The ‘Israel Lobby’ Works for the US Military Industrial Complex

Photograph Source: U.S. Department of Defense – Public Domain

Since publication of John Mearsheimer’s and Stephen Walt’s ‘The Israel Lobby’ in 2007, superior public relations has served as the main explanation for the outsized influence that the nation of Israel holds over American politicians. In that telling, AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) and other supporters of Israel built a sophisticated and far-reaching public relations machine that promotes US politicians who support Israel and punishes those who don’t.

Conceived this way, rich supporters of Israel finance public relations campaigns whereby American politicians are (legally) bribed and coerced into giving US foreign aid to Israel. This aid is then delivered to the nation of Israel, with a preponderance of the money being spent on weapons produced by American weapons producers. To the extent that the goal of ‘the Israel lobby’ is to maximize US foreign aid to Israel, it is also maximizing funding for the American MIC (military-industrial complex).

According to data on political lobbying (charts below), the Israel lobby has spent about two percent (2%) of US foreign aid to Israel on political persuasion inside the US since 1948. In US dollar terms, this is $6 billion spent by the Israel lobby to get $280 billion in US foreign aid for Israel. And while this ratio isn’t far from what the US ‘defense’ industry and other corporate pleaders get for their ‘investment’ in American politicians, most of the money that Israel receives from the US is used to buy weapons and materiel from American suppliers.

Chart: Of the fighter jets that Israel possessed in 2023, all were built by US-based defense contractors. This is where US foreign aid to Israel is spent. It leaves Israel dependent on US suppliers for spare / replacement parts. But more importantly for the Federal government of the US, it gives the MIC a steady customer for its wares. Source:

In other words, while the ratio of money spent to largesse secured is about the same for US corporations as it is for the Israel lobby, most of the money given to Israel is ‘passed through’ to the American MIC (chart below). Compared with the money given to Ukraine, which initially included a lend-lease agreement with the US, Israel has no contractual commitment to commit national suicide (like Ukraine) in return for funding from the US. This means that Israel could in theory buy military equipment from non-US suppliers— a threat to the US MIC.

In fact, what is put forward inside the US as ‘foreign aid’ is in many cases payments by the Federal government of the US to foreign governments for them to purchase goods and services from American providers. Rather than leaving the matter to ‘markets,’ the Federal government subsidizes US industries through so-called foreign aid. The receiving nations are on the hook to repay the loans either directly or through taking actions— like launching wars, that the US directs them to do. With respect to Israel, the US has a mutual defense agreement, but evidence of lend-lease type constraints on Israel wasn’t found.

Chart: Israel has been the largest recipient of US foreign aid on a cumulative basis since its inception in 1948. While, depending on scale, this could reasonably imply that Israel is dependent on the US, and therefore under its control, the claim since 2007 (year that The Israel Lobby was published) or thereabouts has been that Israel controls the US through well-placed campaign contributions and lobbying. However, the total cost of campaign contributions and lobbying by AIPAC is only a small fraction of US largesse to Israel. So, why doesn’t the US control Israel? Source:

None other than US President Joe Biden has been the largest recipient of (legal) bribes from supporters of Israel amongst American politicians by a wide margin (chart below). That Mr. Biden describes himself as a ‘Christian Zionist’ who has previously complained that Israel wasn’t killing enough Palestinian women and children might be interpreted differently if his political career hadn’t been supported by Israel to the tune of $6,000,000. To tie this together, Mr. Biden received the most money from Israel, and he is Israel’s most reliable co-genocidalist.

For those who may be unaware, were we ‘little people’ to offer $1 apiece to voters to vote or not vote for a candidate, doing so would be a Federal crime. But hostile foreign governments (e.g. Israel) are allowed to pay a US politician (Biden) $6,000,000 to do their bidding as long as their instructions are left at the level of ‘doing their bidding’ rather than passing particular legislation. With the US and developed Europe collecting names to restart their military drafts, American politicians are being paid by foreign governments to put American kids in harms’ way.

