November 1, 2013
Washington thinks pro-Israel groups are all-powerful. Few Americans agree.
By Max Fisher
A just-out survey on U.S. attitudes toward American Jews, commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League, identifies a number of disconcerting trends. For example, a full 30 percent of respondents say that American Jews are more loyal toward Israel than they are toward the United States, an echo of bygone fears that American Catholics harbored a secret loyalty to the Vatican and thus could not be trusted.
Echoes of that view can sometimes be heard in warnings that Jewish interest groups or Jewish voters generally have “hijacked” U.S. foreign policy to make it subservient to Israeli interests, at the United States’ expense. There may also be some overlap here with the 14 percent of respondents who, according to the ADL-commissioned survey, say that Jews wield “too much power in the U.S. today.”
In that sense, then, there was a bit of surprising news in the study: When asked to identify which of five well-known lobby groups wields “the most influence on American government policy,” only 4 percent of respondents chose the pro-Israel lobby. By this metric, Americans consider it to be far less powerful than the four other lobby groups mentioned in the survey.
This finding might particularly surprise foreign policy professionals here in Washington, where it’s common to hear people of all ideological persuasions speak in hushed tones about the awesome power of pro-Israel lobby groups, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. It’s not considered especially controversial to suggest that the group plays a major role in shaping U.S. policy toward the Middle East and that its powerful and deep-pocketed leaders know how to pull all the hidden levers of American power.
But, as I wrote on Wednesday, the pro-Israel lobby’s reputation in D.C. as an all-powerful force does not seem to match the evidence. Earlier this year, the lobby deployed its substantial clout to generate support in Congress for limited U.S. strikes on Syria and apparently failed to move the needle even a nudge. That failure appeared even starker alongside the remarkable success of Invisible Children, a far less monied and less well-connected group, in pushing Congress and the White House to send U.S. troops to Central Africa to hunt down the warlord Joseph Kony.
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