From Pro-Israel Lobby
The following is an instructional email from
an Indian-American advocacy group attempting to model itself after
the AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying organization. It is very telling
in more ways than one.
a topical monograph titled LOBBYING IN AMERICA: A PRIMER FOR CITIZEN
PARTICIPATION, Ralph Nurnberger has presented a succinct account
of how the pro-Israel US community has become a powerful influence
in American political circles in support of Israel. He has also
offered some thoughts on what the Indian-American community can
Dr. Ralph Nurnberger is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University.
He spent over eight years as a legislative liaison for the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where he specialized in
foreign aid to Israel, arms sales, and peace process related issues.
He is the author of a study on the history of the West Bank prepared
for the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet and was awarded the Myrtle
Wreath Award by the New York chapter of Hadassah.
Dr. Nurnberger served as a foreign policy assistant to Senator James
Pearson (R-Kansas), and as a professional staff member on the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee. As a senior fellow at the Center For
Strategic and International Studies, he co-authored a book on Congressional
leadership and edited other volumes on foreign policy and the political
system. He is the senior partner in the public affairs firm of Nurnberger
& Associates. ---
In this review, I am summarizing the major factors that explain
the Israeli success story and the lessons Indian-Americans can derive
"Lobbying"is a term which has come to mean the effort by an individual
or group of individuals to influence decisions made by the government
The basic concept underlying the lobbying is that every individual
has views that matters and which should be factored into political
decisions. The concept underlying the citizen participation is that
Members of Congress are most likely to pay close attention to their
constituents. Thus when Congress begins discussing matters of concern
to a particular group, its group members are encouraged to write
or call their Rep or even travel to Washington for face to face
meetings. Such direct participation by general public is at the
very heart of America's representational democracy.
An individual who contacts legislator on his own behalf is generally
unpaid and would not be required to register as a lobbyist. Such
individuals are simply considered citizens exercising their constitutional
rights and are not classified as lobbyist.
The American pro-Israel community serves as a model for developing
an effective lobby organization and achieving success within the
American political system. The primary organization dedicated to
lobbying on behalf of good US-Israeli relations is American Israel
Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Following are the highlights of AIPAC activities:
AIPAC's membership is approximately 60,000 and its
annual budget is over $14 million. Its headquarters
is in Capitol Hill.
Experts have described AIPAC as "King of the Hill" and the "preeminent
power in the Washington lobbying". "Plenty of Senators and House
Members regard AIPAC political power as awesome".
It is no overstatement to say that AIPAC has effectively gained
control of virtually all of Capitol Hill's action on Middle East
Policy. "Almost without exception, House and Senate members do its
bidding. Whether based on fact or fancy, the perception is what
counts. AIPAC means power - raw intimidating power".
One of AIPAC primary objective is to secure American foreign assistance
for Israel on the most favorable terms possible. AIPAC has worked
closely with successive Presidents and with virtually with every
member of the Congress to ensure a continuous flow of aid. Israel
has been the single largest recipient of American foreign aid for
decades - exceeding $ 3 billion.
AIPAC has successfully promoted increased cooperation between America
and Israel, such as joint works on various weapon systems, and intelligence
sharing. Working with its allies in Congress, it has blocked a number
of weapons sales to Arab nations that might have posed threats to
Israel's security and to America's interest in the region.
On rare occasions, those supporting close US relations with Israel
have come in direct conflict American Presidents. Such incidents
provide a remarkable view of power of the pro-Israel lobby.
Example 1: In 1991, AIPAC was joined by many other
pro-Israel groups in effect to obtain American loan guarantees for
Israel. The Bush administration led the opposition. President George
Bush tried to build o base of support against the loan guarantee
program by seeking to depict himself as the underdog in power struggle.
In an astounding comment. Bush stated that ""We are up against
very strong and effective groups that go up to the Hill ""...