There are two components in play here. This first is the conceit that paying politicians for votes is different from paying ordinary voters for votes because politicians serve the public. In fact, very few citizens believe that American politicians serve the public. A majority (link above) believes that Congressional corruption has undermined democracy in the US. This suggests that most Americans don’t see a material difference between personal and professional corruption. If they did, the American system of funding campaigns wouldn’t be considered so corrupt. Another way to state this is that Israel certainly treats Joe Biden, and American politicians more generally, like the hired help.

Chart: at $5.7 million, US President Joe Biden has been the largest recipient of campaign donations from ‘the Israel Lobby’ since Israel was founded in 1948. Mr. Biden has received more than twice as much in contributions as the next largest recipient. The arithmetic is straightforward. Mr. Biden is the largest recipient of Israeli largesse and is the most avid and unflinching supporter of Israel, and against the Palestinians, in the US. Source:

Question: might this Federal support for the MIC not also partially explain the US war against Russia in Ukraine? The preponderance of US ‘aid’ to Ukraine has indeed been spent purchasing weapons and materiel from US producers. Coincident with this US transfer of weapons to Ukraine, and following the launch of Russia’s SMO (Special Military Operation) in 2022, Ukraine is now on the hook for repaying the loans, having committed the Ukrainian people to either fight and die for the American MIC or to repay the dollar cost of the weapons it has received.

Of note: 1) while Ukraine spent $5 million to influence US policymakers in 2022, it has otherwise spent very little to secure the $100 billion plus in US arms that it has received and 2) the $800 billion plus annual Pentagon budget apparently hasn’t prepared the US to prevail in the wars that the Biden administration / CIA have already launched. The Judge Napolitano crowd of retired military and CIA strategists has been arguing this point since the second phase of the NATO / American invasion of Ukraine (Russia’s SMO) began in February, 2022.

As readers familiar with Thomas Ferguson’s ‘investment theory’ of political funding (and here) know, this phenomenal return on investment ((1 / 2% ) = 50X) isn’t that far from the everyday return on corporate lobbying. To an analogy that has been in the ether for a decade or more, Congress sells influence so cheaply because it receives the benefit while we, the people, pay the cost. For instance, defense contractor Northrup Grumman’s PAC (political action committee) spent a bit over $2 million (0.01%) in the 2020 election cycle to sustain over $25 billion in Federal contracts.

So far, the difference with the Mearsheimer / Walt thesis here has to do with the nature of the American state. The ‘realist’ contention that Israeli lobbying is a particularly effective example of ordinary lobbying misses that were Iran or Venezuela to do the same, the American response would be to aggressively shut the effort down. For instance, Russia was accused of spending $75,000 on internet troll ads that mostly ran after the 2016 election, and Russiagate was the result. However, at least part of the American charges against Russia appear to be fraudulent.

As yours truly stated in real time, the reason why Russian troll farms were the first to be charged in Robert Mueller’s investigation was because it was assumed (by Mueller et al) that Russian nationals would never appear in an American courtroom to challenge the charges. In fact, one of the Russian troll farms, Concord Management, showed up in a US courtroom. The Mueller team quickly dropped the charges. The reason given: national security. If true, the charges were political (fraudulent) because any planned prosecution would have required that the US produce its evidence in discovery.

The point: irrespective of how skilled ‘the Israel lobby’ is at coercing American politicians to do its bidding, Israel has qualities favored by the MIC that Russia doesn’t. Russia is a manufacturer of weapons and materiel, making it a competitor of the American MIC. The same is true of China. In contrast, the US has multiple contracts with Israel to produce products for the US military. But far more to the point, and again, most US aid to Israel is quickly returned to the American MIC through weapons purchases.

Israel exists as a juggernaut for (perceived) US military interests in the region. (Diana Johnstone, for whom I have the highest regard, articulates the case against this thesis here). The case that Johnstone, along with co-author Jean Bricmont, make is that US support for Israel isn’t in the interest of the US. Question: how much more evidence is needed to conclude that American politicians work for whoever is paying them to do so? In fact, only a minority of Americans believe that elected representatives act in the interest of the US. The liberal architecture of the state requires clean lines of division between political and economic power that capitalism has rendered implausible.

