Home » After House Speaker Mike Johnson Pushed Through Israel Aid Package, AIPAC Cash Came Flowing In

After House Speaker Mike Johnson Pushed Through Israel Aid Package, AIPAC Cash Came Flowing In

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, donated around $95,000 to Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., in November, according to The Intercept’s analysis of Federal Election Commission records. The pro-Israel lobbying group was Johnson’s top donor in 2023, pouring money into his campaign coffers just after he led the passage of a $14 billion aid package to Israel.

AIPAC’s political action committee donated a total of $104,000 to Johnson last year, with the majority of payments coming since the start of the Gaza war and after Johnson was elected House Speaker in late October. That’s more than four times the roughly $25,000 the group donated to his last congressional campaign, when it was also his top donor, as The Intercept previously reported.

AIPAC is a major powerbroker on Capitol Hill, where it gives money to lawmakers from both major political parties in order to preserve or enhance pro-Israel policies. In recent years, the group has become a more partisan actor, training its sights on Democratic critics of Israel. It has recruited primary challengers to progressive members of Congress and launched a super PAC, the United Democracy Project, through which it has spent millions of dollars to help defeat Democratic candidates who express concern or support for the people of Palestine in any way.

James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, said that the group’s campaign contributions have two purposes: to “reward candidates who vote their way” and as “a cudgel that is used to keep people in line,” citing AIPAC’s past attack ads against Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Summer Lee, and Rep. Jamaal Bowman

Stephen Walt, the co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” told The Intercept that U.S. policy toward the Middle East is the foreign policy issue on which lobbyist groups have the most influence. “In terms of foreign policy, this is probably the one issue where money in politics has had the greatest negative effect,” said Walt, a professor of international relations at the Harvard Kennedy School.

AIPAC and Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the FEC records, Johnson received several small donations from AIPAC in late October, ranging from $10 to $500 a piece. These donations greatly increased the following month however, when Johnson received a total of 71 payments of up to $5,000 each, starting on November 5 and ending on November 29.

The cash influx came shortly after Johnson, then the newly minted speaker, led the House passage of a $14 billion aid package to Israel — a proposal he fought to fast-track by separating the bill from the tens of billions in aid earmarked for Ukraine and using IRS funds to finance it. Once the bill made it through the House, Johnson urged the Senate to approve it as quickly as possible. 

“This is necessary and critical assistance as Israel fights for its right to exist,” he said.

AIPAC, too, had loudly supported sending additional aid to Israel. In a late October tweet, the group described the bill as an effort to “fully fund critical security assistance for Israel.” In early November, the group targeted lawmakers who voiced their opposition to aiding Israel’s military or spread awareness of the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Johnson, a steadfast supporter of Israel, started off his speakership by telling the Republican Jewish Coalition’s conference in Las Vegas that “God is not done with America yet, and I know he’s not done with Israel.” In the same speech, he said that the Squad’s solidarity with the people of Palestine reflected “an alarming trend of antisemitism,” before going on to quote renowned antisemite and British philosopher G.K. Chesterton.

During a trip to Israel in 2020, which was sponsored by a mysterious nonprofit called the 12Tribe Films Foundation, Johnson also claimed that it’s “not true” that Palestinians “are oppressed in these areas, and have these terrible lives,” adding, “we didn’t see any of it.” On his trip, Johnson visited the West Bank city of Hebron, which is notoriously segregated and home to hundred of Israeli settlers. His first trip to Israel, in 2017, was funded by the American Israel Education Foundation – AIPAC’s sister organization whose delegations to Israel are considered a rite of passage in Congress. 

Even as a growing number of Democrats is willing to buck the pro-Israel consensus in Washington and reject AIPAC’s influence, they remain heavily under-resourced. “The key is there’s no comparable groups on the other side,” said Walt. “There’s no set of pro-Palestinian or Arab American political action committees with anywhere near the same resources.”

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January 2024