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Lessons From Pro-Israel Lobby

The following is an instructional email from an Indian-American advocacy group attempting to model itself after the AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying organization. It is very telling in more ways than one.

In a topical monograph titled LOBBYING IN AMERICA: A PRIMER FOR CITIZEN PARTICIPATION, Ralph Nurnberger has presented a succinct account of how the pro-Israel US community has become a powerful influence in American political circles in support of Israel. He has also offered some thoughts on what the Indian-American community can do.
Dr. Ralph Nurnberger is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University. He spent over eight years as a legislative liaison for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where he specialized in foreign aid to Israel, arms sales, and peace process related issues. He is the author of a study on the history of the West Bank prepared for the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet and was awarded the Myrtle Wreath Award by the New York chapter of Hadassah.
Dr. Nurnberger served as a foreign policy assistant to Senator James Pearson (R-Kansas), and as a professional staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a senior fellow at the Center For Strategic and International Studies, he co-authored a book on Congressional leadership and edited other volumes on foreign policy and the political system. He is the senior partner in the public affairs firm of Nurnberger & Associates. ---
In this review, I am summarizing the major factors that explain the Israeli success story and the lessons Indian-Americans can derive from it.

"Lobbying"is a term which has come to mean the effort by an individual or group of individuals to influence decisions made by the government officials.
The basic concept underlying the lobbying is that every individual has views that matters and which should be factored into political decisions. The concept underlying the citizen participation is that Members of Congress are most likely to pay close attention to their constituents. Thus when Congress begins discussing matters of concern to a particular group, its group members are encouraged to write or call their Rep or even travel to Washington for face to face meetings. Such direct participation by general public is at the very heart of America's representational democracy.
An individual who contacts legislator on his own behalf is generally unpaid and would not be required to register as a lobbyist. Such individuals are simply considered citizens exercising their constitutional rights and are not classified as lobbyist.
The American pro-Israel community serves as a model for developing an effective lobby organization and achieving success within the American political system. The primary organization dedicated to lobbying on behalf of good US-Israeli relations is American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Following are the highlights of AIPAC activities:
AIPAC's membership is approximately 60,000 and its annual budget is over $14 million. Its headquarters is in Capitol Hill.

Experts have described AIPAC as "King of the Hill" and the "preeminent power in the Washington lobbying". "Plenty of Senators and House Members regard AIPAC political power as awesome".

It is no overstatement to say that AIPAC has effectively gained control of virtually all of Capitol Hill's action on Middle East Policy. "Almost without exception, House and Senate members do its bidding. Whether based on fact or fancy, the perception is what counts. AIPAC means power - raw intimidating power".

One of AIPAC primary objective is to secure American foreign assistance for Israel on the most favorable terms possible. AIPAC has worked closely with successive Presidents and with virtually with every member of the Congress to ensure a continuous flow of aid. Israel has been the single largest recipient of American foreign aid for decades - exceeding $ 3 billion.

AIPAC has successfully promoted increased cooperation between America and Israel, such as joint works on various weapon systems, and intelligence sharing. Working with its allies in Congress, it has blocked a number of weapons sales to Arab nations that might have posed threats to Israel's security and to America's interest in the region.

On rare occasions, those supporting close US relations with Israel have come in direct conflict American Presidents. Such incidents provide a remarkable view of power of the pro-Israel lobby.

Example 1: In 1991, AIPAC was joined by many other pro-Israel groups in effect to obtain American loan guarantees for Israel. The Bush administration led the opposition. President George Bush tried to build o base of support against the loan guarantee program by seeking to depict himself as the underdog in power struggle. In an astounding comment. Bush stated that ""We are up against very strong and effective groups that go up to the Hill ""...

""I heard today, there were something like a thousand lobbyist on the hill working the other side of the question. We've got one lonely little guy down here doing it "". Despite the overwhelming power of the presidency and the fact that the "thousand lobbyist" WERE MERELY PRIVATE CITIZENS EXPRESSING PERSONAL VIEWS TO THEIR REPRESENTATIVES, Congress eventually agreed to provide this assistance to Israel.
Example 2: In Spring 1998 president Clinton considered announcing an American proposal to further the Middle East peace process. The proposal l included the calling upon Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to withdraw from more territory in the West bank than he was willing to do at that time. AIPAC contacted every Senate office and within a relatively brief period, 82 Senators had signed a letter sponsored by the Senator Connie Mack (R-FL) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) calling on the President not to take actions that might lead to confrontation with Israel. President Clinton was obviously impressed with this letter and did not proceed with the proposed announcement.

By the mid 1970 every member of Congress became important in foreign policy. Virtually every member had a staff assistance whose assignment included covering foreign policy issues. And AIPAC established relationship with every Member of Congress and their appropriate staffers.

