On eve of Netanyahu visit, a look at Israel’s lobbying


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday begins a visit to the United States amid tensions surrounding Iran's nuclear program and a report President Obama will urge his Israeli counterpart to postpone a preemptive strike. In addition to Obama, Netanyahu will call on another U.S. power political player, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

AIPAC, which has been sounding the alarm on Iran, is the largest pro-Israeli lobbying operation, with $2.8 million in lobbying expenditures last year, according to Senate reports, AIPAC  will draw top politicians from both countries to its 2012 Policy Conference. Besides Obama and Netanyahu, speakers will include Israeli President Shimon Perez, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and congressional leaders of both parties. The conference, which begins Saturday at the Washington Convention Center, is an annual showcase of  the deep ties between the United States and Israel and the way their politics are intertwined — especially in an election year when Obama's Republican rivals have been questioning his commitment to Israel

AIPAC lobbied on aid to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, defense appropriations, Iran sanctions and other efforts to impede Iran's nuclear capabilities and bills on a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.But it's just one of many organizations that help build goodwill for the Jewish state in Washington. With Netanyahu's visit looming, Sunlight Foundation decided to survey the field:

Our most interesting finding: Something that Palestinians and Israelis can agree on, at least here in the USA. One public relations firm, Qorvis Communications, represents both an Israeli military hardware manufacturer, Plasan Sasa Ltd., and the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce though a contract with Palestinian public relations company Ellam Tam. Qorvis has represented Plasan Sasa, which has a North American subsidiary, since 2009. In its most recent filing, Qorvis reported $24,300 in payments from May to July 2011 by Plasan Salsa, whose lobbying efforts were  focused on opening a plant in Michigan.  Ellam Tam focused on trade and tourism opportunities, including a commercial and spent $331,700 In September of 2011.

The other domestic lobbyists that lobby on Israeli issues include: J Street, Zionist Organization of America, American Jewish Committee, Republican Jewish Coalition, Nephcure Foundation, and U.S. Israel Science & Technology Foundation. Israeli interests who have hired U.S. lobbyists include the Government of Israel, The World Zionist Organization, the Israel Ministry of Tourism and Plasan Sasa.

The Israeli government hires two top-gun law firms. Sidley Austin has advised Israel in negotiating the terms of real estate leases and various employment agreements. In 2011, Sidney Austin collected $27,400, from the Israeli government.  Arnold and Porter provides policy advice on the U.S.-Israeli relations, trade, USAID, customs and Holocaust survivor insurance. Israel paid $409,000 in fees to Arnold and Porter from the Government of Israel in the last reported year, between October 2010 and September 2011, FARA records show.

The World Zionist Organization also registers with FARA and promotes Jewish immigration and culture. In their most recent filing, World Zionist Organization reported spending over $2.3 million in the last six months of 2011. Activites included: sending lecturers from Israel, educational and cultural activities, for other cultural exchanges. The group's constitution declares that Israel is a "Jewish, Zionist and democratic state," and that "settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism." This aspect is important, especially after conflicts over Israeli settlements disintegrated the last round of peace talks. 

Also in the FARA database: Erel Margalit, who ran last year the Labor Party and registered to raise money for his campaign in the United States. Though a wildly successful venture capitalist, Margalit  reported just  one $2,000 donation. He ultimately dropped out of the race.

World Likud, an organization that pursued international grassroots organizing in support of Israel, hired Rubenstein Public Relations in June of 2011 and terminated its contract the following September.