of Israel. How does he know they do not support the Jewish state? Well, they didn’t vote for him, so they must be anti-Israel.

Here’s what he said in an interview with Israeli journalist Barak Ravid for Ravid’s new book about the Abraham Accords: “The Jewish people in the United States either don’t like Israel or don’t care about Israel.” Trump noted that the “evangelical Christians love Israel more than the Jews in this country.” Touching on another antisemitic trope, the former president added that “The New York Times hates Israel, and there are Jewish people who run The New York Times.”

Anyone following Trump knows that there’s nothing new in these comments. He’s been saying similar things since he took office. Trump’s supporters argue that the former president espouses no antisemitic or otherwise biased feelings toward Jews (which may be true) or that his comments are taken out of context or misunderstood (which is definitely not true), but one thing is clear: Despite hearing from a broad array of Jewish public figures over the course of several years that these comments come across as offensive, Trump still made the choice to repeat them.


Top photo: Ted Cruz speaking at AIPAC in 2016 (Credit: Lorie Shaull via Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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2 thoughts on “AIPAC Is Now a Political Fundraiser

  1. lebele says:

    Rand Paul is an isolationist opposed to foreign aid generally and most overseas U.S. interventions and military bases. “The Squad” is specifically anti-Israel and sometimes makes overt antisemitic slips. Same impact on Iron Dome replenishment funds, but different motivations.

    J Street is partisan. AIPAC usually is not, although it did fall off that wagon one year over the Iran nuke deal controversy.

  2. Davida Brown says:

    AMEN to AIPAC! Politics can be messy, but being clear on where a politician stands with Israel matters most. I don’t know much about libertarianism, except that my son espouses it. He is all about economics. For Jews and others that are pro-Israel, it is always a heart issue.

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