In 1975, AIPAC successfully worked with Senator Clifford Case (R-NJ) and other Senators to ensure that launchers for Hawk ground-to-surface missiles destined for Jordan be permanently installed in concrete bases so that they could not be moved closer to the Israeli border.

When Carter administrations decided in 1978 to sell F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, AIPAC led efforts to garner the Congressional opposition to the proposed sale. Although the Administration narrowly prevailed in the Senate by a vote of 44-54, AIPAC was able to obtain additional weapons for Israel and a pledge that the US would assure Israel's qualitative military advantage over potential Arab forces.

In 1980 AIPAC established wider grass roots contacts through out America, enhanced the organization "key contact" system which encouraged ordinary citizens to develop personal relations with Members of Congress, and furthered the pro-Israel community's involvement in political campaigns across the country.

Ironically it was a legislative defeat enabling an arms package to be sold to Saudi Arabia that helped galvanize AIPAC into the lobby force that it is today. In 1981, Reagan Administration decided to proceed with a massive sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The package include five AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System), KC-135 tankers, F-15 jet Fighters and additional equipment with a total value of approximately $ 9 billion. Israel and its supporters in the US, including the AIPAC, voiced their opposition. Under the law enforced at that time, such a sale could be blocked if a majority of both chambers voted for a resolution of disapproval. AIPAC met with every member of Congress to encourage them to sign a letters to President requesting that the sale not proceed. On the other side, Administration officials, including the Secretaries of State and Defense, urged Members of Congress not to sign these letters. Despite the efforts of the Administration and the powerful business-oriented (defense industry) lobbyist supported the sale, 54 Senators and 224 Reps signed letters in opposition to the sale. Although clear majority in both chambers were in record opposition, president Reagan still decided o proceed with the sale. Resolution of disapproval were immediately introduced in the House and in Senate. AIPAC and other organizations mobilized pro-Israel Americans form across the country to contact their Reps and Senators to encourage them to support these resolutions of disapproval.

President Reagan, personally met with 44 Senators. Business groups also lobbied heavily in favor of proceeding. The result - House voted 301 to 101 in October 1981 to block the sale. In Senate, however, President Reagan was able to prevail by narrow margin o 48-52. The sale was allowed to proceed, but the LEGISLATIVE DEFEAT WAS A TURNING POINT FOR AIPAC.
Stung by the defeat, AIPAC's Executive director convened a series of meetings of it staffers, officers and supporters around the country. His conclusion:

a) There were too many states where AIPAC did not have sufficient access to Members of Congress. In some cases a lobbyist from AIPAC might have good relations with a particular Senator, but this relationship was not backed up with adequate grass root involvement or political support. So, there was a necessity to expand AIPAC's power base form Washington in order to become a truly nation-based organization - the work of AIPAC lobbyist in Washington required to be supplemented with pro-Israeli activist in every state and Congressional district.
b) Private American citizens who were supportive of good relations with Israel were urged to get to know the Members of Congress personally so that they could be considered a "key contact". This system, started earlier, was expanded and enlarged (A "key contact" is defined as someone who has enough of personal relationship that the elected official would return a phone call within a day.)
Eventually, AIPAC setup a network of people throughout the country who personally came to know each Member of Congress. Whenever an issue of importance to US-Israeli relations came up before Congress, AIPAC was able to inform its members around the country. Once contacted and provided with accurate information, these people would subsequently contact their Members of Congress and encourage them to support the position AIPAC advocated.

While AIPAC is not a Political Action Committee (PAC), its an active participant in the electoral process. Although AIPAC cannot direct with specific candidates should receive financial assistance, it makes available the records of all Senate and Congressional aspirants to potential contributors.

There are approximately 60 pro-Israeli PACs, of which about half are truly active. AIPAC members are encouraged to contribute to these pro-Israeli PACs as well as to candidates parties and other political causes.
Individual Jews and other pro-Israeli activist were generous contributors to political campaigns, but the recipients of these funds were not always aware that the donors had interest in the Middle East issues. Therefore procedures were set up so that political candidates became fully aware of the views of their pro-Israeli contributors.

Political donors were encouraged to assist candidates in either party or as long as they presented pro-Israel credentials.

The image of AIPAC power was enhanced whenever campaign contributor of pro-Israel helped successful Congressional aspirants or defeated candidates judged not supportive of AIPAC's agenda. This image was reinforced when former Congressman Friendly and former Senator Charles Percy blamed pro-Israel political activists, especially AIPAC, for having major roles in their failed bids for re-election in1982 and 1984 respectively.

