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Newsnight Thursday, 8 May, 2003, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill
Capitol Hill
Both the Labour party and Jewish organisations have reacted angrily to allegations by the longstanding gadfly, Tam Dalyell, that Tony Blair is unduly influenced by what he called a cabal of Jewish advisors.

Untrue, they say. But it is received wisdom in much of the Arab world that a so-called Zionist lobby has a stranglehold on American foreign policy. Washington denies that, too.

But now, Newsnight has had access to the man described as 'the most influential private citizen in American foreign policy'. His name's Malcolm Hoenlein.

Tom Carver looked at the strength of the pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill.


TOM CARVER:
This will be as much of an American journey as a Middle Eastern one. Past crashes and breakdowns litter the roadside and serve as cautionary tales. To turn failure into success will require the full support of the Jewish community in America, just as much as their cousins in Israel. But many of the leaders of this community in America are sceptical of the road map.

MALCOLM HOENLEIN:
(Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations)

How can you bring the UN and the EU with their hostile records towards Israel into those determining compliance? We saw what a great record they had in regard to Iraq. How can you have a successful process, whereby you put a 150 measures in a short period of time that can never be implemented in the schedule designed?

TOM CARVER:
The most well-known face of the Jewish political groups in this country is AIPAC, which calls itself a pro-Israel lobby. It helped to organise this demonstration on the Capitol steps last year. AIPAC doesn't give interviews easily and turned down our requests. But you can glean a lot about the way it works from public records. AIPAC itself is not a donor. What it does is encourage its many members to donate as private individuals to the campaigns of hundreds of politicians.

JJ GOLDBERG:
(Editor, Forward)

You give $2,000 and bundle cheques together adding up to $10,000 because the legal amounts are small these days. But it gets you on the phone. It's not so much fear of your donors, it's access for the donors and fear that the money will show up on the other side.

TOM CARVER:
Hard facts are difficult to pin down, but 80% of the Senate received money from pro-Israeli political action committees in the last election, and that doesn't even include individual donations.

Look at Amy Friedkin, AIPAC's president. Before her appointment last May, she gave money as a private citizen to more than 40 members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. Among them, several of the Democrat presidential candidates like John Edwards, the Democrat leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, the Republican leader in the Senate, Bill Frist, and the Republican speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert.

JJ GOLDBERG:
Everybody will tell you, in American politics, access is everything. The other everything is money. If you have 60,000 people, all of whom make it their business to donate and raise money for their favourite candidates, candidates remember you when you walk in with a bundle of cheques. That is a network of influence.

TOM CARVER:
There are bigger donors than the pro-Israeli lobby, but none equal its commitment and organisation. To the extent that few politicians now dare oppose it.

DOUGLAS BLLOMFIELD:
(Legislative Director, AIPAC 1988 - 89)

AIPAC has one enormous advantage. It really doesn't have any opposition.

TOM CARVER:
When he was AIPAC's legislative director, Douglas Bloomfield found that Arab-Americans who opposed Israel had an uphill struggle.

DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD:
There are 22 Arab countries. There are both Christians and Muslims. Most of the American Arabs who came to this country fled to get away from oppressive regimes. None of those countries today has a democratic regime, with which Americans can easily identify. My ancestors came from Syria. I want to improve US-Syrian relations. But my Congressman says that Syria heads the list of terrorist nations.

TOM CARVER:
What really alarms the likes of Tam Dalyell is the purported Jewish influence in the White House. There's certainly a close alignment between the neo-cons in the Republican Party and those in the Jewish community.

The most powerful intellectual advocate of the war in Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz, is Jewish. So is Bill Kristol, one of the most influential Republican journalists. His father, Irving Kristol, was an early neo-con in the '70s with Norman Podhoretz, who just happens to be the father-in-law of Eliot Abrams, George Bush's key Middle East advisor.

But these connections don't make a conspiracy - after all, the Clinton White House had its fair share of Jewish intellectuals too. Whatever influence someone like Norman Podhoretz has is not because he's persuaded George Bush, but because his and the president's world view happen to coincide.

NORMAN PODHORETZ:
The only way to ensure a victory against terrorism and our own safety, is to do what Vice-president Cheney said, to drain the swamps in which terrorism breeds. By "swamps", he means the despotism of the Middle East. They and we look forward to regime changes in that part of the world.

TOM CARVER:
How successfully does Ariel Sharon exploit all these connections? Again it's not as straightforward as it seems. Because he's such a good friend of Israel, it's difficult for Sharon to criticise George Bush publicly. So Jerusalem resorts to backroom tactics.

At Forward, one of the most respected newspapers in the Jewish community, journalists have uncovered instances of Jerusalem using the American lobby to apply pressure on the White House.

JJ GOLDBERG:
There have been times when American Jews have been presented with a far more alarmist version than Canadian or British Jews. The Israeli embassy in Washington was putting out material substantially different from other Israeli embassies. I have to conclude that was a decision that American Jews have a huge influence in Washington and therefore in the Middle East. Canadian Jews are less crucial, so you might as well treat them as people.

TOM CARVER:
Tell them the truth?

JJ GOLDBERG:
Yes.

TOM CARVER:
Hidden in the very success of groups like AIPAC lies a fundamental, possibly fatal, weakness. AIPAC's way of rewarding its donors is to give them the chance to mix with the A-list of the Administration. But that creates dependency on the White House and its stars like Colin Powell.

DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD:
They would not show up if this institution was in confrontation with the Administration. It says, if you want this kind of access, to raise this kind of money, you have to pull your punches. You can't be totally free if you're dependent on this cycle of fund-raising.

TOM CARVER:
You're saying AIPAC is dependent on the Administration, not the other way round?

DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD:
Definitely.

TOM CARVER:
But in the heart of Manhattan we met a different type of lobby. Malcolm Hoenlein's been called the most influential member of America's Jewish community. Every major Jewish group belongs to his organisation. He is supposed to represent their views. His critics claim he uses the platform to push his own right-wing views. What no one disputes is that, after 16 years operating behind the scenes, he has unrivalled access to the political establishment.

Does the road map have a future, in your view?

MALCOLM HOENLEIN:
It could. It depends upon the actions of the Palestinians in terms of compliance. The mistake of the past has been to have time-driven deadlines and targets, not performance-driven.

TOM CARVER:
For several years in the '90s, Malcolm Hoenlein raised money for Bet El, one of the most militant of settlements just outside Ramallah.

MALCOLM HOENLEIN:
It's a city of 15,000. They have educational institutions. I spoke at a dinner raising funds for those institutions. I don't believe those places will be removed, I don't think these cities will be removed. They will be part of the negotiations. If you remember in Camp David they talked about an exchange of territory. There's no reason why Jews couldn't continue to live under the final arrangement.

TOM CARVER:
You'd be happy for that area to come under Palestinian rule?

MALCOLM HOENLEIN:
I would be happy to see negotiation to resolve the issue where both parties' interests can be met.

TOM CARVER:
The road map, in the final phase, suggests that some Palestinian refugees should be given the right to return to their old homes. It states that parties must reach "an agreed, just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue".

Malcolm Hoenlein's view?

MALCOLM HOENLEIN:
The right of return is impossible. That's a death knell for any negotiations. No matter what the most left or right government is. I don't think any international leader expects the implementation of the right of return is even on the cards. Maybe you can't expect the Palestinians to repudiate this from the start, but they also have to acknowledge that implementation is not realistic.

TOM CARVER:
For any Palestinians?

MALCOLM HOENLEIN:
They can come back to the Palestinian entity once it is created. But not to come back to Israel.

TOM CARVER:
Do you worry about Tony Blair's influence?

MALCOLM HOENLEIN:
I'm not worried. I don't think the politics of one country should dictate with such a delicate and complex issue as the Middle East peace process.

TOM CARVER:
He's maybe not as hard-line as you'd like him to be.

MALCOLM HOENLEIN:
This isn't a question of hard-line or soft-line. This is a question of realism. If you want something to happen, you don't achieve it by making excuses, by closing your eyes, or by appeasement.

TOM CARVER:
A strange aspect is that although the Jewish lobby is hawkish, the wider Jewish community is not. The Republicans have never scored a majority of the US Jewish vote. Bush won just 20% of the vote. On domestic issues American Jews remain democrat. What is new is that when it comes to things about the state of Israel, they are becoming more hawkish.

STEPHEN APPELL:
Every time I hear of a new suicide bombing in Israel, my first reaction, my gut reaction is one of tremendous anger and a desire to see vengeance and at that moment I want to kill them. Then I say, "Who are "them"?"

TOM CARVER:
The Appell family is classic Jewish Brooklyn. Democrat, socially involved, liberal. Steve and Madeleine have absolutely no desire to live in Israel but they are emotionally tied to her welfare. 30 months of intifada and repression have disorientated their political compasses.

STEPHEN APPELL:
I'm an ambivalent and disillusioned dove. I'm beginning to think so-called dove solution doesn't work. I fear the hawk solution won't work. I'm beginning to feel more in sympathy with big power efforts.

BRADLEY APPELL:
Why are young girls blowing themselves up? We have to face these realities. The more they do it, the more Israel sends in its forces to the occupied territories, the more the anger grows and innocents die.

MADELEINE APPELL:
When 9/11 occurred, I felt very vulnerable. I identified with the pain of the citizens of Israel. They do their chores and live their life in a feeling of threat. Yet they go on.

TOM CARVER:
Before long, the road map heads into the next presidential election. Then the key will be not so much the lobby but George Bush. How much political capital will he be willing to spend trying to reach that elusive vision of Middle East peace?

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

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 ON THIS STORY
Newsnight's Tom Carver
looked at just how influential the Jewish lobby is in forming US foreign policy.

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