(photo credit: coutesy)
Don’t count your votes before they’re cast. Up on Capitol Hill, all those proud protestations of faith and romance during the campaign don’t amount to a hill of beans until it is time to make tough decisions and vote.
It’s easy enough to get a slew of members of from one party to make a statement they consider pro-Israel, whether from Right or Left, and wave it around as proof that the absence of signers from the other party means it is anti-Israel.
Even though polls in the past two elections showed Israel was a decisive issue for only a tiny percentage of voters, candidates rushed to go on the record declaring their pro-Israel devotion.
Is it because the flame of Zion burns so brightly in the hearts of political outsiders who hate Washington so much they that they will spare no effort to get to Sodom on the Potomac?
Why are they so anxious to publish Middle East position papers, and who really writes them?
AIPAC’s claim, long before the 112th Congress was even sworn in, that it is “expected to be the most pro-Israel Congress ever” was just plain silly. First, there’s the question of how to define the term “pro-Israel.”
A candidate can support the position of the peace camp – compromise, territorial concessions and Palestinian statehood – or the opposite – those things pose mortal threats to the survival of the Jewish state – and still lay claim to the term. There is enough diversity in the Jewish community and in Israel to validate both.
That doesn’t stop politicians on both sides – more these days on the GOP side of the aisle – from hurling accusations about insufficient loyalty to the pro-Israel cause based on such legitimate differences, thereby turning a subject of national consensus into a partisan wedge issue.
If you read them carefully, candidate position papers are much more vague than they initially appear. They’re full of the right phrases, like admiring Israeli democracy and common Judeo- Christian heritage, shared values, partners in the fight against Islamist terror, stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge and making sure it is safe and secure.
But they lack substance and provide few hints of what lawmakers will actually do when confronted with hard choices. Only one word really counts, and it is “yea” or “nay” on difficult votes. All else is commentary.
There will be many legislative issues that groups like AIPAC may tally as friendly or unfriendly, but those that really matter can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the most important is Israel’s $3 billion-plus foreign aid package.
That’s where Congress has the greatest influence, and it’s the real way to measure support, not all those resolutions, letters, speeches and ‘gotcha’ stunts that are either designed to embarrass the other party or to impress hard-line Jewish supporters and contributors by showing how tough a lawmaker can appear by doing a bit of Arab-bashing.
OVER THE past few years the foreign aid bill has sailed through, but that may be about to change as a new Congress elected on the Tea Party tide starts hacking away at unpopular programs – which is what the overall foreign aid program has been for years.
The 108 members of the 112th Congress freshman class are overwhelmingly Republican. Many won on their first try for public office, and more than half identify themselves as Tea Party goers. They are claiming a mandate to slash federal spending.
Few have any ties to the Jewish community much less Israel; many have negligible Jewish constituencies, so why bother issuing a position paper on a topic so few voters consider critical?
How can AIPAC boast that this could be the most pro- Israel Congress ever? It can’t, really – but saying it is is a stunt meant to tell opponents it has this Congress locked up. The group bases its contention on position papers from the candidates, since few have any record to run on. The problem is many of those were written by or with AIPAC. I know because my staff and I wrote them for many years while I worked there, for congressional as well as presidential candidates of both parties.
The word is out that if you’re looking for Jewish support – translation: $$$$ – you need to see AIPAC, and many candidates make the pilgrimage to lobby headquarters or meet with its members back home. As a matter of official policy, AIPAC does not “rate or endorse” candidates, but as a practical matter it does. It sends the word through a vast network of activists and lets PACs, bundlers and other big contributors know who needs and deserves their help and who doesn’t.
Candidates want to know what they can do to win Jewish support; if they don’t already have an influential Jewish supporter with ties to other leaders – a political “rabbi” – one can be assigned. They’ll get help with their policy, and introductions to people who can help them. Bets are often hedged by working with opposing candidates.
What do politicians give in return? They sign letters, give speeches,
show up at events, cosponsor resolutions or vote for amendments that
spend no money. They show their loyalty and AIPAC shows its muscle.
But that’s the easy stuff; the proof will be in the pudding. And this year, the pudding could be the foreign aid bill.