AIPAC has expanded its outreached program on college campuses across the nation, opened a series of regional offices around the country, developed relationships with local and state officials who the potential to run for Congress in future, established coalition with other organizations who shared AIPAC orientation on issues and increased the number of quality of publications sent to members nationwide and to public officials.

AIPAC worked closely with other organization to secure invitations to visit Israel for Members of congress, Congressional staff, state and local officials and potential future political leaders. These trips proved to be the best way for current and future political leaders to learn about the region and to develop and understanding of the issue.

The success of the bigger, stronger AIPAC could be measured in the following ways:
a) During the 1980s a number of proposed arms sales to Arab countries were withdrawn or not even officially sent to Congress after the Administration realized that AIPAC would be able to mobilize sufficient Congressional support to defeat such proposal.
b) In 1985, the annual aid level to Israel rose to over $ 3 billion in all grant assistance despite the initial opposition of Reagan Administration. It remained over $ 3 billion over the subsequent years.
c) Congress overwhelming passed a Free Trade Agreement between Israel and the US in spite of opposition form organized labor groups.
d) AIPAC inspired Congressional support resulted in increased strategic cooperation between the governments of Israel and US.
e) Remarkably at various times, President Reagan, Bush and Clinton, their national security advisors and secretaries of state all consulted with AIPAC before proceeding with initiatives in the middle-east. As a result, AIPAC became even more than a lobby, it became an active participant in policy formulation and a trusted intermediary between the governments of Israel and the US.
f) Virtually all members of congress now turn to AIPAC for information on middle-east issues. Nearly every candidate of congress and senate visits AIPAC during their campaigns and most seek AIPAC guidance before issuing position papers on middle-east issues.
Both political parties work routinely with AIPAC when they seek to get candidates elected or when they draft the middle-east part platforms.
AIPAC has devoted greater efforts for ensuring that America not place undue pressures on Israel in the context of searching peace with the Palestinians or with other states in the region. At times this has involved lobbying the congress to encourage the members to send clear messages to the administration. For example despite presidential opposition AIPAC helped to develop congressional support for America to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Another example of AIPAC working with the Congress to overcome initial presidential opposition involved AIPAC mobilizing its grass roots contacts every member of congress in support of a resolution calling for sanctions against Russian firms assisting Iran's development for long range missiles able to reach Israel. Although the Clinton administration initially opposed this resolution, it passed the house by a vote of 418 to 8. The strong show of Congressional support, motivated in part by AIPAC, led the Administration to adopt a similar position.

Some important aspects of AIPAC structure:

a) AIPAC is a domestic lobby and not a foreign agent. AIPAC represents Americans supportive of good US relationship with Israel. It raises its funds from all its American citizens only. It does not accept funds or political direction from overseas, including from Israel. Thus when AIPAC members and officials meet with members of congress they purchase their position as supporting the best interest of the US and not for the foreign government.
b) AIPAC is a 501-C (4) organization that is permitted to lobby under the internal revenue code. Although it is a non-profit organization it is not a charity and donations to it are not tax deductible.
c) AIPAC members are the base of the organization's financial support. The annual budget of $ over 14 million is through a combination of techniques - direct mail, parlor meetings around the country, fund raising appeals at an annual conference and direct solicitation of potential contributors.
In large measures, AIPAC's effectiveness is attributed to the fact that it is a membership organization and approximately 60,000 members nationwide. There are AIPAC members in every state and every congressional district in the country, most of whom are directly involved in the political process.

Active participation by national membership is a key element in the organization's lobbying strategies. When issues of concern come up for congressional consideration, AIPAC's Washington staff sends out `action alert" to AIPAC members throughout the nation. These briefing papers explain the background and recommended position on the given issue, and details how the recipients can best contact their members of congress.

AIPAC instructs its members to write thoughtful, personalized letter or calls directly to the members or appropriate staffers rather than just sign their names on a mass mail letter. All members of AIPAC are encouraged to vote, contribute to political campaigns and political action committees, and contact elected officials.

AIPAC has traditionally placed great emphasis on the next generation of pro-Israel activists. It has chapters on many college campuses which are designed to assist students to learn about middle-east policy issues and how they can participate in the American political process. Hundreds of college students annually receives subsidies to attend the AIPAC annual policy conference in Washington.

AIPAC also assist students to obtain internship in Washington. Dozens of college students have worked as interns at AIPAC or have been placed in congressional offices to gain first hand political experience. They have, in turn, become the next generation of political leaders and activists.