""I heard today, there were something like a thousand lobbyist
on the hill working the other side of the question. We've got one
lonely little guy down here doing it "". Despite the overwhelming
power of the presidency and the fact that the "thousand lobbyist"
WERE MERELY PRIVATE CITIZENS EXPRESSING PERSONAL VIEWS TO
THEIR REPRESENTATIVES, Congress eventually agreed to provide this
assistance to Israel.
Example 2: In Spring 1998 president Clinton considered
announcing an American proposal to further the Middle East peace
process. The proposal l included the calling upon Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to withdraw from more territory in the
West bank than he was willing to do at that time. AIPAC contacted
every Senate office and within a relatively brief period, 82 Senators
had signed a letter sponsored by the Senator Connie Mack (R-FL)
and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) calling on the President not to take
actions that might lead to confrontation with Israel. President
Clinton was obviously impressed with this letter and did not proceed
with the proposed announcement.
By the mid 1970 every member of Congress became important in foreign
policy. Virtually every member had a staff assistance whose assignment
included covering foreign policy issues. And AIPAC established relationship
with every Member of Congress and their appropriate staffers.
In 1975, AIPAC successfully worked with Senator Clifford Case (R-NJ)
and other Senators to ensure that launchers for Hawk ground-to-surface
missiles destined for Jordan be permanently installed in concrete
bases so that they could not be moved closer to the Israeli border.
When Carter administrations decided in 1978 to sell F-15 fighter
jets to Saudi Arabia, AIPAC led efforts to garner the Congressional
opposition to the proposed sale. Although the Administration narrowly
prevailed in the Senate by a vote of 44-54, AIPAC was able to obtain
additional weapons for Israel and a pledge that the US would assure
Israel's qualitative military advantage over potential Arab forces.
In 1980 AIPAC established wider grass roots contacts through out
America, enhanced the organization "key contact" system which encouraged
ordinary citizens to develop personal relations with Members of
Congress, and furthered the pro-Israel community's involvement in
political campaigns across the country.
Ironically it was a legislative defeat enabling an arms package
to be sold to Saudi Arabia that helped galvanize AIPAC into the
lobby force that it is today. In 1981, Reagan Administration decided
to proceed with a massive sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The package
include five AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System), KC-135
tankers, F-15 jet Fighters and additional equipment with a total
value of approximately $ 9 billion. Israel and its supporters in
the US, including the AIPAC, voiced their opposition. Under the
law enforced at that time, such a sale could be blocked if a majority
of both chambers voted for a resolution of disapproval. AIPAC met
with every member of Congress to encourage them to sign a letters
to President requesting that the sale not proceed. On the other
side, Administration officials, including the Secretaries of State
and Defense, urged Members of Congress not to sign these letters.
Despite the efforts of the Administration and the powerful business-oriented
(defense industry) lobbyist supported the sale, 54 Senators and
224 Reps signed letters in opposition to the sale. Although clear
majority in both chambers were in record opposition, president Reagan
still decided o proceed with the sale. Resolution of disapproval
were immediately introduced in the House and in Senate. AIPAC and
other organizations mobilized pro-Israel Americans form across the
country to contact their Reps and Senators to encourage them to
support these resolutions of disapproval.
President Reagan, personally met with 44 Senators. Business groups
also lobbied heavily in favor of proceeding. The result - House
voted 301 to 101 in October 1981 to block the sale. In Senate, however,
President Reagan was able to prevail by narrow margin o 48-52. The
sale was allowed to proceed, but the LEGISLATIVE DEFEAT WAS A TURNING
POINT FOR AIPAC.
