|Speaker Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without |
consulting President Obama. (BostonPeter7 via Flickr)
Close to three dozen Democrats will boycott Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, angry that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) invited the head-of-state without consulting President Obama.
The rift is emblematic of the tension between the White House and hard-line supporters of Israel on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear aspirations. The Obama Administration has urged patience as it attempts to finish negotiations with the Iranians, while Netanyahu is expected to warn against deals with Iran over its nuclear program. A preview his remarks was available Monday when Netanyahu spoke at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the purpose of my address to Congress tomorrow is to speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel,” Netanyahu told AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel lobby in Washington by far and one that has been spending record amounts in recent years to influence a variety of interests including Iranian nuclear proliferation.
The slice of the Democratic caucus that is expected to miss Tuesday’s address is relatively small. What may be lost in the discussion surrounding the boycott is that Democrats have long been the favored party of pro-Israel interests. And just one of the Democrats named by Politico as planning to skip Netanyahu’s speech, Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, was a top 20 recipient from those interests in 2014.
In that cycle, Democrats received $6.5 million from pro-Israel interests, while Republicans saw just over $5 million. That works out to 56 percent of the cash coming from pro-Israel groups going to Democrats and 44 percent to Republicans. The spread isn’t unusual: Democrats regularly receive over 60 percent of the cash from pro-Israel groups. The only cycle going back to 1990 that Democrats received less than 50 percent of these contributions was 2006, when they pulled in just 48 percent of the money — but Republicans got even less, just 40 percent.
The numbers are somewhat deceiving, since AIPAC doesn’t make campaign contributions. Donations by pro-Israel interests are led, in fact, by JStreetPAC, a much more moderate organization that tends to favor liberals. In the 2014 cycle the group’s PAC and individuals associated with JStreet contributed almost $1.8 million, with the vast majority going to Democrats.
AIPAC, however, is huge in the lobbying world, and posted its biggest year yet in 2014 by spending $3.1 million to lobby the federal government; it beat its 2013 high water mark by $82,589.That was the seventh year in a row that AIPAC spent more than $2 million (and sixth in a row that it spent more than $2.5 million). While there are a handful of pro-Israel groups that lobby the federal government, AIPAC is the unquestioned big dog in this realm and accounts for most of the increased lobbying funds.
The committee has always lobbied on defense issues, but the increased spending corresponds with mounting concern over the Iranian nuclear issue and Israeli security concerns.
Lobbying by AIPAC in the first several years of the 21st century grew steadily as nuclear proliferation fears rose. Lobbying spending by the group spiked in 2006, the year of the first round of UN sanctions on Iran, to just under $2 million. The spending levels spiked again in 2008, a year in which the U.S. and Israel began cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear operations and talks with Iran over its uranium enrichment collapsed. Lobbying outlays by the group have remained high during the Obama presidency.
In 2014, the bills most frequently listed by AIPAC in its lobbying reports were the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, which has been reintroduced in the 114th Congress and would impose increased sanctions to stop Iran from enriching uranium that might be used to build a nuclear warhead; and the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, a bill that was signed into law by Obama on Dec. 19 and extended authorization to place Department of Defense items in stockpiles in Israel.
Last August, the International Business Times reported that Israeli military forces had been using American weapons stockpiles in its war in Gaza.
The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act passed the Senate with unanimous consent and the House by a voice vote, meaning no individual voting records for either chamber were recorded. The law’s considerable support was evident from the number of lawmakers sponsoring the bill, however. Seventy-nine senators put their name on the bill.