The Marxist / Leninist view that the capitalist state exists to serve the interests of connected capitalists certainly seems to be more descriptively accurate—of the US at any rate, than the liberal theory of a ‘mixed economy.’ The American MIC was originally conceived as a make-work program to prevent a recurrence of the Great Depression after WWII ended. Beginning in the 1980s, private equity was used by MIC insiders to buy Federal assets for pennies on the dollar and load them up with debt to resell them to the public in order to enrich insiders.

In practice, wages were cut and production processes ‘streamlined’ in the companies bought by private equity, thereby erasing the public benefit of the MIC, such as it was. Neoliberal myopia went so far as to outsource military production to the nations with whom imperial competition has long been considered a foregone conclusion. The same politicians and technocrats who thought outsourcing a great idea in 1993 (or 2001) are today declaring China to be a ‘cheater’ that ‘stole’ the production it more precisely was handed.

This point isn’t just abstract, a matter of characterization. The core conceit of Western economics is that money, the pursuit of wealth, motivates human decision making. Payment in this frame is premised in the exchange of goods and services for money. Corporations and foreign governments pay ‘American’ politicians to do their bidding through campaign contributions. Pushback that there is no quid pro quo, no direct link between campaign contributions and legislative outcomes at the level of individual politicians, misses that such a link is easy to demonstrate (and here) at the systemic level.

The liberal state of Mearsheimer / Walt and Johnstone / Bricmont exists historically within capitalist political economy, making claims that the state is the state and the economy is the economy iterative, which in turn requires carefully chosen starting and stopping points to draw conclusions. In that view, the US state develops policies and then goes about gathering the resources to bring its policies to fruition. State policies would be the basis of the Great Powers struggle in Mearsheimer’s view. Missing is that corporations within the MIC can coerce Congress into starting wars and destroying nations through (legal) bribery.

New Members of Congress are directed to spend four hours per day soliciting campaign contributions when they arrive in Washington. The people and entities that make campaign contributions tend to have business before Congress. A system whereby entities with business before Congress fill the campaign coffers of politicians willing to do their bidding serves the needs of both the contributing entities and the willing politicians. The only people not served by this practice are citizens whose interests are subordinated to often malevolent corporations by corrupt politicians.

For those who missed it, the US claim to be the premier capitalist nation in the world 1990 – 2007 was premised on / in institutional constraints against corruption that were in the process of being dismantled in favor of ‘markets.’ And the whole of the ‘money-in-politics’ debasement of New Deal reforms occurred following the replacement of these institutions with neoliberal ideology. Today the imagined architecture of the liberal state hasn’t changed to reflect this neoliberal debasement. Liberal theory proceeds with a clear distinction between state and economy that never existed.

To be clear, there is no call to ‘get the money out of politics’ contained herein. The problem is the distribution of power in a capitalist state, of which the US system of political campaign funding is but a byproduct. State-funded political campaigns (as once existed in the US) would still have to get past the permanent government (CIA) which has openly acted in recent US elections to 1) choose the winning candidate or 2) go to war against the winner if it isn’t the permanent state’s desired candidate. The last two CIA-sponsored candidates, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, have been about as popular as liver cancer and child rape amongst actual voters.

The fact that neither Joe Biden nor his brain trust has picked up a telephone to speak with Vladimir Putin in 2 ½ years of war with Russia suggests that Mr. Putin and Russia might be better served by negotiating an end to hostilities directly with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Biden is failing, corrupt, and he launched a war of choice against Russia that the US is losing. He is currently leading a WWII style genocide in Gaza. Impressively, being allied with self-described Nazis in Ukraine while leading a racist genocide in Gaza represents the political program of both American liberals and the radical Right in 2024.

None of this is intended in an electoral frame. Donald Trump has demonstrated himself to be a ‘toll booth’ Zionist, having agreed to support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel after receiving $20 million in campaign contributions from Israeli-American Zionists. Now in line to receive another $100 million contribution from Miriam Adelson, wife of the late Sheldon Adelson, Mr. Trump recently supported a bill to further fund US wars in Ukraine and Israel, assuring its passage. There is little difference between the major party candidates regarding Israel’s genocide, likely because the American MIC is laundering its Federal subsidies through Israel.