What lessons can Indian-Americans learn from pro Israel lobby's outstanding success in gaining so much goodwill and support for Israel in US.
Ralph Nurnberger has offered some thoughtful observation:
1) Despite success in other fields people of Indian heritage can and must increase their political activity. Indian -Americans are among the most computer literate in this country. Electronic lobbying is still in the development stage, but the potential, especially for this community, is truly enormous.
2) For those Indian-Americans who are willing to devote some extra-time, energy and potentially money, it is worth their efforts to meet and develop relationship with individual senators, house reps, congressional staff as well as state and local officials. A number of Indian-Americans are already involved in this manner. They have brought issues to the electoral officials and have become trusted resources when certain issues arise in the legislation. Others have hosted fund raisers for political candidates. Such events help to develop personal relation between attendees and political leaders, which form the basis of future contacts.
3) Significantly there are 40 Indian-Americans working in staff position in the US Congress, including top level jobs with the congressional leadership.
4) American politicians are increasingly looking for people of Indian heritage for campaign contributions. Too often, Indian-Americans give funds to a candidate and never as for anything in return, political contributors should be the start of relationship with political leaders and not the end. After the candidate is elected it is worthwhile to send a congratulatory note. It is also important to maintain contact so that when an issue of interest arises , the contributor will feel comfortable in communicating views and information to the office holder.
5) The Indian-American community has done an exceptional job helping to establish and expand and informal organization with in the house of rep called the congressional caucus on India and Indian-Americans. The caucus consist of 100 members who have interest in India and issues of concerns to Americans of Indian heritage. It is the largest ethnic based caucus in the congress. The caucus meets periodically to discuss the relevant issues, receive briefings provided by the national security council and state department or to meet with dignitaries from India. They are also an informal "congressional lobby" which works on specific issues concerning India. However the caucus has not yet achieved its full potential. For the Indian caucus to be effective its members must do more than add their names to the list of participants. A majority of caucus members never attend caucus or Indian-American events, and have not made any comments in the congress on issues of importance to the community. Essentially a few members of caucus carry the load of the entire organization. The blame lies partly on those Indian-Americans who convinced their reps to join the caucus but never held them accountable for not being active. One way would be to offer a host gathering of Indian-Americans in the congressional district so that the member has the opportunity to meet with these constituents and hear their views on specific issues.
6) Any group that seeks to influence the national public policy must establish an office in Washington dc. Thus far, two Indian-American professional organization, the American Associates of Physicians of Indian origin(AAPI) and the Asian-American hotel owners Association (AAHOA) have started that process.
7) While professionally based ethnic organization have a role to play, a number of Indian-American have considered to establish an Indian-American lobby. One of the obstacles preventing the creation of effective public affairs organization is that some Indian-American groups are eager to assume this role for themselves but are not willing to cooperate on behalf of the welfare of the entire community. Too many Indian -American organizations, many with similar names and objectives, send confusing signals to members of congress. The members do not know which organization is really reflective or representative of the community. Basically too many organizations dilute the effectiveness.
8) The Indian-American community has the national base that can form the foundation for a broad based organization. Indian-Americans live in all the 50 states. There is not a congressional district that does not have at least 100 people of Indian heritage. The potential exist to establish constituent based relations with every member of congress.
9) The community also has the economic capability to sustain this type of organization. There are a number of able people to provide the required leadership. It is probably a matter of time before such an Indian-American organization becomes a player in Washington, one able to effectively present the views of the community of the political leaders. The greater individual involvement across the country, the stronger such an organization would become. These members would provide the core of the funding needed to maintain lobbying office and would also be the "grass root lobbyist" who would be called upon to contact the members of congress. When setup, the organization would need to establish its credibility as a source of well-researched, accurate and timely information. Once members of congress start to rely on this organization, its reputation in Washington will be secure.
10) When the Indian-American community establishes a lobby presence in Washington, its effectiveness will be judged on its ability to define and articulate a clear agenda as a part of broader US national interest. To be truly effective, it must utilize the resources of the community and transform these into political power. The success of these endeavors will expand the influence of Indian-American community. It is also likely to increase it level of integration into the American society without sacrificing any of its cultural heritage.
Ralph Nurnberger has done an excellent job in preparing this monograph designed for the Indian-American community.
The question remains: how does the community respond to this challenging task?
It's perhaps too much to ask for the merger of all existing national Indian-American organizations such as IAFPE, IAFC the two NFIAs and AIA. That probably is not practical. But it is possible for these organization to set up a coordination council of Indian-American national organization(CCIA) or an Indian-American Coordination Council (IACC). This organization will have the presidents of 5 national organization as its board of directors. The council can also invite the two national professional organizations such as AAPI and AAHOA to join in. that will make a powerful 7 member board. The council can then setup a secretariat with a dynamic executive director.
If this idea is acceptable and implemented, we will soon have another AIPAC in the making!