Chuck Schumer speaks at AIPAC.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) seen speaking during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 26, 2019.

(Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

US Lawmakers Received Over $58 Million From Israel Lobby Last Election Cycle

One progressive group said the money was "one of the main reasons most members of Congress don't represent the majority of Americans who want a cease-fire."

Members of Congress who expressed more support for Israel during the first six weeks of its war on Gaza received $125,000 on average from pro-Israeli lobby groups and individuals during their last elections, The Guardian reported Wednesday. In contrast, lawmakers who expressed more pro-Palestinian views only received $18,000 on average from these groups.

The Guardian analysis does not prove that legislators changed their views because they received donations; it is also the case that pro-Israel groups are more likely to fund campaigns run by people who express pro-Israel views. However, experts and advocates argue that the lobbying is one reason why around 82% of Congress was more supportive of Israel while only 9% was more supportive of Palestine.

"One of the main reasons most members of Congress don't represent the majority of Americans who want a cease-fire: The Israel lobby gave Congress $58 million last cycle; only 33 members didn't receive donations," the group Justice Democrats posted in response to the analysis. "This dark money poisons our democracy."

The analysis looked at the spending of 33 pro-Israel groups ranging from the more conservative American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) to the more liberal J Street as well as pro-Israel individuals. It assessed legislators' views by looking at their public statements, letters to President Joe Biden, and social media posts.

Overall, it found that Israel garnered much more support in Congress for its bombardment and invasion of Gaza—which has now killed 1% of Gaza's pre-war population according to CNN—than it has from the U.S. populace overall. The war began on October 7 after Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel that killed around 1,100 Israelis and took around 240 hostage. Before that attack, Gaza had been under Israeli blockade for 16 years.

During the first six weeks of the war—while human rights groups were already warning of its humanitarian consequences—93% of U.S. lawmakers advocated for military or financial support to Israel, 81% backed Israel's military response, 17% either criticized that response or advocated for a cease-fire, and 17% made statements that provided context for the conflict.

"If there was no lobby pushing Congress in a particular direction in a really forceful way, the position of the U.S. Congress on the war in Gaza would be fundamentally different."

There was a wide funding gap between the two groups. Lawmakers who called for U.S. aid to Israel had received $113,000 on average from pro-Israel groups compared to the $39,000 received by those who did not. Lawmakers who supported Israel's response received $127,000 compared to $26,000 to those who did not. Lawmakers who did not criticize the response or call for a cease-fire received $123,000 on average compared to $34,000 for those who did. And lawmakers who did not contextualize the war received $123,000 on average compared to $36,000 for those who did.

DMFI president Mark Mellman explained to The Guardian that the U.S.-lobby system "works that way for every issue, for every progressive issue, for every conservative issue, so there is absolutely nothing unique about pro-Israel community in this respect."

"Not acknowledging that would be antisemitic," Mellman said.

However, the Israeli lobby is a large one, spending more than oil and gas interests in 2022. AIPAC in particular has a reputation for spending money to defeat lawmakers who are more critical of Israel in primary campaigns.

"There aren't that many lobbies that are willing to spend millions of dollars to unseat you in a primary," progresive strategist Waleed Shahid told The Guardian.

Shahid said that candidates were often advised to make pro-Israel statements, and fear of a primary challenge may influence candidates' positions. The Intercept's Ryan Grim has previously noted that Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who has been a vocal supporter of Israel since October 7, allowed DMFI to edit his Israel-Palestine platform while running a primary against a more centrist candidate. The move was potentially aimed at keeping DMFI and AIPAC from backing his opponent, which they did not, in the end, do.

The Guardian's analysis found that the top six congressional recipients of Israeli lobby money in 2022 were centrist Democrats who defeated more progressive primary opponents, and that these donations made up 42% of the lobby's total spending.

"If there was no lobby pushing Congress in a particular direction in a really forceful way, the position of the U.S. Congress on the war in Gaza would be fundamentally different," John Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago political who co-authored the book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, told The Guardian.

Days before The Guardian's report, Arab American Institute founder James Zogby wrote on social media that much of the money raised against progressives from pro-Israel groups comes from wealthy Republican donors.

"Why won't Dem leaders call them out? They would if it were for any other issue: guns, big pharma, etc.—but Israel gets a pass," Zogby said.

"We tried to get the DNC to ban dark money in primaries. We were shot down and no vote was allowed," Zogby continued. "This money is damaging our democracy and allowing supporters of Israel to shield Israel from sanctions or even criticism."

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