Stung by the defeat, AIPAC's Executive director convened a series
of meetings of it staffers, officers and supporters around the country.
a) There were too many states where AIPAC did not have sufficient
access to Members of Congress. In some cases a lobbyist from
AIPAC might have good relations with a particular Senator, but this
relationship was not backed up with adequate grass root involvement
or political support. So, there was a necessity to expand AIPAC's
power base form Washington in order to become a truly nation-based
organization - the work of AIPAC lobbyist in Washington required
to be supplemented with pro-Israeli activist in every state and
b) Private American citizens who were supportive of good relations
with Israel were urged to get to know the Members of Congress personally
so that they could be considered a "key contact". This system, started
earlier, was expanded and enlarged (A "key contact" is defined
as someone who has enough of personal relationship that the elected
official would return a phone call within a day.)
Eventually, AIPAC setup a network of people throughout the
country who personally came to know each Member of Congress. Whenever
an issue of importance to US-Israeli relations came up before Congress,
AIPAC was able to inform its members around the country. Once contacted
and provided with accurate information, these people would subsequently
contact their Members of Congress and encourage them to support
the position AIPAC advocated.
While AIPAC is not a Political Action Committee (PAC), its an active
participant in the electoral process. Although AIPAC cannot direct
with specific candidates should receive financial assistance, it
makes available the records of all Senate and Congressional aspirants
to potential contributors.
There are approximately 60 pro-Israeli PACs, of which about half
are truly active. AIPAC members are encouraged to contribute to
these pro-Israeli PACs as well as to candidates parties and other
Individual Jews and other pro-Israeli activist were generous contributors
to political campaigns, but the recipients of these funds were not
always aware that the donors had interest in the Middle East issues.
Therefore procedures were set up so that political candidates became
fully aware of the views of their pro-Israeli contributors.
Political donors were encouraged to assist candidates in either
party or as long as they presented pro-Israel credentials.
The image of AIPAC power was enhanced whenever campaign contributor
of pro-Israel helped successful Congressional aspirants or defeated
candidates judged not supportive of AIPAC's agenda. This image was
reinforced when former Congressman Friendly and former Senator Charles
Percy blamed pro-Israel political activists, especially AIPAC, for
having major roles in their failed bids for re-election in1982 and
AIPAC has expanded its outreached program on college campuses
across the nation, opened a series of regional offices around the
country, developed relationships with local and state officials
who the potential to run for Congress in future, established coalition
with other organizations who shared AIPAC orientation on issues
and increased the number of quality of publications sent to members
nationwide and to public officials.
AIPAC worked closely with other organization to secure invitations
to visit Israel for Members of congress, Congressional staff, state
and local officials and potential future political leaders. These
trips proved to be the best way for current and future political
leaders to learn about the region and to develop and understanding
of the issue.
The success of the bigger, stronger AIPAC could be measured in the
a) During the 1980s a number of proposed arms sales to Arab countries
were withdrawn or not even officially sent to Congress after the
Administration realized that AIPAC would be able to mobilize sufficient
Congressional support to defeat such proposal.
b) In 1985, the annual aid level to Israel rose to over $ 3 billion
in all grant assistance despite the initial opposition of Reagan
Administration. It remained over $ 3 billion over the subsequent
c) Congress overwhelming passed a Free Trade Agreement between Israel
and the US in spite of opposition form organized labor groups.
d) AIPAC inspired Congressional support resulted in increased strategic
cooperation between the governments of Israel and US.
e) Remarkably at various times, President Reagan, Bush and Clinton,
their national security advisors and secretaries of state all consulted
with AIPAC before proceeding with initiatives in the middle-east.
As a result, AIPAC became even more than a lobby, it became an active
participant in policy formulation and a trusted intermediary between
the governments of Israel and the US.
f) Virtually all members of congress now turn to AIPAC for information
on middle-east issues. Nearly every candidate of congress and senate
visits AIPAC during their campaigns and most seek AIPAC guidance
before issuing position papers on middle-east issues.
