Al Jazeera asks, ‘What role does the pro-Israel lobby play?’

US Politics
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From the Al Jazeera English website:

The American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US, is holding its biggest annual conference yet with around 13,000 delegates in Washington.

For all those bidding to become the next US president, it has become an essential campaign stop. The group has strong ties to the religious right and evangelical voters. And it is a very influential force in Washington politics.

Demonstrators from the occupy movement held a small protest outside the event urging no war on Iran and no US tax dollars for Israel.

On Sunday, Barack Obama, the US president, took to the stage and told the audience that Israel had never had a better friend in the White House. But he did not support Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities – at least not yet.

Three of the four Republican candidates bidding to unseat the US president addressed the conference on the biggest day of the nomination battle so far – ‘Super Tuesday’.

Rick Santorum flew in especially for the event before heading back to Ohio, while Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich appeared via satellite link.

A number of Republicans have sought to attack the US president over his administration’s relationship with Israel. And the Republican presidential candidates have all tried to paint Obama as an undependable partner for Israel who is weak on Iran.

Mitt Romney said: “We’ve heard a lot of words from the administration. Its clear message has been to warn Israel to consider the costs of military action against Iran. I don’t believe we should be issuing public warnings.”

And Newt Gingrich said: “If an Israeli prime minister decides that he has to avoid the threat of a second holocaust through pre-emptive measures that I would require no advance notice to understand why I would support the right of Israel to survive in a dangerous world.”

So what role do pro-Israel lobby groups, and AIPAC in particular, play in the US election and why are they courted by those competing to be the next US president? How do Barack Obama’s dealings with Israel compare with those of his predecessors, including Republicans?

To discuss these issues presenter Anand Naidoo is joined by: John Mearsheimer, the co-author of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy; Larry Greenfield from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; and Hillary Mann Leverett, a former White House and US state department official.

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