‘NYT’ addresses pro-Israel donors’ influence over Congress

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The New York Times has finally done it: an honest piece about the Israel lobby’s financial influence over Congress. The Republican side of the aisle, anyway. Reporter Eric Lipton explains that the Republican orthodoxy on Israel is a reflection of big money:

Congress [is] controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever, partly a result of ideology, but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.

The piece singles out Tom Cotton, the Arkansas meteor who was propelled into the Senate last fall after just one term in Congress with nearly $1 million from the Emergency Committee for Israel, as we reported weeks ago.

Mr. Cotton and other Republicans benefited from millions in campaign spending in 2014 by several pro-Israel Republican billionaires and other influential American donors who helped them topple Democratic opponents.

Turns out that Senator Lindsey Graham rakes in big pro-Israel money.

[Graham] saw his donations from pro-Israel donors soar to about $285,000 in the 2014 election cycle from less than $100,000 in 2008.

Headlined “G.O.P.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift,” the piece follows Eli Clifton’s reporting in highlighting several wealthy Jewish donors: Paul Singer, Seth Klarman, Irving Moskowitz. And it quotes Scott McConnell, the former editor of the American Conservative, who says that Republicans have abandoned their traditional sympathy to “Arab claims against Israel” for one-sided “fanaticism.”

The piece treats Benjamin Netanyahu’s hero tour of Congress last month as part of the financial sweepstakes for Republican presidential candidates conducted by Sheldon Adelson (who has called on Obama to nuke Iran).

Over all, the most significant contributor by far to Republican supporters of Israel has been Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, who with his wife has invested at least $100 million in conservative causes over the last four years. A large chunk was spent on the 2012 presidential campaign, but Senate Republicans also benefited, and could soon again, particularly those considering a run for president.

The scope of the alliance was evident last month when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, at the invitation of Speaker John A. Boehner, spoke to a joint meeting of Congress, over Mr. Obama’s objections.

After the speech, some of the nation’s most important pro-Israel donors, including Mr. Adelson, gathered with more than a dozen Republican members of Congress at the nearby Capitol Hill Club. “It was a love fest,” said Kenneth J. Bialkin, a corporate lawyer and donor who attended.

And the piece says that the pro-Israel money has flopped from the Democrats over to the Republicans.

Donors say the trend toward Republicans among wealthy, hawkish contributors is at least partly responsible for inspiring stronger support for Israel among party lawmakers who already had pro-Israel views.

“Absolutely, it is a factor,” said Marc Felgoise, who manages the Philadelphia Israel Network, a campaign fund-raising group, and whose own contributions have shifted to Republicans, though he still supports many Democrats.

The Times’s honesty about the rightwing Jewish donors is possible because the lobby split over Netanyahu, and big Jewish donors are no longer perceived as monolithic. So long as they were perceived as monolithic, this kind of story was regarded as anti-Semitic. But remember that just two years ago the Democrats were indistinguishable from the Republicans, the White House abandoned its opposition to settlements, and when delegates at the Democratic Party convention wanted to come out for a divided Jerusalem, they were shut down by a president who was reportedly “livid” that the platform had failed to include the Netanyahu party line.

Jeremy Ben-Ami of the liberal Zionist group J Street addresses the monolith when he tells Lipton that the rightwing donors “distorted” politicians’ views of the Jewish community. I.e., The pols were afraid to take a step because they thought all American Jews are for the settlements.

The obvious questions that arise from the Times piece are: How supportive of Israel are the Democrats’ big Jewish donors? Will those donors demonstrate greater diversity of opinion than Klarman and Adelson? I believe they will; but the test will take place when Democrats in next year’s primary process are able to run against US aid to Israel (and against the occupation, the settlements, even the two-state solution). They will be able to do so because the Jewish community is openly fracturing over the occupation, and the leftwing view is gaining adherents. We are approaching the time when Ben-Ami will find himself on the right inside the Democratic Party because he will be for continued aid to Israel. While some big Jewish Democratic givers will be against that aid.

It should be clear to readers that I regard all these political changes as flowing from the shifting sociology and attitudes of the American Jewish community, in a nutshell, our rise into the establishment as the Six Day war catalyzed public awareness of the Holocaust. The lobby lived by Jewish sociology, and it will die by it.

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