Both political parties work routinely with AIPAC when they seek
to get candidates elected or when they draft the middle-east part
AIPAC has devoted greater efforts for ensuring that America not
place undue pressures on Israel in the context of searching peace
with the Palestinians or with other states in the region. At times
this has involved lobbying the congress to encourage the members
to send clear messages to the administration. For example despite
presidential opposition AIPAC helped to develop congressional support
for America to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Another example of AIPAC working with the Congress to overcome initial
presidential opposition involved AIPAC mobilizing its grass roots
contacts every member of congress in support of a resolution calling
for sanctions against Russian firms assisting Iran's development
for long range missiles able to reach Israel. Although the Clinton
administration initially opposed this resolution, it passed the
house by a vote of 418 to 8. The strong show of Congressional support,
motivated in part by AIPAC, led the Administration to adopt a similar
Some important aspects of AIPAC structure:
a) AIPAC is a domestic lobby and not a foreign agent. AIPAC represents
Americans supportive of good US relationship with Israel.
It raises its funds from all its American citizens only. It does
not accept funds or political direction from overseas, including
from Israel. Thus when AIPAC members and officials meet with members
of congress they purchase their position as supporting the best
interest of the US and not for the foreign government.
b) AIPAC is a 501-C (4) organization that is permitted to lobby
under the internal revenue code. Although it is a non-profit
organization it is not a charity and donations to it are not tax
c) AIPAC members are the base of the organization's financial support.
The annual budget of $ over 14 million is through a combination
of techniques - direct mail, parlor meetings around the country,
fund raising appeals at an annual conference and direct solicitation
of potential contributors.
In large measures, AIPAC's effectiveness is attributed to
the fact that it is a membership organization and approximately
60,000 members nationwide. There are AIPAC members in every
state and every congressional district in the country, most of whom
are directly involved in the political process.
Active participation by national membership is a key element in
the organization's lobbying strategies. When issues of concern come
up for congressional consideration, AIPAC's Washington staff sends
out `action alert" to AIPAC members throughout the nation. These
briefing papers explain the background and recommended position
on the given issue, and details how the recipients can best contact
their members of congress.
AIPAC instructs its members to write thoughtful, personalized letter
or calls directly to the members or appropriate staffers rather
than just sign their names on a mass mail letter. All members
of AIPAC are encouraged to vote, contribute to political campaigns
and political action committees, and contact elected officials.
AIPAC has traditionally placed great emphasis on the next generation
of pro-Israel activists. It has chapters on many college campuses
which are designed to assist students to learn about middle-east
policy issues and how they can participate in the American political
process. Hundreds of college students annually receives subsidies
to attend the AIPAC annual policy conference in Washington.
AIPAC also assist students to obtain internship in Washington. Dozens
of college students have worked as interns at AIPAC or have been
placed in congressional offices to gain first hand political experience.
They have, in turn, become the next generation of political leaders
What lessons can Indian-Americans learn from pro Israel lobby's
outstanding success in gaining so much goodwill and support for
Israel in US.
Ralph Nurnberger has offered some thoughtful observation:
1) Despite success in other fields people of Indian heritage can
and must increase their political activity. Indian -Americans are
among the most computer literate in this country. Electronic lobbying
is still in the development stage, but the potential, especially
for this community, is truly enormous.
2) For those Indian-Americans who are willing to devote some extra-time,
energy and potentially money, it is worth their efforts to meet
and develop relationship with individual senators, house reps, congressional
staff as well as state and local officials. A number of Indian-Americans
are already involved in this manner. They have brought issues to
the electoral officials and have become trusted resources when certain
issues arise in the legislation. Others have hosted fund raisers
for political candidates. Such events help to develop personal relation
between attendees and political leaders, which form the basis of
3) Significantly there are 40 Indian-Americans working in
staff position in the US Congress, including top level jobs
with the congressional leadership.
4) American politicians are increasingly looking for people of Indian
heritage for campaign contributions. Too often, Indian-Americans
give funds to a candidate and never as for anything in return, political
contributors should be the start of relationship with political
leaders and not the end. After the candidate is elected it is worthwhile
to send a congratulatory note. It is also important to maintain
contact so that when an issue of interest arises , the contributor
will feel comfortable in communicating views and information to
the office holder.
