The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its dollar-dispensing foot soldiers—the 30-plus pro-Israel political action committees (PACs) that dutifully dole out funds to national candidates deemed deserving of their largesse—long have basked in an aura of invincibility. Senators and congressmen quake at the prospect that the Israel lobby, which brooks no deviation from the party line, will exact its vengeance in the form of an abruptly ended career should there be even a hint of independent thinking—much less of putting one’s own country first.

The results of the 2006 mid-term elections, however, indicate that the Israel lobby’s support—or opposition—is not the last word in determining winners and losers. Not only did some high-profile—and expensive—races not go quite the way they were supposed to, but it was the losses suffered by several Israel-firsters that ultimately ceded control of the Senate to the Democrats.

Losses and Close Calls in the Senate
Pro-Israel PACs poured money into the campaign of Ohio’s incumbent Republican Sen. Mike DeWine (who in 1994, with just $2,000 in pro-Israel PAC contributions, beat favored—with $64,534—Democratic candidate Joel Hyatt, son-in-law of the retiring incumbent, Sen. Howard Metzenbaum). Weeks before the Nov. 7, 2006 election, however, it became apparent that DeWine (who, as of July 31, had received $52,000 in pro-Israel PAC contributions) would lose to Rep. Sherrod Brown ($9,500). So contributions were deflected to other close races, including the re-election campaigns of Rick Santorum (R-PA) and George Allen (R-VA). Now only Brown has a job.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), a former representative who also was first elected to the Senate in 1994, won his bid for re-election—but with only 52 percent of the vote, despite having been the top Senate recipient of pro-Israel PAC funds as of July 31. Kyl was up against not only a challenger who spent $10 million of his own money, but voters’ anti-Republican sentiment. Capitalizing on the latter was New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Commmittee—and fellow Israel-firster. According to the Dec. 9 New York Post, “Kyl’s relatively safe Senate seat was put in jeopardy in the closing days of the elections…when Schumer pumped more than $1 million into the race in an unsuccessful bid to unseat him.”

Kyl retaliated by yanking from a major congressional tax package $2 billion in funding for a rail link between New York’s Kennedy Airport and lower Manhattan, infuriating Schumer and the state’s congressional delegation. As Time magazine said of Kyl (in naming him one of America’s 10 best senators!), “He has succeeded by mastering a tactic that is crucial in a body in which any one member can bring the place to a halt as a ploy or out of pique: subterfuge.”

Can’t these Zionists just get along?

Other AIPAC-favored Senate incumbents who went down for the count included Conrad Burns (R-MT) and James Talent (R-MO)—whose loss to Claire McCaskill put the Democrats over the top, ending the Republicans’ hope that, as president of the Senate, Vice President Dick Cheney’s vote would break any ties.

Of course, Cheney’s vote would have made the difference had Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) been re-elected. That wasn’t acceptable to the Israel lobby, however, which gave Chafee a token $1,500 in campaign contributions, compared to $5,000 to his primary opponent, Stephen Laffey, and $25,000 to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse II, who won the general election.

In nearby Connecticut, with help from pro-Israel PACs and the state’s Republican voters, “Independent” candidate Joseph Lieberman (“ask not what I can do for my party, ask what my party can do for me”) defeated Ned Lamont, who, running as an anti-war candidate, beat Lieberman in the Democratic primary. But with friends like Schumer and Rep. Rahm Emanual (D-IL), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Lieberman knew not to worry. As far as Emanual was concerned, he told the Sept. 25 issue of Fortune Magazine, “We have two Democrats running” for senator from Connecticut. How convenient that the Israel-firster and fellow backer of the U.S.-led war on Iraq won.

Complications in the House

With the exception of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX)—oops, there went $26,000 down the drain—the top House recipients of pro-Israel PAC contributions (see November 2006 Washington Report, p. 32) all won re-election. But the changing of the guard from Republican to Democrat has left AIPAC scrambing to mend fences.

According to Nathan Guttman, writing in the Nov. 8 Forward, “Democratic sources said that on several occasions in recent months, they felt as if the American Israel Public Affairs Committee appeared to be siding with the Republicans. In addition, some Democratic operatives complain that AIPAC should have done more to speak out against the Republican campaign to paint Democrats as unreliable when it comes to standing up for Israel’s security.”

Nor is new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) above the fray. A strong supporter of Israel, Pelosi most recently distanced her party from former President Jimmy Carter. Echoing extreme Zionist displeasure with the title of his latest book, Israel: Peace Not Apartheid (available from the AET Book Club), Pelosi issued a written statement—before his book even was published—saying Carter “does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel. “

It was wrong, she said, “to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based suppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously.”

