Ethnic Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy

By Mohammed E. Ahrari | Go to book overview

3
Ethnic Group Influence on Middle East Policy--How and When: The Cases of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and the Sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia

Mitchell Bard

There is a tendency in the interest group literature to assume that the mere existence of a group implies that it has political influence. In the case of U. S. Middle East policy, it is frequently asserted that decisionmaking is somehow "controlled" by the "Jewish lobby," but there have been few empirical investigations into the validity of that claim. This chapter examines the influence of the lobbies concerned with Middle East policy in an effort to provide some evidence of the process by which influence is exerted and the conditions under which interest group pressure succeeds in affecting policy.

One of the reasons there has been so much confusion about the role of interest groups is that they have been imprecisely defined. For example, reference is often made to the "Jewish lobby" in an effort to describe Jewish influence, but the term is both vague and inadequate. Sometimes American Jews are represented by lobbyists, but such direct efforts to influence policymakers are but a small part of the lobby's ability to influence policy. There are also organized groups that attempt to directly influence legislation. One of these, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is a registered domestic lobby. These groups constitute the formal lobby. There are also organizations that do not engage in direct lobbying (Hadassah), but do disseminate information and encourage their members to become involved in the political process. There is also a large component of political influence that is unorganized--Jewish voting behavior and American public opinion. These indirect means of influence may be designated as the informal lobby.

The formal and informal components tend to intersect at several points so the distinction is not always clear-cut. Together, however, they form the "Israeli lobby." This is a more accurate label than "Jewish lobby" because a large proportion of the lobby is made up of non-Jews. The "Israeli lobby" can

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