Good or Bad for America?

Washington, DC - March 18, 2016 at the National Press Club

"America is a thing that you can move very easily..." Binyamin Netanyahu, 2001

Ten Ways the Israel Lobby "Moves" America

by Grant F. Smith

Dale Sprusansky: Grant Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, one of the organizations that is, again, co-sponsoring this event today. He’s the author of a brand new book, which I think is publically launching today. Is that correct, Grant?

Grant Smith: Yes.

Sprusansky: It’s called Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby Moves America. It’s his eighth book on the Israel lobby. Grant is every day very hard at work doing FOIA requests with the CIA and the Department of Defense to uncover all sorts of stuff that no one else is. So, with that being said, I will hand it over to Grant.

Smith: Thank you, Dale. I’m going to be drawing some interesting facts from that book launching today, Big Israel, and really structuring it into 10 ways that the lobby moves America. Now, I’d like to start off with some figures from the poll that was conducted last week in four countries. Statistically significant Google Consumer research asking a fundamental question vital for understanding the current situation in the Middle East, and that question was, which of the following do you believe to be true: A) Israelis occupy Palestinian land; B) Palestinians occupy Israeli land. As far as I know, no one has ever asked this question to a statistically significant audience in four countries.

Our friends across the pond, the Great Brits, 62 percent of them believe that the Israelis occupy Palestinian land. If you go up to Canada, a majority of that population, 51 percent, believe that Israelis occupy Palestinian land. If you go down to Mexico and ask, ¿Cuál de las siguientes crees que sea cierto?, you will find that some 55 percent of Mexicans also believe—the majority—that Israelis occupy Palestinian land. There is only one country in North America that believes the opposite is true, with the majority of us, Americans, 49 percent, believing that in fact Palestinians are the ones doing the occupying.

Now why is it we’re so out of sync with these other countries? What is it that we know or are told that they are not? I’d like to remind everybody of a statement that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made back in 2001 that was only really circulated in 2011—and that was that his perception was, as told to West Bank settlers, “America is something you can move very easily. Move it in the right direction, they won’t get in our way.” What was he talking about? What moves America? Why is it, as uncovered by Edward Snowden, that across federal agencies—perhaps unbeknownst to many Americans—that a policy doctrine that the survival of the State of Israel is the paramount goal of Middle East policy?

Well, I would say, many would say, more are saying, it’s because of the Israel lobby. Note that I’m not saying what was said in “Valentino’s Ghost,” the Jewish lobby, because that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about Israel affinity organizations that are tax-exempt charities that have as a primary objective the advancement of Israel. Together, 336 of these, which are included in the Big Israel study—which went through 4,000 tax returns and a great deal of internal documents obtained by FOIA—336 of them make up what I’m calling the Israel lobby.

Now there are five false narratives about the Israel lobby that it promotes. Number one, that Americans who are Jewish are all Israel affinity organization members who support lobbying from these groups—false. Number two, Americans who are evangelical Christians are major forces in building this Israel affinity infrastructure—false. Number three, Israel affinity organizations are broad, diverse and with a great deal of member support—false. Number four, that Israel affinity organizations are representative bodies—false. And number five, Americans who generally favor Israel (which is true generally) are also generally favorable toward massive foreign aid packages—false.

Established news media generally helps amplify these claims and does generally a great job saying that the major organizations represent populations unequivocally. You saw reports from the battle over the Iran nuclear deal. You saw announcements from the Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations all saying that they were opposed to the deal. So Americans who were Jewish must have been against the deal as well, right? Wrong. In fact, American support generally was about 53 percent; whereas, Jewish American support was at 59 percent.

So if we look at the latest Pew Charitable Trusts survey, you find that 82 percent of the Jewish population in this country does not belong to such organizations. They’re only somewhat attached to Israel, 70 percent. Most have never traveled to Israel. Forty-four percent think settlement building is a bad idea. If you take that remaining 18 percent and multiply it by the adult Jewish population, it’s about 774,000, or the population of Charlotte, North Carolina. The lobby knows and talks about this internally, saying, you know what, someday we’re going to be challenged on these numbers and all of these broad claims.

