US President Donald Trump (C), Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speak upon Trump's arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on May 22, 2017, as part of his first trip overseas.
Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Lobbying 2017: High hopes, great risk for Netanyahu's relationship with Trump

By


Benjamin Netanyahu has found a kindred spirit in Donald Trump.

Whether that will leave Israel better off is a different matter.

The Israeli prime minister scored a major victory when the US president declared Dec. 6 that he was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a priority for both Trump's Christian evangelical base and right-wing Jewish donors close to Netanyahu. The prime minister immediately applauded the move, but spent the following days trying to convince Arab and European critics of the move that it's not a critical blow to mideast peace talks and US influence in the region.

"Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 70 years," Netanyahu said at a press conference Monday with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. "I think what President Trump has done is put facts squarely on the table. Peace is based on reality. Peace is based on recognizing reality."

Trump's decision on Jerusalem mirrors his hawkish rhetoric on Iran, another touchy subject where the US president's willingness to try a new approach carries the potential for both great risk and reward for Israel.

Netanyahu had a famously adversarial relationship with President Barack Obama, going so far as to personally lobby the Republican-dominated Congress to nix his signature nuclear deal with Iran. In turn, the former US president broke with decades of bipartisan precedent by allowing the UN Security Council to censure Israel over its settlement expansion for the first time in almost four decades.

Still, US military support for Israel reached new heights under Trump's Democratic predecessor, culminating with the sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets as well as bunker-busting bombs that had been denied by the George W. Bush administration. Last year, the United States signed a $38 billion, 10-year security assistance memorandum of understanding with Israel — 22.5% larger than the current one — all but guaranteeing that Israel will remain the largest beneficiary of US military aid for the foreseeable future.

Trump by contrast campaigned on the promise that his presidency would brook no daylight with Israel, even as his lofty campaign promises have repeatedly clashed with US national security interests.

After denouncing the UN vote as a “big loss” for Israel, Trump picked bankruptcy lawyer and Bet El settlement activist David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel. He has tasked his son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner with negotiating a peace agreement with the Palestinians. And for his envoy to the UN he named pro-Israel hawk Nikki Haley, who wasted no time forcing the retraction of a report accusing Israel of “apartheid” and is now trying to deal a death blow to the UN Human Rights Council’s pending blacklist of businesses operating in Israeli settlements.

“Israelis have experienced firsthand the hatred and terror of radical violence,” Trump said in May when he stopped by Jerusalem as part of his first foreign trip. “Not with Donald J. Trump, believe me.”

And yet Rex Tillerson’s State Department continued to fault Israeli settlement construction as a contributing factor to Palestinian violence in this year’s annual report on terrorism. More worryingly for Israel, Trump’s commitment to countering the Iranian threat remains largely untested, despite the announcement of a new strategy last month aimed at rolling back Tehran's influence.

The US president has repeatedly suggested that he wants to pull out of the nuclear deal and last month declined to certify that it meets congressional requirements, thus empowering lawmakers to try to toughen the agreement. Meanwhile, Haley has worked with Israel to demand that the UN mission in southern Lebanon take on Hezbollah’s weapons stockpiles as part as its mission.

But even as the United States takes on the Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon, Israel is fretting that Trump’s “America First” policy to defeat the Islamic State and quickly pull out of neighboring Syria could leave a potent foe on Israel’s doorstep. Already, the State Department has agreed to cease-fire zones along the border negotiated between Russia, Iran and Turkey, leaving the fate of Iranian proxy forces unresolved.

“Syria is a source of real concern” for the Israelis, former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro told Al-Monitor. “If there’s an expectation that the US is going to engage in a much more extensive and broader military campaign to be the counterweight for Iranian gains in Syrian territory, that’s where they'll be frustrated.”

Netanyahu tried to hammer home the point when he met with Trump on the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting in mid-September, telling the US president that he welcomed Trump’s commitment “to roll back Iran's growing aggression in the region, especially in Syria.”

Though the extent of Iran’s troop deployments to the country is kept secret, military experts estimate that some 2,000 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were stationed there at the beginning of the conflict, and casualties appear to be continually mounting. That leaves Israel in a tough spot amid growing international calls to put an end to a conflict that has dragged on for more than six years.

“There is Israeli concern about Iran operating so close to its border, that’s absolutely legitimate,” said Dylan Williams, the vice president of the liberal advocacy group J Street. “At the same time, Israel could put itself in a very difficult position if it’s opposing incremental diplomatic steps to contain or end the conflict there on the basis that those agreements don’t provide a comprehensive solution to the problem of Iranian influence.”

Further complicating the issue, Trump’s rhetoric and policies have further splintered the historic bipartisan support for pro-Israel policies already eroded by the bitter 2015 vote on the Iran deal.

Ambassador Friedman’s nomination was opposed by a record 46 Democrats because of his support for settlements and harsh words against left-leaning US Jews. And three major Jewish denominations boycotted Trump‘s annual call for the High Holy Days on Sept. 15 because of the president’s perceived failure to unequivocally denounce a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“This is one of the saddest phenomena of American politics now that the liberal elements of the American Jewish population have basically become anti-Israeli,” former Trump deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka told the right-wing radio host Michael Savage after his departure from the White House. “It’s the greatest saddest paradox.”

