Pro-Israel Lobby Faces Challenges Amid Gaza War and Shifting Politics

AIPAC, the pro-Israel group that has long been among Washington’s most powerful lobbying forces, is facing intense challenges as it seeks to maintain bipartisan support for Israel amid the war in Gaza — even as it alienates some Democrats with its increasingly aggressive political tactics.

While AIPAC has traditionally been able to count on strong backing from members of both parties, it has taken on a more overtly political role in recent years by helping fund electoral challenges to left-leaning Democrats it considers insufficiently supportive. The tension has been exacerbated by divisions in the Democratic Party over Israel against the backdrop of a rising civilian death toll in Gaza and the barriers placed on humanitarian aid by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

AIPAC has also had to confront the tangled politics of foreign aid on Capitol Hill, where money for Israel is caught up in the dispute over providing assistance to Ukraine. Under the sway of former President Donald J. Trump, many of AIPAC’s traditional allies on the right have opposed additional funds for Ukraine, blocking the House from moving ahead with legislation that would also provide billions to Israel. It is a standoff that the group has so far been unable to help resolve.

“I think they’re in a bit of an identity crisis,” Martin S. Indyk, who was the U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Bill Clinton and was a special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks under President Barack Obama, said of AIPAC. “It gets disguised by their formidable ability to raise money, but their life has become very complicated.”

AIPAC’s aggressiveness and the challenges it faces were evident this week when the group — formally the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — brought together roughly 1,600 donors and senior lawmakers from both parties, including Speaker Mike Johnson and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, to rally support and show its muscle. Mr. Netanyahu spoke to the group by video link on Tuesday.

A separate video montage that played for donors at the conference featured Democratic members of Congress criticizing Israel or expressing support for the Palestinians. Officials at AIPAC, which is led by Howard Kohr, its chief executive, pressed donors to finance the group’s efforts to defeat some of the members. A panel included two challengers running against Democratic incumbents targeted by AIPAC.

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