So who does the lobby really represent? Well, the views and concerns of mega donors, for sure, the views and concerns of a relatively small group of boards of directors and top officials, and of course the Israeli government, with which many are in direct and ongoing consultation. If we look at donor concentration and control of some of the top organizations, we find that within the Republican Jewish Coalition, some 143 donors give 76 percent of the funding. At AIPAC, 1,700 donors give 56 percent of the funding, with the top donor giving 13 percent. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson donated a million to ZOA, the Zionist Organization of America. That was 20 percent of their 2013 funding.

There’s extreme donor concentration at many of these advocacy organizations within the Israel lobbying ecosystem. And governance, as reported in some parts of the press, is extremely unrepresentative. Despite bylaws, despite occasional voice votes, many Israel affinity organizations are authoritarian. The board select their own members. They hold pro forma voice votes. And of course, many of the CEOs have been around for a quarter of a century or more. If you look at Abraham Foxman at the ADL, he’s been in place, or was in place, for 28 years. Daniel Pipes at the Middle East Forum, in place for 26 years; Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, 23 years. Now, the average tenure of a corporate CEO is less than ten, a college president less than eight. I would say that the rotation in governance kind of reflects the stagnation and lack of representation of many of these organizations.
Now another false concept is that Christian evangelicals are a major portion of building the Israel lobby in America. And yes, there are 80 million Christians who are evangelical. They’ve been courted by the lobby since the 1960s almost constantly. Many of them of course do vote about their feelings for Israel in American elections. But when you peel back the layers, you see that organizations like Christians United for Israel receive their seed funding from large Israel lobby donors to install their fund-raising software Convio, as it happens, to pay for massive public relations campaigns at Burson-Marsteller, as it happens, and that they’re really not very big. Two million dollars at CUFI in 2007 revenue before it went dark under some IRS regulations, and then the 2012 revenue at International Fellowships of Christians and Jews was $113 million.
So there is a false idea that these are major, major forces in the Israel lobby. What we do know, though, is that Americans generally, if you ask them, favorability ratings about Israel, they’re generally favorable. Most are favorable, 59 percent; 41 percent, not favorable or don’t care. We’ve given over $250 billion of aid to Israel, far more than any other country, inflation adjusted. And a large portion of aid is classified. President Obama made a statement at American University that it’s now unprecedented, but you can’t get the figure for intelligence aid. If it’s unprecedented, then we know with military aid it’s either $1.9 billion a year, or $13.2 billion if the president adjusted for inflation. But when you ask the CIA, which must be handling intelligence aid to Israel, they say sorry, that’s classified. We’re suing them for that information, by the way. [Applause]

In a 2014 poll, when you ask Americans something beyond favorability, when you ask them about the aid and ask this question: the U.S. gives over $3 billion annually or 9 percent of the foreign aid budget, more than any other country, this amount is _____, the statistically significant 2014 survey conducted through Google Consumer research, 60.7 percent say it’s either much too much or too much; 25.9 percent say about right; 13.4 percent too little. Well, this is an old poll. Surely, this is a fluke. Many, many respondents must have given, I don’t know, there must have been a fluke. Well, no. In 2016, they conducted again this month, the figure has risen to almost 62 percent who say it’s too much or much too much. This is a specific question with information sufficient to make an informed answer, and the movement is generally against foreign aid. So these five false narratives that are used to move America can be or should be challenged.
Now I’d like to move on to five more, about a variety of subjects. If we look at state and local governments, there’s an absolute explosion in activities and lobbying on behalf of Israel. A great deal of this is taking place from the Jewish Community Relations Councils which are inside large foundations. They’re distributed across every major population center. They function under the old American Zionist Council model in which, like AIPAC was back in the day, it’s just a little committee inside a big organization. That’s what they do. They lobby as unorganized, unincorporated committees. Well, that stopped for AIPAC back when the Kennedy administration told the AZC to register as a foreign agent. Six weeks later AIPAC broke off and finally incorporated. The Community Relations Councils, however, lobby the way AIPAC used to lobby, without disclosing very much, and some top AIPAC lobbyists are terrified—these slides will be online at the end of the day, by the way—terrified and quoted saying that he would sure hate to see any of these reported properly.
So what we have in terms of the prerogative of the presidency to take away Iran sanctions. It’s hard to unwind all of these state-level Iran boycotts. When we talk about the president maybe wanting to be in charge of whether law enforcement is trained in Israel, nuh-uh. If we talk about changes to state pension funds to allow the purchase of more Israel bonds, that’s not an executive prerogative anymore. In fact, California would love, and passed a resolution saying, that California believes Israel’s border should be determined by the government of Israel—the State of California state legislature! This is a type of resolution you see passed in many state legislatures.

