5 things to know about American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP 

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the US Congress on Tuesday, thousands of members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) are expected to pack the halls of Congress.

They will huddle with US senators and representatives, urging them to expand punitive sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

Here are five things you should know about the influential lobby group:

1. Aipac was formally incorporated in 1963 - 15 years after Israel's creation - and has some 100,000 members. It has 17 regional offices and a vast pool of donors who advocate pro-Israel policies to the Congress and Executive branch of the United States. It aims to strengthen, protect and promote the US-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of both countries.

2. Although it does not endorse candidates nor contribute directly to them, Aipac encourages its members to develop relationships with US lawmakers and to donate to their campaigns. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have also courted the group.

3. In the past five year years, Aipac has spent more than US$14 million (S$19 million) lobbying Congress and federal agencies to press its agenda, which includes continuing to ensure US military aid to Israel and imposing new sanctions on Iran if international negotiators fail to reach a deal on Tehran's nuclear program. It claims to have contributed to the passage of more than a dozen bills and resolutions imposing tough sanctions on Iran during the past 15 years. Aipac also sponsors dozens of trips for US lawmakers and their aides each year to Israel. In 2013, its foundation reportedly funded 77 trips, totalling nearly US$1.4 million.

4. Some observers have questioned whether Aipac's influence is on the wane, citing the shifting debate on Capitol Hill in recent years over Iran policy. In 2011, the Senate sided with Aipac and voted 100-0 to impose sanctions on financial institutions that do business with Iran. It was a forceful rebuke of the White House's push for diplomacy. An Iran sanctions bill this year, that would impose new sanctions if a nuclear deal fails, recently passed the Senate Banking Committee by an 18-4 vote. But in a political victory for President Barack Obama, the Democratic senators have made it clear they will put the brakes on the measure getting to the Senate floor before a March 24 deadline for a framework agreement in the ongoing negotiation.

5. In recent years, Aipac has faced opposition in the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement which is popular in college campuses, in governments including European Union and is attracting American Jews. Aipac has reached out to Hispanics, African-Americans and evangelical Christians for support and diversity.

SOURCE: USA TODAY, NEWYORKER.COM, BLOOMBERG, AFP