The solution to ‘the Israel lobby’ is for the US to stop funding Israel. The competition for campaign contributions amongst pro-genocide US Senators and Representatives would end with the funding. Of course, this won’t happen. But not because of the Israel lobby. It won’t happen because Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman hold the political power to assure that doing so isn’t even considered. This makes ‘the Israel lobby’ a subsidiary of Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex. In fact, Eisenhower’s MIC speech originally included ‘congressional’ in the complex for the reasons laid out here.

Graph: the Great Recession produced a break with respect to how Americans perceive the nation. In 2016, sentiment remained near its Great Recession low and the establishment candidate (Hillary Clinton) lost the election. In 2019 Joe Biden and the liberal Democrats were advertised as the people and party who would restore the US. While they seem satisfied with their results, sentiment in 2024 is worse than it was in 2016. The American political establishment is conspicuously incapable of achieving anything other than launching wars that kill millions of innocents— implying that the world would be a better place without it. Source:

Most of what is written here comports with Mearsheimer’s / Walt’s explanation of the Israel Lobby. The difference comes through deference to political economy rather than to liberal theories of the state. With $800 billion-plus per year in Pentagon spending plus ad hoc funding of the US war against Russia in Ukraine, the MIC exists prior to Congress being lobbied by AIPAC or Ukraine. And the ‘revolving door’ between Congress and the MIC further incentivizes Congress to overfund the MIC relative to need.

This difference between the thesis of Mearsheimer / Walt and the argument made here may seem small, but it is crucial. With most US aid to Israel actually going to the American MIC, it can’t actually be claimed to be aid to Israel without a more robust accounting of the broader political economy embedded in the relationship. In other words, the claim of a benefit to Israel comes through the future evolution of regional hostilities, not the nominal dollar value of weaponry ‘awarded’ to Israel. And the evolution of regional hostilities is a function international relations.

I’ve previously linked (starts about 2:45) to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stating that without US support, the hostilities in Israel and Ukraine would end immediately. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed this when he complained that slow-walking one weapons delivery by the Biden administration caused Israel incalculable harm. But a contrary argument can just as well be made. Israel will hereafter be known as a pariah state for its extermination of the Palestinian people. Seventy years after WWII ended, the Germans are still apologizing for Adolf Hitler.

Exactly how propagandized a population must be to believe that Israel and Ukraine run US foreign policy, no matter how effective their lobbying, suggests a deep national insecurity. With the New York Times now revealing heretofore officially denied details about US actions vis-a-vis Ukraine— from the building of multiple CIA facilities there to the CIA organizing and training the Ukrainian military to attack Russia, to the 2022 peace deal that would have prevented the destruction of Ukraine that was stopped by the Biden administration and the Brits, the American MIC runs US foreign policy.

With the preponderance of US foreign aid to Israel being redeposited into the bank accounts of the American MIC, the MIC benefits in excess of Israel from it. This basic fact complicates the claim that the Israel lobby exists to benefit Israel. Even without US foreign aid that goes directly back to the MIC, Israel would still likely garner more aid than the Israel lobby spends to get it. However, the MIC wouldn’t. And as Benjamin Netanyahu stated (link above), any holdup of US weapons flows to Israel would end its genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

With Zionist settlers in the West Bank now once again ‘clearing’ Palestinians by seizing their land and exiling them, the plan of Israel being revealed is the total extermination of the Palestinian people. Here the Wannsee Conference has bearing. It was the meeting of top Nazis in 1942 to plan the systematic extermination (‘final solution’) of European Jews as WWII was underway, illustrating that the most hateful acts in human history have come in the form of powerful political actors calmly planning the extermination of entire peoples. With Israel now exterminating the Palestinian people, history has come full circle. The persecuted are now the persecutors. That the US is funding and arming the effort makes it the ultimate state actor in this process of genocide.

Chart: AIPAC expenditures to influence US elections were converted to yearly amounts and multiplied by the number of years of data for US foreign aid to Israel to quantify the difference. Grossing up the AIPAC expenditures came to $6 billion and change, versus $280 billion in US foreign aid to Israel. While this is a rough estimate, the purpose was to scale the relative difference, not to develop a precise estimate of AIPAC expenditures. To the extent that this estimate is correct, Israel has received $50 in foreign aid for every $1 AIPAC has spent to get it. Sources: CRF,, Urie.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.