Lobbying needs to be removed from politics. Good or bad ones, it all needs to go.
A DEBATE ABOUT the power in Washington of the pro-Israel lobby is underway, after Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., responded sharply to reports that Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was targeting both Omar and fellow Muslim Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan.
Omar quoted rap lyrics — “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” — to suggest McCarthy’s move was driven by the lobby’s prolific spending. Asked specifically who she was referring to, Omar responded, “AIPAC!”
The debate over the influence of pro-Israel groups could be informed by an investigation by Al Jazeera, in which an undercover reporter infiltrated the Israel Project, a Washington-based group, and secretly recorded conversations about political strategy and influence over a six-month period in 2016. That investigation, however, was never aired by the network — suppressed by pressure from the pro-Israel lobby.
In November, Electronic Intifada obtained and published the four-part series, but it did so during the week of the midterm elections, and the documentary did not get a lot of attention then.
In it, leaders of the pro-Israel lobby speak openly about how they use money to influence the political process, in ways so blunt that if the comments were made by critics, they’d be charged with anti-Semitism.
David Ochs, founder of HaLev, which helps send young people to American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference, described for the reporter how AIPAC and its donors organize fundraisers outside the official umbrella of the organization, so that the money doesn’t show up on disclosures as coming specifically from AIPAC. He describes one group that organizes fundraisers in both Washington and New York. “This is the biggest ad hoc political group, definitely the wealthiest, in D.C.,” Ochs says, adding that it has no official name, but is clearly tied to AIPAC. “It’s the AIPAC group. It makes a difference; it really, really does. It’s the best bang for your buck, and the networking is phenomenal.” (Ochs and AIPAC did not immediately return The Intercept’s requests for comment.)
Without spending money, Ochs argues, the pro-Israel lobby isn’t able to enact its agenda. “Congressmen and senators don’t do anything unless you pressure them. They kick the can down the road, unless you pressure them, and the only way to do that is with money,” he explains.