But when you ask Americans, again, in a statistically significant poll the following question: Congress and state legislators passed scores of resolutions condemning Palestinians or voicing unconditional support for Israel every year, do you support this or not? Almost 70 percent say these resolutions don’t represent my views. So this is not representative government. One of the JCRCs which does report—which is a big force in greater Washington—that for every dollar it raises, it extracts $1.58 in tax dollars for Israel. It’s very active. It’s building Israel affinity organization buildings on the taxpayer dime. It’s doing all sorts of trade developments, and international studies, and scientific endeavors on the state tax dollar with Israel. So there’s a great deal of activity going on at the state level.
Another thing that’s very interesting is that Israel affinity organizations, a few of them, enjoy a high level of criminal immunity. And this has been going on since the ’40s. The original organizations involved in conventional weapon smuggling to Jewish fighters in Palestine, there are only a handful of indictments. The Zionist Organization of America has received seven foreign agent registration orders. There have never been any high-level criminal prosecutions over nuclear smuggling, which Dr. Mattson will be talking about. There’s no high-level prosecution for espionage. There have been solid cases against AIPAC in 1985 and 2005, all shut down by the Justice Department. The ADL holding classified information in ’90s, shut down by the Justice Department. United Against Nuclear Iran was conducting a smear campaign against a Greek shipper. It held classified information. The Greek shipper sued. The Justice Department waded into the case and shut it down. The Justice Department is losing a great deal of credibility by never seeming to be able to uphold the law when it comes to espionage cases.
Finally, number eight, Israel affinity organization activities inside executive state and federal agencies, we see a wave of political appointees who are becoming known for lobbying and advocating on behalf of Israel within federal agencies: Dennis Ross at the Department of State; Neal Sher at the Justice Department; Josh Mandel, who bought $80 million of Israel bonds after changing state pension fund laws and lobbying to buy more for the Ohio State Treasury; neoconservatives at the Pentagon, which we are hoping Jim Lobe will cover later today; Stuart Levey and David S. Cohen at Treasury, conducting economic warfare against Iran, unaccountable to public inquiries but always seemingly meeting at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy to give private briefings; the FBI-ADL liaison, which I go into great depth in my book, which has been ongoing since the 1950s; and various IRS commissioners whose scorecard on creating more in transparency for Israel affinity organizations or ignoring congressional requests to investigate various groups has been ongoing since the 1960s. And with this level of what I would call regulatory capture of some key agencies, you of course have abuse of tax-exempt status.
Now, before many organizations became Israel lobbying organizations, they were in fact holding clear social welfare purposes—immigrant aid, life insurance, cultural and educational endeavors, and charitable hospitals. So this first wave that started in the mid-1800s tended to reduce government burden, which is the actual reason that organizations are given tax-exempt status. But as we’ve moved on, and since 1948, many of the organizations are not really offsetting any government burden. They’re creating more government burden, whether it’s lobbying for increased kinetic action against Israel’s enemies—that’s how they talk—or The Israel Project, which functions as sort of a PR agency for the Israeli governments and attempts to leverage that into being able to quash who appears on certain programs.

So we’ve been moving away as the lobby grows into the largest, collectively the largest, charitable entity in the United States. In 2012, there was about $3.672 billion, by the end of the decade it will be at $6.2 billion. The tax burden that this creates directly means that Americans, just to offset the subsidy, will be paying about a billion dollars extra in taxes by the end of the year. And when you look at it on a chart, foreign aid versus the revenue raised by these 336 organizations, our foreign aid to Israel—the unclassified, what we know about—looks like a big matching grants program where as much money as these organizations can raise to lobby and spend and convince people to move Israel’s way in the United States is not simply matched by the federal government for the annual aid program, which will be a big topic, I’m sure, at AIPAC’s convention next week.
So probably the most costly thing is the constant agitation for policies and military actions against Israel’s enemies, and we can see this as well in the United States when we do consumer research surveys. Right before the final negotiations of the Iran nuclear program, 58 percent of Americans were so scared. They were already convinced that Iran had nuclear weapons. That’s how far we’ve been moved. And so I would argue, in my book I argue, that Americans have been too easily moved and they were paying the transport bill. That only through much greater awareness, and particularly focusing on many of these captured agencies, will we be able to stop this downward spiral.

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