Mondoweiss readers are familiar with the freakout over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweet earlier this year quoting the Sean Combs song “it’s all about the Benjamins baby.” Omar was replying to Glenn Greenwald’s remark that “It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.” She later clarified that she was referring to AIPAC.
Pro-Israel organizations and individuals were quick to claim that mentioning “money” in connection with support for Israel – and in their eyes therefore “the Jews,” who were never mentioned in any of Omar’s statements – was inherently “anti-Semitic.”
But many of these same organizations are not so reticent about money when they congratulate themselves and their funders for massive contributions to the cause. AIPAC itself is conspicuous in this.
I recently saw an invitation to the May 5, 2019 AIPAC New England Leadership Dinner at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston’s upscale new waterfront neighborhood. Tickets were $300 per person (or $200 for Club Members who invest more than $1800 in AIPAC; contributors of $10,000 or more get a complimentary ticket).
Along with the invite came an 8-page brochure listing New England AIPAC contributors in categories ranging from “MINYAN” ($100,000+) to “WASHINGTON CLUB” ($1,800+).
There were 31 MINYAN members; 9 for “CHAIRMAN’S COUNCIL” ($36000+); 6 for “PRESIDENT’S CABINET” ($25,000+); 77 for “SENATE CLUB” ($10,000+); 143 for “CAPITOL CLUB” ($3600+); 283 for “WASHINGTON CLUB” (a paltry $1800+). Levels are capitalized as in the brochure.
Now even assuming that contributors donated only the minimum in their category, that’s nearly a cool $5,000,000 for AIPAC from just one region of the country. It’s likely that the total was considerably higher.
And what’s more, since many or most of these contributions were no doubt made to AIPAC’s money laundering charity, the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), you and I also had to make up for the tax-deductible donations of AIPAC’s generous donors. AIEF raised more than $65,000,000 in tax deductible contributions during 2017, the last year’s accounting I could find. Most of AIEF’s tax-exempt funding went directly or indirectly to AIPAC or to pay for Congressional and other AIPAC-organized “educational” trips to Israel, which would be barred if financed directly by a lobbying organization. AIPAC itself claims it spends “only” $3,500,000 in lobbying.
AIPAC says that it does not endorse or contribute to political candidates, and that is technically true. The organization explains on its web site that it “is not a Political Action Committee. It does not rate or endorse candidates. AIPAC encourages its members to participate in the political process and support the candidates of their choice.”
But AIPAC also promotes membership in its “Congressional Club” of donors who “commit to giving political contributions in a clearly pro-Israel context to candidates running for the United States House of Representatives and/or United States Senate.” In the New England Dinner brochure at least 85 contributors are recognized in this category.
How much all this totals, along with the various other arms of the Israel lobby and individual pro-Israel campaign donors is hard to calculate. But it is certainly an awful lot of “Benjamins.”