Thursday, March 29, 2007

New Jersey Israel lobby lines up for contenders

Fearmongering raises big bucks to buy politicians with.
Norpac lines up for contenders | Published Today |

Josh Lipowsky

With the most contended presidential election in years approaching, Norpac is making certain its voice is heard on the issue that matters most to the New Jersey-based pro-Israel lobby.

Six members of Norpac are involved in the campaigns of presidential hopefuls, and Norpac is using those already established relationships to collect funds in its name. The lobby sent out an e-mail to its members earlier this month directing them to point-people within the lobby who are involved in the campaigns of former Sen. John Edwards, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and Sens. Sam Brownback, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain.

"We’re not specifically endorsing the candidates, because we’re nonpartisan," said the lobby’s president, Ben Chouake, on Monday. "Our members are very active on candidates on both sides."

Norpac itself is not contributing funds to the campaigns. Instead, it is directing its members to contribute to various campaigns and to identify themselves as members of Norpac when they do. This raises the group’s visibility and makes certain the candidates know the pro-Israel issue is drawing support, Chouake said.

The list includes only candidates with personal relationships with Norpac members, Chouake said. If a member were to approach him wanting to raise money for another candidate not on the list, then the organization would agree, based on the candidate’s record on Israel.

"As long as the candidate is good on our issue, we’re happy that our membership is involved in that campaign," Chouake said. Regarding Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, the freshman senator who has garnered mixed reviews from pro-Israel activists, Chouake said he is less likely to garner the same support from Norpac members because he is not yet well known.

"He’s only been in the Senate for two years, he’s from a region in the Midwest, and, really, none of our members are very familiar with him at this time," Chouake said.

Norpac member Rabbi

A Jewish religious leader'); return false" href="javascript:void(0)">Rabbi Menachem Genack is working directly with the Clinton campaign because of a personal relationship. When Bill Clinton was seeking the Democratic nomination in 1991, Genack spoke on his behalf at a fund-raiser in Alpine. Genack had paraphrased a verse from Proverbs that "where there is no vision, the people perish," adapting it as a criticism of President George H.W. Bush. Clinton told Genack that he liked the line so much that he would use it in his acceptance speech if he won the nomination.

Chouake is a member of Sen. John McCain’s finance committee and directing Norpac collections for that campaign. The other four members — Jeff Parker for Giuliani, Leon Kozak for Romney, Heshe Seif for Brownback, and Michael Eidman for Edwards — have formed their own relationships with the candidates over the years.

"The community has a lot of relationships," Chouake said. "It’s likely that members will have relationships with major candidates."

According to election laws, lobbying groups can give up to only $5,000 to a political campaign. However, Norpac and other lobbies are permitted to bundle contributions from individuals and present them in the lobby’s name. There is no contribution limit for bundled donations.

As the race becomes more focused, so will Norpac’s efforts, Chouake said. McCain will be one of the members of Congress addressing Norpac in May during its annual mission to Washington. Hillary Clinton has also been invited but has not responded as of yet, Chouake said.

With 300 people already registered, Chouake hopes to draw 400 more to this year’s mission. (Last year, more than 500 people went on the mission.) The lobby has already scheduled 250 meetings for the day with members of Congress and Chouake expects that number to expand to 400 meetings. Last year, the mission met with 90 percent of the Senate and 70 percent of the House.

The lobbying group will head to Washington with two goals: to promote strong U.S.-Israel ties, and to focus attention on dangers to America and to Israel. Lobbyists will focus on legislative efforts to tighten sanctions against Iran in order to resolve the conflict without military intervention, Chouake said.

"This is not 1938," he said. Rather, "it’s very similar to 1933, with a terrible adversary looking to develop weapons of mass destruction."

While Norpac has run the mission for 14 years, it is only within the last five years that attendance has surged. While that is partly due to the fact that people feel a sense of pride for speaking up, Chouake said, it is mostly due to a fear for the future.

"For the first time in 20 years people are more distressed about what’s going on in Israel," Chouake said. "With Hezbollah on the northern border, with Hamas on the southern border, people are extremely distressed about the safety and security of Israel."

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