AIPAC Bill Runs Into Unusual Resistance In Congress

by Mitchell Plitnick

In an article published in The Hill, Mike Coogan reports that some of the key legislation that emerged from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) 2013 annual policy conference is running into significant difficulties in Congress. The bills, which Lara Friedman only half-jokingly called the “Israel Best Ally With Benefits” bills, have not gained close to the overwhelming support that AIPAC has come to expect from Congress.

Indeed, more than five weeks after the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 was introduced in the Senate, it has gathered only 18 co-sponsors. That’s a shockingly low total for a focal point of AIPAC lobbying. It has done better in the House of Representatives, with 171 co-sponsors, but given the more hawkish nature of the House, even that’s not a success by AIPAC’s standards.

While one shouldn’t make too much of this, it certainly seems like AIPAC reached a little too far with this bill. The main issue is a portion of the bill which, in the Senate version, would grant a US visa exemption for Israeli citizens without requiring a reciprocal arrangement from Israel. The US has visa exemption arrangements with 37 other countries, but all of them reciprocate.

Ron Kampeas quotes a staffer from a leading pro-Israel lawmaker in the US House of Representatives as saying that “It’s stunning that you would give a green light to another country to violate the civil liberties of Americans traveling abroad.”

The US concern is particularly profound after a Palestinian-American, who taught English at the Friends’ School in Ramallah, was barred by Israel in January from returning to her West Bank job after a trip to Jordan, despite having a visa that allowed her to leave and re-enter Israeli-controlled territory. Israel, undoubtedly, is concerned that a reciprocal agreement would compromise its ability to bar not only Palestinian-Americans, but also pro-Palestinian activists, from entering the country.

The House version of the bill does not exempt Israel from reciprocity, but merely calls on the Secretary of State to report to Congress on the extent of Israel’s compliance with the reciprocity requirement and “…what additional steps, if any, are required in order for Israel to qualify for inclusion in such program.” That may be one reason the House bill has done better.

The bill includes other troublesome aspects. Friedman points out that the Senate bill includes shockingly weak language in support of a two-state solution: “…language that disconnects the issue from U.S. national security interests and in doing so creates a formulation that inconsistent with the actual foreign policy of the Obama Administration or ANY previous administration.”

Even so, it remains surprising that a bill that emerged as a focal point from an AIPAC policy conference would have this much trouble. Coogan thinks this is a sign that AIPAC’s grip on Congress might be weakening.

It certainly adds to a sense that AIPAC might have reached a tipping point. Equally telling is what Coogan says about how AIPAC brought this bill to the Hill: “Numerous public reports and off-the-record accounts from legislators and staff signaled that the brazenness and late release of the Israel lobby’s legislative demands blindsided both individual members and various committees. Provisions appeared tone deaf and legally problematic, even among Israel’s strongest supporters.”

I haven’t been able to locate those “numerous public reports,” but my own sense from talking to people on Capitol Hill and other informed colleagues is that there is indeed some tension there. That’s on top of congressional bristling at AIPAC’s efforts to exempt aid to Israel from the sequestration cuts. Dylan Williams of J Street told The Forward that the possibility that AIPAC might try to lobby for exempting aid to Israel from the sequester “…seems a little tone deaf,” and that some Hill staffers were “surprised that some groups — that people from AIPAC — were asking for this.”

Does all this mean AIPAC is losing its grip? Probably not, but as members of Congress grow less enthusiastic about complying with AIPAC’s demands, the possibility that more politicians will test the widely-held but unproven maxim that opposing AIPAC is electoral suicide arises. That could make things very interesting.

Mitchell Plitnick

Mitchell Plitnick is a political analyst and writer. His previous positions include vice president at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace. His writing has appeared in Ha’aretz, the New Republic, the Jordan Times, Middle East Report, the San Francisco Chronicle, +972 Magazine, Outlook, and other outlets. He was a columnist for Tikkun Magazine, Zeek Magazine and Souciant. He has spoken all over the country on Middle East politics, and has regularly offered commentary in a wide range of radio and television outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor, i24 (Israel), Pacifica Radio, CNBC Asia and many other outlets, as well as at his own blog, Rethinking Foreign Policy, at You can find him on Twitter @MJPlitnick.



  1. While I wouldn’t expect any good from an AIPAC bill, your most fleshed-out objection does not hold water.

    First of all, if the bill contains the provision you state, then there is no reason for it to establish reciprocity, as US citizens are already granted a visa waiver from Israel. See the following Ministry of Foreign Affairs document, under “U”:

    Furthermore, a reciprocal visa waiver agreement as established with those 37 other countries does not prevent any party state from barring the others` citizens from visiting for any reason, ridiculous as it may be. E.g.

  2. It’s not about Dual Citizenship. It’s about what you do to Palestine.

    If and when American Citizens are more informed, then Israel will be forced to comply to pressures to actually respect Palestine and to stop occupying the country, with a line. But Palestinian land is also Israelian land, so you cannot take away the bitter and painful memories of traumatized Palestinians from over 65 years of occupational state-terrorism.

    The State of Zion spends Billions on the defence with budget cuts, yet you lost $3 Billion Dollars in Cyber-Attacks from around the world in response to the lies and cover-up, and the so-called ‘Palestinian-Israel’ conflict with Israel being the 4th Reich and the one who started the fire.

  3. First, an apology.

    Second, reinburstments of money to affected families provided by the Israel Coalition.

    Third, leave Palestine alone.

    Forth, a true peace agreement that can be verified and respected unlike the 100 cease-fires broken with Operations.

    Fifth, open the Gaza.

    Sixth, satisfying Hamas demand.

    Seven, tell UN and EU to wake up.

    Nine, no racism in Israel

    Ten, the IDF troops actually be a defence force, not an attack force.

    All those hunger strikes, especially Samer Issawi, are for something Israel.


    journal published by Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights | June 26, 2012

    “On Torture” is an edited volume of essays by Palestinian, Israeli and international legal and medical experts and practitioners based on presentations that they gave during a workshop held in Jerusalem in April 2011 entitled, “Securing Accountability for Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (CIDT) in Israel: New Trends and Comparative Lessons”.

    The essayists explore the history of torture in Israel, the daily challenges that practitioners face in seeking accountability for torture and CIDT in Israel, and the changing face of torture.

    Zionists are largely to blame, especially Mr. Rothschild for sponsoring terrorism.

  4. A reciprocal extradition treat with Israel and the United States would be a great start as well. Currently Americans with a hebrew background can commit murder, rape, theft, fraud, etc, and escape to Israel. Israel will not return the criminal to the United States to face justice. Instead murderers/criminals can obtain Israeli citizenship, and then live a normal life in Israel, never paying for the crimes that they comitted in the United States. Leaving the American victims of these murderous/criminal dual citizens wanting for justice that will never come. An EXTRADITION TREATY with Israel would be a real sign of friendship. Until then, US citizens and technologies are at risk, as the capture of Mr. Pollard, and others indicate.

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