by Jim Lobe
Eli and Ali have rendered a great service — and a must-read — by disclosing the contents of a private briefing by Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk on the Iran nuclear negotiations he gave to invited supporters Monday. If any additional evidence were needed to show that Kirk, who is leading the Republican charge in the Senate to impose new economic sanctions against Iran and thereby scuttle the ongoing Geneva process, serves as Bibi Netanyahu’s biggest advocate in Congress, this article would seem to provide a lot. Just as people used to call my former senator, Henry “Scoop” Jackson “the senator from Boeing,” so it seems that Kirk has made himself the senator from AIPAC.
Kirk, whose voting record on domestic and civil-rights issues suggests that he’s one of the last of a dying breed of “moderate” Republicans, has long carried water for the right-wing leadership of the Israel lobby, spearheading anti-Iran, anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel resolutions and legislation throughout his nearly 15-year career in Congress. His identification with the policies and apocalyptic worldview of Netanyahu and hard-line U.S. neoconservatives — he has taken to comparing the Obama administration with Neville Chamberlain and the Geneva talks with Munich, respectively — has been a source of some bewilderment to many observers. After all, theologically, he’s offered no obvious signs of Christian Zionism of the kind that believes the the “ingathering” of the Jews in Israel and the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem will trigger the Second Coming of Jesus.
Of course, his claim that he is “totally dedicated to the survival of the State of Israel in the 21st century,” as he put it in his briefing, may be completely sincere, although, like many senior Israeli national-security officials, including Netanyahu’s hawkish former defense minister, Ehud Barak, most analysts find it very difficult to take seriously the notion that Iran, even if it obtains nuclear weapons, represents an “existential” threat to Israel. His strident advocacy for Israel’s positions may also have to do with the fact that he has surrounded himself with staffers who have been associated with AIPAC and with even more hard-line pro-Israel groups, like Daniel Pipes‘ Middle East Forum, as suggested in this post by Annie Robbins published by Mondoweiss last year while Kirk was pushing legislation designed to slash funding for Palestinian refugees even as he was in the relatively early stages of recovery from the devastating stroke that he suffered in early 2012.
Yet another — and by no means inconsistent — explanation may lie in the tangible rewards he has received for his steadfast support for Israel, at least insofar as campaign finance is concerned. If you look at the Center for Responsive Politics’ “opensecrets” website on the biggest recipients of campaign cash from pro-Israel public actions committees == most of them closely associated with AIPAC in one way or another (although the list also includes J Street) — you’ll find that Kirk has been a major — perhaps the biggest — beneficiary of their largesse. In the 2010 election cycle, when Kirk took Obama’s old seat, the otherwise moderate Illinois Republican ran far ahead of the pack, with nearly $640,000 in contributions — more than twice the harvest of the next-ranking recipient, Majority Leader Harry Reid (who, incidentally, bowed to the White House’s wishes by putting off a vote on Kirk’s diplomacy-killing amendment to the defense bill this week but announced Thursday that he was inclined to support it or something like it when the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving recess Dec 9). Here’s the Center’s list of top Congressional recipients of pro-Israel PACs for the 2010 election cycle compiled earlier this year.
|1||Kirk, Mark (R-IL)||House||$639,810|
|2||Reid, Harry (D-NV)||Senate||$289,383|
|3||Boxer, Barbara (D-CA)||Senate||$266,054|
|4||Feingold, Russ (D-WI)||Senate||$265,487|
|5||Schumer, Charles E (D-NY)||Senate||$262,699|
|6||Cantor, Eric (R-VA)||House||$239,400|
|7||Wyden, Ron (D-OR)||Senate||$223,431|
|8||Inouye, Daniel K (D-HI)||Senate||$187,850|
|9||Deutch, Ted (D-FL)||House||$181,181|
|10||Specter, Arlen (D-PA)||Senate||$176,450|
|11||Grayson, Trey (R-KY)||$174,480|
|12||Mikulski, Barbara A (D-MD)||Senate||$169,175|
|13||Fisher, Lee Irwin (D-OH)||$167,625|
|14||Gillibrand, Kirsten (D-NY)||Senate||$159,466|
|15||McCain, John (R-AZ)||Senate||$154,149|
|16||Berkley, Shelley (D-NV)||House||$153,007|
|17||Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana (R-FL)||House||$151,207|
|18||Klein, Ron (D-FL)||House||$150,222|
|19||Sestak, Joe (D-PA)||House||$144,170|
|20||Bennett, Robert F (R-UT)||Senate||$138,200|
Indeed, virtually throughout his Congressional career, Kirk was a clear favorite of the lobby.
Although he didn’t make the top 20 list in 2000, the year he first ran for Congress, he soared to the number 3 spot with nearly $100,000 in pro-Israel PAC contributions in his first re-election campaign in 2002, just behind Nevada’s Shelley Berkeley and former Majority Leader Dick Gephardt. In 2004, he fell to number 4, behind three Democrats, but still garnered $130,000 in contributions. And then, in the 2006 election cycle, he hauled in $315,000 in campaign cash, second only to Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin.
In the 2008 cycle, he reached the pinnacle by topping the House list with a whopping $444,531. That was about two-and-a-half times more than the runner-up, the current majority leader and the only Jewish Republican in the House, Eric Cantor ($172,740). For all 468 Congressional races that year, Sen. Norm Coleman, the sole Jewish Republican senator at the time, was the only candidate who outpaced Kirk, a House member with more or less average seniority. According to the Center’s statistics, in the ten years that Kirk served in the House, he received more money from pro-Israel PACs than any other House member.
And then, of course, he pulled in by far the biggest take ever from these same sources in 2010 when he ran for the Senate.
It seems they’ve been getting their money’s worth.