Last April, former CIA agent Ray McGovern wrote a letter that appeared in the Detroit Free Press that was critical of Michigan Senator Carl Levin’s publicly stated comment that he would not cut funding for the US Occupation of Iraq. McGovern stated that Levin took this position in part because of his relationship to “the Israeli Lobby:”
“Federal Election Commission records show that Levin has received more money from pro-Israel political action committees than any other senator. But, given his distinguished record, it would seem appropriate to give him the benefit of the doubt. It seems less likely that he is influenced by the money than by his penchant to see little or no daylight between what he perceives to be Israel’s interests and those of the United States.”
Senator Levin–one of the two Democratic Party Senators from Michigan–is up for re-election this year, so we thought it would be worth exploring his relationship to organizations that are pro-Israel.
In McGovern’s letter he says, “Levin has received more money from pro-Israel political action committees than any other senator.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Levin is actually number two ($1,390,594) in campaign contributions from pro-Israeli groups, second only to Senator Lieberman ($2,005,778) since 1990. For the past three re-election cycles, Levin has been the top recipient in the Senate of pro-Israel contributions – receiving $573,773 in 1990, $371,157 in 1996 and $331,304 in 2002. In this election cycle of 2008, Levin is also leading all Senate candidates in donations from pro-Israeli groups with $84,910 in contributions, which is more than double the amount of all other Senate candidates.
These pro-Israel groups who give money to candidates are from all over the US and are not to be confused with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, more commonly known as AIPAC. AIPAC does not make contributions to candidates rather they focus their efforts on lobbying Congress around policy issues. As Mearsheimer and Walt have documented in their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, the pro-Israeli groups are many and varied and Senator Levin has received campaign contributions from a number of these groups.
One of those groups is the Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation, which was established in 1989 by Slim Fast Foods Chairman S. Daniel Abraham and Utah Congressman Wayne Owens. This pro-Israeli group makes campaign contributions and takes members of Congress to the Middle East on fact-finding missions. In the 2002 election cycle, they were the number one pro-Israeli campaign contributor giving nearly $1.5 million to candidates.
The Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs is another major pro-Israeli campaign contributor. Their website has this to say about Senator Levin:
“The senior Jewish member of the Senate is Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, now serving his fifth term. Levin chairs the important Armed Services committee and has been a friend of JACPAC’s for as long as the PAC has been in existence.”
In the 2002 election cycle, they contributed $5,029 to Senator Levin’s re-election campaign.
The World Alliance for Israel PAC says it, “serves as a cohesive group to assist candidates and elected officials for the United States Congress who believe that Israel is an important strategic ally and friend of the United States.” In 2002, they contributed $5,000 to Levin’s re-election campaign and have already donated another $5,000 in the 2008 election cycle.
The oldest pro-Israeli PAC is the Desert Caucus. “Founded in 1976, The Desert Caucus is a bi-partisan political action committee (PAC) whose mission is to promote and strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel.” In 2002, they contributed $10,000 to Senator Levin and have given the same amount so far in the 2008 election cycle. The National Jewish Democratic Council considers Senator Levin a “good friend of Israel.” In 2002, they contributed $500 to Levin.
Then there is the Washington PAC, which was founded by Morrie Amitay. Amitay was Executive Director of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from 1974 to 1980 and speaks highly of Levin on his website. Washington PAC contributed $10,000 to Levin in 2002 and has already given $9,000 for his re-election campaign this year.
NorPAC has contributed $5,000 to Senator Levin for his 2008 re-election campaign. NorPAC is a non-partisan political action committee whose primary purpose is to support candidates and sitting members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives “who demonstrate a genuine commitment to the strength, security, and survival of Israel.” Their website also claims that their lobbying efforts, “Successfully helped pass the Syria Accountability Act, Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, Iran Freedom and Support Act, and gain Israel’s entry into the UN’s Western European and Others (WEOG) Group.”
The National Action Committee (NACPAC) “supports the re-elections of Members of Congress who support the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel.” NACPAC supports “Israel’s war on terrorism” and believes that “Israel is on the frontlines of America’s war on terrorism.” In 2002, they contributed $9,000 to Senator Levin and have already given $5,000 for his 2008 re-election bid.
Other pro-Israel groups that have contributed to Senator Levin are: MOPAC – based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which has contributed $5,000 to his 2008 re-election campaign; Citizen’s Organized PAC, which has contributed $5,000 for the 2008 election cycle; and the group Northern Californians for Good Government has also contributed $5,000 in 2008 to Levin.
It seems pretty clear that Senator Levin has been the recipient of significant campaign contributions by groups that are very committed to the state of Israel, but it is difficult to say if there is a clear connection between the financial support he has received from these pro-Israel groups and how he has voted. We wrote to Senator Levin several weeks ago and asked him “since you have been one of the top recipients of campaign contributions from pro-Israel lobby groups, has that in any way influenced your stance on Israel and the Middle East?” No one from Levin’s office has responded.
When looking at his voting record, Levin has consistently voted for the annual Foreign Aid package that sends several billion dollars in US aid to Israel every year, making Israel the number one recipient of US foreign aid since the mid-1970s. In addition to Levin’s support of the state of Israel, he has also voted on other aspects of US Middle East policy that are in line with Israel’s interests in the region. For instance, Israel considers Iran an enemy and has been supportive of the US pressure to challenge Iran on its nuclear policies and weapons exports to insurgents in Iraq. Levin voted for the legislation put forth by Senator Lieberman to further marginalize Iran. In October of last year on the CBS talk show Face the Nation, Levin made some interesting comments that not only support Sanctions against Iran, but he frames his position in relation to how he thinks Israel will respond:
“I think the sanctions are the right way to go, a lot of diplomatic pressure, a lot of economic pressure. Most importantly, keep the world together against Iran. Right now we’ve got most of the world, I think just about every country that does not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon. It’s in no one’s interest that they have it. And I think most countries, including Russia as well as Israel, obviously, but other countries in the region are not going to stand by and just simply watch if Iran gets to the point where they actually are getting to a nuclear weapon.”
In February of 2007, Levin made some strong comments against Syria’s sending of weapons to Iraq. Notice how Levin positions Syria in relation to Israel:
“These weapons (in Iraq) are coming from a state which doesn’t recognize Israel either, just like Iran doesn’t, we’ve got to try to stop weapons coming into Iraq from any source, they’re killing our troops. I agree with the comments about trying to stop them coming in from Iran. I think we have to stop them going to the Sunni insurgents, as well as to the Shia, and I was just wondering, does the military have a plan, if necessary, to go into Syria, to go the source of any weapons coming from Syria.”
In 2006, when Israel was bombing Lebanon Senator Levin got behind legislation put forth by Senator Dodd. Again, Levin’s comments are instructive when he refers to the bombing as “hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel.” Levin goes on to say:
“Hezbollah, an organization on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, must accept full responsibility for sparking this latest round of violence. I support Israel’s right to defend itself in response to Hezbollah’s acts of terrorism against it. As this resolution urges, I hope that the governments of Iran and Syria will end their material and logistical support for Hezbollah and use their significant influence over Hezbollah to disarm the group and release all kidnapped prisoners.”
These are only a few examples of Senator Levin’s public positions on Israel, but they mirror what the American Israel Public Affairs Committee considers to be key congressional actions.