While her Jewish supporters express confidence in Pelosi’s commitment to Israel—AIPAC spokeswoman Jennifer Cannata told the Forward that Pelosi “has a perfect record of support for the U.S.-Israel relationship”—there are some areas of concern. Foremost, perhaps, is Pelosi’s opposition to the Iraq war, which is backed by such Israel-firsters as Emanuel, Schumer, Lieberman and Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee. First Pelosi let it be known that she did not plan to reappoint Harmon to the committee, in part because she saw Harman as being too lenient on the Bush administration’s Iraq policy (see December Washington Report, p. 19). After passing over Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) for the chairmanship because of his earlier impeachment from a Florida federal court, she appointed Rep. Silvestre Reyes to head the committe.

(As of July 31, pro-Israel PACs had contributed $8,000 to Harman, $1,000 to Hastings, and nothing to Reyes. Wonder who’ll come a-courtin’ to the new chairman’s office?)

Next Pelosi backed Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), a vocal opponent of the Iraq war, instead of heir apparent Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as House Majority Whip. Perhaps with their eyes on AIPAC, House Democrats voted for Hoyer—who had received $34,500 in pro-Israel PAC contributions, versus nothing for Murtha.

Prior to the November elections, Pelosi refused to co-sponsor a July resolution regarding Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon because it omitted a line from the Senate version calling on both sides to avoid civilian casualties.

According to the Forward’s Guttman, “Democrats claim that AIPAC did not use its leverage and its connections to soften the Republican stand and to accommodate Pelosi’s concerns.”

In an Oct. 25 column, however, Guttman quotes Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, as complaining that Pelosi “literally stripped her name off a resolution supporting Israel because she thought it was not evenhanded enough and too pro-Israel.”

Reported Guttman: “Sources close to the minority leader said she was made ‘furious’ by claims that she was not being supportive of Israel at a time of war.”

Another underlying worry seems to be Pelosi’s perceived vulnerability as a “San Francisco liberal.” One wonders, however, if the real issue is, in fact, either geography or Pelosi’s place on the political spectrum. According to Guttman, the abovementioned Brooks “predicted that as a lawmaker representing one of the country’s most pro-Palestinian districts, Pelosi would be under constant pressure to back away from her earlier support of Israel.”

For its part, AIPAC—always eager to present itself as calling the shots in Congress—issued a statement on the election results, saying it “looks forward to continuing to work with the leadership and members of both parties in both houses of Congress in support of a strong U.S.- Israel relationship.

“Congressional support for the U.S.-Israel relationship has always been, and will remain, overwhelmingly bipartisan with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, and it is that broad support that ensures that the U.S.-Israel relationship will continue to flourish.”

The AIPAC statement concluded by welcoming “the election of six new Jewish members of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Ron Klein (D-FL), John Yarmuth (D-KY), Paul Hodes (D-NH), Stephen Cohen (D-TN), and Steve Kagen (D-WI), whose election brings the number of Jewish members of the House to 30 and 13 in the Senate, with the election of Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).”

House Speaker Pelosi, an Italian-American, happens to be Roman Catholic—not that we’re counting.

SIDEBAR

Rahm Emanuel, Boy Genius? Not So Much.

As chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Rahm Emanual (D-IL) received much credit for the Democrats’ victory in the Nov. 7, 2006 mid-term elections. He since has been elected chair of the Democratic Caucus—the party’s third highest leadership position.

Emanuel is a noted Israel-firster whose father was a member of the terrorist Irgun, and who himself flew to help defend Israel during the first Gulf war. He has a well-earned reputation as an enforcer—but how successful was he in contributing to the Democratic victory, and what was his agenda?

As the man with the money, Emanuel chose not to back opponents of the war in Iraq—the very issue that caused Americans to vote out the Republicans. In Ohio, for example, he dumped an anti-war candidate who in 2004 ran a close race against incumbent Rep. Henry Hyde in favor of Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq military veteran. Duckworth lost—even though Hyde was not running for re-election.

As John V. Walsh wrote in the Nov. 11/12 issue of CounterPunch (www.counterpunch.com), Emanuel “chose 22 key races, open or Republican seats, where [Democrats] might win.” Only nine of his candidates did win, however, prompting Walsh to note that since the Democrats needed only 15 seats to win control of the House, but picked up 30, Emanuel’s “efforts were completely unnecessary. Had the campaign rested on Rahm’s choices,” Walsh further pointed out, the Democrats still would be in the minority.

One of the Democrats who won without Emanuel’s backing is Chris Carney (D-PA), who beat Republican incumbent and admitted adulterer Don Sherwood. Although the new congressman ran on an antiwar platform, as a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst he previously had worked for Douglas Feith, the Pentagon’s neocon war architect, to develop intelligence supporting a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq—and hence the U.S.-led invasion. Apparently Carney’s credentials were not enough to counter Emanuel’s distaste for his subsequent questioning of the war.—J.M.