Left-wing Jews in turn argue that it is right-wing policies that are driving Israel toward disaster.

That partisan divide in turn has given liberal Democrats more space to question pro-Israel legislation. After the American Civil Liberties Union raised questions about the latest bill targeting the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, several Democratic senators withheld their support despite pressure from lobby groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

While AIPAC remains the main pro-Israel lobby, spending $4.6 million in 2016 on lobbying and congressional trips to the Holy Land, recent years have also seen a proliferation of other actors on the federal scene. For example, the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, the lobbying arm of the decade-old Israeli-American Council representing the half-million Israelis living in the United States, only hired Greenberg Traurig to lobby Congress on pro-Israel issues in December 2016 (the firm was paid $30,000 before the contract was terminated in February).

Earlier this year, the coalition, which is largely bankrolled by casino magnate and Republican patron Sheldon Adelson, registered as a lobbyist under its own name. The group spent $220,000 in the first half of 2017 on congressional lobbying by two registered agents, Dillon Hosier and former AIPAC lobbyist Abigail Cable.

Influencers

Israeli embassy

Ambassador: Ron Dermer 

In post since: Oct. 2013

 

Embassy law firms

Arnold and Porter


Sidley Austin


Lobbying by Israeli Ministry of Tourism

Geoffrey Weill Associates
Terminated July 25, 2016


Lobbying by pro-Israel groups

American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF)


American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)


  • Incorporated: 1963
  • 2016 spending: $3.6 million
  • Latest filing  
  • Registered agents

    • Stephen Aserkoff
    • Jeff Colman
    • Marvin Feuer
      Policy & government affairs director
    • Michael Fleischman
    • David Gillette
    • Brad Gordon
    • Ester Kurz
    • Taylor Parker
    • Deborah Saxon
    • Gregory Smith

Israeli American Coalition for Action


    Israeli American Coalition for Action

    Greenberg Traurig
    Terminated Feb. 6, 2017

J Street


  • 2016 fees: $400,000
  • Latest filing  
  • Registered agents

    • Davis Bates
    • Jackie Blank
    • Elyssa Feder
    • Dylan Williams

Terrestrial Jerusalem
Terminated March 31, 2017


World Zionist Organization


Jewish Agency for Israel


Lobbying by Israeli defense industry

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems


    Zvi Rafiah

Mofet-Etzion


    West Front Strategies
    Terminated July 20, 2016

Travel


Congressional Travel

Sponsor: American Israel Education Fund (AEIF)
Past 12 months


  • Trip : May 28 - June 5, 2016
    (12 staffers; $150,000)
  • Trip: Feb. 13 – Feb. 21, 2016
    (15 staffers; $100,000)
  • Trip: Oct. 2015
    (1 senator & 1 staffer; $44,000)

      Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.

      • Dates: Oct. 10 – 18, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, etc.
      • Cost: $28,400

    Trip: Aug. 30 – Sept. 5, 2015
    (1 senator)

      Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

      • Destination: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem
      • Cost: $36,500

    Trip: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
    (39 lawmakers & staff; $734,000)

      Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas

      • Dates: Aug. 9 – Aug. 15, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $20,000

      Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $23,000

      Rep. Rick Allen, R-Ga.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $22,000

      Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $19,000

      Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $23,000

      Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Mich.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $19,000

      Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $19,000

      Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $19,000

      Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $22,000

      Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $23,000

      Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $19,000

      Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: 23,000

      Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $13,000

      Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $20,000

      Rep. Cresent Hardy, R-Nev.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $12,000

      Rep. Steve Knight, R-Calif.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: 22,000

      Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $22,000

      Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $21,000

      Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $20,000

      Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
      House Majority Leader

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $19,000

      Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $20,000

      Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $23,000

      Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $23,000

      Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $25,000

      Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $13,000

      Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $19,000

      Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $13,000

      Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $19,000

      Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Cost: $19,000

      Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $24,000

      Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 16, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $21,000

      Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 15, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $21,000

      Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 15, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $20,000

      Rep. Dave Trott, R-Mich.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 15, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $19,000

      Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz.

      • Dates: Aug. 8 – Aug. 14, 2015
      • Destination: Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Ramallah
      • Cost: $11,000

    Trip: Aug. 1 – Aug. 11, 2015
    (24 lawmakers & staff; $497,000)

      Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J.

      • Dates: Aug. 5 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $23,000

      Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y.

      • Dates: Aug. 5 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $23,000

      Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $12,000

      Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $24,000

      Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $24,000

      Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Penn.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $14,000

      Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $22,000

      Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $23,000

      Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $23,000

      Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $24,000

      Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $24,000

      Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Fla.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $25,000

      Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $26,000

      Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
      House Minority Whip

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $12,000

      Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $24,000

      Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $23,000

      Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $24,000

      Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.

      • Dates: Aug. 3 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $22,000

      Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J.

      • Dates: Aug. 2 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $22,000

      Rep. Mark Takai, D-Hawaii

      • Dates: Aug. 2 – Aug. 10, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $24,000

      Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas

      • Dates: Aug. 1 – Aug. 11, 2015
      • Destination: Tel Aviv
      • Cost: $23,000

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