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The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a powerful lobbying organization that exerts considerable influence in the legislative and executive branches of the American Federal Government. Supported by an estimated 100,000 supporters from all political parties, AIPAC aims to improve relations between America and Israel, and since its founding in 1953 has grown to become one of the most powerful and controversial lobbyist groups in the United States.
Founded shortly after the establishment of Israel, the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs changed its name to reflect its growing donor base, which by 1959 included both Zionists and non-Zionists. The new organization, AIPAC, was funded by private donations and does not accept money from foreign nations, including Israel. This claim has come under some fire throughout the years, as former United States Senator William Fulbright and CIA agent William Marchetti have both extended claims to the contrary.
AIPAC has a variety of aims related to improving Israel through US actions. In addition to direct work with Israel, the organization promotes stability in the Middle East, prevention of nuclear development in countries such as Iran, and insisting that the Palestinian Authority adheres to deals regarding the fight against terrorism and Israel-Palestine relations. It frequently urges sanctions against countries seen to be actively anti-Israel or pro-nuclear development, such as Iran and Palestine. The committee also works to secure foreign aid to Israel for development and charitable works.
In such a large lobbying organization, controversy is hardly avoidable. AIPAC has been the source of several high profile scandals, including a particularly devastating incident in 2005. Two top officials were fired in regards to an FBI espionage investigation which claimed that secret information was passed through AIPAC to Israeli officials. In a related charge, a United States colonel was also indicted for passing classified information to lobbyists for the group.
Despite this investigation, AIPAC remains a powerful voice in the halls of Washington DC. Some find it a dangerous organization, promoting pro-Israel policies at the risk of damaging the stability of relations with other countries in the Middle East. Others believe that the group has had an enormous impact on the survival of Israel, ensuring US support for the blossoming country and protection in a hostile environment. Since the mid-20th century, the voice and the power of AIPAC has been undeniable; but it will likely remain at the center of controversy for years to come.