An Insider’s History of Five Decades of AIPAC

Dec. 19 2022

When Lenny Ben-David first began working for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in 1972, it was less than a decade old, and had a staff of about ten people and a shoestring budget. Since then, AIPAC has grown immensely, but has repeatedly had to change its tactics to keep up with a changing political climate, while its influence waxed and waned. Ben-David provides a richly detailed account of how this happened, and notes that some of the most profound challenges the organization wrestled with had little to do with attitudes toward the Jewish state:

In the 1970s, AIPAC and [its founding leader Isaiah “Si” Kenen] faced some heavyweight issues: the divisive 1972 U.S. elections, foreign-aid loans and grants to Israel, the Arab boycott, and the Yom Kippur War. Kenen didn’t have to prowl the halls of Congress to meet with elected officials and twist arms. He consulted with two handfuls of congressional titans, and they set the legislative agenda and rounded up the votes on the Hill. . . . These giants’ congressional power and their rules would dissipate in the 1970s.

Long-serving chairmen of important committees possessed the power to promote legislation or crush it and the ability to do the same to the career of a junior committee member. Once a chairman decided, that was final. Their positions were protected by their droit d’seniority—until younger members of Congress finally rebelled.

After the Vietnam War, Congress was determined to challenge presidents and their administrations on foreign policy, budget, and defense issues. But Congress had to develop its own expertise. . . . In the ruins of the seniority system, another power nexus was established with AIPAC’s expansion of the lobbying department. More offices and new members of Congress had to be contacted; more issues deliberated by Congress were on the agenda. A new aspect of AIPAC’s lobbying expanded as well—the provision of timely, accurate, well-researched, and helpful information. AIPAC met all the tasks.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: AIPAC, American Zionism, Congress, U.S.-Israel relationship


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy