Non-profit

American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

53-0217164

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $107,755,186
Expenses: $99,327,173
Assets: $125,102,348

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a bipartisan Jewish lobbying group which works to create strong relations between Israel and the United States of America. It specifically focuses its influence on Members of Congress and other advocacy and lobbying groups to promote arms aggreements and other U.S. government support for Israel, and supports a two-state solution to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a state of Israel and a sovereign but de-militarized Palestinian state. [1]

Despite its significant bipartisan influence, AIPAC has been criticized in many radical-left circles for its unwavering support for U.S. taxpayer backing of Israel, as well as its supposed support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Netanyahu’s security policies. Its positions and advocacy style led to criticisms from Democratic candidates for president in 2019 and 2020, especially from self-described “democratic socialist” U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). [2]

Originally named the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs, the group changed its name in 1959. [3]

Mission, History, and Structure

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee was created in 1954 to combat anti-Israel pressure in Congress and the United Nations after Israeli military engaged in a reprisal attack against Palestinian civilians. The attack and other Israeli military and political action caused President Dwight Eisenhower to hold up aid to Israel. [4]

AIPAC’s most important policy objectives relate to Israel’s partnerships with America, preventing a nuclear Iran, and negotiating a two-party solution to the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict which benefits Israel. [5]

It wasn’t until the 1980s that AIPAC was able to secure substantial influence with Members of Congress and the broader Washington establishment. Even though Jews were only about one percent of the U.S. population at the time,  AIPAC created a nationwide network of semi-independent groups which acted in concert with AIPAC and other pro-Israel Jewish advocacy groups. [6] [7]

AIPAC does not endorse candidates, seeking a bipartisan reputation so that it can maintain influence in Washington regardless of political control. However, tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign funds are influenced by the directions it picks on policy, politics, and candidates. It also organizes fundraisers outside of its official network, which creates significant influence through unofficial channels. [8] This has led to both power and influence for AIPAC and its donors, and criticism of the organization’s structure, as the unofficial nature of much of the fundraising and lobbying keeps information out of sight of the public, lawmakers, and regulators. [9]

One of AIPAC’s most popular lobbying efforts is a trip to Israel for freshman Members of Congress. AIPAC defends the trip as part of educating Members on what Israel faces in Palestinian terrorism; critics argue that the trip is a one-sided propaganda affair. [10] The radical anti-war and Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions-supporting anti-Israel group Code Pink filed an ethics complaint against AIPAC over the trips, claiming that the trips should count as gifts to Members. [11]

AIPAC’s educational arm is American Israel Education Foundation. It is the official organizer of AIPAC-funded trips for Members of Congress and leads AIPAC’s college-chapter work. [12] AIPAC engages in significant college and high school activities, including sponsoring trips to Israel, advocacy training, and educational events. [13]

Influence

AIPAC is one of Washington, D.C.’s most effective lobbying groups. It has 100,000 members and spent $3.5 million on lobbying in 2018, the most of all Jewish groups. [14] Its bipartisan success is shown in that its bills are normally introduced and cosponsored by Members of Congress from both major parties. [15] In 2019, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed several AIPAC-supported bills which condemned the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, backed U.S. military support for Israel, and backed sanctions against non-state actors which commit terrorist acts against Israel. [16]

AIPAC’s bipartisan influence is with GOP and Democratic Party leaders as well as the rank-and-file Members of Congress. Leaders in both parties spoke at its 2020 annual conference in support of AIPAC and Israel, and against terrorism by Palestinian leadership, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Vice President Mike Pence. [17] AIPAC claimed on its website that its 2020 conference was expected to host 18,000 people and two-thirds of all Members of Congress. [18]

Presidents and presidential candidates in both parties have spoken at AIPAC’s annual conference. President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both spoke during the 2016 presidential race. [19] [20] President Barack Obama spoke multiple times, including during his initial 2008 presidential campaign and during his 2012 re-election campaign. [21] [22] President George W. Bush spoke in 2004, during his own re-election run. [23]

In 2007, Clinton and Obama held competing dessert fundraisers at the AIPAC conference. [24]

Though it aims to work with both parties, AIPAC is also willing to criticize them. The organization’s leadership denounced criticisms Trump made of Obama during the former’s 2016 speech, calling his comments “divisive.” [25] AIPAC had its own issues with Obama, especially concerning his administration’s position on Iran. [26]

AIPAC’s influence has had its political ups and downs. The group was at odds with President George H.W. Bush in the 1990s, when Bush withheld money for Israel over settlement expansions. Despite AIPAC’s significant influence, the Senate backed Bush. [27] And President Obama’s more diplomatic approach towards Iran and Palestinian authorities created tension between AIPAC and Democrats. [28] While AIPAC and Israeli leadership opposed the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, Obama still signed a 10-year, $38 billion weapons and aid package in 2016, the largest aid amount ever provided by the U.S. [29]

During the Trump administration, AIPAC’s goals have been most vocally and influentially opposed by a significant minority of anti-war advocates, especially those on the left to radical-left side of the U.S. political spectrum. They allege that AIPAC is partisan in favor of Republicans and the Israeli Likud Party, which hold hawkish stances toward Israeli security policy and and self-defense. [30] This has especially been the case since some American Jews have viewed Israel’s security policies’ effects on  Palestinians to be one-sided and harmful to both Palestinians and the overall potential of peace. [31]

Jewish Lobby Competition

AIPAC often provides guidance and direction for pro-Israel lobbies. However, it faces competition for left-of-center Jewish support from the group J Street, which opposes Netanyahu’s policies and aligns with the American political left. J Street’s annual revenues average approximately $3 million dollars. [32] An op-ed in the Jerusalem Post stated that J Street’s opposition to Democratic Party presidential candidates speaking in favor of Netanyahu at the 2020 AIPAC was not impactful, and that J Street is too small to compete with AIPAC’s overall influence. [33]

On AIPAC’s right flank is the Israeli American Council, which is funded by past AIPAC donor and billionaire Republican supporter Sheldon Adelson. Adelson said he chose to be the Council’s primary donor because he believes AIPAC is too willing to compromise when working with elected U.S. officials in support of Israel. [34]

Controversies

AIPAC took center stage in 2019 and 2020 politics after several controversies.

The first arose after Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) Tweeted that AIPAC was paying Members of Congress to support Israeli policies. Omar also Tweeted that support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” a comment which received bipartisan condemnation because it was interpreted as relying upon anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish influence in U.S. politics and media. [35] Omar, who was already considered anti-Semitic by some critics, backed off from the comment.

Later in 2019, Israel banned Omar and her fellow Israel critic Rashida Tlaib from entering the nation over their support for Palestinians, a one-state solution, and Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. [36] Even though Trump and Netanyahu backed the ban, AIPAC supported both women being allowed in the nation “to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.” [37] Israel later permitted Tlaib to visit her Palestinian grandmother, but she declined. [38]

In 2020, AIPAC apologized for, and withdrew, a Facebook ad which slammed “radicals” in the Democratic Party for pushing “their antisemitic policies…” AIPAC said the ad was poorly designed and conflated “a small but growing group” of Democrats “in and out of Congress” who oppose policies which favor Israel with the overall Democratic Party’s financial, political, and military support for Israel. [39]

Finally, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont refused to speak at AIPAC’s 2020 conference, saying the group backed leaders “who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” Sanders has also called Netanyahu “racist” and welcomed support from Omar and Tlaib. Sanders’ decision caused significant debate among American Jews related to AIPAC, U.S. support for Israel, and the Democratic Party’s support for Israel. The left-of-center hate group watchdog Anti-Defamation League condemned Sanders’ remarks. [40]

Despite Sanders’ remarks, then-Democratic Party presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg spoke at AIPAC’s conference. [41]

Spy Accusations and Prosecution

In 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation filed charges against several individuals for alleged involvement in spying for the Israeli government and for illegally providing U.S. military information to the Israeli government. [42] The case, which ran for five years, was dropped in 2009 due to the government determining that to win would require a high bar and significant disclosure of classified information. [43] [44]

In the case, AIPAC employees Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman were accused of illegally procuring and providing the information. The FBI’s investigation led to a Pentagon analyst, Lawrence Franklin, pleading guilty to mishandling classified information. Franklin was used by the FBI in a sting where he offered Rosen and Weissman information about Iran. Rosen claimed that the information he shared was provided by the CIA and was used in line with common lobbying practices. [45]

Rosen, who was fired within hours of being accused by the FBI, sued AIPAC for defamation after he was let go. The lawsuit was thrown out. [46] During the FBI’s four-year investigation and prosecution, Rosen received approximately $670,000 in support from various donors, including AIPAC supporters. AIPAC used this information to claim that, contrary to Rosen’s claims, firing him had not impacted his reputation or his ability to earn income. [47]

Lawsuits

AIPAC has been involved in lawsuits on a host of matters. In a non-political matter, the group was sued in 2016 over an effort to expand its headquarters. Using District of Columbia zoning laws, the lawsuit claimed that AIPAC was in violation of a 2006 agreement related to its headquarters. [48]

AIPAC benefited from a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision in which justices said that AIPAC did not have to register as a political committee. A defeated Member of Congress and five others sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to force AIPAC to register as. The lawsuit took 10 years to be rejected. [49] The FEC determined that because AIPAC was issue-focused,providing information on what candidates said in response to an AIPAC questionnaire, not advising members on how to vote or for whom to vote, it did not have to register as a committee. [50]

Leadership

Howard Kohr has been AIPAC’s executive director since 1996 and worked for the organization before that. [51] His father was a Holocaust survivor who fought in the Israel Defense Forces. Most of Kohr’s career has been spent in Jewish lobbying groups. [52] Kohr earned more than $1 million from AIPAC in 2018. [53] In 2018, Kohr’s mention of a two-state solution for peace between Israel and Palestinians at AIPAC’s annual conference led to criticism in some politically conservative Jewish circles. [54] [55] Despite the two-state solution being a longstanding part of AIPAC and U.S. policy, Kohr did not mention it in his address at the 2019 AIPAC conference. [56] [57]

Vice CEO Richard Fishman earned over $877,000 in 2018. [58]

Mort Fridman was AIPAC’s president and board chair from 2018 to 2019. A significant political donor who along with his wife has given slightly more to Republicans than Democrats, his first speech as president was bipartisan – he praised Trump while also urging liberals to stand with AIPAC and Israel. [59] He took no salary in 2018. [60]

Betsy Korn has been AIPAC’s president and board chair since 2019. She interned for the group in 1989 and served as vice president. She also founded and ran a sports entrepreneur business in the 1990s. [61]

Financials

AIPAC has raised over $100 million annually since 2016, spending over $99 million in 2017 and over $102 million in 2018. In 2018, it spent over $20 million on event planning, production, catering, and security. [62] [63]

Republican donor and casino entrepreneur Sheldon Adelson gave $10 million for AIPAC to build new headquarters in 2008. [64]

References

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    https://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/chapter-1-population-estimates/ ^

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  38. [1] Saphora Smith, Lawahez Jabari, and Dartunorro Clark, “Rep. Tlaib cancels West Bank trip after Israel grants her permission to visit grandmother,” August 16, 2019. Accessed April 28, 2020. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/israel-grants-permission-congresswoman-tlaib-visit-west-bank-n1043026 ^
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: September - August
  • Tax Exemption Received: January 1, 1968

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Sep Form 990 $107,755,186 $99,327,173 $125,102,348 $48,271,237 Y $96,093,190 $8,029,632 $1,301,976 $3,779,643 PDF
    2016 Sep Form 990 $105,949,429 $103,897,542 $125,934,203 $56,836,506 Y $94,964,506 $9,462,433 $834,351 $3,553,725
    2015 Sep Form 990 $88,561,639 $102,306,859 $115,580,564 $49,853,508 Y $89,769,875 $4,626,452 $828,632 $3,292,951 PDF
    2014 Sep Form 990 $77,709,827 $69,267,598 $128,878,738 $45,569,986 Y $83,240,346 $3,764,222 $540,551 $2,778,785 PDF
    2013 Sep Form 990 $51,833,293 $44,356,570 $120,632,230 $46,483,546 Y $71,231,309 $3,644,936 $556,265 $3,351,816 PDF
    2012 Sep Form 990 $74,237,179 $67,978,782 $109,997,108 $47,045,330 Y $70,696,154 $3,423,796 $445,747 $2,900,286 PDF
    2011 Sep Form 990 $66,862,011 $61,270,283 $105,064,763 $49,730,215 Y $64,238,448 $2,964,559 $288,904 $1,342,531 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    American Israel Public Affairs Committee

    251 H ST NW
    WASHINGTON, DC 20001-2604