5) The Indian-American community has done an exceptional job helping
to establish and expand and informal organization with in the house
of rep called the congressional caucus on India and Indian-Americans.
The caucus consist of 100 members who have interest in India
and issues of concerns to Americans of Indian heritage.
It is the largest ethnic based caucus in the congress. The caucus
meets periodically to discuss the relevant issues, receive briefings
provided by the national security council and state department or
to meet with dignitaries from India. They are also an informal "congressional
lobby" which works on specific issues concerning India. However
the caucus has not yet achieved its full potential. For the Indian
caucus to be effective its members must do more than add their names
to the list of participants. A majority of caucus members never
attend caucus or Indian-American events, and have not made any comments
in the congress on issues of importance to the community. Essentially
a few members of caucus carry the load of the entire organization.
The blame lies partly on those Indian-Americans who convinced their
reps to join the caucus but never held them accountable for not
being active. One way would be to offer a host gathering of Indian-Americans
in the congressional district so that the member has the opportunity
to meet with these constituents and hear their views on specific
6) Any group that seeks to influence the national public policy
must establish an office in Washington dc. Thus far, two Indian-American
professional organization, the American Associates of Physicians
of Indian origin(AAPI) and the Asian-American hotel owners Association
(AAHOA) have started that process.
7) While professionally based ethnic organization have a role to
play, a number of Indian-American have considered to establish an
Indian-American lobby. One of the obstacles preventing the
creation of effective public affairs organization is that some Indian-American
groups are eager to assume this role for themselves but are not
willing to cooperate on behalf of the welfare of the entire community.
Too many Indian -American organizations, many with similar names
and objectives, send confusing signals to members of congress. The
members do not know which organization is really reflective or representative
of the community. Basically too many organizations dilute the effectiveness.
8) The Indian-American community has the national base that can
form the foundation for a broad based organization. Indian-Americans
live in all the 50 states. There is not a congressional district
that does not have at least 100 people of Indian heritage. The potential
exist to establish constituent based relations with every member
9) The community also has the economic capability to sustain this
type of organization. There are a number of able people to provide
the required leadership. It is probably a matter of time before
such an Indian-American organization becomes a player in Washington,
one able to effectively present the views of the community of the
political leaders. The greater individual involvement across the
country, the stronger such an organization would become. These members
would provide the core of the funding needed to maintain lobbying
office and would also be the "grass root lobbyist" who would be
called upon to contact the members of congress. When setup, the
organization would need to establish its credibility as a source
of well-researched, accurate and timely information. Once members
of congress start to rely on this organization, its reputation in
Washington will be secure.
10) When the Indian-American community establishes a lobby presence
in Washington, its effectiveness will be judged on its ability to
define and articulate a clear agenda as a part of broader US national
interest. To be truly effective, it must utilize the resources of
the community and transform these into political power. The success
of these endeavors will expand the influence of Indian-American
community. It is also likely to increase it level of integration
into the American society without sacrificing any of its cultural
Ralph Nurnberger has done an excellent job in preparing this monograph
designed for the Indian-American community.
The question remains: how does the community respond to this challenging
It's perhaps too much to ask for the merger of all existing national
Indian-American organizations such as IAFPE, IAFC the two NFIAs
and AIA. That probably is not practical. But it is possible for
these organization to set up a coordination council of Indian-American
national organization(CCIA) or an Indian-American Coordination Council
(IACC). This organization will have the presidents of 5 national
organization as its board of directors. The council can also invite
the two national professional organizations such as AAPI and AAHOA
to join in. that will make a powerful 7 member board. The council
can then setup a secretariat with a dynamic executive director.
If this idea is acceptable and implemented, we will soon have another
AIPAC in the making!