For the past few weeks a sometimes comic debate has simmering in the American press, focused on the question of whether there is an Israeli lobby, and if so, just how powerful is it?
I would have thought that to ask whether there's an Israeli lobby here is a bit like asking whether there's a Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and a White House located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. For the past sixty years the Lobby has been as fixed a part of the American scene as either of the other two monuments, and not infrequently exercising as much if not more influence on the onward march of history.
The late Steve Smith, brother in law of Teddy Kennedy, and a powerful figure in the Democratic Party for several decades, liked to tell the story of how a group of four Jewish businessmen got together two million dollars in cash and gave it to Harry Truman when he was in desperate need of money amidst his presidential campaign in 1948. Truman went on to become president and to express his gratitude to his Zionist backers.
Since those days the Democratic Party has long been hospitable to, and supported by rich Zionists. In 2002, for example, Haim Saban, the Israel-American who funds the Saban Center at the Brooking Institute and is a big contributor to AIPAC, gave $12.3 million to the Democratic Party. In 2001, the magazine Mother Jones listed on its web site the 400 leading contributors to the 2000 national elections. Seven of the first 10 were Jewish, as were 12 of the top 20 and 125 of the top 250. Given this, all prudent candidates have gone to amazing lengths to satisfy their demands. There have been famous disputes, as between President Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin, and famous vendettas, as when the Lobby destroyed the political careers of Representative Paul Findley and of Senator Charles Percy because they were deemed to be anti-Israel.